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

 

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.

LEARN MORE:

Yoga Trade PLUS

Power of Community: Shakti Fest 2018

In the middle of the Californian desert, I found myself at a heart-centered celebration:  Shakti Fest.

For three days, men and women from all corners of the world gathered to sing sacred music, grow their yoga practice, and honor the divine feminine in us all. My most significant take-away was the power of community for spiritual growth and support. Take a look at our video as we catch up with Shakti Fest’s executive director, Sridhar, and yoga teachers, Kia Miller and Govind Das to discuss the alchemy of gathering in community.

Video Music:  Jai Ma (Down to the Sea Mix) by Govind Das & Radha

Filmmaker:  Audrey Billups

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

Off the Mat – Activated after Bhakti Fest

It was one of my very first yoga classes that my teacher spoke about practicing yoga “off the mat.” I initially came to yoga to get in shape, lose some weight, and start a new exercise routine, with no intentions to get in touch with myself or find any sort of spirituality in the process. I remember thinking to myself, “ of course you can practice yoga off the mat, you just do the poses on the ground anywhere else!” Easy peasy.

It wasn’t until that moment in savasana that my mind got quiet, I felt my body, and my breath became my own sacred white noise, that I realized that yoga is far more than a twisted posture in a peaceful room. Class after class I would reach that feeling I couldn’t describe and still barely can, that feeling of connection to myself and everything else around me. It started to come to me in different postures, and then in meditation, and then I started to feel it after class, when I’d stumble onto the bustling streets of NYC and still feel that sensation of deeper connection. The people or situations that once agitated me no longer carried so much weight. And there it was: I was practicing yoga off the mat.

This photo and cover photo by: Monique Feil

Thousands of downward dogs later and now I understand why practicing yoga off the mat is not only important, but necessary. My understanding for what yoga actually is has been completely transformed— I now know that yoga is a way of a life, a way of a service, and truly a way of activating our own lives to reach outside of ourselves and into the world. After attending Bhakti Fest in September, my beliefs were absolutely validated and certainly expanded, as this festival lives and breathes yoga off the mat.

As the mantras were being chanted and the mala-wearing yogis were saluting the sun as it spread its rays through the Joshua Trees, there was devastation happening around the world. Hurricanes destroyed the eastern side of our beautiful country and wildfires scorched the old growth forests of the West, while ice caps were simultaneously melting at rapid speed in the arctic. This, amongst the heavy political strife in ours and so many other countries around the world, pushed me to wonder how chanting and deep breathing in a Southern California desert could possibly contribute to this polarized world we are living in in a positive way. While I felt a shift inside myself, how could that reach outside of myself?

Photo by: Monique Feil

So many teachers, musicians and artists at Bhakti Fest were tuned into this same question, and addressed it quite directly. From MC Yogi’s lyrical genius, singing “love is righteous, and it might just save the whole world from this global crisis,” to Michael Brian Baker’s plea to protect our planet and its people by supporting Chase Iron Eyes to shut down the Dakota Access pipeline and drop all charges against water protectors. This festival is not just about feeling good, but also about being real with our own innate power and using it for good.

After taking a class with Sianna Sherman, focused on creating change off the mat and in the world, we spoke more in depth about how yoga can inspire compassionate activism. Sianna teaches Rasa Yoga, “an alchemical fusion of mantra, mudra, asana, Bhakti, tantra, soul alchemy and earth ceremony.” One of its goals she said is “to remember that we are a collective tribe and also earth guardians, and we are here to protect and serve the earth and each other.” She spoke about using yoga as a pathway to better understand our own shadows and the power of turning towards, rather than away, from our own pain and anger. These practices teach us how to work with our own emotions and stay centered so that when it’s time to be a voice of change and to be of true service to the world, we are not pulled out of ourselves, but rather grounded and activated from within. “If we use our power and really consciously work with our own emotional fluency and literacy, and emotional intelligence, then we can change all the energy inside, including all the anger and rage—so we can truly create positive change,” said Sherman. What we’ve seen happen far too often is that “rather than using our power consciously, we end up polarizing and dehumanizing the other point of view and righteously standing only in our own narrow perspective” she said.

Sherman’s sweetie and beautiful musician, Masood Ali Khan, also had a strong take on the matter of change-making. He shared about how the sustainability of our world “is coming closer and closer to its death if we don’t make a move. This is a call for us to rise up.” He went on to say that in order to create change we need to move as a family and a community, so we can expand fast. “We need to make changes now, because it’s going to be too late if we wait. And you know the way that the planet is going— a week, two weeks could be too late, who knows what the next storm might bring,” said Khan.

Photo by:  Simone Levine

Bhakti Fest was really a place to gather people together to open their hearts and minds in order to activate change off of the mat. And while we came together to chant the mantras and pray, a very important medicine for the self, according to Breathwork facilitator and founder of the The Breath Center, Michael Brian Baker, “it is not enough to actually create change in our world as we need it now.” He went on to say, “we’ve reached this critical mass where things are shaking and going on, and if you look at it from a spiritual standpoint, the right brain would tell you that spirit incarnated into this physical form in order to take action, because spirit without a container can not create change on a material plane.” The call is loud and clear: it’s time to take action now!

As I left Bhakti Fest on a high of feeling the good vibes and inner transformation, I knew there was much more for me to do. I signed some petitions for the Dakota Access Pipeline, and am honing in on what lights me up so I can practice my yoga off the mat from my own center, a center that is truly ignited.

Learn more and connect with Bhakti Fest:

bhaktifest.com

 

 

 

 

Simone is an experiential educator who’s passion for international travel, growth, and transformation take form through photography, practicing and teaching yoga, and communing with nature.

IG :  @momomagical

Devoted to Bhakti

I’ve been carrying an energy with me for the last four months that I can’t, and don’t want to shake. My breath feels more fluid, my mind more clear, my heart more open. This all began at Shakti Fest this past May, and integrating the lessons and practices has certainly not been a walk in the park. Rather, I’ve been on a dedicated journey that takes patience, practice, and work to fully live into — a journey that I feel grateful and honored to participate in.

Lucky for me, and thousands of other devotees, another opportunity to sink deeper into these practices is right around the corner. This year’s Bhakti Fest West, the sister festival to Shakti Fest, is happening in just 2 weeks in Joshua Tree, CA (Sept 6-11, 2017)!

Bhakti means devotion, and at Bhakti Fest that’s just the tip of the iceberg of what will unfold, and has been unfolding for the past 9 years. Bhakti Fest gathers a community of mindful folks from all over the world to practice the art of yoga, meditation, music, breath work, sound healing, and much more. One of the only fully vegetarian festivals, that is also drug and alcohol free and family friendly — this is a safe place to enliven your senses in pure form.

Bringing some of the best spiritual teachers of our time to one sacred place, including Seane Corn, Mark Whitwell, Kia Miller, and Michael Brian Baker, as well as internationally renowned musicians Krishna Das, Jai Uttal, MC YOGI, and Donna De Lory is just part of why this festival feels like a total dream.

Yet what seems to be the most impressive part of this festival is that it’s actually a non-profit. While we are celebrating, Bhakti Fest will be donating a percentage of its revenue to charities including Food for Life Vrindavan, Love Serve Remember Foundation, Ramana’s Garden, and the Seva Foundation.

It’s an “everybody wins” event that I’m personally stoked to experience as a teacher, practitioner, and lifelong student.

Participate in the SEVA program by working in exchange for a ticket (A Yoga Trade opportunity)! A fantastic way to make meaningful connections and enjoy the festival by sharing your trade: bhaktifest.com/participate/

Transform, deepen, and come play with us!

Tickets for Bhakti Fest West 2017 are available at:  https://tickets.brightstarevents.com/event/bhakti-fest-west-2017.

 

 

 

Simone is an experiential educator who’s passion for international travel, growth, and transformation take form through photography, practicing and teaching yoga, and communing with nature.

IG : @momomagical 

Wild & Free: Meet Movement Enthusiast Rod Cooper

Need a little inspiration to set your life in motion? Meet Rod Cooper, Founder of The Movement Collective in Newcastle, Australia. At a first glance of Rod’s inspiring practice, many assume he has a long history of gymnastics or martial arts. But as we learned after chatting with him, it wasn’t too long ago that Rod was a beginner himself. Read the interview below to hear Rod’s inspiring philosophy on overcoming fears and limitations of the body, and how small feats in your practice pave the way for real life transformation.

Can you tell us a little bit about yourself and your journey to becoming a movement teacher and studio owner?

 

I’ve been practicing Movement for around 4-5 years with no previous experience in gymnastics or yoga.

 

Since discovering the Ido Portal Method and the movement world I have shifted my mindset from just fitness to a more creative and artist approach to my life and practice. I have been obsessed with discovering what my body is capable of, not just what it looks like.

 

I know how much the movement practice has changed my life and wanted to share this with everyone I possibly could. That’s where the idea for the Movement Collective came from. I wanted to create a space in my home town Newcastle, Australia where people are given the tools and environment to not only improve the physical body but completely change their perspective on what we should be practicing and what we are capable of as humans.

 

Why do you feel movement is important? How do you differentiate movement from yoga or other forms of exercise?

 

For me, Movement incorporates everything that we can possibly practice taking inspiration from gymnastics to yoga, martial arts, circus arts, dance. Not only that, even some things as subtle as breath work and spinal waves, or joint articulation are a part of the practice. It’s important for our development to always be learning new skills, increasing, strength, mobility and body awareness. We don’t see it as exercise or punishment for our body, it’s an endless journey continuously improving in all areas.

 

We’re blown away by your photos and videos on Instagram (peep Rod’s incredible moves if you haven’t already!) What would you say to a complete beginner to get motivated?

 

I started out watching plenty of YouTube clips to get motivated, there are endless videos and images on social media to show you where you can get to and also some awesome tutorials to help you along the way. Take a movement class if there is a gym close by or check out yoga, gymnastics or martial arts studios in your area. We are also developing some online content so stay tuned for that.

At Yoga Trade, we value truly living yoga. In the case of movement, how does your physical practice translate to your life beyond the mat or studio?

 

For me Movement is my life, I crave my own personal practice every day and always look forward to getting everyone together in the class environment we have created at The Movement Collective.

 

It’s not an accident I do what I love and love my job, I have designed my life exactly the way I want to live. That always includes movement whether that be teaching, personal practice or in a group of like-minded people.

 

What have been your greatest lessons in creating your business and dream life?

 

Trust your heart/gut, I have done this from the start and everything always works out. If you work as hard as I do to achieve the life or goal you want, absolutely nothing can stop you from achieving it.

 

Find what you love and do that.

 

What’s one fun fact our readers may not know about you from following you online?

 

Before starting the Movement Collective I was a professional beer brewer, I still like a good craft beer from time to time. No back flips under the influence though…..that’s never a good idea. 🙂

 

Your upcoming retreat with Sjana Elise at Nihiwatu looks incredible! Can you tell us a bit more about what we can expect?

 

I really want to share as much as possible with the people attending the retreat while still keeping it fun and relaxed. Expect handstands, animal movements, spinal health exercises, acrobatics and the rest is a secret. I can’t wait to get back to Nihiwatu.

 

You can find out more about the retreat at:  www.nihi.com/retreats

 

To visit Rod at his home studio visit: The Movement Collective

 

 

 

 

 

Mary Tilson is an international yoga teacher, retreat leader, and passionate world traveler. After completing over 1,000+ training hours in both Eastern and Western approaches to yoga, she is acknowledged for making her teaching accessible to all levels.

Wild & Free: Meet Australian Yogi Sjana Elise

“I’m so humbled to have had things work out the way they have, and I am extraordinarily blessed to make a life out of something I love.“ –Sjana

I had the opportunity to connect with Sjana Elise earlier this year when she came out to visit Nihi Sumba Island, a remote luxury island retreat located east of Bali in Indonesia.

Sjana has acquired over 1.3 million followers on Instagram over the last few years by simply sharing what she loves – yoga! Yet despite her quick rise to social media fame, she remains the same sweet, bubbly personality you find on her daily Instagram posts and stories, which are filled with inspiration to get outside, move your body and live joyfully.

After overcoming her own struggles with depression in her teen years, Sjana has become an advocate for developing healthy habits to maintain balance of mind, body and spirit. She offers classes live at her home studio in Australia, you can also now practice with her using her newly launched SWEAT App, and she’s running her first Wild & Free Retreat this October with Movement Teacher Rod Cooper at Nihi Sumba Island!

Read on for some personal insight into Sjana’s journey including fun facts you might not know about her and what exciting news she has coming up next:

Can you share more about your journey with yoga and how you went from zero to 1.3 million followers on Instagram?

To be honest, it all happened rather organically. I never set out with an intention to do, be or achieve anything in particular, it just happened as a positive consequence of doing what I loved and following my passion.

After going through a rough time with depression and anxiety around the age of 15-16, I ended up leaving school early, taking up yoga as a means of recovery, gaining early acceptance into university and studying a Bachelor of Arts. After about two years of studying a bunch of random topics, I settled on photo journalism and ended up moving interstate to complete that course. I continued to take images, and also began taking self-timered images of the yoga poses I was learning (usually on the beach at sunrise or sunset). I was working full time as a waitress also, and idling through the days fairly smoothly. However, life has a funny way of working its magic. And before I knew it, I was being asked to travel around the world and take images to promote a certain brand, company, resort, airline, trip, country or tourism board. As the true power of social media became more and more evident, I became busier and busier, and soon found myself in my current position. Throughout my battles with depression and remaining focused throughout all the unforgivable travel hours (although the opportunities are incredibly amazing, as any avid traveler will tell you, it can also be exhausting at times!) yoga has been the one thing that never fails to ground me.

How do you use your influence in a positive way?

I understand that any social media presence effectively has power. And with that power comes a great responsibility to my followers.

I try my best to live as an example. I know that a lot of young women and influential girls follow me, and I hold it as my purpose (and passion) to be a positive role model and show them just how powerful, strong, capable, unique and BEAUTIFUL they are.

This is everything from remaining honest and transparent, living in a way that reflects my values and respects the values of others, removing judgement and criticism in any/all areas of my life, sharing inspiration I find, involving myself in projects that will ultimately help to positively affect the lives of others, being kind and mostly just being genuine, raw and relatable.

I want girls to know that I am just like them; and that if they want a friend or “sister” figure — then I am here for them.

What have been the greatest lessons learned while developing such a strong voice in the IG yoga community?

I would probably have to say understanding the power of social media itself. It has the ability to be a truly remarkable tool for growth, change and transformation through mass media and marketing. But it also has the ability to be a huge burden and a way for people (young women especially) to become overwhelmed by what they are seeing, and consciously or subconsciously compare their own lives to everyone else’s highlights.

I think my journey with social media and Instagram in particular has been the awakening of an awareness about finding balance and using social media platforms in a healthy and safe way.

Social media is only part of our stories…it’s what we choose to show.

(Yes, I too used to have an unhealthy relationship with social media and allowed myself to negatively judge and compare my own life. EVEN when others were doing that same thing to me.)

What is your best advice for aspiring yoga teachers looking to grow their presence online in a mindful and authentic way?

Just BE YOU! Honesty and transparency is not only respected, but more often than not it is seen as strength not weakness. Being flawed is something that actually adds to our overall charm. Don’t be afraid to speak and live your truth online as well as on your mats.

Where do you find the most inspiration to share with your network?

Inspiration is all around us! And it is entirely unpredictable. I never know where or when it will hit me; I could be having a friendly conversation with a stranger and find something they say to be endlessly fascinating, I could be in savasana deep into my practice and be awakened by an epiphany or I could be strolling along the beach and a familiar scent could work its way through my nostrils and pull at some heartstrings…that’s the best part of inspiration. The fact that you never know where you’ll find it!

Can you tell us about your new role as a SWEAT trainer?

As a SWEAT trainer my role is to provide health, fitness and yoga programs and content to the biggest female fitness community in the world. And my program is now available for women to use globally.

I consider my role as a SWEAT trainer to include being a “sister” for anyone who is seeking encouragement, support, motivation or even just a friendly hug. I want women all over the world to know that my program and I are here for them.

What is your favorite quote or words you live by?

“Everything happens for a reason.”

Never fails to ground and humble me.

Fun fact your followers might not know about you?

I used to be an American Style Cheerleader. I actually competed at the World Championships one year. (I was a base, not a flyer though. Which means I did the catching, not the flips in the air!)

We know you have an AMAZING retreat coming up! Can you tell us a bit more about that and what we can expect?

I do I do! I am so excited because this will be my first time officially hosting a retreat! AND I am actually going to be co-hosting with the extraordinary Rod Cooper (@rodjcooper) to make it a yoga and movement retreat. It’ll be five days at the luxury Nihiwatu Resort on Sumba Island in Indonesia. We’ll have daily yoga on one of the most amazing yoga pavilions you will ever see. Daily movement and locomotion classes, world class surfing, hikes, waterfalls, organic chocolate-making classes, snorkeling and the awesomeness of staying in your own private villa. It’s going to be so much fun and no doubt transformational for anyone who joins us.

I can’t wait to share the experience with you!

 

You can find out more at www.nihi.com/retreats

 

 

 

 

Mary is an international yoga teacher, retreat leader, and passionate world traveler. After completing over 1,000+ training hours in both Eastern and Western approaches to yoga, she is acknowledged for making her teaching accessible to all levels.

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.

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.