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Finding Salvation in the Storm

The following is the story of my journey from a life plagued by burnout, addiction, depression and anxiety into a life of self-healing and finding salvation through yoga and a plant based diet.

I moved to Oakland to attend a graduate school program that would prepare me to be a public school teacher in urban communities. I was very intentional about the route I took into teaching. I choose a program that would provide me with a year of supervised student teaching and one that explicitly included courses on the profession of teaching and how issues of race and inequality impacted teaching and learning. I was a bright eyed young teacher and believed that with the proper training I would be prepared to work in some of the harshest conditions in the country. I wanted to teach because I wanted to create a narrative in my classroom that countered the narrative the larger society had about the students I worked with. I believed deeply in the importance of the work I was doing and I was committed to doing all I could to best serve my students. All the training in the world never be enough to prepare me for the conditions I would encounter as a teacher. Because I was young and didn’t yet know myself, I did not have the tools to deal with the emotional stress and trauma of the job.

In some respects, I had a lot of success as a teacher. I took on extra roles outside the classroom. I was creative with my curriculum, and I had strong relationships with my students. I was often described as passionate, dedicated and caring. Early in my career I had a colleague pull me aside to tell me that I needed to protect my passion because it would lead to my burn out. I remember feeling resentment at that statement as I felt like my passion set me apart from other more experienced teachers who appeared to me as more withdrawn from their work and therefore not as effective.

In my first year teaching one of my advisees was shot and killed. My room became the place where students came to mourn. I was tasked with holding space for her friends who were grieving her loss. The classroom does not exist in isolation from the community it serves. I became immersed in the constant trauma, violence and loss experienced by the students who graced my classroom. I continued to take on extra roles outside the classroom and seek ways to ease the pain of my students, all the while ignoring my own. I felt like the harder I worked the more I could do to help my students. I could not have been more wrong.

Numbing my emotions with work, alcohol and unhealthy relationships became my way of coping. I also developed an Adderall addiction, as I was fueled by the idea that the more productive I was the more valuable I was as a teacher. I was taking high doses of Adderall every day and using alcohol and marijuana to fall asleep at night. I was completely neglecting my physical, emotional and spiritual needs all under the façade that my work was more important than me.

I was on a one-way track to a breakdown, which thankfully came. I landed in a psychologist’s office reading me the results of my psychological evaluation. I was suffering from severe burnout, depression and anxiety as well as a substance abuse issue. The psychologist was ready to prescribe psych meds on the spot. At this point I had moved home and began practicing yoga twice a day. I had also begun to change my diet, and stopped taking Adderall all together. After my experience with Adderall the last thing I wanted was more pills. I told the doctor that I wanted to see if I could use yoga and diet to manage my mental and emotional health.

Two years later I am free of all substances and am more happy and connected to my passions and purpose than ever. I have been able to create a life for myself where my health and happiness are at the forefront. I traveled to Costa Rica to become a certified yoga instructor and currently teach regular yoga classes at a local studio here in Baltimore, Maryland. I am currently enrolled in a holistic health-coaching program at the Institute for Integrative Nutrition and am excited about expanding my capacity to support other peoples wellness journey through coaching. I have also been trained to teach yoga to people in recovery through Y12SR’s training. I have established a strong support group of people supporting me on this new journey. I am proud to say I am currently managing my addiction, depression and anxiety with yoga and a holistic lifestyle.

There was a moment of darkness when I could not imagine how I would ever move forward. My entire identity was wrapped up in my teaching career and my students. I had completely run myself into the ground. But I am here to tell you that there is another way to live, and that sometimes our biggest obstacles are actually here to direct us towards a life beyond our wildest imagination. You can find salvation in the storm. Yoga, a plant based diet and holistic self-care practices have saved me from a life of addiction, burn out, depression and anxiety. I am proud of my transformation.

At the end of each yoga class I teach, after savasana, I invite students to roll onto one side into a fetal position. I remind students that fetal position is a posture that symbolizes renewal and rebirth and is a reminder to us that every day, every practice, every breath is a chance to begin again. What will you do with yours?

 

Maya Semans is a former inner city high school English teacher turned yoga instructor and holistic health coach on a mission to share the power of yoga and wellness with women and communities impacted by burn out, addiction, and trauma. Located in Baltimore, Maryland.

Connect with Maya on IG: @ana_may_a

 

Maya participated in our Mentorship Program with Mary Tilson. Receive a consultation with Mary when you sign up for the Yoga Trade PLUS membership.

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Yoga Retreats: An Escape From Reality or Deeper Engagement?

The first yoga retreat I attended was intended to be a mere pit-stop on a lone trip around South East Asia. I was not-so-fresh out of university and in need of some serious TLC. My shoulders were permanently up to my ears, jaw always tightly clenched and the worries of the world sat in my stomach like lead stewing in acid. I arrived with tonsillitis, my pasty white skin contrasting sharply with the ruby red rash all over my body. In short, I was a mess.

I’d barely practised yoga before, but decided on a whim to try a retreat as a kick-start to a trip I’d imagined would be full of cocktails on beaches and partying with strangers. My focus was the location; little beach huts on a gorgeous Thai island, idyllic gardens stretching into sand and sea. On day one, I reluctantly dragged myself from the beach for the first yoga class, relatively disinterested and quietly cursing over the time I was losing to bask in the sunshine. It therefore came as a total surprise that whilst lying in Savasana at the end, I couldn’t stop tears from rolling down my cheeks. One by one at first, slowly but surely erupting into quiet sobs that came from depths I didn’t know existed.

After the class, I shyly loitered around the teacher, waiting to ask what had just happened to me. I felt uncomfortable and vulnerable and had no idea where this explosion of emotion had come from. Was I somehow doing yoga wrong? Only an hour before, I’d been lounging on the beach without a care in the world…or so I thought. I was told it was normal, common even, for deep emotional trauma to be released during yoga. This certainly had never happened to me at the gym, and I couldn’t help but wonder why this class was any different.

Curious, I persisted. I observed as layers of tension melted away day by day. I watched as my body and mind somehow became stilled by my previously shallow and laboured breath. What fascinated me the most was how deep the transformation seemed to be going in such a short space of time. I arrived feeling depleted and lost, but left only days later totally full; full of joy and calm and hope and excitement and energy, sensations I hadn’t felt for a long time. The experience ended up colouring my entire trip, moulding my decisions and steering me towards more fulfilling choices than I perhaps previously had in mind. Decision number one? Book another yoga retreat.

When I arrived at the next retreat centre in Cambodia only weeks later, I connected instantly. The place gave me tingles. The community at Hariharalaya practice and teach integral yoga, living yoga both on and off the mat – a concept although new to me at the time, resonated like nothing before. I was hungry to learn, eager to go deeper into this practice that had rapidly become so important to me. I could write essay after essay on what arose for me during that week, but suffice to say that my time at Hariharalaya was significant, eye-opening and life-changing. I left there a different person, evolved in some way I wasn’t quite sure of. How was this possible in only one week?

Despite travelling hundreds of kilometres to Indonesia after I left Hariharalaya, I knew I had to go back. Within weeks, I turned around and turned up again, excited for what I thought was to be round two of a personal transformation. But this time, something quite different occurred to me. I had been so focused on the power of yoga, I hadn’t noticed the power of a retreat. Of the particular format which, over mere days can prompt radical transformation; physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually.

It was only by going to this same place a second time that I realised this. The first time I had been lost in my own metamorphosis – which by the way, is by no means a onetime thing! This second time, I couldn’t help but observe others. I watched as people, just like me, arrived frazzled and fatigued, tight and tense. Not in all cases, of course, but for the large part, it transpired that people had come as a means of release and relaxation, escape from their daily lives. As time passed, those who had made nervous small talk on the first day slowly crept out of themselves, sharing with sincerity and support. Others became more introverted, tucking themselves away and tapping into creative outlets. Some delved deep into yoga, others delved deep into novels. But each and every person radiated a satisfaction and content which grew exponentially as each day passed. Day by day, I watched as this new family opened up, blossoming in the light of the space that was held for them.

This, to me, is the root of what a retreat does: it holds space for transformation. It guides, teaches and nurtures, coaxing innate qualities to burst forward. Yoga is the tool, the practice around which all of this comes together. For many, there is neither time nor motivation to practice yoga every day, allowing the huge benefits of doing so to be revealed only during a retreat. Although tasty food and exotic locations often provide the temptation to book, it is this space that people come for, often unknowingly. It seems these days that we don’t allow ourselves enough time and space to explore creativity and spirituality, to play, to connect with nature and ourselves. It is this which I find so inspiring about retreats; that a formula so simple can provoke such a profound response.

The word retreat comes from the Latin retrahere, meaning ‘pull back.’ People’s perceptions of a retreat are no doubt shaped by the spectrum of its synonyms, from sanctuary and seclusion to withdrawal, isolation and hiding. The Merriam Webster dictionary defines a retreat as a “process of withdrawing, especially from what is difficult, dangerous, or disagreeable.” In many ways, this is what I was doing when I booked my first retreat. I mindlessly entered my card details as procrastination from the endless difficulties of university work, daydreaming of myself on a beach in Thailand. The sad fact is that many of us feel the need to withdraw or pull back from fast-paced, high-pressure lifestyles in order to be able to process what is going on around us.

Whilst this may be the reason that some of us choose to go on a yoga retreat, it is certainly not its purpose. Whether we realise it or not, by consciously setting time aside to step out of usual routines and their accompanying anxieties, we are prompted to journey inward. Retreats offer us an environment in which we are able to listen to ourselves without distraction, to realise, reassess and refocus. This might expose depths of ourselves which have been overlooked. Suppressed energies can surface, and as such, going on retreat is not always easy. It is not an escape from reality, but a deeper engagement with it.

In taking the time to stop, listen and reflect, new perspectives naturally arise. As Marcel Proust once wrote, “the voyage of discovery is not in seeking new landscapes but in having new eyes.” This to me beautifully captures the longer-term benefits of going on retreat. Even though we must return to that from which we have withdrawn, we do so with new eyes. We go back to our roles, relationships and responsibilities with a fresh perspective. In this sense, the process of withdrawal on retreat is tactical; sometimes it is important to withdraw in order to advance.

 

 

 

Rachel Bilski is the co-founder of Shanti Niwas, a yoga collaborative currently holding yoga retreats and classes in Portugal. You can follow her musings on yoga, travel and life on the Shanti Niwas blog: www.shantiniwas.com/snblog

Leprosy & Lessons in Love: Meditation In Action

With fear on my mind and love in my heart, I choose to follow people who live to benefit more then just themselves.

I was born and raised in Toronto, Canada, in total health and abundance but I became aware of the unsatisfactory nature of a life without service to others.

Nathan & Zohar, run meditation in action projects around the world known as Sangha Seva Retreats.

They first came to Anandwan in 2004 as volunteers and have been facilitating groups of people to experience and contribute to the community every year since.

Anandwan (‘Forest of Joy or Bliss’) is a leprosy rehabilitation center in Mararashtra, India. Baba Amte, a saintly man, founded Anandwan in 1951 with the mission of providing a life for people with Leprosy that went beyond offering medical support but a way for each individual to be wholly integrated in society.

All Photography by Shilpa Shah

Leprosy is the oldest known disease and is extremely misunderstood and stigmatized all over the world but particularly in India – as being grotesque, highly contagious and even a personal curse of God or Karma.

Historically, India has had the highest population of the disease with many afflicted people being rejected and disregarded from society – left to fend on their own support, in times of dire need of the support of others.

Baba Amte fiercely started this project with 6 patients living on donated government land- without even a water source. With the power of love in his heart, within only 2 years the land completely transformed into a self-sufficient community – apart from sugar, salt, and oil.

Therefore, you can imagine the jobs that were manifested – from making on-site homemade mattresses, bed sheets, pillows, fabrics, housing and furniture, homemade specialized wheelchairs, custom-made shoes for all these differently shaped mended bodies and feet, bio-waste methane system turning cow and food waste into gas to cook with, growing food and cooking for all these many mouths – all day, every day!

The community has grown to host approximately 3,000 individuals with a range of differences in the body and mind (children, elderly, with physical and mental disabilities) that may have not had a safe place in the world without Anandwan.

Anyone can live here with the guidelines of not taking any intoxicants, non-violence, and being willing to work, if able. Baba said “give people a chance – not charity,” which from my observation seems to be clearly successful.

As a part of the meditation-in-action mission, 17 international volunteers, joined together for 3 weeks to practice meditation while consciously living and working in various workshops throughout the Anandwan community.

I choose to work in the elderly home in the mornings and alternating between the hearing and the visually impaired school in the afternoon.

Besides working with other people, I had to deal with my own suppressed internalized fear I was unknowingly hosting around touching elderly people’s bodies. It really had nothing to do with Leprosy as in retrospect I remembered that I also felt this sense of rejection at my grandma’s retirement home in Toronto. The look of fragility and potential weaknesses somehow gave me the impression of it not feeling safe to touch the bodies of these human beings. Maybe some unconscious fear of “catching” whatever they have even if it was just my own projection of their pain and suffering. As it turns out, odds are as a human being, if I’m super lucky, I will indeed catch the state of old age regardless of physical contact will people or not.

Baba was known to say that the real leprosy to fear is this leprosy of the mind.

The illusive walls between where the being behind ‘their’ skin and mine – began to fade away. I realized that my intention was to share moments of connection, not “fix” anyone or anything.

Through breaking down my own barriers of fear I shared in the most precious exchanges of love during this project.

They, like you and me and all other beings- simply want to experience happiness- feel love, less suffering, less pain. Something we can all naturally offer to each other – but as I can see it must start with the fragile being behind our own skin.

The human beings living at Anandwan showed me strength and joy through the endurance of suffering and pain. Maybe it really is the challenges that strengthen the spirit. All I know is the light and love radiating from these people felt so bright that I couldn’t even see the different abilities, shapes of bodies or sense capabilities in all their various forms.

We all have opportunities to dive into these unfamiliar environments and into the power of love that exists beyond the discernment of our mind that constantly creates distinctions between good, bad, less or more, like or dislike, into this golden thread that ties us all together – the aliveness that exists in meeting each moment with full awareness- of life, exactly as it is.

“Namaste” – the people of Anandwan say here with their hands at their heart and I couldn’t imagine a greeting that was more appropriate. I see you – as a pure divine living, breathing, feeling being – as significant a life as the one I consider “my own.”

May we all find ways of stepping outside our own fears and into the transformation power of love – for ourselves and for each other.

 

 

 

Sacha Bryce, BSc, RYT, is a Holistic Yoga Therapist based in Toronto, Canada. She has travelled the globe studying, teaching and living Integral Yoga. Her mission is to share the power of the practice to liberate herself and others from suffering.

IG: @sachabryceyoga

Exams to Evaluate Your Yoga Level: A Paradox?

I’m approaching the end of my 3 year Iyengar Yoga Teacher Training, and lately I’m struggling with this paradox of having an exam in yoga. To strive and train for an exam, is to me, so in contradiction with the ‘yoga philosophy’.

Six years ago I started practicing yoga to heal myself from an serious back-injury after doing so many back-bends as a contortionist in a circus. Today, practicing yoga asanas makes me feel good, it makes me feel alive and I feel much more aware and clear-minded.

Every morning, when I step on my yoga mat, I like to do some wake-up stretches and unwinding of my body. I’m feeling the state of my body this morning, and I’m just flowing and slow dancing to wake my body up and get the sleepy stiffness away. This kind off moving wouldn’t look like yoga, but it feels good. I move in an intuitive way.

Next, I’ll start with one of the 6 sequences I’m repeating every week, always in the same order. Because it’s Iyengar and this is supposed to be the most logic and best order for the body’s balance. Those have been elaborated by one of the most senior students of B.K.S. Iyengar.

Usually at this point my mind starts working, instead of “citta vrtti nirodaha” (YS 1.2) which is often translated simply as, ‘Yoga is the ability to calm/direct/restrain the fluctuations of the consciousness/mind’. Mostly I’m criticizing myself, because through the Iyengar Yoga method I’ve gained so much knowledge about how each pose is supposed to be, all the details I should be aware of. So instead of being right here on my mat, at ease with myself, offering myself the best I’ve have to give for today, I’m doing all the opposite.

Because of that exam. Because of the pressure. Because of the expectations.

 

Here is the paradox: Yoga is about the path, not about any goal. A perfectly executed advanced pose is not going to bring me enlightenment. NEVER! But, that exam is waiting for me. Therefore, I have to raise my practice to a certain yoga level, because I really want to pass that exam. But the yoga I loved so much, is gone, because of this exam.

 

Yoga is about the path, not about a goal.

This exam is a part of my path. So what can I get out of this struggle. Instead of going in a downward negative spiral, every struggle can be an opportunity to grow.

 

What causes trouble in this situation, is the mind, the mind and it’s thoughts. So the question then becomes – HOW do we calm or restrain the mind to achieve this desired state of yoga? Well the simple answer is: do your yoga practice. Simple. Just keep doing a regular and sustained yoga practice and all will come – as the late Sri. K. Patthabhi Jois would say. But we are creatures of wanting to know everything and sometimes the simple answer just doesn’t cut it!

 

Patanjali actually describes the five fluctuations (functions or states) of the mind (or five vrittis) to help us better understand the workings of the mind. He says these five vrittis can be painful or non-painful. They are:

1. Valid Cognition (Pramana) 

(Knowledge should be acquired through direct experience for accepting any knowledge as correct.)

2. Misconception (Viparyaya) 

(Learning to dissolve our personal subjective frame of the way we see things, so we can start seeing things for what they truly are.)

3. Imagination (Vikalpa)

(Imagination, doubts, indecsion, daydreaming…. these are all our own creations, but our mind might start believing them for being true. We create an imagined world for ourselves based on our way of thinking. This ‘power of positive thinking’ may appear new age, however the yoga sutras has been teaching for thousands of years the importance of controlling the mind! Through this control, we can liberate ourselves from suffering.)

4. Sleep (Nidra)
(When the mind is not in one of the first three vrittis, it might be in the nidra state: the mind is directed inward, operating at a very subtle level. B.K.S Iyengar says that “sleep is the non-deliberate absence of thought-waves or knowledge”. )

5. Memory (Smriti)
(The Yoga Sutra 1.11 is translated as “Memory is the mental retention of a conscious experience” or “memory is a recollection of experienced objects”. All conscious experiences leave an impression on the individual and are stored as memory. It is not possible to tell if a memory is true, false, incomplete or imaginary. Think about a different people who will recall the same event, they all might remember it differently. Memory can influence your present situation more than you might realize, by holding onto certain impressions (conditionings), it’s very likely we can’t experience the now AS IT IS…without bias, judgement or criticism.)

So, how can this knowledge serve us in calming the fluctuations of the mind?

 

By being able to become an observer, stepping out of yourself and observing and recognizing these different functions of the mind, without being attached, upset or frustrated, slowly you will learn how the mind works. Once you are able to observe without reaction, you will be able to differentiate the mind and all of its fluctuations from your true nature. You aren’t the mind and it’s thoughts, emotions, imaginations, memories and fluctuations. No, behind the fluctuations of the mind, you might catch a glimpse of your true self. The true self which is only emptiness, and at the same time contains everything. You might discover there is no separation between ‘Me’ & ‘You’.

 

So the most simple answer to calming the mind and finding peace with life’s paradoxes is to do your practice. Do your practice, and stay the observer – On your yoga-mat, off the yoga-mat, all day, all night. Yoga is all the time, meditation is all the time. Through a regular and sustained practice, life will unfold the way it is meant to.

 

 

 

 

 

Yara will be a certified Iyengar Yoga instructor from October 2017 on. She is a certified Myofascial Energetic Release (M.E.R.) Therapist. She is Dutch, currently living in France. As a former circus-artist she loves to play, move and travel around the world.

Practice With Consistency

Patanjali tells us that practice becomes grounded when it is pursued consistently, with earnestness, over a long period of time. For many of us, we feel as if this is almost impossible. We may have a busy work and/or school schedule, or maybe kids, family and pets that demand attention. So how are we able to maintain our daily practice consistently despite our daily lives? Now this is where Sutra 1.12 comes in- abhyasa and vairagya. Effort and non-attachment.


In order to create or maintain a practice with consistency, we first must make sacrifices. We need to practice vairagya, non-attachment. Letting go of expectations. If you believe that your practice is only your practice if you have a full hour to move through a flow or have a lengthy warm up, cool down and 10 minute Savasana, this is one of the first sacrifices we need to make. This expectation needs to be released. Some days we may only have ten minutes of free time; so we step on our mat, do one round of Sun Salutations and we’re out the door. Or maybe we only have time after a long day at work when your energy seems to be spent, so it’s legs up the wall and supine twists before you’re off to bed.


If you have children or pets that want your attention, work them into your practice. Instead of disturbing your peace by shooing them away, let them be. Even try to include them if you can. For me, I know my home practice isn’t complete without a cat laying on me and joining my Savasana.


Or maybe distractions aren’t your problem, the only time you have free is after a long and grueling day at work. Is the first thing you want to do when you get home from a busy day to jump onto your mat, flow through vinyasas or power through standing poses and inversions? Well, maybe. But for most people, that’s not the reality. You’re drained, unmotivated and tired. You just want to lay down. So what do you do? Work this into your practice! Take any last drop of abhyasa (effort) you have left. Practice vairagya (non-attachment) by letting go of the belief that a practice only counts if you flow through vinyasas and inversions. Sit your legs up the wall, stretch out the day, then head to Savasana. Is this any less “yoga” than going to class and breaking a sweat or handstands? Nope, it’s not. Sorry to break it to you, but Yoga isn’t simply a workout routine. Yoga isn’t something that fits into a box or category and it sure isn’t something that is the same for everyone. “The restraint of the modifications of the mind-stuff is Yoga.” (Sutra 1.2)

Yoga is simply taking the time to tend to your body, release that which no longer serves you and slow (if not stop) your racing thoughts. So whether to you this means flowing through a well rounded routine or taking ten minutes at the end of the day to surrender, any cultivation of mindfulness and release of “the mind-stuff” is Yoga. Any practice is still a practice no matter how small, and consistency is still achievable even with only ten minutes to spare. Remember that.


In conclusion, the biggest key to consistency is practicing with non-attachment. Letting go of the expectation that you need a full hour or rounded flow to practice. Let go of the expectation that you need complete silence or solitude to practice, and begin working with what you have; whether it be pets, kids, or a busy schedule. Adjust your practice to your own needs, and treat yourself gently when your energy is spent elsewhere. Approach your mat with an open mind, adjust your practice to your own needs, and peace will soon follow.

 

 

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After her battle with anxiety and depression led her to seek alternatives, Maddy has been practicing yoga daily for three years. Now she is training to become a certified instructor and shares her journey through YouTube: Sacred Synchronicities and on Instagram: @sacredsynchronicities.

Access Your Highest Potential!

Inspired by World-Renowned Life Coach Trainer, Anna Suil

p1030097Anna Suil is a true master of how to live a vibrant, joyful and balanced life. I began training with her for purposes of personal-development, but have since found great value in integrating the tools of Life Coaching into my work as a Yoga Teacher and Retreat Leader.

I’ll be the first to admit, that the idea of a Life Coach is one I shied away from at first, and certainly never a title I sought for myself. It was the inspiring story of my teacher Suil that gave me an entirely new perspective.

As a young adult, Suil committed herself to the path of yoga & meditation, studying under an impressive list of spiritual teachers including Baba Ram Das, Goenka, and Buddhist masters in India, Nepal, Japan and Korea. She continued her formal education with a degree in Psychology, which enabled her to effectively spread the teachings of the East to a Western audience. Among the many hats she has worn in her lifetime, Suil is now a Life Coaching Trainer with an expertise in Neuro-Linguistic Programming, a technique which trains the brain to rewire itself towards positive thought patterns and behaviors in order to maximize our human potential.

In the last year, Suil’s audience has made a drastic shift from the leading corporate CEOs in Asia to a community of health and wellness practitioners at Yandara Yoga Institute, a humble training center in the desert of Mexico. Needless to say, she means it when she says that Life Coaching is a valuable tool for everyone. As Suil makes the shift into retirement, her teachings are being carried forth across a wide spectrum for personal and professional development.

So what is Life Coaching all about?

Here are a few FAQs boiled down specifically for the Yoga Trade community!

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Life Coaching is a tool to access your highest potential – those hidden jewels within each and every one of us just waiting to be uncovered!

Who needs a Life Coach?

Short answer: everyone. Because of its holistic approach to well-being, the tools can be applied uniquely to each individual encompassing work, leisure time, romantic relationships, family & friends, and so forth. Having someone shed light on areas that may have been hiding in the subconscious can lead to a better understanding of how to maximize fulfillment in every moment.

How does it work?

A coach supports a client in achieving their goals by first identifying what they are and then exploring options unique to their situation in order to set a clear path moving forward. Rather than offering direct advice, clients are challenged to find solutions within themselves, thus gaining the skills to be more efficient in reaching future goals.

Why does it work?

We are multi-dimensional beings, and as our lives become more and more fragmented between work, play and relationships, the perspective of a skilled coach helps keep clients on track and most importantly, stay accountable!

Where to begin?

Coaching can take place in person, online or even involve travel experiences and retreats which facilitate the process by taking clients outside of their normal surroundings to help spark creative solutions.

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If you are interested in learning more, reach out to Mary Tilson at info@marytilsonyoga.com

www.marytilsonyoga.com
Instagram: @marytilson

Testimonial:

“I had never thought of consulting a life coach before but was presented the opportunity at a training program I was attending and feel very lucky to have had the chance. Mary helped me realize that there are tangible steps we can take in order to live the life we want. She helped coach me into identifying what these steps were for me in a way that made me feel very comfortable as I had a big part in identifying what I was comfortable with and what I thought was possible. I loved the fact that I left the meeting with an actual list of things to do daily to help me reach my goals. It wasn’t just talking fluff. It was actually creating a realistic plan to help me achieve what I want. Mary was professional, nonjudgmental and understanding. I would recommend her life coaching services with the highest praises.”

-Erika, Yoga Teacher, USA

 

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Mary Tilson is a world traveling Yoga Teacher, Retreat Leader, and one of Anna Suil’s certified Life Coaches. She is currently the Yoga & Wellness Director of Nihiwatu, Travel+Leisure’s “No1 Hotel in the World” on Sumba Island, Indonesia.

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.

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.

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.

Why to Get Yin With It

All right, I feel you sister (or brother); you don’t want to slow down. I, too, have heard that sweet little voice that can transform into a booming drill seargant, “Run faster, bitch.” You immediately build walls at the suggestion of taking a rest day or offer that your mind cannot focus in even momentary meditation. Moving slowly for an hour? Pshhhh, not a chance. Filling your precious workout time with a Yin yoga class is the road less traveled… that you would rather leave untraveled.

While the benefits of a sweat crunching, power-style yoga classes are endless, all exercise and no recovery is a recipe for injury and breakdown. Moving through a class where there is no goal of sweating or strengthening allows your body and mind to practice releasing, or in yogi speak, letting go.

So what exactly is Yin yoga? In Chinese cosmology, the yin-yang theory describes how everything has a dual aspect. While yin and yang seem to be opposing forces, they IMG_3967complement and interact with each other to form continuous balance. One can see the polarities by simply looking into his or her life and surroundings, such as hot and cold, day and night, and feminine and masculine.

While our yang practice stimulates and encourages our dynamic vinyasa practice or even activities like running, Yin yoga is a practice that focuses more so on the connective tissues of the body, such as the ligaments, tendons, fascia and bones. These systems in our body respond best to slow, steady load, and in return, they will begin to relax and release when given the time to do so.

While connective tissue can be found in each bone, muscle and organ, it is most concentrated at the joints. By not utilizing the full range of joint flexibility, the connective tissues will, over time, shorten to the minimal need required of the body’s activities. Gently moving into a pose and holding it for what may seem as an eternity, a yin practice can help to rebuild and restore a normal range of movement.

Yin yoga is often accompanied with props, such as blocks, blankets and bolsters. By practicing at a slower pace and only moving through a handful of postures, the class will often be a sequence of poses that open the chest for breath work and dive deeply into the hips.

Now that we have discussed the benefits of Yin yoga to your super-hot, yoga body, how else can practicing slowly quickly help your yoga practice? Let’s roll out your head and heart. Through reading this article, perhaps you have either uploaded a picture to instagram (and labeled it #yogaeverydamnday), asked the dog to be quiet, checked your facebook notications, glanced at a text message, felt stressed in determining how to respond to said text message, thought that you should do the dishes, realized you left the dish soap in the car with other groceries, wondered if a yoga studio near you offers Yin yoga and started to plan your next meal.

Hopefully you didn’t engage in all of them.

It isn’t surprising that most people are resistant to incorporating rest. The culture that we live in rewards those who hold workaholic, stressed-out, type-A behaviors. Scant value is placed upon recovery until tendonitis creeps in, joints uncontrollably pop, debilitating pain radiates from one’s lower back and we are so frazzled and bombarded by our own lives, that we have catastrophic freak-outs.

If you are consistently choosing recreation that mimics a jam-packed life, the body will break itself down.

Being softer, slower and more mindful, a Yin yoga practice will encourage an opening IMG_5733within the energetic pathways of the body and mind. Through moving stagnant energy, vitality within the body will blossom: organ function improves, immunity levels rise and emotional well-being is renewed. It is about turning inward and growing a peaceful awareness within oneself. This intimate practice requires preparation for a heart-to-heart with sensations and emotions, a discussion usually avoided by most.

From an outside perspective, Yin yoga may appear to be seen as lounging in comfy poses on one’s mat. Being still breeds ground for a straying mind, and it takes practice to deliberately stay with the rough or unsettling emotions and thoughts that may surface. Mindfulness is like a muscle; it must be exercised, and it needs practice.

Yin yoga offers the space to develop the skills needed to stay with and process those dark areas within. As I have been working through a physical imbalance within my body, embracing Yin yoga has started to grow greater attention towards my body’s abilities and signals.

For you to-do list makers and task-oriented folk, here are ten benefits of Yin yoga:

* Restores balance in the nervous system

* Regulates and improves energy vitality within the body

* By lubricating the joints and increasing synovial fluid, greater flexibility and mobility is inspired

* Opens up the fascia within the body

* Helps to balance hormones

* Encourages good posture by stimulating the entire spine

* Releases tension in the lumbar spine (low back)

* Massages and tones the bowels, aiding in improved digestion

* Offers a deepened state of relaxation

* Complements and enhances a yang practice (vinyasa, bikram, etc.)

This mini-list is only a taste of what a delicious Yin yoga practice can begin to produce. Take time to settle in stillness, reach your mental edge and listen to what your body, heart and mind are trying to tell you. Just as the day bleeds into the night, and the moon lingers in the morning sky, Yin yoga will shine light onto those dark, untraveled pathways.

 

morningyogapic

 

Patty Blake is cycling, mountain climbing, animal loving and plant crunching VEGAN! She is registered Yoga Instructor, licensed Massage Therapist, certified Reiki Practitioner who loves to laugh and smash goals. www.thepattymelt.com

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