Posts filed under Articles about Yoga

Good Night yoga for your toddler

When I was at expo west this past weekend, a publisher gave me the book Good Night yoga when he found out I was a kids yoga teacher... I was so excited to try to tell this story to Bella through yoga... The book has beautiful illustrations that take you through a calming flow. It ends with a guided meditation that will lead your child to sleep. I didn't do the guided meditation because Bella is too little, but she loved the Good Night yoga flow...

If you are a parent and yogi, I highly recommend buying this book to share with your child (Link to the right). It allows you to introduce your child to your favorite activity in a friendly and soothing way!

If you would like to see how it went with Bella, the video is below:

Stay Blessed!

Izabel

Kapotasana, death, God, and letting go

If Yoga practice is a microcosm of life, then Kapotasana is a microcosm of death. And I am not talking about that Kapotasana where you plop to the floor and never bind. That doesn't count. I am talking about the real Kapotasana where you have to fight the floor to be able to open your heart, and then you take your shoulder to the limit by trying to reach your heels. You may not bind, but I am talking about the struggle that takes you to the limit. That Kapotasana. The one that leaves you breathless fighting your own body to be able to grasp a little bit of air.

Kapotasana is for me such a deep pose that when I started practicing it, it created anxiety before I even set foot into the studio. That is why I equate it to death practice. Because death creates anxiety. Have you ever been in a situation where you are having a great day and then you have a sudden realization that you are going to die one day and everything will be over? Then a bout of anxiety sets in... That is pretty much how Kapotasana makes you feel once it enters your daily practice. 

I started getting anxious about Kapotasana the night before when I went to bed. I would think to myself: "Oh my, I have to do Kapotasana tomorrow morning....". Usually a mini panic attack ensued and I had to do breathing exercises to sleep. When I woke up, another wave of anxiety would come over me with a tiny panic attack when I remembered that I had to do Kapotasana in a few hours. Once I got to the studio, my panic grew and when it was actually time to drop back into Kapo, I was usually trembling. It must seem crazy to you that I put myself through this everyday, but what I have learned through these daily forages into Kapotasana is truly priceless.

Having so much anxiety build over doing a pose, forced me to forget obsessing over accomplishing the pose and going on to the next one. It didn't matter anymore if I bound or not. Instead, I had to focus on the present to be able to just get through my practice without starting a panic attack. So rather than watching every youtube video and reading every article about Kapotasana, I started focusing on every little aspect of my practice. And instead of worrying about what was coming next or when I was getting the next pose, I started letting go and focusing on the now.

Kapotasana forced my focus out of my physical body and onto the celestial one. My anxiety about this pose was so much that I turned my eye completely to God and let Him guide my practice. In fact, when I drop down to Kapotasana I reach to the sky and say a brief prayer before I drop back. Little by little kapotasana got easier, and the anxiety became less overwhelming. God reminded me that after death, the most important encounter of our life happens with Him. I was reminded of John 11:25-26:

25 Jesus said to her, "I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies;  26 and whoever lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?"

I did believe it. So I let go, my trembling subsided, my grasps for air became longer. My focus was on God. 

What happened after conquering Kapotasana was magical. My practice unfolded effortlessly. My youtube video obsession vanished and getting into new poses was more about unlocking the potential that was already there.  Kapotasana forced me to focus on what mattered: God and the present moment. 

 

Bringing down walls in your Yoga practice and life: Marichyasana D and Faith

Marichyasana D was the first wall I encountered in my yoga practice. No matter what I did or how hard I tried, it did not seem to matter. Months passed by and everyday I had a different reason why I couldn't bind in the pose... First, I figured my belly was too big and getting in the way, then I realized my legs were way too fat to be enveloped by my arms, or maybe my arms were way too short to go around my legs, and then I thought my spine could not twist enough... 

I obsessed over the pose for months. I have probably watched every youtube video and read every article ever written on Marichyasana D. Then after months of consistent practice and faith, it just.... happened. It was a bit anticlimactic... My world didn't change, birds did not sing. One day, I just bound and my day went on as usual. 

Yoga practice is often a microcosm of life and it teaches important lessons if you pay close attention. Marichyasana D was for a while my very own promised land, which was kept safely inside a very tall wall I could not get through. No matter what I did, the wall would not come down. It was only through faithful obedience and consistence that the wall fell. 

Does that sound familiar? The people of Israel also encountered a wall around Jericho. Did they need military prowess to get into the city? No, all they needed was God. Just like conquering Marychaisana D, the people of Israel blindly followed God and through faith and obedience they made the wall fall. 

Every challenging pose in the yoga practice is a promised land that is protected by wall. When you hit a wall what should you do? You should, like the people of Israel, stay faithful and consistent with God in your holy yoga practice. In life, staying faithful and strong with God will also bring down many walls. Whenever you hit a wall in life or yoga practice, remember:

"By faith the walls of Jericho fell, after the people had marched around them for seven days."  Hebrews 11:30.

During practice today we will attempt to get into an advanced twist called marichyasana D. This is an intermediary to advanced class and it will take about 45 minutes. During class ask yourself: 

  • How else can you access and apply the power of God in your yoga practice and your life?
  • Are there any areas where you could use more faith and consistence?

It is a new year and a great time to reflect on faith and obedience in Christ! So enjoy the challenge of this intermediary class and remember to stay faithful!

Stay Blessed!

 

Vision Writing Exercise for 2016: Make His vision for your life come alive!

The first day of the new year is a great time to think of the future. Personally, I see this time of the year as one of prayer and reflection, a time to set goals, and sit with the Lord. Today, I invite you to take some time to calm your mind and meditate. The video below is a short pranayama and meditation on Habakkuk 2:2. For those of you who are not familiar with pranayama, it is a breath exercise yogis do. Scientific studies suggest pranayama lowers blood pressure, calms the parasympathetic nervous system, and eases anxiety. By calming down the mind, you are able to better communicate with our creator so that you can hear and understand His goals for you. While you are doing the pranayama, I invite to ask yourself:

  • Has God given you a vision for your life?
  • What is that Vision?

Once you have an idea of God's vision for you life I ask you to meditate on Habakkuk 2:2-3 :

Then the Lord answered me and said: "Write the vision and make it plain on tablets, that he may run who reads it." For the vision is yet for an appointed time, but at the end it shall speak, and not lie: though it tarry, wait for it; because it will surely come, it will not tarry.

Notice that God orders his prophet to write down his vision and then share it with others. He asks for it to be in plain sight. So write down God's vision for you and place it in plain sight for you. You will be reminded everyday of God's vision for your life. You will be motivated to work hard to achieve His Vision. 

I hope this video helps you calm your mind and connect with your Savior. Whatever His vision is for your life, remember: it may take long, but your Father is the God of the impossible. And though things may seem impossible for you, for God everything is possible (Mathew 19:26). 

Stay Blessed!

 


Yogi Gift Guide for the Yoga Lover in your life

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Need a gift for the yoga teacher, yogi, or yoga lover in your life? Well, look no further... Here are my top pics that are bound to swipe your yogi love off her/ his mat!

1) Mini grid foam roller: There are times when you just need to work out some kinks and this portable grid foam roller can do the job anywhere! It can be easily put away in your desk, yoga bag, or car. It is also super cute and adorable! Give her/ him the gift of fascia release!

2) UE Boom bluetooth speaker: Sometimes the yogi in your life might want to teach an impromptu class, or they may teach privates. UE Boom bluetooth provides an easy connection to their phone so that any place, can become an amazing yoga class environment!

3) Spotify Gift card: Yoga teachers appreciate the value of spotify and you will be a hero giving her a credit for her/ his favorite music service. You get the added benefits of her/his students loving you for it too!

4) Heavily Meditated T-shirt - Yogis like a good and fun graphic t-shirt and this one delivers both - because your love is likely heavily meditated. Find it here

5) Metallic Manduka mat in gold - Wanna give her the yogi gift equivalent of a Rolls Royce? Then buy her a limited edition metallic manduka mat in gold! Get it here

6) Holy yoga training - There is nothing more life changing than this training - and if your yogi love has already undergone it, there are many more specialty ones to be undergone... Find it here

Hope these tips helped you find the perfect gift!!!! I know I would be ecstatic with any of these!

God Bless you!

Izabel

Wanna change your life in 2016?

Would you like to completely reshape yourself in 2016? Maybe you want to gain consistency in your yoga practice or you have been toying with the idea of following a plant based diet, but have no idea how. 

If you answered yes to any of the above, I have a new years gift for you! Sign up for my monthly newsletter and win 4 weeks of exclusive content including: 

1) Week by week and step by step transition into a plant-based iet

2) Shopping lists and recipes weekly

3) Weekly nutrition and life hacks to lose weight and feel fabulous

4) Weekly guides to Yoga practice with Yoga fat-burning circuits, pranayama, and asanas to help you shed extra pounds - that is a month of yoga!

Each guide will help you prepare for a week in January. The first guide will be sent out in the last week of December and will have the first steps to transition to a plant-based diet, 6 complete yoga workouts (including breath work, meditation, yoga fat burning circuits and yoga practice you will follow throughout the month - these are exclusive videos not available on my blog), and nutrition tips  and life hacks to lose weight and feel great all year long! 

All you need to do now is sign up and I will send you the first guide in the last week of December so that you can prepare for the new year!

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How Holy Yoga teacher training rocked my world

The night before retreat, it dawned upon me: I was leaving my babies, my husband, and my life behind to fly half way across America to practice some yoga I had never practiced before, with some woman I had never met. What was I thinking? I convinced myself I shouldn't fly out the next morning, after all my daughter had a cold, I didn't want to wake up early, and how would my family survive without me? 

But then after prayer, I decided it was crazier to spend money on a retreat, then realize you are crazy for going and not go at all. So, the next morning at 5 am I was up and ready to roll. I guess you could say I begrudgingly obeyed the calling of the holy spirit. But boy, am I happy I did... The retreat is covered in prayer and Grace and you can clearly see the Spirit moving in so many different ways. Being here has been truly life changing. It transformed my yoga practice and the way I see my relationship with Jesus. Each day, the experience gets deeper. You learn to use your body to worship. You get addicted to connecting to the holy spirit on your mat. I warn you: It's like crack cocaine (disclaimer: I have never actually had crack cocaine). 

I was grouped with an amazing group of 10 beautiful yogis and a caring small group leader. The grouping was random, but nothing is random to the Almighty. All of us came from a catholic faith background and related in so many levels.  Even though we barely knew each other when we came in this week, I have opened up to these women in ways I never had to anyone before. I store the bad stuff away and never talk about it, but here I was led by our kind group leader to dig deep. Digging deep, I realized how much God had acted in my life. How much he has put me through a metamorphosis. 

And then there is the amazing yoga instruction. Being an ashtangi, I am very picky with yoga classes that are not ashtanga. I have always believed Ashtanga to be the holy grail of yoga, the ultimate sequence. But, here you get on your mat and you open your heart in worship with your body and soul. You let the holy spirit in through breath work and fiery asanas. This yoga has me floored. There was a particular class with Jonnie I will never forget. I had a very intimate encounter with the holy spirit on my mat. I was sweaty, crying, and overwhelmed with connection. He spoke to me. At the end of practice, a person next to me I had never met was in tears. She said: "When you prayed I heard two voices. So I looked over at you, and I saw a being of light involving you in prayer, praying alongside you." It was uncanny. 

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Then came Brooke's  power yoga class. Have you ever been to a pentecostal revival? Now picture a yogi pentecostal revival.... That's what Brooke's class is like - a class full of fire and life, probably unlike any other yoga class you have ever been to. Brooke's class made me see that there are other amazing styles out there, that there is life outside of the box of Ashtanga yoga, that there is freedom, and fun. Brooke's class is probably the best yoga class I have ever taken in whole entire life. And, having a 6 day a week practice means I have taken way too many yoga classes. 

And then, there is the church clap.... But, I will let you find that one out for yourself.... 

Yes, God moves here. You see it everywhere, with you, and your peers. You see transformation, you see catharsis. If you are Christian and a yogi, I highly recommend you come here. If you are not Christian and a yogi, I recommend it even more. Holy yoga is legit. Holy yoga retreat is metamorphic. Holy yoga friends are sisters. This week will forever be in my heart.

Can yoga practice prepare you for the grueling 42km of the Inca trail?

I meant to train and prepare myself for the inca trail. It was my son's childhood dream and I did not want to disappoint. But, with yoga teacher training, building a home, waking up at 5 am to drive my son to a school an hour away, and a young baby in the mix I just did not have the time. So at the end, I was left with an impromptu test:  Would my yoga practice single handedly prepare my body to face the grueling 42km of the inca trail? It is important to note that the yoga practice I refer to in this article is a 6 day a week practice of Ashtanga yoga, which I had performed solely for the 2 years previous to this trip. For those of you who are not familiar with Ashtanga, it is an arduous yoga practice developed by Sri K. Pattabhi Jois based on an ancient text called Yoga Kornuta. It is composed of 6 series that are introduced to the student as they become proficient on each of the initial poses. When I went on the inca trail I was practicing the primary series of ashtanga yoga. 

So going back to my original question: Can ashtanga yoga single handedly prepare you for the inca trail? Here's my day to day account explaining the many ways in which my daily practice prepared my body for what many consider the ultimate trekking trip.

Day 1: As we did this trip over my son's spring break, we only had one day in Cusco to acclimatize. In retrospect, this was a terrible idea and made the hike even more difficult. I underestimated my acclimatization as I had gone skiing in Colorado and never had a problem. But Cusco is higher than Colorado and that slight difference greatly affected my body. Even though in the first day we were presented with the easiest terrain, it was by far the hardest one for me because of the thin air. I often felt out of air while hiking, and had to focus on my breathing. Instinctively copying my yoga practice I started taking really deep inhales and exhaled all of the air so that I could bring in new oxygen. This small breathing exercise helped me get through the day. After seeing some beautiful places on the first day of hike and trying Chicha (corn beer) for the first time, we slept on the backyard of a local's house with the most beautiful starry sky I had ever seen. 

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Day 2: If you are doing the Classic Inca trail, the second day is supposed to be the hardest day. It is 7 hours uphill in the Andes to the dead woman's pass then an hour downhill to the campsite. Even though it was the hardest day, my body began acclimatizing so I only felt a slight headache once we reached the dead woman's pass (the highest point of that day). I feel like my pranayama practice yesterday helped me oxygenate my body and as a consequence I acclimatized quicker. Pranayama can increase the amount of oxygen in the blood helping attenuate the effects of altitude sickness. Once we passed the dead woman's pass, a torrential downpour started. This coincided with the downhill part of the day which meant slipping on the rocks and falling 3 or 4 times. Thanks to the flexibility I gained in my daily practice, the falls did not cause any injuries. That night, we camped in a huge camp site and had an unfortunate mishap. I woke up with a guy nearly on top of me looking for something in our tent. I started screaming like a mad woman waking up my son and the people on the tents next to us. The man fled. Needless to say, my son and I were agitated for the rest of the night and could not sleep. My son had a mini panic attack. Trying to calm him down, I taught him Vishama-vritti or unequal breathing to help him sleep. Then I walked him through a short meditation. At the end, he was sleeping like a baby. It was like magic. I attempted the same on me. I did calm down and eventually took a few cat naps, but I was too scared to completely fall asleep that night.

Day 3: On the third day everyone was complaining about being sore. I, on the other hand, was not. I was feeling great despite not having slept the previous night. Usually our muscles become sore when we challenge them with more strenuous activity than it is accustomed to, so it is likely that my yoga practice is challenging enough to make two days of grueling hiking not a cause for muscle soreness. Despite our best attempts to remain calm and stay another night with our group, my son and I decided to hike the remaining 20 km of the inca trail on that same day and spend the night in a hotel in the closest town, Aguas Calientes. This meant another 6 hours of downhill hiking which really put our knees to the test. At the end of the day, Gabe and I were super tired, but happy we had accomplished that feat. We hiked the entire inca trail in just 3 days! We ended the day with an amazing peruvian massage and a hot shower! 

Day 4: On the next day we took a bus to Machu Picchu to meet our group who had hiked there that morning. Machu Picchu was one of the most incredible and beautiful sights I had ever seen. It is so grandiose, it leaves you speechless. After walking around the sites, my son and I just sat down, closed our eyes and imagined what it must have been like to live at the apex of Incan civilization. 

Final Verdict: My daily practice of Ashtanga yoga prepared my body for more than just physically facing the inca trail. It also gave me skills to deal with the challenges and problems I encountered. I utilized pranayama techniques I learned to fight altitude sickness, and even to keep calm in the midst of chaos. Even without formal cardiovascular training, I had the endurance and the fitness necessary to finish the 42 km in 3 days (one day less than the classic inca trail). My muscles were not sore, despite the 7 hours uphill trekk in one of the days. I had always heard that Ashtanga is a strength and a cardiovascular exercise, but I have to say I was extremely surprised at how well it prepared my body to face such an arduous task. After using pranayama, meditation, and muscular endurance in the trail I can attest that a 6 day a week practice of ashtanga indeed prepares you for the challenge of the inca trail. 

 

Sexism in Yoga: No flow during Aunt Flo?

I don't like it when someone tells me women shouldn't do something because I grew up in a sexist country where women are told all the time that they are inferior to men. In Portuguese, my native tongue, words are usually either feminine or masculine in nature. Some words have both female and male versions, but the word president, for example, is a masculine noun only. This probably means that whoever invented the word, or the group of people that did, thought that a woman could not be president. After all, why even bother having a unisex word - or a female counterpart for the word? When a woman president finally came into power, Dilma Rousseff, all hell broke loose when she decided to create the word "Presidenta" (meaning the word president as a feminine noun). People in Brazil, including close friends of mine, relentlessly complained, even my woman friends, judging the presidenta, going as far as saying that the most powerful woman in Brazil was uneducated. So, I grew up in a country where women judge other women trying to fight sexism. Wow. 

For that reason, when I was told I couldn't practice yoga during my menstrual cycle, my sexism alarm went off.... Despite what other people told me, I continued to practice like nothing happened. I rebelled. In fact, when I went to Mysore, I got my menstrual period and I made sure I practiced every single day. I practiced with a snarky grin on my face (Sorry there Saraswasthi). But, just to be fair, I am not a woman that is much affected by her menstrual period. I don't suffer any type of cramping and I remain pretty even keeled (even though my husband might tell you a very different story...). However, as a yoga teacher, I felt an obligation to do more research and get to the bottom of this. So why are we told not to practice during our periods? Is there a legitimate scientific reason behind the madness?

Here is what I found:

1) In the Ashtanga world, we are told not to practice during the first three days of our period or even longer if the menstruation is heavy. The reason being that the bandhas are activated during practice creating an upward energy while our menstruation creates apana (or downward flowing energy). In an interview given to Ashtanga Yoga Shala New York City, Saraswasthi (Guruji's daughter) said: " [...] Here in India, according to the Brahman tradition the woman rests on these days, she does not cook and does not even go into the kitchen. Other women cook for her and she eats and sleeps a lot." Although the energy flow is a good reason not to practice if you feel drained, I don't really feel any different during those days. So, rather than going by the Brahmanic traditions, I needed a more scientific reason as to why we should not practice.

2) When I asked around, I was told that any inversions during that period would create a reversal of my menstrual period. Meaning, inversions could reverse the flow of menstrual blood. This made me start wondering if there was a legitimate medical reason behind the whole "don't practice/ invert, when menstruating" advice. So I googled "menstrual period flow backward" and found out this back flow of menstrual period was a potential cause of endometriosis. Of course this got my attention, so I devoted more time to research about endometriosis and the whole "retrograde menstruation" phenomenon. It turns out that the actual causes of Endometriosis are unknown and "retrograde menstruation" is one of the many theories scientists have developed to try to explain why women develop the disease. Also the retrograde menstruation phenomenon seems to be caused by uterine contractions, rather than by inversions. However, based on this finding, I would err on the side of caution. I am no medical professional, but if you have history of endometriosis in your family or you feel like you shouldn't be practicing, I suggest you listen to your body and take it easy during that time of the month. It turns out the advice may not be sexist after all....

As for myself, I will continue my rebellious ant flo day practices that are just as sweaty and hard as any other day... After all, there are no cases of endometriosis in my family and I feel completely fine during my period. If unlike me, you would like a more restorative and calming practice focused on diminishing anxiety, take a look at the video below which balances your energy during that time of the month!

Enjoy and Namaste!




Posted on October 14, 2015 and filed under Yoga Flows, Articles about Yoga.

Stuck in Supta Kurmasana? Read this!

I always thought I would fly through Supta Kurmasana.... Except that was not the case at all... Despite my decade long affair with Ballet during my childhood and teenage years, despite the open hips I had always been proud of, despite all of that, I was stuck in Supta Kurmasana for much longer than I had anticipated. For a while I felt frustrated. My ego thought: "How can my ballet hips not be open enough for Supta Kurmasana?" Then, as months went by and I still could not bind independetly, I became obessed. I thought about Supta Kurmasana day and night. I googled things like: "Impossible supta kurmasana" or "are my thighs too big for supta kurmasana?"... I became completely consumed by the pose. Adding to my frustration, everyone kept telling me I should be able to bind independently in the pose... "You are definetely open enough, you can bind with assistance... it must be a mechanics issue"... I wanted to get into that pose independently so badly... But, I continued to struggle... As a result, I tried using even more strength, I tried different hand positions, but the harder I tried, the more I struggled. Day after day I felt more frustrated and obsessed. 

However, amidst the frustration I started noticing some changes in the poses that preceded supta kurmasana. I already knew that the primary series was an ingenius sequence and that poses built on each other, but I did not know that working on a pose at the end of the series would impact a pose that anteceded it so drastically. It was some sort of Supta Kurmasana magic. The harder I worked in Supta Kurmasana, the more positive change I saw in the poses leading up to it. The first change I noticed was that my Parivrtta Trikonasana (revolved triangle) and my Parivrtta Parsvakonasana (revolved side angle) became much looser and easier to get into. Medial rotation has always quite challenging for me, so finding some space in these poses was quite surprising. Even more puzzling was the fact that my supta kurmasana, an exterior rotation pose, was aiding my poses that required medial rotation. That same day, my teacher told me I was just two inches away from binding. I was finally getting somewhere. 

One week later, I easily bounded in Marichiasana D and had all this new found space in both Marichis C and D. As I mentioned previously, Medial rotation is usually very challenging for me. In fact, when I first saw Marichis C and D I was convinced those poses would be impossible for me. But all of a sudden they had become really easy. Getting in them felt like butter... The day that I easily got into marichiasna C and D, was also the day that I felt my fingers graze each other lightly in the back. Somehow my medial rotation and my supta kurmasana were weirdly connected. 

At that point, many months had gone by so I became convinced my thighs were too fat to bind in Supta Kurmasana by myself. Either that, or my big butt... I was so close, but at the same time so far away. Frustrated, I started surverying people that bound in supta krumasana by themselves in class. I noticed they were either 1) tall and legnthy, 2) really skinny, or 3) both tall, lenthgy and really skinny. I never saw a person with tree trunk thighs like mine bind by themselves. Well, except for Kino, but that's an entire different species of yogi... I am neither tall nor skinny, so I figured supta kurmasana was not in the cards for me. In fact, I let my teacher know of my informal survey. Alexia Bauer, bless her heart, she is so patient with my crazy antics... Being the amazing teacher she is, she promptly found a counter example that crumbeld my twisted logic.mSo really, the only thing keeping me from binding independently in Supta Kurmasana was really myself. 

Another month went by and I had completely given up. One day, Alexia's assitant Kirk gave me a very deep adjustment in Marichiasana A. I noticed that when he gave me that adjustment, I was able to touch the tip of my fingers to the other one in a semi-bind. I coulnd't bind yet, but I was one pull away! I rejoiced in excitement. Instinctively, I noticed I needed to create length on my backside. I was not sure exactly what was the problem, but I decided to: 1) Go deeper in my forward bends, 2) really work the dog pelvic tilts in all forward bends 3) bring my legs closer in kurmasana and try my hardest to legnthen the spine, keep a dog tilt and bring my legs off the floor while in that pose. The next day after doing all of that, I bound! I screamed in excitement.

I started doing some research and found that the likely culprits were my piriformis muscle and my hip rotators. As a long time dancer, these muscles get stuck on external rotation and they shorten (Duck walk anyone??). As they shorten they compromise your forward bends. When I started working on my pelvic tilts in my forward bends, they legnthened these hip rotator muscles that had been shortened over many years of ballet training. As my hamstrings are pretty open, I never noticed that my hip rotators were shortened and stuck in this external rotation. My ego never let me notice these external rotators were compromising my forward bends. Upon this discovery I could focus my efforts on lenghtening these muscles throughout my practice. I am still in awe of how binding independently in Supta Kurmasana completely changed and impacted my practice. My medial rotation poses improved drastically, my padmasana became more open, which also impacted my ardha baddha padmottanasana, my ardha baddha padma paschimottanasana, and my tiryam mukha eka pada paschimottanasana. At the end of this frustrating journey, Supta Kurmasana was my key into every pose in the primary series. 

Supta Kurasana has, to date, been one of the hardest poses for me to tackle. But once I found out what I had to focus on, and started doing things correctly and focusing on the basics, everything fell into place. In many ways, Supta Kurmasana is a lot like life... When you focus on doing the right things, when you focus on the basics, the rest just falls into place and you start seeing success in your life.

Posted on October 6, 2015 and filed under Articles about Yoga.

How my yoga teacher training shifted what happiness means for me

In life things are constantly changing, but one of the biggest shifts I have experienced has come from my yoga teacher training. I am the kind of person who has always tried to find happiness through achievements. For example, I had hoped for being able to get a PhD degree since I was in college getting my first bachelors degree. Back then, as a single mother who was a full time college student that had a full time job, that wish seemed unachievable. However, I imagined that this piece of paper on my wall, this title would fulfill me. I guess my ego strived for the title, for the admiration, for the status. Fast forward ten years, and a PhD diploma on my wall, and this achievement now seems empty. In the end, I realized that a Ph.D. is nothing more than a piece of paper. Its appeal has vanished. Over the years, I noticed that the one thing that drew me to academia, helping others, was not what Academia was ultimately about. It seemed that in Academia, doing things for others was an excuse for people to draw attention to themselves, their work, their intelligence, their solutions.... All of a sudden, my whole life’s goal seemed... Silly and meaningless.

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I started teacher training because I felt that yoga had changed me, and if yoga could reach everyone we could have a whole lot of change in the world. Therefore, teaching yoga, which also happens to be a passion of mine, could also be a vehicle to helping others and transforming the world.Through teaching yoga, I could do my tiny part. Trying to understand what is it about yoga practice that brings about this transformation, I learned about the koshas, Koshas are basically sheaths that make up who we are. At the last sheath, is Ananda Maya Kosha, which is closest to what we truly are.  I know it is probably a bit too esoteric, but bear with me for a minute... My teacher taught me that this kosha is experienced in the form of bliss. Trying to understand what moved me beyond achievements, I started to focus on what bliss meant to me whenever I practiced meditation. It turned out that Bliss resided in simple things. I experienced bliss in meditation by recalling memories with my kids and husband. I thought of laughing really hard with my husband, or traveling with my son, Gabriel. At times, I could remember his laughter, his cute mannerisms, and his little voice. Whenever I tried to experience bliss in meditation, I thought of other intense moments where life seemed to vibrate rather than just happen. I thought of moments of intense happiness, simple moments like the laughter of my 6 month baby girl. Interestingly, my achievements, titles, or degrees were never remembered. As I reflected upon my meditation practice, I realized that my happiness is linked to simple moments when I managed to be present, when I managed to connect to other individuals in a deeper level, and unknowingly I became one with them. This taught me to seek presence, to be present, to make an effort to turn off distractions and tune in that what truly matters: now

Posted on October 6, 2015 and filed under Articles about Yoga.

Finding your Mula Banda

There are lots of elusive metaphors in yoga class. I still have no idea what breathe into your left side means, or what melting my heart really is, or even what a request to make my thighs smile has anything to do with my yoga practice. But there was one elusive request that really puzzled me because contrary to these other metaphors, it came up often and seemed to be a common jargon yoga teachers would use: "Find your Mula Bandha!" "Mula whaaaaaat?" I thought every time this bandha was mentioned... But, since none of the students inquired about it, and none of the teachers explained its meaning, I pretended like I too knew what it was, even when I had not a clue what it really meant. In fact, the closest I ever came to knowing what was mula bandha, was by imagining an Indian version of finding waldo... Finding Mula Bandha...

 

After many years of being ignorant about my mula bandha (or any of my bandhas), I attended a workshop by Kino Mcgregor that would change my yoga practice forever. For those of you who live under a stone and don't know who Kino is, she is the yoga goddess who was the youngest certified Ashtanga teacher by Guruji himself.  Kino taught an Ashtanga weekend here at Moksha Chicago. During that weekend I had the priviledge of taking two classes with her: One was a workshop on Bakasana, and the other was a guided Ashtanga yoga practice. In the first workshop, 5 minutes into the class, Kino told us a funny little story about how yoginis will use capri pants in 100 degree weather because they rely on friction to hold their Bakasanas. Right then and there, I thought that Kino had some creepy super powers... Awkwardly, I was wearing capri pants, it was the middle of Summer, and my wardrobe choice was made under consideration of friction helping me hold Bakasana... Creeppy... Anyhow, the little tidbit that would come to change my practice was that the capri pant trick I had pulled would become obsolete, if we squeezed our mula bandhas, Kino said.

What in the world was a mula bandha after all???? Obviously it was not the Indian version of waldo, if I had to squeeze it to hold a pose. Maybe it was a muscle in my arm or in my core... But it turned out to be neither. Kino clarified that squeezing your mula bandha meant squeezing your anus, your pelvic floor! After 5 years of yoga practice, I had finally understood what mula bandha was... I tried it out for the first time, and it worked like a charm! I held my first bakasana since having a c-section 6 weeks ago!!! I had been dreading this workshopin the weeks prior to it as I have had a really hard time using my core in my practice since having the baby. But, guess what? Mula bandha unlocked the kind of core strength I did not know I had. But how can your anus have anything to do with holding an arm balance? Turns out it has everything to do with it.

When we squeeze our anus, as Kino put it, the perineal floor is lifted and it stimulates our core abdominal muscles to also lift and hold, it helps our body align, and our chest and back are able to lengthen. It has a butterfly effect of sorts impacting our whole body during class. By squeezing my mula bandha I was able to get into bakasana, titibasana, kukkutasana.... All poses that I thought my arms were too weak to perform, but guess what? I was not too weak, I wasn't unleashing the power of my anus!

Yoga teaches me everyday that things I don't expect to be interrelated, in fact, are very much so. It teaches me that everything affects everything else in my body.  For example, who knew that stretching your butt muscles (your piriformis), makes all the difference to do the splits? Or that squeezing your anus would help you hold an arm balance? I certainly had no idea. So yoga has made me notice these little unexpected connections in my body, and in that I am also learning to look outwards into my life and find the same type of unexpected connections. What about you? What has your yoga practice taught you?

Posted on October 6, 2015 and filed under Articles about Yoga.

How Ashtanga Yoga made my second pregnancy surprisingly easy.

My first pregnancy was a complete nightmare. Not only I gained 50lbs, but I suffered from cankles, back pain, a swollen nose and face, and I was always tired. I was only 18 when I got pregnant, so I attributed all of those maladies to my less than wise younger self. I made up cravings that I never had, I sat around and didn't exercise, I really was not thinking about my future self at all. Fast forward 14 years, and here I was pregnant again... I was terrified. If at 18, I managed to gain 50 lbs, how many pounds would I gain now that I was 32? And worse, how would I lose them now that I have hypothyroidism and the metabolism of an 80 year old? Luckily, the beautiful practice of Ashtanga yoga that I had adopted a few years prior to my pregnancy, would change what I had known pregnancies to be like. In fact, had I known a pregnancy could be so easy, I would have had 10 kids.... Shhhh, don't tell my husband!

Although I envisioned this pregnancy as a time I would be able to refrain from all temptations and eat clean 100% of the time, that did not happen. In fact, I still caved into chocolate and sugar and being pregnant made me hungry all of the time! What was different this time was my bullheaded conviction of continuing my Ashtanga practice throughout the nine months of pregnancy. I knew that I would eventually need modifications, but I continued to practice up to the day that I went into labor.

For those of you who are unfamiliar with Ashtanga yoga, it is a practice that produces intense internal heat (translation: it is really hard and you sweat buckets). The generation of internal heat is supposed to heal and purify, releasing toxins from your body. I am not sure how scientific that is, but what I can say is that Ashtanga really did affect my experience with pregnancy. I would recommend anyone planning to get pregnant to start practicing it a year prior to getting pregnant. And I mean at least a year prior because Ashtanga yoga is too challenging of a practice to be started once pregnant. It is not a practice to be adopted during pregnancy. Although these are not scientific observations ( I can only speak of my experience with a sample of n=2), this is what I noticed:

1. More sane despite hormones: During my first pregnancy I was a much crazier version of my normal self. I was extremely emotional and really hard to talk to. I cried for no reason at all, I was easily ticked off, and was an overall roller coaster of emotions. The moving meditation practice of Ashtanga yoga helped me remain centered. I was calm, I was happy, I felt pretty. The focus it took to engage in a daily ashtanga practice when you are 20lbs over your normal weight really helped me channel my emotions. I noticed that if I missed a day or two, my emotions became more intense and I would often act irrational. My practice helped me stay grounded.

2. No back pain: Another problem in my first pregnancy was the amount of back pain I felt. I couldn't stand for too long because it would hurt, I couldn't sit for too long because the pain was also unbearable. This meant I was uncomfortable most of the day. However, this time around back pain was not an issue. The primary series of Ashtanga is full of forward folds throughout it, and I credit those forward folds for saving my back. I had virtually no back pain this time around. And this has nothing to do with gaining less weight. Even though I gained less weight during this pregnancy (25 lbs vs 50 the first time around), I started this pregnancy 20lbs heavier- which meant I was carrying nearly the same weight as before - except that I had all the forward folds to elongate my back and alleviate any pain I could have had.

3. No Edema: Cankles during pregnancy is also known as edema. In my first pregnancy, I felt like an elephant - and not a cute graceful one. I waddled, my feet looked like the feet of a baby elephant. It was not a pretty sight. My legs got really swollen, which kept me from moving much. Not moving much further contributed to my legs and body getting even more swollen, which meant I was in this sad vicious circle of hell. This time around, I was dreading getting cankles, specially when I crossed into the third trimester. I braced myself for the worst, I waited, I waited, and nothing... I had no swelling at all. Again, I believe the practice of Ashtanga, which produces heat within your body helped my circulation. The conjoined breath and movement of the vinyasa and asanas is said to help circulation as it thins the blood. Again, I am not sure how scientific this statement is, but it surely seemed to have worked for me.

4. More focus during labor: My first experience giving birth was scary and chaotic. This time around I was much more focused and calm. I believe that the vinyasas (the linking of movement and breath) in ashtanga yoga and the practice of moving meditation of ashtanga really taught me how to calm myself through an intense focus. In general, with a regular practice of Ashtanga I learned to be much more focused, and that was quite apparent when I compare Gabriel's and Isabella's birth.

I can't speak highly enough of keeping with your ashtanga practice while pregnant. It was probably the best decision I made. Although It wasn't easy as Ashtanga is an extremely challenging routine (specially when you have another human being inside of you), it was well worth it. My pregnancy became surprisingly easy with Ashtanga, and even my postpartum was also positively impacted ( I will talk about my postpartum ashtanga practice in another post). The important thing is to listen to your body so that you can practice safely. No one will know how your body feels while it is growing another person. So, no one can really tell you how to modify your practice. Listen to your body, don't go over your limits and remember the practice of ashtanga during pregnancy shouldn't be one of cleansing, but of feeling good about yourself and doing what is best for your baby.

An Ode to the Yoga Selfie

Lately, the yoga selfies have been getting a lot of backlash. If you are out of the loop here is an example blog post: About time we stopped the yoga selfie . Yes, I can see how yoga selfies can be misinterpreted, I understand that it can bother people... But, at the same time I feel that this type of attitude has nothing to do with the spirit of yoga. For one, it is judging people and assuming they are show offs, or that they want and crave attention. It is a holier than thou attitude that does not really consider people's stories, what they are going through and how the yoga selfie and the challenges in instagram could be helping them.

If you search for a challenge hashtag on instagram, I doubt you will see a bunch of show-offs. In fact, what I see are regular people trying hard to work on themselves, attempting to reconnect with their bodies and to feel good with who they are. Yes, their pictures could me misconstrued as simply showing off an Asana, but they are also making themselves vulnerable by putting forth all of the imperfections they may see in their practice and their bodies. They are embracing their own forms of yoga, they are embracing who they are. It is not easy to make a fool of yourself in front of a group of global spectators. Trust me, my Asana practice is nothing to show off about...

I can speak from my own experience with instagram vulnerability. I started to take part of the #summersplits2014 challenge to help me get back to yoga after a major surgery. Today it has been four weeks since my c-section. It is still a little painful, but after generating and housing a tiny human being for nine months, I felt sad and empty and needed my yoga back as soon as possible. As I cannot take on a full Ashtanga practice yet for another 2 weeks, I decided to take on Kino McGregor's challenge.

The challenge is not only helping me get back to yoga by slowly building a flow of poses (I am repeating old asanas and adding on poses each day), it is also helping me embrace my postpartum body. In the past nine months, my body has been stretched, my organs have been displaced, and my hormones have been driving me to the brink of insanity. Embracing who you are after a baby is tough. You have to accept the new person you have become, the new curves, and the stretch marks. Being part of this Instagram challenge has helped me embrace who I am. I take a photo, I look at it, I recognize my imperfections, I accept them and move on. I showcase it to the world because I am proud of the woman I have become. I have become a mother, my body has accomplished the amazing feat of generating life. I am proud to share the new me. So, all I have is love and acceptance for the yoga selfie.

And, if you still think that yoga selfies are out of control and a bit ridiculous just think about this: Yoga is a transformative practice. Even, if people start out with the intention of showing off with through the yoga selfie, odds are that with a regular practice their psyche will be transformed by yoga. They will learn with yoga to turn inwards, to worry less about Asana and more about the other limbs of yoga. It just takes time... Trust the practice and let others work through their issues... Let them proudly display their journeys online. And in the meantime, take a yoga selfie and join in the fun....

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Posted on October 6, 2015 and filed under Articles about Yoga.