Yoga

Warrior Yoga Class

Whilst traveling around majestic Scotland this past October and learning more about the country’s rich history, I was once again inspired by the idea of “warrior”. The ancient peoples of Scotland were fearsome warriors who were nearly unbeatable when they united behind a cause and when they felt earnest conviction for a mission. Many other cultures have given history strong warriors as well that have carved pieces of history. The mental image of a powerful warrior, working to defend, to make change, and stopping at nothing to see justice done is riveting, but also thought-provoking. What if we harnessed some of that warrior determination, stamina, energy, and dedicated it towards the causes and missions that are important to us in our lives?

Now, before I go further, let me disclaim that I am not by any means suggesting we should all become traditional warriors like the ones mentioned above; we should practice ahimsa (non-violence) as much as we can –always if we can. What I mean to say, however, is that we could take that same ferocity of a warrior and apply to our individual and group missions in life. We could use that warrior fire to fuel and to manifest change and positivity in our world. Truth be told, we may need to be our most “warrior” selves now more than ever.

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Mantra Intention

In many of the yoga classes taught today, you will probably find that many instructors encourage the class to “set an intention” for the practice. This setting of the intention is typically done within the first minutes of class and can either be specifically assigned by the instructor or left open for the student. The inspiration behind the use of intention in certain schools of yoga is that said intention becomes a point of focus for the mind along with the breath to keep it stable and steady as well as dedicating energy to the manifestation or strengthening of the intention; in this way, the yoga practice becomes more than just a physical practice, but a moving meditation on various levels. For me, the fact that we do set an intention, something to mentally, emotionally, and even spiritually focus on along with the physical postures and movements is what makes yoga so magical and I why I love it so deeply.

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All that being said, it can be deeply challenging to choose an intention for your yoga practice and even more difficult to hold onto that intention throughout the class. Once you get going in the practice, it is very easy for the focus on the intention dwindle or even complete drop off. You may find yourself going over your to-do lists and what you need from the grocery store, or you may simply find yourself consumed by the physical efforts that are required of your body in the physical practice. Before you know it, class is cooling down and you never focused on your intention after the first sun salutation. This is completely normal and nothing to beat yourself up over – practice ahimsa (non-violence) – but obviously, we do want to work toward being able to hold our minds on an intention to strengthen our focus and the subject of the intention itself.

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Saucha and the Spring

In yoga, we practice principles called the Yamas and Niyamas. These principles are essentially positive codes to live by – I often refer to them as the 10 Commandments of Yoga. Back in November around Thanksgiving time, I discussed Santosha, which translates to contentment or gratitude, and is one of the Niyamas. For that post, please click here. Today, I am moving onto another of the Niyamas: Saucha.

From Sanskrit, Saucha translates to “cleanliness” or “purity”, and it applies to many different facets of our lives. Saucha is a concept, or in the definition of a Niyama – a positive duty – that I have come to value a great deal. When we talk about Saucha, we talk about cleanliness in our environments, in our bodies, and in our mental and spiritual spaces as well. The big idea is that when we regularly purify and keep clean these different areas of our lives, it allows us to live in our best health physically and emotionally, which then allow us to more freely pursue our spiritual journeys.

So what does it mean to practice Saucha in these various corners of our lives? Let’s break down.

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The practice of Saucha in environment means a few different things. The first is keeping clean our immediate living spaces; yes, this means cleaning your room, organizing your cubicle, clearing out the fridge every so often, and so forth. We need to have clean spaces to live and operate in, when we have our immediate environments clean and tidy, it allows us to operate more efficiently and healthfully which allows the mind to reflect that state of purity and order as well. Friends of mine have commented on how impeccable I keep my room and how I seem to be quite diligent about cleaning my apartment; this is because I really value having a nice, clean space for myself to live in and especially at home rest in.

Beyond our immediate living spaces, Saucha in relation to environment also means working to keep a clean community and ultimately world. Saucha would encourage us to adopt sustainable practices, to not litter, when we see litter to have a hand in helping to pick it up and dispose of it properly. For me, this means lending a helping hand every so often at a beach clean-up through my yoga studio, it also means being more diligent about recycling and actively working to reduce my plastic consumption, and at the very least, it means not littering myself. If we can all work to practice Saucha on a larger scale through small individualized means, it can equate to a cleaner and purer Earth for all, which is very important at this time.

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The practice of Saucha in the body is much what you would think it be: taking care of your body, your temple. Saucha in the body means nourishing your body with whole foods, providing it with the necessary amount of sleep, moving it to keep its internal functions working well, sweating to cleanse from within. In many ways, this is the simplest part of the practice of Saucha; we all know that we should strive to take good care of ourselves, but it’s often an area we fall flat in. Once you practice taking good care of your body, however, it is amazing the difference you feel; and that eventually translates from a physical space to a mental and emotional one as well.

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That is the perfect transition into the final practice of Saucha; Saucha in the mind space. This area of the practice is a bit more challenging, and one could argue it is a bit subjective as well. The way I look at the practice of Saucha when it comes to the mind is cleaning out and releasing old thought patterns and mentalities and generally negative thoughts that are not serving in the present. Sometimes, we mentally cling to old ideas or ways of thinking about or working out happenings in our lives; when they no longer serve us, it is time to let them go and embrace new types of thoughts that are positive and do serve us. Just as it is important to regularly clean your bathroom and detox your body, it is also equally important to tend to the mind and emotions in such a way as well, constantly cleaning out so that nothing potent grows and always making space for good and light to come in.

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As we transition into Spring, we enter into a season of cleaning, a season of Saucha. We resew and water the garden, we deep clean our homes, and we reorganize the disarrayed garage. This is a great time to reconnect with the idea of Saucha, recognize how good it feels to practice it, and then make a commitment to regularly practice Saucha more often throughout your daily life. Clean space, clean body, clean mind – feeling clean typically means feeling good and who doesn’t want to feel good all of the time?

Adapt and Embrace Yoga Class

If you have read any of my previous yoga posts on this blog, then you will know that I am a firm believer that yoga is a great way to exercise not only the body, but also the mind and the spirit to strengthen and prepare for what goes on in life off of the mat. In yoga classes, or at least the ones I teach and take, we often theme the class – the sequence of postures, the music, the spoken words, and the energetic intention – to correspond with other aspects of life and the self.

Recently, I was meant to travel to Denver to visit with my good friends for the weekend. I was all packed and ready to go when just a few hours before my flight, I learned that an unusual snow storm had begun to blanket the Denver area and that because of it I would not be able to make the trip. Now, my first reaction was one of deep disappointment and even a bit of anger. I had been looking forward to the visit for months and now it was all off! Understandably, the circumstances darkened my mood.

I remembered, however, that life flows like water and you never know when the current is going to shift. Sometimes, you simply have to adapt, go with that flow, embrace it and see where it takes you while keeping an open mind. I decided to practice what I preach and shift my perspective about the Denver trip cancellation. Firstly, I was able to rearrange the trip for just two weeks later so it wasn’t like all my hopes for Denver and seeing my friends were ruined; they were merely delayed. Secondly, I decided to look at my now free weekend as a blessing; I could now go to lunch with my cousin whose schedule and mine hadn’t been lining up for a get together, I could now work on writing projects I hadn’t had as much time to dedicate to as I would like, and I could simply relax. Once I took this mindset – once I adapted, embraced and went with the flow that the universe was pushing at me – all was well; it ended up being a great weekend in its own way with lots to be grateful for.

I took the experience as inspiration for the below yoga class. In this class, I talked to my students about adapting to the present, accepting and embracing what is, and going with it with a light sense of peace for it all. On the mat, this can mean adapting to how your body is feeling during the yoga practice, accepting how the body is doing without judgement or resistance, and simply continuing forward through the class as best as you can and with a sense of peace with where you are at that day. No solid plans to come in and nail a handstand or get that cool new posture you’ve been working on; simply coming in with an open mind to the practice and going with what comes. I then encouraged my students to take this off the mat as well by exploring where that adaptability and ability to go with the flow could be applied in their everyday lives.

The sequence is meant to representative of all of this and provide challenges that you must adapt to as they come; strange and unexpected transitions like Tibetan rolls, Baby Birds of Paradise as a peak posture – a rare but equally challenging and fun variant of the classic Birds of Paradise Pose, and a literal change in the direction of the class as this class was a Mandala flow – where you begin facing the front of the room but eventually end up facing the back of the room. From the feedback I received, my students really enjoyed the class for the sequence and the theme.

Here is the sequence that you are more than welcome to try and/or borrow!

IntegrationSun ASun BCore and Strength Part 1Strength Part 2Cool Down

Quick Health Tips

As we continue forward into the New Year, there is an extreme emphasis on health and fitness with many, many people resolving to pursue better health and fitness for themselves in 2016. Now, if you have read my latest post MODERATION-BALANCE-LIFESTYLE, you will know that I believe in finding a kind way to get one’s self into a greater state of wellness with a more healthful lifestyle that one can sustain over a long period of time. If you hadn’t read that post, please do.

I am, however, fully aware that many of you would like quick health tips to adopt into your life to obtain a better shape and hopefully build a healthier lifestyle overall. And so, I am happy to share some of those with you here. Many of these will be tips that you have heard before, but I repeat them here because in my experience, they work. I will keep them short and sweet so that they are easy to remember and refer to.

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Moderation – Balance – Lifestyle

Ciao friends and a very Happy New Year to you! And with it being the New Year, I know that there is a definite focus and even craze around New Year’s Resolutions; specifically health and fitness based resolutions. It seems to be the same story every year. On the one hand, it’s great; it’s wonderful that folks can look at the beginning of a New Year as a time of renewal and a time to make changes. On the other hand, however, I find that New Year’s resolutions, especially those around health and fitness, lead people to be unkind to themselves in the pursuit of their goals and more often than not end up abandoning the journey towards those goals a month or two into the year. I mean not to sound arrogant, but because I do appear to live my life, eat well, and remain in good shape, every year around Christmas and New Year’s my friends and family, my colleagues, my students, and even complete strangers ask me for advice about how to become fitter, healthier, and remain that way. So today, I am going to talk a little bit about how I have found success and offer you some tips into how you may as well!

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Santosha and the Attitude of Gratitude

With Thanksgiving in the US coming upon us, we start to plan out our holiday celebrations: who are we inviting to the big Turkey dinner, what stuffing am I going to make, what’s the menu, etc. More importantly, however, we start to reflect on what we are grateful for; which after all is what this holiday is all about.

There is a concept in yoga called “Santosha” which is part of the “Yamas and Niyamas”, which I often describe as the Ten Commandments of Yoga; they are basically yogic codes to live by. Santosha is Sanskrit for “contentment” and/or “satisfaction”, but we often look at Santosha as “gratitude”. Santosha is all about finding contentment and gratitude for who you are and what you have in the present moment. I often weave “Santosha” into my yoga classes as a theme and encourage students to find their best expression of a challenging posture, then I ask them to find contentment with whatever layer they get to in that posture without harsh judgement of themselves or lusting after a deeper expression; I ask them to find gratitude for where their bodies are at and be grateful that they have bodies healthy and strong enough to be in a 100̊F room attempting such a challenging practice. Basically, it’s about adopting the Attitude of Gratitude as you move throughout your day with whatever life throws at you.

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