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Learn to Handstand. Learn to Love.

I am currently midway through the final week of the online course 6 Weeks to Handstand with Kyle Weiger. During the past few weeks I have felt new areas of my body ‘wake up’ and strengthen. I am slowly but surely seeing progress in my handstand form and shape. But the biggest take-away thus far is that although these drills and exercises are making me physically stronger, this course is really about learning to love. We all have the ability to change our ‘state’ anytime and we can begin to see results in any area of our lives in as little as 6 weeks. This series is about much more than nailing a handstand, it is about diving deep into; curiosity, doing the work, dedication, self-care, integrity, and keeping the flame alive! These are great teachings that can be applied to all areas of life. I reached out to Kyle to learn more about his story, and he was kind enough to share some wonderful insights. Big thanks Kyle for the inspiration. May we all keep loving the journey!

Tell us a little bit about your yoga background?

I got into yoga after literally 6 years of a friend nagging me because he said I spent too much time in the gym and I needed to work on my flexibility too. Little did I know that his persistence would change the entire trajectory of my life. Well played, Sir.

Can you share with us about your initial curiosities with handstand and your handstand journey thus far?

It definitely started with yoga. I had an obsession for learning all the arm balances and Handstand was one that I played with often. However, it wasn’t until I got into Gymnastics training, and Circus after that, where I realized just how differently each modality approaches the pose.

Gymnastics was the first time the idea of “the line” was drilled into me, and watching and training with Circus hand balancers was where I first realized it’s so much more than just a single pose. Handstanding is its own art form, and my current journey has me exploring it from this angle.

Do you see your approach to learning to handstand as a metaphor and a way to approach life in general?

Oooh! My favorite question!! Yes yes yes! This is one the BIGGEST things I talk about in my workshops.

SPOILER ALERT: BEING ABLE TO DO A HANDSTAND DOES NOT MAKE YOU A BETTER PERSON…

Rather, I use it as a teaching tool to reflect on how I handle tough situations. When things get challenging, do you get frustrated and quit? Or do you learn to laugh at yourself, be willing to put in the work, and approach things with a light-hearted attitude.

Check out a video I did on this very topic: 

What is your favorite verbal cue to say to someone learning to handstand?

“GET TALLER”…..It’s the simplest cue, but it will immediately fix a lot of inflection points in the body. When you get taller, you press through the heel of your hand which will activate your traps and straighten out through the shoulder.

Meditation and journaling is a huge part of your practice. Tell us more…

Journaling is a daily activity for me, particularly the act of gratitude journaling. I like to give my attention and focus to all the things I am grateful for in this life. Whether it’s a deep conversation I recently had with my BFF, or if my Handstand felt significantly strong during a certain day, or if I pull my winter jacket out of the closet and find a $5 bill in it. I seriously write so much in there, so i go through journals like crazy.

As far as meditation, some yoga practitioners may disagree with me when I say that Handstand can be meditative. It requires your attention to direct to a single point of focus, a single task, and you have to be fully present or else you come out of balance.

Thus, seated meditations using visualization exercises are huge for me! So when I get upside down I can re-access that state of presence and purpose.

You are an entrepreneur and and have created a successful online business. Can you share some of your daily practices for finding the balance between wellness, community, work, and play?

This is also one of my favorite things to talk about. I’m actually in the midst of writing a course just for yoga professionals on how to do exactly what I did by using bare-bones resources.

At first, it wasn’t balanced…at all. It was a huge grind 12 months ago to get the product up. With launching a business, there’s no way around it but through it. That’s just how these things go.

Then over time, I found myself working on my website less and traveling to do workshops more.

I think it’s a lofty goal to have every individual day be perfectly balanced. Rather, I look at it in phases or waves. When I first launched 6 Weeks To Handstand with a $200 marketing budget and no clue if it was going to sell, it was a very stress-heavy & work-heavy phase of my life. Now I’m in more of a play-more-laugh-more kind of phase.

Those two balance each other out in the big picture, so I’m ok with sprints or bursts of hard work to have access to more abundance later.

Where do you see yourself in 10 years?

I’m moving more and more into the role of business consulting in the fitness industry. My business background is in Sales & Marketing, Paid Ad Campaigns, and Email Funnels. I want to share what I know with other people in our space. And of course I’ll never stop teaching Handstand!!!

Who or what are some of your biggest inspirations?

My biggest inspirations are my friends: I have a few pretty special people in my life that I draw inspiration from every single day: Clayton, Del, Katy, Ali, Madison, Bobby…you know who you are:)

As far as Handstanding, there are sooooo many talented people out there, but the coaches I’ve learned the most from are Miguel Santana, Yuri Marmerstein, Andrey Moraru, and Janchivdorj Sainbayar.

Anything else you’d like to share…

“Whatever you are, be a good one.” – Abe Lincoln

 

 

Kyle Weiger is on a mission to show you that you are far stronger than you think you are. And not just in a rainbows-and-unicorns-motivational-speaker kind of stronger….more like a belief-shattering breakthrough “Holy Sh*t! I can’t believe I just did that!” kind of stronger. Kyle teaches Handstand course workshops around the world at Yoga Studios, Festivals, CrossFits, and Fitness Facilities alike. Regardless of the setting, his methodology and approach to learning Handstand just flat out works for students of all shapes and sizes.

kyleweiger.com

Connect on IG:  @kyleweiger

 

5 Reasons to Practice Yoga While You Travel

Versed travelers know well how difficult it can be to stick to your regular daily preferences when you go away for a few days, or even weeks. You fill those hours with as much sightseeing as possible, trying to see, taste, and feel the energy of this new destination you’re visiting. Is it, then, realistic to find the time and the patience you normally have for staying true to your yoga practice and healthy eating choices?

Surprisingly for many, it actually is quite possible and doable. In fact, if you need further convincing to continue with your yoga morning flows even when there’s an exciting tour for early birds, keep reading to inspire yourself and stay healthy and fit on the go.

Immersing yourself in the moment

Unlike many other forms of exercise, yoga combines incorporating your natural breathing pace with the movements and asanas you perform. As an essential ingredient to a healthy yoga practice, breathing represents an opportunity for increased, deepened mindfulness. When you let yourself enjoy the present moment, while soothing your body and mind through controlled breathing, you can truly experience your adventure on a new level. Take some time in the morning to start your day with yoga, and it will help you retain that awareness of your surroundings and the joy of new experiences. With better awareness, you can do your best not only to rejoice in the beauty of those new localities you visit, but also to stay mindful of your carbon footprint, in an effort to become a more sustainable yoga traveler.

Connecting with the local culture

Although Asia is known as the birthplace of many notable philosophies that focus on peace and serenity, many of its local hotspots are now very fast-paced and bustling with visitors. However, when you take a trip to some of its most renowned destinations, you’ll see that Asia strives to retain its Zen essence. What’s even more relevant is that you, as a traveler, are more than welcome to become a temporary part of that community. For instance, practicing yoga in Hong Kong is still a staple of modern life, and it has become simplified with the use of apps that let you join a class you desire, no matter where you come from. That way, you can taste the true life of Hong Kong beyond the typical highlights, and experience its innate, life-loving rhythm that you’d otherwise miss in its urban eco-system.

Inspiring reflection

How many times have you caught yourself overwhelmed by the sheer beauty and authenticity of your travel destination? A yoga routine lets your mind process these events and emotions, and in fact become much more grateful for the opportunity. In the haste to see the world, we often take it for granted. Yoga helps you stay rooted in your ability to appreciate the present moment and the gift of travel, which we tend to leave behind as soon as we hit the road.

Experiencing relaxation amidst stress

As beautiful as it is, travel also often comes with a hefty dose of stress. It may be caused by anticipation, waiting for your next flight, or by the mere change of perspective. We tend to get used to a certain way of life, and leaving it all behind for a limited amount of time can be a challenge for those who like their routines. Whatever the underlying cause may be, practicing yoga can help you soothe your stress reactions and be more resilient to any other potential triggers. This is especially relevant when you visit hectic spots such as Baghdad or Cairo, where the tension is practically palpable. Yoga is a simple, yet powerful way to stay calm in such environments and see the world through a new lens.

Staying healthy and vibrant

Not every journey is a luxurious one, nor it should be. However, when you do put your body through a lot by taking exceptionally long bus rides, spending hours in sweltering heat, or trekking for hours, yoga can help alleviate the pain. Even daily sightseeing can cause sore muscles, and add to that dehydration if you don’t drink enough water, and your body will start craving a soothing yoga session.

Even though yoga in its essence is so much more than a simple stretching, devoting a fraction of your time just to unwind in comfortable stretching positions will help your muscles heal. That way, you can renew your energy for the next day’s adventure and keep the pain at bay.

 

Sophia Smith is beauty blogger, an eco-lifestyle lover and a food enthusiast. She is very passionate about natural skincare, yoga and mindful living. Sophia has contributed to a number of publications including Mother Earth Living and How to Simplify.

From Perfectionist To Perfect

“Yoga is about progress, not perfection”.

I see this phrase – and others that say essentially the same thing – a lot on social media, and at first glance, I like it. I like it a lot. Finally, someone is telling me that I don’t have to be perfect! I can screw up, and no one will mind! I can fall out of Headstand rather than elegantly lowering myself back down into Child’s pose, and it’s ok. I can wobble in Tree pose, and fart in Happy Baby, and puff rather than glide my way through Surya Namaskar (and, by the way, I don’t even have to use Sanskrit names that I can’t pronounce, let alone remember), and it’s all fine. And as a relatively new yoga teacher, the initial idea of progress not perfection is doubly appealing. It means that next time I lose track of which leg goes forward first, I shouldn’t worry about it. If I forget where we are in that sequence I so carefully prepared, and a class of 40-odd students are sweating in Downward Dog while they wait for me to tell them what to do next, it’s ok. I can laugh it off. I can demonstrate firsthand to my students that even yoga teachers don’t get it right all the time. Everyone messes up occasionally, and it’s all ok.

It felt great, until I realised something…that implicit in that phrase, there was an assumption that it wouldn’t always be this way. I would progress. I would get better. Not only that, but that I would want desperately to get better, and that I would work hard to do so. I would put in the hours on my mat until I became more flexible, stronger, and able to come down out of headstand like the textbooks say you should. I wouldn’t fart in Happy Baby, and my Sun Salutations (or Surya Namaskar, now) would be effortless. And I definitely, definitely wouldn’t forget what comes next in the sequence I teach.

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I realised that, in today’s western (yoga) world, being imperfect is acceptable up to a point. After that – if your progress isn’t fast enough or good enough – yoga becomes just one more thing that you can’t do. Time to give up and try something else that you might have better luck with.

Yet this is almost the exact opposite of what yoga teaches us (or is supposed to teach us), and that is that everything is already perfect. Not perfect for now, or good enough for now, but perfect in the present moment.

We are all already under so much pressure in our lives to be perfect….or at least, if we can’t be perfect, to at least want to be. We are always striving to be better in some way. To have more money, to have a better house, to get a better job that’s higher up the ladder, to be better parents, better siblings, better children, better teachers. To be better people. And in a way, that’s natural and good. Ambition is what gets us out of bed in the mornings. The desire to grow is what keeps us learning and exploring. The desire to nail that headstand is, perhaps, what keeps us coming back to our mats, at least to start with. Without progress in some form or another, millions more of us would still be dying of the flu, and I wouldn’t be typing this now.

But our desire for progress has become all-consuming, and the word “progress” itself cannot be criticized. If something is labelled as “progressive”, then the overriding feeling is that it must be good whether we like it or not. Sometimes, it feels like the worst thing we can do is to “not progress”. We must always be moving on to the next even better thing, and we become very attached to doing so. Then if, for some reason, that progress doesn’t happen, we suffer. We suffer even if it does happen, because it’s never long before a new desire for something even bigger and better and “more progressive” kicks in, and the whole cycle starts over again. We very rarely stop and take a moment to appreciate what we already have, and to appreciate where we already are….and even rarer is the feeling of being satisfied with that.

If we let it, yoga gives us that feeling. It doesn’t mean that we don’t want to improve our asanas, or that we don’t want to grow and learn in our practice. But those precious hours on the mat are our time – perhaps the only time some of us get – to be ourselves, warts and all. Yoga gives us the space and time to be who we are, not who we pretend to be. It gives us the opportunity to discover who that person is. It isn’t the time to push, or to berate ourselves for, yet again, not being good enough or not making fast enough progress. Maybe we will eventually be able to do headstand without crashing down out of it….in fact, if we keep practicing, the likelihood is that we will. Yoga, though, can also show us that it is futile to become attached that hope. Instead of constantly chasing after a new goal, yoga shows us that we have a choice, and we could choose to believe that wherever we are in our practice is perfect. It’s where we are now, in the present moment – and being aware of the present moment and acknowledging it, candidly and truthfully and authentically, is part of what yoga is really about.

Progress? Or perfection? I’m going with perfection…..just not the type of perfection we are so used to thinking about and aiming for. Not a perfectionist style of perfection, but a perfect-in-the-present-moment type of perfection. It’s hard. I haven’t managed it yet, and I don’t know if I ever will. I suspect there will always be a part of me that worries about making mistakes as a teacher, that pushes to be better, stronger, more flexible, and that berates the other part of me for not doing well enough. But I am starting to accept that all I can do is show up, in the moment, as I am. Perfect.

Or, at least, good enough.

 

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Ali is a certified yoga teacher, crystal healer, writer, editor and dreamer at http://kriyashakti.net. When not on the yoga mat, she can usually be found reading, drinking tea, or on a beach (ideally all three). She is currently based in the U.K.

Hot Yoga Isn’t Punishment: 10 Tips for Making Friends With Your Body During a Hot Yoga Class

Friends, friends: it’s that time of year.

I’ve taught Saturday and Sunday mornings for seven years now, and every December around this time folks roll into class ready to sweat out every canape and martini they half-drunkenly inhaled at the office holiday party the night before. Sometimes they’re wearing six layers of clothing in a 99-degree room so as to “detox” all the pinot and the feta and the gingerbread, armed with liters of coconut water and a couple of big towels for mopping up the evidence.

This always makes me a little bit sad.

I mean, I totally get it. I remember countless hazy, hungover twentysomething mornings spent rolling into Bikram classes feeling like I needed to do the same thing. Too many yoga practices that felt like atonement for the night before.

A decade later, as a hot yoga teacher myself, I cringe to think that my class could ever be complicit in my students’ self-abasement.

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So here I am to remind you: hot yoga is not a punishment.

You are not here to flog yourself for everything you consumed last night — especially in this season of overindulgence. You’re not here to beat your body into submission. You’re not here to burn enough calories that you “can have” that extra slice of pie tonight at Grandma’s.

You do not have to “detox” every bit of sugar you’ve eaten in the last month. Your body already has a great built-in system for that. It’s called your liver.

Get this: your body is your friend. Gulp, what? Yes, your friend. Your ally. Your buddy-for-life. Why not start celebrating it rather than shaming it?

Rather than making your yoga practice a participant in the kind of soul-sucking cycle wherein you eat and drink delicious things and then punish your body for eating them, how about you shift your mindset? Then, your yoga can become less a fitness regimen and more an opportunity to lovingly check in with your body and your mind in the midst of what is already often a frantic, busy holiday season. An opportunity to get quiet. To listen a little more. To offer your body grace for getting up in the morning and getting dressed and trudging through ice and snow and staying healthy and awake and alive in some of the darkest, coldest days of the year.

Portland, Oregon studio owner (and former Olympic ice skater) Jamie Silverstein has written a powerful article about this. In “Cut the Fat Speak: An Open Letter to the Yoga Community and Message for the Holiday Season,” she writes:

“Every time we speak in terms that portray food, exercise, reward, even love (!) as part of an economy of exchange, we are latently affirming a message of, “You are not good enough as you are.” Every time we employ a rhetoric of action-consequence we effectively say, “You are not enough.” Simply, this is not yoga….

On a more personal note, as a recovered anorexic/bulimic and eating disorder (ED) recovery advocate, I feel that this language is not only maladaptive, but that it also reinforces a dangerous ideal. Both from my personal practices and my work in the ED recovery field, I’ve encountered how the negative conditioning an exercise-exchange economy adversely affects people. It is often tantamount to verbal abuse. This is ironic, because as yogis, we are committed to ahimsa.”

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And living with ahimsa means creating less suffering, even for ourselves, right?

One of my favorite meditation teachings (I think it comes from Ethan Nichtern, but it might’ve been Susan Piver, too) is the notion that meditation is the process of making friends with ourselves. How beautiful is that? I know, I know; it sounds kind of cheesy at first. But when you really think about it, meditation (and yoga) are all about shifting the kind of negative self-talk that many of us are already pretty good at into a more compassionate, patient voice that greets ourselves as a beloved friend.

Here are a few tips for making friends with your body during a hot yoga class:

1. Use a witness-observer mind.

Notice what you’re thinking, without getting stuck in it, or thinking it’s you. Your thoughts are just thoughts. They come and go. They’re not YOU. (This is pretty much the whole definition of yoga: learning to no longer identify with the fluctuations of your mind.) And once you figure that out, life is so much easier.

2. Remember that hunger is not your enemy.

You don’t have to resist it, or avoid it, or chew 17 sticks of gum or drink 8 Diet Cokes a day to avoid actually eating anything. Hunger is actually a good thing. It reminds you to nourish yourself! Food can be a friend. Food can be celebration, and solidarity, and community, and holiday ritual. Food is here to fuel you, not punish or taunt or numb you. You don’t need to sweat it all away.

3. Treat yourself like a toddler.

Picture your favorite 1-year-old learning how to walk. They fall on their cute little butts constantly, don’t they? They wipe out and belly flop and totally lose it all the time, and what do they do? They giggle, push themselves back up, and try again. Can you imagine if you spoke to a toddler the way you speak to yourself when you fall out of a tough balancing pose? (“Come on, dummy, you are a such a failure! You suck. You might as well just give up because this yoga thing is so not for you.”) Of course not, right? When they wipe out, you just smile and help them up and say, “Way to go, buddy! You’re doing great. Keep trying. You’re doing it!”

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4. Three key words: Isn’t that interesting?

When you fall out of Pincha Mayurasana and CRASH, shaking the whole studio with your stunning wipe-out, notice it and smile and say to yourself, “Isn’t that interesting?” When your muffin top spills over the waistband of your yoga pants more than it did a month ago, rather than beating yourself up, notice it and say to yourself, “Isn’t that interesting?” This notion of “interesting” cuts the judgment: it’s not good, it’s not bad, it just is. It can shift everything in your day-to-day.

5. Be tender. ‘Nuff said.

With yourself, with your body, with your practice, with one another. Silverstein adds, “If you are struggling with self-acceptance this holiday season, as many of us do, let that be okay, too. Unfortunately much of our body-rhetoric and internal dialogue is harsh and prescriptive. Know you are not alone. Self-compassion cannot live in an antagonistic environment. The healing comes when we learn to acknowledge these voices without doing what they say.”

6. When you fall out of the pose, just get back in.

No big deal. No drama. No judgment. Whether we’re talking about a pose, or a healthy lifestyle, or anything else you’re trying to make into a positive habit. You are not the worst yogi that ever was. You just fell out, and now you’re gonna get back in. Get lost, start over. As Pema Chodron says, “Feel the feeling. Drop the storyline.” And then move right along.

7. Let go of the idea that a hot yoga practice is a detox.

I’m pretty ready to scrap that loaded “D” word already. Try to release the notion that your yoga practice is atonement for everything else you put into your body. It’s not here to wring out every “toxin.” It’s not here to sweat your “sins” out. It’s here to lovingly, patiently bring your body into balance, unraveling the knots, letting the prana (or life force) flow freely again.

8. Think of this practice as a celebration rather than a punishment.

I’m ever-grateful to my longtime friend and student Stacy, who suggested this to me once when we were hiking in Point Reyes. She noted that when I teach I often respond to people’s pained faces (when they’re clearly being hard on themselves in a pose). And then she said, “Rachel, what about the opposite? What about the moments wherein you maneuver yourself into a new pose for the first time, and you’re bowled over with awe and excitement at the amazing things your body can do? Things you never thought it capable of doing? So much that you just want to cry from the wonder?” I love this. Try approaching your practice with a spirit of “Holy shit, this is amazing!” rather than “Dammit, I suck.” Everything changes.

9. Picture yourself as an eighty year old.

If you’re lucky enough to live that long, you probably won’t be able to do any of this asana stuff. But you’ll still be trucking around this same old body, and you can choose to beat it up or love on it. Your call. I don’t know of anything that ever gets softer or kinder or more open from being beaten down, though. (At the risk of being a walking yoga cliche, let me quote Rumi, who said it best: “Be ground. Be crumbled, so wildflowers will come up where you are. You’ve been stony for too many years. Try something different. Surrender.”)

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10. If you’re a teacher, commit to using body-positive languaging.

Silverstein offers an inspiring pledge for teachers: “This season, I am committing to nourishment. I am committing to nourishment not just through physical food, but through language and action. I and my studio (The Grinning Yogi) promise to offer a message of acceptance and nourishment starting NOW. We are pledging the following:
* We will NOT teach from a voice rooted in an exchange economy of food, guilt, calories, indulgence, or anything related to not “being enough” as you are.
* We will create a safe-haven for our friends to feel empowered so they can take effective steps in promoting their own self-care and overall wellness.
* We will open a dialogue about what real nourishment is.
* We will remind our friends that food is food, love is love, and yoga… yoga is a GIFT!”

I am proud to commit to this pledge, and to make my hot yoga classes a sanctuary and a refuge from body-shaming. So come on in. Bring your perfectly-original body along. Share the love. You’re all welcome here.

 

 

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Rachel Meyer is a Portland, Oregon-based writer and yoga teacher. Her work has appeared in The Washington Post, On Being, Yoga Journal, Tricycle, Yoga International, HuffPost, and more. You can find her at www.rachelmeyeryoga.com or @rachelmeyeryoga.

11 Things You Didn’t Know About the History of Yoga

I’ve spent the last year fine-tuning and teaching a History of Yoga workshop curriculum. It’s meant listening to endless history podcasts, combing through interviews with senior teachers like Judith Hanson Lasater and Richard Rosen, reading arresting new scholarship from academics like Mark Singleton and James Mallinson, and thumbing through primary texts like Light on Yoga and the Bhagavad Gita.

You know that old cliché about how if you really want to learn something, you should teach it? It’s true. I’ll never look at my yoga practice the same way again. And after reading this, you may not, either.

Here are a few unexpected revelations:

1. Yoga history is a total mash-up.

It’s quintessentially postmodern. (That’s a big word that basically means questioning long-standing truth narratives and lifting up identity politics and personal narrative as sources of insight and wisdom. Whew, right?) Postmodernism reminds us to think critically and take every perceived notion of “truth” with a grain of salt. It’s personified by creative artists like animator Sanjay Patel and hip-hop musician MC Yogi, both of whom blend ancient and contemporary Hindu traditions in electric cultural mash-ups of their own.

Postmodernism reminds us that our job as yoga historians is to ask: who preserved yoga history in this particular way? What purpose or agenda did that preservation serve? And whose voices are missing here?

2. Patanjali probably wasn’t just one dude.

That guy most of us know as the granddaddy of yoga philosophy, the scholar-priest who codified the Yoga Sutra for the first time? The one who likely lived sometime in the 2nd or 3rd century? Yeah, no. He very possibly didn’t exist. The compilation of the Yoga Sutra that historians have long attributed to him was likely the work of many priestly men. (But, then again, who really knows for sure?)

3. Yogis weren’t always mainstream.

In fact, as recently as the early 20th century, yogis were often perceived as wild renegades, dangerous rogues, and unruly highwaymen rife with black magic. No reasonable, respectable person wanted to be around them.

Those sadhus who stood on one leg in the middle of a river for two years straight? The same ones who practiced expelling their semen and then recalling it (yes, really)? They’re a world apart from the pastel-clad soccer moms and the lithe former ballet dancers you see now splashed on yoga magazine covers.

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When Swami Vivekananda came to speak at the 1893 World Parliament of Religions in Chicago — the moment that’s often recognized as the birthplace of yoga in America — he hesitated to speak of any postural (or hatha) yoga, focusing mainly on meditation and pranayama, for fear of alienating Westerners. That’s how unpopular and renegade most yogis were.

Even 40 years ago, many yogis were often still perceived as countercultural hippies. It’s only been within the last two decades or so that they’ve really found their place in bourgeois mainstream America. And now, of course, they’re at the center of a mass cultural phenomenon.

 

4. Asana itself is quite new.

Most of the poses you know so well from class — like Downward Dog or Triangle — are relatively contemporary creations. (As in, maybe a hundred or so years old.) Truth be told, the body didn’t even really get involved in yoga until maybe the 13th or 14th centuries. Prior to that, any asanas were probably seated poses like Ardha Padmasana (Half Lotus) or Virasana (Hero), the kind designed for ease of pranayama and meditation.

Hatha yoga poses developed sometime in the Middle Ages, right around the writing of the Hatha Yoga Pradipika, when an explosion of Tantric philosophy finally brought the body into the picture. (And yes, Tantra is about so much more than sex, in spite of notorious stereotypes that’ve arisen over the years.) Even those poses were still fairly simple, though they did much to challenge the sacred/profane binary that had previously denigrated the body as less holy than the spirit. Once Tantra emerged, the body finally became a locus for the sacred; literally, a temple for the divine.

Most of the standing poses we practice now, though? They’ve only been around a few hundred years at most. And many of them are much newer than that.

5. The practice as we know it is a total hybrid.

British military exercises. Scandinavian gymnastics. European curative medicine. Indian nationalist bodybuilding techniques. Freudian and Jungian somaticization of the emotions. Toss in New Age spirituality and a pop cultural emphasis on positive thinking, and you’ve got a diverse practice that spans the globe.

If you’ve ever heard your teacher wax poetic about how early yogis were doing sun salutations on the banks of the Ganges River 5000 years ago, now you know: they’re full of crap. Nobody was doing Surya Namaskara A 5000 years ago.

Whenever I teach sun salutations now, I point out that Mark Singleton and his fellow academics have doggedly uncovered the reality that Surya Namaskara A and B are maybe a hundred years old at best. (Check out Singleton’s book, “Yoga Body: The Origins Of Modern Posture Practice,” for the ultimate in recent scholarship on the history of contemporary asana.)

Mind. Blown.

6. Women are often invisible in yoga history.

And it’s the job of contemporary historians to bring them back into the picture.

Michelle Goldberg’s 2015 biography of Indra Devi, “The Goddess Pose: The Audacious Life of Indra Devi, the Woman Who Helped Bring Yoga to the West,” was a crucial first step into reclaiming the feminine side of yoga history. Goldberg is more often known as a writer of politics and religion, so she brings a particularly sharp cultural lens to excavating the “woman factor” here.

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Turns out Devi, née Eugenie Peterson, the Russian-aristocrat-turned-world-traveller, fought to study with Krishnamacharya, only to be turned away because she was a woman. The reason she was finally allowed to stay was that the Maharaj of Mysore stood up for her. Devi was one of Krishnamacharya’s key disciples, right up there with BKS Iyengar, Pattabhi Jois, and TKV Desikachar, though she isn’t often included in that nexus of primary teachers responsible for spreading yoga across the West.

Dive into Goldberg’s book for more dishy history, like how Devi opened the first yoga studio in Hollywood in 1947, taught starlets like Greta Garbo and Gloria Swanson, and later ended up moving to Mexico and Buenos Aires.

7. Context is everything.

Your understanding of yoga history depends so much on your cultural context, your moment in time, and your teacher’s perspective. When you learn yoga history from me (as a white, cisgendered, upper-middle-class woman in the world), you’ll get a mish-mash of self-consciously postmodern, progressive, queer, countercultural, intersectional perspectives. If you’d studied with premier German yoga historian Georg Feuerstein 30 years ago, you’d have gotten a whole different (incredible) vault of knowledge. Neither is right or wrong. Both are useful. That’s why we need to continue seeking out new teachers and new sources. Always. Don’t get complacent. Curiosity is key.

8. “Yoga is about half-Indian and half-Californian.”

I overheard this tongue-in-cheek quip some time ago on a podcast by Lucas Rockwell, listening to an interview while I did my home practice, and laughed out loud. No truer words have been spoken. One thing we know for sure is that yoga originated in India. That’s undeniable. But, as for the spread of yoga in the West? California has been hugely influential: a fertile soil for New Age thinking, body insecurity (hello, Hollywood), and health fads, all of which exploded across the country thanks to the power of celebrity. You can think of the evolution of yoga in America less as a movement from East to West and more as an ongoing dialogue, a cultural conversation between the two.

9. There is no “one true yoga.”

There are only variations on a theme, ever-evolving.

If old-school yogis from the 4th century walked into your Monday happy hour Power Vinyasa class, they’d have zero idea what the heck you were doing jumping around doing push-ups. They certainly wouldn’t recognize it as yoga. Just as, for most contemporary gym rats, sitting around meditating for hours at a time and living the ascetic, celibate life of a wandering yogi doesn’t sound much like the $16 drop-in class we’d willingly toss on our credit cards.

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So if somebody says their yoga is “right” and yours is “wrong,” or that that Vino & Vinyasa event or your Dog Yoga class or the brewery-hosted Yin workshop isn’t legit, have no fear. Yoga is in constant co-creation. It will continue to evolve. There is no one right way.

10. The history of yoga is a history of scandal.

I know, I know; it seems incongruent, given the fact that yoga, at its heart, is an ethical system for being clear-mindedly in the world, for lending ease and peace to all sentient beings, and for causing as little suffering as possible. But, as with all institutions and systems like the church or the government, when there are patriarchal guru relationships ensconced in sometimes-unhealthy power dynamics, shit happens.

The deeper you dig, the more you realize the history of yoga is rampant with sexual assault, abuse, harassment, and impropriety. A quick rundown of even the last 75 years reveals sordid sexual scandals, substance abuse, frozen pensions, adultery, exploitation, an epidemic of narcissistic gurus, and more.

I hesitated to include those scandals the first few times I taught new teacher trainees. I didn’t want to cast a shadow on the history of a beloved practice. This last time around, though, in light of the current events unfolding in the Presidential election, I realized it was essential to include the shadow side along with the light. The burgeoning teachers and I had a fascinating, sobering conversation about sex, power, ethics, and what it means to be a teacher of integrity. It was immensely rewarding.

You can’t leave this ugly stuff out because it feels uncomfortable. It’s just as much a part of the practice — and its legacy — as any of the good.

 

11. There are so many reasons to be hopeful.

Look at all the incredible spin-offs coming out of the yoga tradition right now. Yoga for veterans! Trauma-informed yoga! Yoga Trade! Political activist organizations like CTZNWELL and Off The Mat, Into The World. Yoga in prisons and senior centers and elementary schools. Decolonizing Yoga. The Yoga and Body Image Coalition. Transgender and queer-informed yoga philosophy. Weekly yoga classes at Grace Cathedral in San Francisco that attract some 700 people of all faiths, living, breathing, stretching together in sacred stillness.

There are great things happening in the name of yoga everywhere you turn. Keep learning. You’re as much a part of it as Patanjali and his priestly cohort. Maybe even moreso.

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Rachel Meyer is a Portland, Oregon-based writer and yoga teacher. Her work has appeared in The Washington Post, On Being, Yoga Journal, Yoga International, Tricycle, HuffPost, and more. You can find her at www.rachelmeyeryoga.com or @rachelmeyeryoga

What To Do When You’re Teaching In 15 Minutes & You’ve Got Nothing To Give

Teachers, does this sound familiar?

You’re drained, running on empty, burning the candle at both ends. You’ve taught 12 classes already this week, and with four to go, you wonder what you have left to give anyone.

You haven’t gotten much sleep. You’ve not eaten all day and you’re super low-blood-sugar. Or maybe you’re just feeling kind of quiet and blue; your dog just went in for surgery to remove a lump, or your grandmother is ailing, or you just found out you didn’t get that job (or that date) you really, really wanted.

Whatever the case — your gas tank is empty, and you’re feeling decidedly short on the kind of chutzpah required to power through being an inspiring yoga-guru for the next 90 minutes. How are you supposed to emcee a dance party when you’d rather curl up under the covers and hibernate?

I’ve been mentoring a few [awesome] teachers lately as they study for their 500hr certifications, and this is one of the topics that has repeatedly come up. Most of us wellness professionals can relate to this, yeah? If you teach long enough, you’ll surely experience burnout at some point. It’s the nature of the biz. (And the nature of being human, to be honest.)

For newer teachers especially, who are often hustling from location to location teaching 10-15 classes a week, it’s not an option to cut back to a more reasonable number. Add in urbanity, commuting, and a high cost of living, and you need to keep teaching a robust regular schedule to afford to pay your rent and eat a decent meal now and then, too. The luxury of cutting back to just a few inspired classes a week is one that’s often only available to established teachers with large followings, or folks with another full-time job that takes the financial pressure off yoga teaching.

Wellness professionals — whether yoga teachers, Pilates teachers, massage therapists, acupuncturists, you name it — well, we give a lot. The very nature of our craft is that you put yourself out there, physically AND emotionally. You can’t just hide in a cubicle with your headphones on and fritter the workday away online waiting for the clock to hit 5pm so you can escape to your sofa. You need to show up, in every way — whether you’re feeling en fuego or exhausted.

The upside for those of us who really love teaching is that so much comes back to us, too. How lucky are we to do the kind of work that makes us feel MORE alive when we finish? Many times over the years I’ve walked into a class feeling kind of neutral (shall we say sattvic, or quietly balanced, to keep it Ayurvedic?), and walked out feeling buzzingly-alive, connected, inspired. How cool is it that we get to do that kind of work? It really is a blessing.

Here are a few things to remember on the days when you might struggle for inspiration:

1. Take a deep breath.

Are you breathing? Chances are, probably not. Take a few good deep ones. You’re gonna be fine.

2. Eat a little snack.

Seems silly, I know. But check in. Have you eaten enough today? Grab an apple or a Lara Bar or a handful of almonds or, yes, even a Snickers. (And enjoy the hell outta that Snickers.) It might just give you the oomph you need.

3. Grab a chai or a cup of coffee.

Sure, there’s caffeine in there, which can provide a little motivational kick in the pants when you need it. But it’s more than that. It’s the concomitant ritual of self-care that goes a little deeper. Sit down quietly with the chai and notice, “Oh hey, I feel quiet and/or flat today,” and give yourself the space to be just that. (This is meditation, yo. Witnessing the feelings you’re feeling without thinking they’re YOU. Realizing they will always pass.) Taking just those few minutes of focusing, of slowing down, can make all the difference. Sometimes just pushing pause on the constant multi-tasking hustle can re-energize you.

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4. Realize that it’s not YOU doing the work.

It’s easy to get caught up in the illusion that you’re putting on a show, that you’ve gotta come up with some brilliant original material and hold people’s attention for a good 90 minutes. False. Let that shiz go. This is not your rodeo. You’re just being a vessel for spirit. You’re offering your hands, your body as a vehicle for the divine. And your job is to show up, get out of the way, and let the yoga move through you.

 

5. “Knees down, Hips back, Child’s Pose.”

Keep it simple, sweetheart. Stick to the basics. No need to blast ‘em with some ninja-complicated sequence. No need to reinvent the wheel. The simplest yoga poses can go so far. When I was first starting to teach and feeling the pressure to impress, an early mentor of mine told me, “Rachel, it’s easy. Knees down, hips back, Child’s Pose.” Done. I think of that sometimes even still.

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6. Remember: you don’t have to be a charismatic preacher.

That’s not your job. And teaching yoga is not a performance. Nobody’s paying $15 to jump around and entertain them for an hour. The students you are blessed to serve just want someone to help them get out of their heads and into their bodies. They want to stop thinking about their lives for an hour. They want you to tell them how to move so that their bodies and minds feel better when they walk out the door. It’s not about you, and it was never about you. So let go of the idea that you need to put on a Super Bowl half-time show complete with pyrotechnics and rainbows shooting out your butt. All you need to do is lead a solid, strong practice.

7. Take it one pose at a time.

I remember teaching during the very early days of my pregnancy, before anyone yet knew. I was feeling so nauseous and weak, but couldn’t tell anyone. A few minutes into some of those first trimester classes, I’d think to myself, “Ohmygosh, how am I going to make it 87 more minutes?” Rather than getting caught up in the enormity of the energy output you need to garner, come back to this moment. Come back to this very breath. Instruct the low lunge you’re holding folks in for the next five breaths. Make it to the other side. Take it step-by-step, pose-by-pose, without looking ahead to the scope of the class remaining. You’ll be ultra-present and deeply involved, and it will flow by smoothly before you even realize it’s over.

8. Don’t put on a perky mask. Let yourself be real.

I’ve long said: Yoga doesn’t mean you have to be perky all the time. Yoga means you get to be REAL.

Some of my favorite teachers are exactly that because they allow themselves to be who they are. They don’t try to fit some archetypal image of who they think a yoga teacher “should” be. Perhaps the most intimate and most inspiring thing you can do is to let yourself be real, too. If you’re feeling quiet, let yourself be quiet. If you’re feeling vibrant, by all means, radiate, baby. But don’t feel like you need to put on a charade when you walk in the door. People want a teacher who’s human, not a machine.

Virginia Woolf said it best: “No need to hurry. No need to sparkle. No need to be anybody but oneself.”

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9. Let go of the need for a theme.

Some schools of yoga encourage you to always teach around a theme, a heartfelt quote, a peak pose. I say: screw that. You don’t need to come wielding Hafiz. Leave the hastily-scribbled Rumi instagram quote in your purse. Don’t stay up all night devising the most pretzel-y sequence that ever was.

Provide a well-rounded practice with equal parts warm-ups, standing poses, seated poses, backbends, and forward folds, and you’ll be fine. Sometimes the nugget of wisdom you were searching for comes up when you least expect it, when you’re there three breaths into Camel Pose. Let it.

10. Trust in the inherent wisdom of the practice.

Everything students need is already there in the practice. You are just driving the bus. The school bus has it all, already. In fact, it’s tricked out, man.

The first yoga sutra, Atha Yoga Anusasanam, means exactly this. You chant that simple sutra to open the class and in so doing say: “Ok, I’ve got everything I need, already, right here, as I am. In this jiggly body. With these tight hamstrings. With this bum shoulder. And this racing mind. Now is the time for the yoga to begin.”

That’s what’s so awesomely radical about yoga, of course. You don’t NEED expensive shoes. You don’t NEED a climbing wall. And, in spite of what the ads tell you, you don’t NEED the $108 pants. All you need is your breath, a little space, and your bare feet. From there, you build the heat, you open it up, you slow it down, you wring it out.

Leading the practice is the same way. Even if you come into the room and just start counting the breaths, instructing the poses, folks will get exactly what they need. They don’t require you to balance spinning plates and juggle elephants while wearing sequins. And sometimes…

11. Silence says more than you ever could.

When in doubt, hand it over to silence. Let the stillness fill students’ hearts and minds. Don’t resort to anxious chattering to try to fill it up. How does that classic saying go? “Don’t speak unless you can improve upon the silence.” Yup. That’ll do.

 

 

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Rachel Meyer is a Portland, Oregon-based writer and yoga teacher. Her work has appeared in The Washington Post, On Being, Yoga Journal, Yoga International, Tricycle, HuffPost, and more. You can find her at www.rachelmeyeryoga.com.

4 Ways To Find More Santosha In Your Everyday

In yogic philosophy, the word Santosha basically translates as “contentment.”

This isn’t contentment as in, Hey, let’s get stoned and sit on the couch eating donuts and bingeing on Netflix for the next five hours.

It’s not contentment as in Eh, my life is pretty decent as it is, so why bother learning a new language or playing piano or planting a garden or traveling to Greece?

This is contentment, as in looking around at your perfectly-imperfect life, waking up to the little graces, and being ok with it, instead of constantly seeing happiness over there, once you get that body or that car or that job or that partner or that kid.

Buddhist scholar David Loy calls this grass-is-always-greener phenomenon LACK. It’s the ubiquitous, unsettling sense that there’s something intrinsically missing, a perpetual void, always the experience of not enough.

You see this everywhere. Capitalism stokes the fire. Our economy is fueled by the message that YOU ARE NOT ENOUGH. That if you just buy this moisturizer or that Tesla or that pair of sneakers, you’ll be lovable, you’ll be popular, you’ll be complete.

BULLSH*T.

We all know that’s not true.

Because as soon as you get the Tesla, you’ll want the newer model. And as soon as you get the McMansion, you’ll want the one with the pool next door. And as soon as you get the trophy wife, there’ll be a younger one with fewer wrinkles and better boobs around the corner.

So we practice cultivating santosha.

And you know what one definition is for enlightenment, right?

That’s right: WAKING UP.

Here are 4 things you can do to find more santosha in your everyday:

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1. Sit on a bench with a cup of coffee in your hands.

Plop your tired ass down anywhere: a park bench, your front stoop, a random tree stump. Close your eyes. Take a deep breath and feel the sun on your face. Look around at your surroundings, beautiful or ugly, and say to yourself, in spite of anything going down in your life right now (and we know there’s always something going down):

“It is enough.”

It seems so clichéd, I know. But in this culture, practicing enoughness is quite radical. It’s a countercultural move.

In 2002, I left my life in Delaware and moved to Europe. I didn’t have a job or a home or a family. It was just me and a lot of books and benches and train rides and church pews. And in the spite of all the wonders I visited, my main takeaway all these years later is of sitting on a bench in Amsterdam and Berlin and Paris and Madrid with a cup of coffee, closing my eyes, feeling the sun on my face, and saying “It is enough.”

It was simple and poor and quiet and unwashed.

But it was humbly enough.

Traveling solo as a 22-year-old was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. Seeing the world beyond your fingertips is doubtlessly life-rocking. And I love, love the work Yoga Trade does to make those kinds of incredible adventures possible now.

But it’s also easy to romanticize life on the road. The truth is, wherever you are, there will be struggles, and there will be joys. The glittering sunsets and the rad globe-trotting folks and the fab food will rock your world. But sometimes, it’s tough. You’re lonely, you’re broke, you’re carrying along an unrequited love or career fears in your racing mind. You’re comparing your poor bohemian nomad’s life with that of your college peers who graduated and bought a house and married someone and got a 401k before age 25.

Your job is to find the middle ground. So you pause and take a moment to look around and say, “It is enough.” Because even if you’re living in a pimped-out van down by the Nile River, there’ll always be aspects of an everyday grind. And it’s up to you to re-brand them.

2. Practice Up Dog, and stay.

I love Urdhva Mukha Svanasana so much lately. Most vinyasa practitioners literally roll right by Up Dog, practicing it what, 20 or 30 times in the course of one vinyasa class, right? We blow through it, not even appreciating it for a breath while we’re on our way to Down Dog.

So the last few months I’ve been purposely, consciously, holding it a solid 5 breaths. And MAN, is it tough! Man, does it feel great! And man, does it feel like a revelation and a relief to flip my toes and head back into Down Dog when it’s over.

This is practicing santosha. This is pausing to notice the things we usually blow right by.

Another easy way to do this is to walk on the different side of the street. You always stroll to the grocery store the same way? Cross the street. It’s a brand-new experience. An alternate universe. Turning off the cruise control.

Read the signs on the shop awnings. Notice the house numbers on the little bungalow down the street. Walk inside that antique shop you usually run right by. You’ll be surprised by how much you usually miss.

3. Before every meal, say three things you’re grateful for.

Even if you’re not into praying, this is a simple way to work in a little santosha. Your three things can be mundane or dramatic, anything from the burrito in front of you to the Affordable Care Act. It’s a sweet, playful way to get to know your dining companions a little better, too.

You can do this on your iPhone, too, using your Notes app. Just jot down thoughts as they come to you. Or you can go old-school and carry a notebook and pen around with you. Sit down and scrawl “In this moment, I am thankful for…” and then just let the pen run wild.

Don’t overlook the power of simple, mundane practices like this.

4. Sprawl out in savasana.

Let your palms fall open and your feet flop. Settle your weight and drop in. For maybe the first time today, notice the miracle of your heart beating in your chest and your lungs breathing, without you having to tell them to do so. Know that you are alive, and you won’t always be.

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This body will be a corpse.

So, in this very moment, just let your aliveness be enough.

For seven years now, I’ve offered the same blessing at the end of each yoga class. It goes like this, palms in prayer:

“Inhaling, we lift our hearts, and
Exhaling, we bow forward,
In very simple gratitude:
For this body, this breath, this moment, this life,
For, as the yoga reminds us: each of these will pass.
That we might never take any of those breaths, or any of those moments — even, and especially, the most challenging ones — for granted.”

Isn’t it hard? I mean, damn. Don’t we just want to get past those difficult moments as quickly as possible?

Not really. The alternative, of course, is that we’re dead.

If you’ve ever had a broken limb before, you get this. The revelation and immense gratitude you feel after getting your cast off, or throwing out the crutches and walking down the stairs again by yourself. A decade ago, living in San Francisco, I sprained my ankle. I tromped around miserably in a walking cast for several weeks, bartended in that beer-covered walking cast, and sat in the back row of a yoga class and faked my way through the whole thing on the floor. I felt so deeply grateful the first time I got my boot off. I promised myself I’d never again take for granted the ability to carry my groceries up the street or climb the stairs or go to work.

(Of course, now, I do.)

Last month, we ended up at the ER with my 2-year-old son. For over a week, he’d had a mysterious swelling of both eyelids that made it look like he’d just walked out of Fight Club, or an Olympic boxing match. We saw five different medical professionals over the course of a week, and they all offered different potential diagnoses, but no one was able to cure it, even after meds, shots, and time.

The dreaded parental rite of passage of your first trip to the ER is pretty, well, awful.

Being there was such a reminder of impermanence and the fragility of these aging bodies. You walk through the doors under that big red EMERGENCY ROOM sign and know you’re gonna see sorrow.

But being there with your KID takes it to a whole new level. My mind kept slipping toward anxiety, running off to heartbreaking imagined futures. It was a constant practice of having to corral it again and again, bring it back to this moment.

After several hours and a battery of tests that revealed everything was going to be ok, and it was just a simple blocked oil gland in his eyelid, I’ve never felt more awake to the fundamental blessings of my life. Like being able to make eye contact with my son. Like being able to cut that ER bracelet off his leg. Like knowing he’d be able to see and walk and kick a ball and play an instrument and read books.

Santosha. Waking up.

Stay woke. This life is short.

 

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Rachel Meyer is a Portland, Oregon-based writer and yoga teacher. Her work has appeared in Yoga Journal, The Washington Post, On Being, Tricycle, The Huffington Post, Yoga International, and more. You can find her at www.rachelmeyeryoga.com

Instagram: @rachelmeyeryoga

This Little Light ‘o Mine: Reflections for When the Path Grows Dim

I have been awash with jealousy.

It is not a thing I am eager to admit.

I met her when we were both newish teachers, a year into the game, about 5 years back.
We solidified our bond when we both had babies in our bellies.
Both our firsts.
Both girls.
Born a mere 5 weeks apart.
(I joke that she gets a pass for her absentee-ism at my BlessingWay as that was the day her daughter saw fit to make her way into the world. Pardon. Granted.)

During that time we took walks and talked about our growing bodies, waning energy levels and the changes to our practice.
We talked about the changes to come.
Our dudes – turned out they worked in the same industry.
Our frustrations & fears.
And some good, thoroughly geeked-out yoga talk that only a few can truly relate to: “I know, right?! Toooootal mula bhanda right there. …”

Our wee ones had their first “playdate” when mine was just a mite eight days old.

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Over the years, the parallels and similarities have piled up.
We’ve had students walk up to us in the halls, ready to spark a conversation, thank one of us for Thursday’s class, only to realize a few minutes in that, “Oh, wait. Not this one. The other one.”

But also, over the years, somewhere – the parallels have dissipated and re-arranged themselves in contrarian angles as well. Her one girl child quickly morphed into two, while my own family continued on in trio form.
We bought a big house on a big, sprawling piece of land and started talking about plans.
She and her guy re-financed an upside-down mortgage and halted construction on a half-gutted house that is still theirs’ to live in – till the tide turns in their favor.
We had a good year and socked some money away.
They had a rough one and are learning to make due.

But the linchpin in all of this boils down to this.
I injured my hip, a mysterious lingering malaise that still rears its’ vexing head even now, a year later.
I settled into the sort of practice that she and I have always secretly sneered at in hushed tones, the downgraded version of the form we hushingly call, “Old People Yoga”. I stopped running and hand-standing and hopping and over-exerting and watched the lingering “baby weight” settle in for an elongated stay.
Meanwhile, my friend launched a self-sculpted Instagram display – devoting herself to 10-20 minutes of well-documented monkey business every day – hop-ups, drop-backs, 20-second mid-room pincha-mayurasana holds, and twisty-twirly-funky side crow variations and such.
It didn’t start out looking like much, several months back.
But she has been diligent.
She has been focused, keen, hopeful & spry.
And consequently, my parallel-sister-doppelganger friend – has taken on a certain shine – a pallor, which it seems, I currently, do not possess.

People take notice of the shifting, leaner lines of her body, the brightness dialed up a notch inside her skin and eyes.
A new choir of admirers flocks to tap the little heart icon and leave their awestruck comments below her latest demonstration of kinesthetic grace & skill.

My skin stays the same, perhaps even a bit more crinkly-wrinkly than a year before.
My shine continues to stay dim – so far as I can see.
And the little heart icon — below the little musings and humble pitter-patter that I bleet out into the ether now and then — grows dim and quiet, blurring into the backdrop of unremarkable moments that comprise my life.

This jealousy business bodes unwell within me.
It makes me feel uneasy and off-balance.
I wonder if it turns me to a shitty friend.
What’s more, it defies logic.
It makes me scratch my head in twain.

For here is this woman, friend, mirror, pal – who lacks so many of the basic things which I, in fact, possess – and yet I crave what small gems have been allotted her.
Where I have space that’s ample, she carves out a tiny corner where she can.
Where I can dip my feet into a pool of resources that is deep and wide, she sprinkles together what can be found, in order to float the tiny boat a small length or so more.
From the tiny flickers of hope nestled inside her world, she has fanned a worthy flame.
She has taken the limited notes that she’s been granted and she’s made them f*cking Sing.

And I suppose that’s the rub.

For while I’m standing here, admiring her hard-won treasures, greedily wishing them for my own – I deny the gift within me.
By staring so astutely, so hungrily and achingly gazing at the light cast forth by my hard-working chum – I turn my back on the Sun, the moon, the stars – that perhaps, even now- are trying to work their cosmic Sheen through me.
I linger in darkness a beat, a day, a week or so more.

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I am at a place in my teaching, in my practice, in my adhikara (my studentship), where, six years in, I am ready for something More.
I am ready to dig deeper, go further, push limits, and implode old ways.
I am ready to continue the work it takes to be a true Bearer of Transformation – A Truth Teller – a Light Worker – a Guide.
And, when I look at it honestly, I had a certain view of what that would look like.
What shape that new blooming would take.

I thought it would look a lot like my friend.
With fancy-schmancy arm-balances and accolades and sh*t.

But my light doesn’t shine that way it turns out.
At least not in this Moment.
My offerings don’t come in happy-shiny, five-steps-to-Eka Pada Koundinyasana pdf-form at this point in time.
Instead I have been learning the ropes of Humility,
the steps of unravelling Grace.
I am being shown the proper alignment of Gratitude.
I have been made a student of breath, awaiting, and Being with What Is.

The peak poses occur as gentle, spouting epiphanies inside my head and heart.
I am learning to show up in all kinds of ways beyond the mat.
And I am being taught the path of Intention inside the studio(s) of my marriage, my mothering, my friendships, my bank balance, my Life.

A thing decidedly less sexy than the forearm-balances that I was hoping to share with you all by now, but a treasure, nonetheless.

Injury has stepped in to be my teacher.
A thing I would not have chosen on my own.
But she’s brought me things a perfect handstand may have not.
She’s shown me how to show up where I am – to breathe, to allow, to emit a humble sliver of the Light.
She’s allowed me to drop into the seat of the student once more, rather than espouse a bunch of high-minded answers I don’t yet possess.
She’s haltingly brought me to a recognition – We all get a slice of the Gods’ Glory pie – whether or not it’s the shape, size or flavor we prefer.

We can all sing in the choir.
Even if our voice is small.

We know the cracks – the conundrums, the vexation and the brokenness that we possess – are where the Light gets in.
But it’s what we choose to do with the pieces – broken or not – that determine how much Light – we send back out.

To my girl, I say:: Shine on, lady. Keep #kickingass and I will watch you glow.
And I’ll learn how to harness my own lick of the Divine flame in my own humble way.

Together::: we’ll brighten up this corner where we stand.

 

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Amy Day has been teaching asana classes & creating work around sacred circles, for the past 6 years. She loves the place where the Sublime & the humdrum intersect, and chanting to her students on the ukulele. She lives in the Pacific Northwest.

Get Lost, Start Over: Why Yoga Starts When Things Fall Apart

It’s a cool, grey Saturday morning in Portland.

7:45am.

I’m on the road, cruising along about 45 mph, pleasantly caffeinated, smoothie in hand, headed to teach my 8:15am class.

Life is calm and quiet and good. (The caffeine helps).

Good, that is, until, out of nowhere, smack in the middle of the road, surrounded by other metal deathboxes zooming along at 45 mph, my car just dies.

Shuts off. Loses all power. Sayonara, baby.

The dashboard lights flash once, ominously, and then they die, too. All of them.

Holy shit. What’s going on?! What am I gonna do?!

I shift the weirdly-energyless car into neutral. There’s a parking lot just a few hundred feet ahead to my right, if I can just manage to get there. Deliberately, clenchedly, I steer that lifeless monstrosity of glass and leather and steel into the parking lot, shove it awkwardly into Park, sit for a breathless moment hoping nothing explodes, and turn the ignition off.

Exhaling, I think to myself:

This is why we do yoga.

*

I’m a vinyasa teacher these days, but long before I’d ever stepped foot in a Flow class, I spent six years practicing Bikram-style hot yoga daily. It was my balm and my sanctuary, a delicious, addictive torture that cracked me open and slowed me down.

The first time I took a hot yoga class was in September 2003.

Age 24. I’d just moved to San Francisco, and my sweet Japanese roommate of two weeks, Hitomi, told me I just had to try this yoga thing. I’d been running the City’s hills to tackle the anxiety of trying to find a job, so my shin splints were screaming and my hamstrings tightening by the day. There was a studio just down the street, so one evening I went with her.

I’d resisted yoga for years, even after folks I respected had recommended it, figuring it would just be a bunch of middle-aged ladies stretching to hippie flute music. Not my jam.

Tim was my teacher; Tim, who all these years later, is now a dear colleague and friend. Tim, who was sweet and light-hearted and called Locust Pose “Superfriends Pose.” He led us confidently through the 26 poses, and there, in that sweltering, airless 105F degree room, I felt refreshingly at home.

The studio quickly became a refuge. There, I was allowed to be quiet. I was required to be quiet. I could roll in with messy hair and no makeup and ratty old sweats and stand in the back corner and be invisible. I could disappear into the breath, the silence, the rhythm of the practice, sweating and twisting and stretching out everything in me that was frantic or frazzled or stagnant or uncertain, balancing precariously on that sweat-soaked berber carpet.

The practice pushed me to no end. It was so hard to stay alive! So hard to keep breathing! So hard to not freak out or swear at the teacher or throw my arms up in frustration and stomp out of the room! So hard to fall out of Standing Bow Pose and just get back in, 100 times, without reacting, without making a face, without feeling like the most pathetic yogi that ever was.

Get lost. Start over.
Get lost. Start over.
Get lost. Start over.
Get lost. Start over.

This is yoga. This is meditation. This is parenting. This is intimacy. This is art.

This is that moment in the middle of the freeway when you’re lucky to be alive, and 17you’re not sure what to do, because your car just shut down, so you take a deep breath, and remember how back in the day you used to breathe through Half Moon even though it was exhausting and frustrating and impossible, and you take that same deep breath and steer the car over to the side of the road and call your husband to tell him to call AAA and he does and call the studio owner to pick you up and he does and you get to class with 10 minutes to spare while AAA tows your car and you step into that studio and feel calm and present and perfectly wonderfully fine (because it all is, of course).

We don’t come to the mat because life is peachy. Most of us come because of an ache in our hearts or our bones or a mind that won’t quite stop racing. We come and we just practice staying; staying and not reacting, staying and realizing the chaos is not us, staying and realizing we are clear blue sky.

Everything else? Just the weather.

(Thanks to Pema Chodron for that one.)

*

There’s a reason we call it practice. For a long time I felt cheesy about using that word.

“So, how long have you been, erm, practicing?”

It felt so pretentious. Precious. Silly.

But the more I showed up on my mat, the more I realized how perfect that word really is. We aren’t performing (that’s for damn sure). We aren’t exercising. We aren’t doing.

We are practicing.

We are practicing for all of those moments when shit falls apart, and the flight gets cancelled, and the package gets lost, and the heart breaks, and the car stops, so that when those moments come (and they will), we already know how to take a step back, watch our reactions, slow down, and choose how to respond, realizing that as long as we stay right here in this very moment, without letting our minds run off to some story about what might be or what should’ve been, we’ll be fine.

Patanjali outlines this mental training in the second yoga sutra, wherein he defines yoga as “Citta Vritti Nirodha.” In other words, “Yoga is the cessation of the misidentification with the fluctuations of the mind.”

Come again?

Put simply: yoga is realizing you are not your thoughts.

*

Steve Ross’s book, Happy Yoga: 7 Reasons Why There’s Nothing To Worry About, was the first legit yoga philosophy text I ever found.

One afternoon shortly after taking that first class I wandered into the New Age section of a bookstore down by the Embarcadero. The yoga pickings were slim at the time, but Steve Ross’s book caught my eye. Its corny title grated me. But the content hooked my heart and my mind, all at once.

I sat on the floor and read the whole thing in one take.

In down-to-earth, relatable language, Ross laid out the basics of meditation, asana, and a yogic lifestyle. His simple, self-deprecating words changed my life.

Describing how to train your mind, Ross offers the example of what happens when you get a flat tire on a sketchy road at night. Your cell phone is dead and you can’t call or text anyone. (I’m adding this detail because the 2003 version didn’t assume that everyone had smart phones). In that moment, you can do one of two things: 1) Freak out immediately and hyperventilate and assume an axe-murderer is lurking just outside your passenger door waiting for you to walk out, or 2) Take a deep breath, keep your mind yoked to every step you’re taking, walk to the gas station a half-mile down the road, and call a friend. Then, sit down and wait and read the newspaper until he comes to pick you up.

No big deal. Problem solved.

The key moment here is when you make the choice to keep your mind from running off the rails like a runaway train. That crucial breath when you avoid getting sucked into the worst-case scenario and just bring your attention right back to what is.

*

Last weekend I led a yoga and hiking retreat in Point Reyes, California. This quiet little hamlet about an hour north of San Francisco is rich with local blue cheese and Tomales Bay oysters and the kind of thick coastal fog that rolls in about 5:30pm. The hikes that meander throughout Point Reyes National Seashore are rustic and lush, with killer blue-skied views of the Bay and the Pacific Ocean beyond.

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I’ve led a few of these retreats in the last year or so, and it’s always a joy. There’s this particularly magical hike that winds up Inverness Ridge to the top of Mount Vision and back down again. Locals know it, but otherwise it’s pretty much off the tourist radar. My husband and I used to hike a portion of it daily when we lived in Inverness and I was pregnant with our son.

But the last time we did it, I got our group of 30 people lost several times and we had to backtrack to the trailhead instead of finishing out the full loop.

I was so embarrassed. Felt like an idiot.

This time, I was determined to redeem myself. Two days before the retreat, I hauled my ass to the trail for a test hike. With a fire in my belly, I started from the end and hiked backwards, determined to find the missing connection.

Got to the top, and BOOM.

Turns out, last time we were actually totally on the right path. Had we only walked ¼ mile further — and had I trusted my intuition — we would’ve stumbled right onto the rest of the loop and hiked back down to complete the circle.

Lesson learned: You are on the right path, even if it doesn’t feel that way. Trust your gut. Your body knows more than your mind will often give it credit for.

Get lost. Start over.
Get lost. Start over.
Get lost. Start over.
Get lost. Start over.

*

I don’t practice much hot yoga anymore these days, but I’ll always be grateful for the way it changed my life: how it taught me to stay with discomfort, to keep breathing, and to trust that the difficult moments would pass. Sweating there in Trikonasana, my mind couldn’t get lost in aimless worries about my career or my love life or my bank account. I had to be right there, struggling, exhaling, trying not to fall over.

This is yoga. This is why we practice. So that when we’re in the most awkward, sweaty, challenging moments of our lives, we can be there, and be ok. Not freak out. Not run out of the room. Not get lost in unhelpful stories.

We yoke the mind to the breath the same way you’d yoke a wild horse to a wagon. Keeping it steady. Keeping it focused. Keeping it centered on that drishti. And before we know it, the difficult moment has passed.

And there we are.

Clear blue sky.

 

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Rachel Meyer is a Portland, Oregon-based writer and yoga teacher. Her work has appeared in Yoga Journal, The Washington Post, On Being, The Huffington Post, Yoga International, and more. You can find her at www.rachelmeyeryoga.com.

Take It Off the Mat

People say that practicing yoga is walking on the path. Well, it’s definitely not driving on a highway. Sometimes the path runs through a forest with logs and tree branches blocking it, sometimes through marshes and you have to be really careful where you step, sometimes through fields where sweet scented flowers blossom.


Walking the path you need to know where you are to make sure you are not lost. So don’t forget to take time to check your inner compass, consult a spiritual map (Yoga Sutras, for example) or ask locals for directions (someone you respect and trust).

Navigating the spiritual practice gets tricky at times but you’ve got all the equipment to keep you on track if your asana practice is alive. If you are a practitioner, you hear this in most of the classes, if you are a teacher you are giving these instructions everyday. Just take these principles off the mat to your everyday life and practice what you preach.

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We start a class with cleansing Kapalabhati breathing to remove impurities and make space for fresh air and fresh energy to come in. When you are facing a problem or just feel low without realizing the reason, start with simply cleaning around your space, throw away (or donate) things you no longer need. Think if there is something or somebody in your life that is a little bit too much to handle. If there is, may be it’s time to take a break. Make space for wonders to come.

Next thing is respecting your limitations, keeping in mind they change day by day. So maybe today (or this week or this year) you are a little stiff and just can’t cope with as much work (or socializing) as usual. In this case an extra hour of sleep or just relaxing and doing something you enjoy may help.

We build an asana from the foundation. Decide what your priority is and concentrate on it. Arrange everything else around it. Find grounding and stability in the most important and valuable things for you, may it be the family, education, or health.

Safe asana practice emphasizes correct alignment and encourages not to compromise it for some doubtful achievement. So if you have some goal in mind, make sure the methods you are using are not in conflict with your moral principles. Otherwise your peace of mind is at risk, So take good care of yourself and remember that the result is not all that important; the way is.

And of course, the key to the practice is the breath. No matter how hard it gets, you can breathe through it. Your breath is always there for you, honest and welcoming. It is a safe place to come back to.

Take it off the mat! Balance is never stillness, it’s constant adjustment to the change. Keep balancing, keep practicing.

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Yoga found Kate on her short (as she thought) visit to India for His Holiness Dalai Lama’s teachings. Soon after she arrived and took her first ever Yoga class, she enrolled in 200-Hours TTC and has been practicing and teaching Yoga ever since.

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