Gratitude. Gratitude. Gratitude.

Because we all have one, beautiful, amazing life.

Saturday, March 29, 2014

What Was Happening This Week: March 24th

Here's a little update on what struck me this week in class and on the mat! I split my time between lots of Forrest in the East Bay, a little happy hour yoga here in the city, and home practice.

Themes that Moved Me: Relaxed Confidence with Michelle on Monday night - my takeaway was the ability to stand strong in your power without gripping. 

Mantra I'm currently using: Less looking, more leaping. 

What I Taught: Themes: Making Space, Focus on Deep Hip Openers. No right answers, just feeling: Shoulder Exploration.

New Songs for the Playlist: Lanterns by Birds of Tokyo, Top of the World by Imagine Dragons, Peace by OAR, and Further On by Bronze Radio Return

Trending Poses: Twisting Scissors, Anything Hips, and Gate Opener Abs

Biggest Challenge: Working with my "seriously it's been three weeks and it doesn't feel much better" tailbone injury. 

Best Advice Received in Class: Using two blankets folded side by side with just a little bit of space in between to support my tailbone while seated on the mat. 

Victory Moments: Landing Twisting Scissors into Regular Scissors on the right side, practicing total softness in class on Thursday night, and working on breathing big without forcing this morning. Also, hitting day 300 in the Handstand Challenge:



Things That Inspired Me: Watching a private client find a new way of looking at challenges. Reconnecting with an old friend over a wonderful meal to realize that while our lives have traveled different directions, our paths are similar. 

Quote that's staying with me: (hint: It's my all-time favorite)

We're all just walking each other home. - Ram Dass

Beauty Moment: Driving home from yoga on the new span of the Bay Bridge.  








Wednesday, January 29, 2014

For the First Time...Yoga Class FAQ

Over the past two years, I have fielded many questions from friends and family members who want to try yoga but are concerned about how to start and what to expect. 

Grateful Yogi presents...

Yoga 101 FAQs: 

What type of class should I start with? 

I would suggest starting out with either a beginner class (or an "all levels" class if a beginner class doesn't fit your schedule). It is good to take several of these to get used to the way a class works, names of poses, and to see how the practice feels to you before stepping into a more advanced class. Some studios even require a few beginners classes before you can try anything else. This helps with safety, but also makes you feel more comfortable/confident. 

I heard it is, like, 130 degrees in the yoga studio. Am I going to pass out? 

Temperatures at studios vary, but let's go ahead and divide the studio population into three groups: Unheated, Warm and Hot. Unheated is exactly what it sounds like - no artificial heat beyond what a normal room would feel like. Warm is usually 80-95 degrees. HOT is usually 95-105 (or hotter). Humidity can be added as well depending on the studio. Why heat a room at all? Many practitioners (myself included) appreciate the fact that heat makes your muscles warm, so you can get deeper into poses. Additionally, it can flush out toxins from your body. The heat bothered me at first, and now I love it. I'm a WARM yoga kind of girl and I think 85 is a great temp. I actually get kind of cranky when I have to practice somewhere less than 80, but initially it was tough. 

Check the studio website or call to find out about temperature if you are concerned. Some studios add a note on their class descriptions as to the level of heat. 

Bring water. Hydrate. Hydrate before class. Hydrate after class. Hydrate all the time, regardless of whether you keep practicing yoga! 

So I get the water part but...what about eating? 

Try not to eat too close to when you attend a class. This is a physical activity. Most "people" (I am not actually sure who - experts? websites? studio owners? friends?) say 2 hours but to me that is a little strict. Think about how your body reacts to other types of physical exertion after you eat. Give it at least an hour to be safe and like all things, test out how your body does. The more you practice, the more you will get a sense from your body about what works. 

I'm nervous about everything. But mostly...the sweat. 

Important Note: You will think that you sweat more than anyone else in the whole world. Trust me when I tell you: this is not true. It is not even close to true. I have seen sweat. You will not be the sweatiest. 

BUT! Do bring a towel with you. Mats can get slippery as you sweat. And slippery mats are uncomfortable and can be dangerous. 

If you fall in love with the practice, there are mat towels that you can buy that are amazing for sopping up sweat, but for the first few weeks, a regular towel should do just fine.

Props - can be your best friend - at your first class - and ALWAYS

Can you explain what an "adjustment" is and an "assist."

Teachers will probably adjust you - either verbally or physically. Verbally would be: hey, put your foot here, or move this way. Physically, they might actually move you deeper or twist you further by touching your shoulder, arm, hip, etc.. It is always okay to say "no thanks" if it doesn't feel right or you are uncomfortable. It is also important to know that there is not a 100%, one size fits all "right way" to do a pose. I practice every day and I still don't take triangle pose the way that it often looks like in yoga magazines. I was born with hips that move slightly differently. So the purpose of an adjustment or an assist should be to help you feel the pose more fully based on your body. Good teachers will also be looking to make adjustments if they see that you might be taking a pose in a way that could be harmful to your body. An example of this would be tuning your knee in a way that could cause injury.  

I've heard that you don't breathe out of your mouth in yoga. What if I can't do that?

Ujjayi breathing is a common breathing style in yoga that involves an audible breath on the inhale and exhale, with lips closed. This is a skill that takes time to master, and is taught in many beginner classes. Like most things in life, it comes with practice. Do not worry about doing this in your first class. Listening to others around you is a great way to learn, though, so just being in class helps. 

My friend does yoga and she says that they pray and sing. I'm not sure about that.

Yoga - above all else - is what you want it to be.

It can be a purely physical workout. It can be a deeply spiritual practice. 

While I identify with yoga as a deeply spiritual part of my human experience, I frequently practice next to people who would put themselves all over the spectrum. The great thing about yoga is that you can decide as an individual how you want it to be for you. 

A teacher may ask you to bring your hands to heart center - in prayer. This is more to describe the pose and help you connect to breath than it is a prescription to pray. If this triggers you - another option is to cover your heart with your hands. 

You may here the sound of "Om" to start or end a class. Om is a chant, or mantra, and the best way that I can describe it is the sound of simply being. For me, it is a reminder to drop in and put aside everything going on in my head - and concentrate on the present moment. If you don't feel comfortable om-ing at first (or ever) - just listen. It can be a beautiful sound. 

You may hear the word "Namaste." This is a Sanskrit word that can be translated to mean: "the light within me honors the light that resides within you." If om is the sound of being, then namaste is the greeting of being - it is you telling your neighbor - whether stranger or friend - that you honor their being in the world, and their being in your present moment. 

You may hear chanting. Chants can be sung at the beginning or end of class - usually Sanskrit words and often call and response. This is another way of asking people to bring themselves into the present. The translated chants are often quite beautiful. At your comfort level, join in or simply listen. 

What is a prop? 

A prop is an item that helps you in a pose - the most common props are yoga blocks, straps, blankets, and bolsters (shaped pillows). I used to think that a student with fewer props was a more advanced student. This is not true in many cases. Props help our bodies get into shapes, and they help us with comfort while we practice. Bring on the props! 

I need to leave 5 minutes early from class to catch my train. Is that okay? 

This is a bit of a gray area, but my from-the-heart answer on this is: no. The final pose of a yoga class is Savasana. It is a pose that involves laying down, being still, and allowing your body to feel all of the work you have done. In the beginning, this pose might feel awkward and your mind might race. This feeling slowly dissipates as you practice more and savasana can often become one of the most blissful poses of your practice. Savasana is a quiet pose, and moving around to get your things, roll up your mat, and leaving the room can be extremely disruptive to other students and distracting to the teacher. 

If you must leave class early - leave before savasana. Do your best to stay. 

What else should I do when I get to the studio? 

Arrive Early
For your first class, I suggest arriving at least 15 minutes early. This allows you time to fill out waivers, navigate your way around the studio, lay your mat out, and take some deep breaths before class. 

Be respectful of etiquette - and know that it varies
All studios are different, but know that typically, you need to arrive before class starts to set up your mat, get props, and get settled. There may be a certain way that mats are lined up in a classroom, and depending on the location, studio, and class size, there could be 2 feet between mats or 1 inch. Yoga is a great place to practice follow the leader - take a glance around the studio to get a sense of what other students are doing. 

Two universal rules: Silence your phone. Be respectful of those around you. 

Introduce yourself and acknowledge injuries
When you go to your first few classes, definitely try and introduce yourself to the teacher, and let he/she know that you are new and if you have any injuries (particularly back/neck/shoulder stuff). For the first few classes as a beginner, the best place is actually middle or further back in the room - so that you can watch other people. This seems backwards, but the teacher doesn't normally stay in the front of the room - and you might want people to look at for a little help on where you should be/how you should look. 

Take breaks and breathe
When all else fails, or if you get into a tailspin in class: check in with your breath and breathe. Part of yoga is pushing through, but it is also knowing when to back off. It is always okay to take a break. If this happens and you need a rest - either sit in cross legged and just breathe up to your heart, or go into child's pose (one of the first poses you will learn). 

When in doubt during class, take child's pose, or simply sit and breathe. 

Trust yourself
You go to yoga with YOUR BODY. If a teacher asks you to do something that you know in your gut you shouldn't do - TRUST YOURSELF FIRST!!!! No yoga teacher can know your body better than you. Especially someone who met you 30 minutes ago! Say no politely. Be firm. If they don't listen or respect your request - leave. 

You might have firework explosions of bliss at your first class, but more likely it takes a few classes to know if it is right for you. I fell in love that first class but I didn't appreciate the love until months later. Sometimes, you need a little time to grow into it. 

What did I miss? What do you still want to know? If I didn't cover one of your burning questions about starting a yoga practice, feel free to email me at gratefulyogisf(at)gmail.com.



Monday, December 16, 2013

Home (Practice) for the Holidays...and any day

Just like that - the holidays have arrived. Schedules seem tighter at work and at home. There are fewer hours of daylight, and the cold has settled in for many places.

And perhaps, slipping just out of your grasp, is one of the mainstays of your sanity and peace: your yoga practice.

This might be a tougher time to get to class. But we were born with the only thing we need for yoga: our bodies.

To establish a home practice, or to add a home practice into our life, we have to get through the biggest hurdle first. Once we get it out of the way, everything becomes easier. I promise.

Time. You think you don't have any.

You DO have time. You may need to give something up, or cut back on something else, but you CAN choose to prioritize. How long and how often is up to you. We make space for our priorities.

As one of my favorite artists, Brian Andreas says: "Everything changed the day she figured out there was exactly enough time for the important things in her life."


Home practices in 2013

Maybe today is that day for you!  Here are some thoughts to get you started, or to help you along:

Your home practice doesn't need to be 90 minutes (initially or ever). If you are confused about where to start, or how to build a practice, my advice is to start small. Commit to 10 minutes on the days you practice and do some deep breathing and your favorite poses or simple sun salutations. Add a few minutes a day, or just continue with 10 minutes. Many long-time studio practitioners feel married to 60-90 minutes. Just remember that as a student, in a class where you are being taught -  there are natural pauses and breaks and late starts that you won't have when you are all by yourself. You can fit more in when you are on your own.

Dare to be different, or stick with the familiar. There are multiple ways to approach "what" you do during your home practice. Some people like to practice the same sequence each time. Others go with what they feel like that morning. If I am doing a longer home practice, I like to plan out the sequence to a peak pose, or work through a sequence that I am planning on teaching that week. If I have 30-45 minutes, I might just do what feels good, based on the parts of my body that feel tight. My awesome friend, Megan, shares her sequence notebook with EVERYONE - and you can check it out if you are looking for sequence ideas. She has themes and time estimates and they are my absolute go-to when I am looking for inspiration.

Buddy Up! Invite a friend or a partner to join you. Even a furry friend. Particularly around the holidays, it is an awesome way to spend time with someone and also allow time for your yoga. You can practice a sequence in tandem together, watch a yoga video, or choose a playlist and then do individual work.

When in doubt, use 5 as a breath count. It can be challenging without a teacher to cue breaths, so if this presents itself as an issue, use 5 deep breaths as a start. The more experience you have, the easier it will be to "feel" the breath count on both sides, but it is always good to have points of reference to fall back on.

You can have Hot Yoga at home. It will cost you $25 and perhaps a small $3-5 increase in your electric bill. Behold, the space heater. I will, as my insurance background dictates, remind you that these are dangerous if left on or plugged in near flammable objects. Please be smart, yogis - unplug after you heat up.

Your home practice doesn't have to be self directed. If the idea of practicing without an instructor intimidates you, first thank Ganesha that you are getting your asana on in 2013, and then log on to your computer for some action at one of the many yoga websites available. Most are even running holiday specials. I'll shout out Yoga VibesMy Yoga Online, and a new offering, Mat2Mat, because I've used them both and some of my favorite teachers are on there. There are lots of other options out there as well. Also close to my own heart are the Ana Forrest intensive CDs, which can be loaded onto an mp3 player and taken anywhere.

Set the mood.  Love the candles your teacher has, or yearn for the smell of sage or incense as you walk into the studio? Done and done. For $4 and $3, respectively. Totally worth it. Again, yogis, let's be careful with the fire. But do it up. The same is true for playlists. Set your iphone, your ipad, or your computer - go to Pandora or create an iTunes playlist to suit the type of mood you are setting for your practice (or the mood you are in). The more you put into the experience, the more you are likely to like it. And a DESIRE to do the practice is vital, especially in the beginning.

Candlelight home practice 

Get creative with props. If you get hooked on home yoga, you can invest in some props. But as you get started, remember that soup cans, pillows, books, towels, water bottles, and belts make great yoga props in the absence of the usual block, strap and roll. I could write a whole blog post on props I have made out of hotel room items.

Take Savasana. It is so easy to pop up after the last active pose and move on to the next scheduled item on the to-do list. Carve out two minutes in the time that you have allotted to give yourself even just a quick savasana. It truly allows your body to take in all that you have done. 

Don't give up. Home practice is a labor of love. It requires discipline and focus, which can take time to build. It might take a few fits and starts for a habit to be born.

By making space in our lives for yoga, we surrender to the space that yoga will make in our bodies and minds. And slowly, but surely, that newfound space becomes a sanctuary.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Hidden Beach Yoga, Marin County



photo by Scott Finsthwait

Hidden Beach, Marin
abbie dutterer 

Waves pushing and pulling
At earth’s gentle corners

Soft lap or thunderous crescendo,
Erasing all markings from the sand,
No imprint is safe from being caught
In the vast clearing of space.

These waves are meant for us.

Purpose often looks like chaos,
So we step onto the shore,
walking forward to catch our reflection,
frustrated by the fragility
of our own footprints.

we imagine ourselves as sand,
pummeled and driven.

only in surrender do we know

we are the force
that pulls
that pushes

our very being a vibration

we have always been the tide.

Monday, December 9, 2013

A Grinch Repost for the Holidays!

This post was originally published on November 30, 2011.

How the Grinch Found Yoga

The lesser known story of the Grinch. It wasn't just the Whos that made his heart grow three sizes. 


The Grinch 

The Grinch heard a sound rising over the snow.
It started in low, then it started to grow.

Om. 

Om.

This sound wasn't sad!
This sound sounded glad!

Every yogi was oming, the tall and the small,
They were singing their presence - the om was the call!

No noise could stop them. The peace - it still came!
No matter what language, it sounded the same!

And the Grinch, with his grinch feet ice-cold in the snow,
Stood puzzling and puzzling. "How could it be so?

It came without mats! It came without clothing!
It came without jealousy, fighting and loathing.

He puzzled and puzzed till his puzzler was sore.
Then the Grinch thought of something he hadn't before.

Maybe yoga, he thought, doesn't come from a store.
Maybe yoga, perhaps, means a little bit more!

And what happened then? Well, most yogis say,
That the Grinch's small heart grew three sizes that day!

And then the true meaning of yoga came through,
And the Grinch found the strength of ten Grinches, plus two!

And now that his heart didn't feel quite so tight,
He could breathe into life and find peace day and night.

With a smile to his soul, he descended Mount Crumpit
Cheerily blowing "Just Breathe" on his trumpet.

He tried out the poses and did oujjii breathing.
He sampled yoga to music and all kinds of heating.

His heart started to grow, he made space all around,
He said "this place on my mat is the best place I've found."

His life started to change, though it started out slow.
Peace at home and at work, it all started to show.

Welcome Yogis. Bring your cheer,
Cheer to all people, far and near.

Peace and calm is in our grasp
So long as we have hands to clasp.

Our practice it will always be
Just as long as we have we.

Welcome yoga, while we stand
Heart to heart and hand in hand
.

The Grinch had it right. It is about standing heart to heart, and hand in hand. In yoga, and in life. 

No matter what you believe, we have a choice to make this holiday season one of peace and joy. 


 

With many thanks to the wise and wonderful Dr. Seuss, who has provided the outline for this post. Maybe he was a yogi. If not, I think he might still understand. He did after all, have a fantastic sense of humor. And if you look at his books, I think you might see quite a few arm balances in there!

Thursday, October 17, 2013

On Being Brave

On January 23, 2003, the crowded metro car I was on stopped short between Arlington, VA and DC. This meant, effectively, that we were stuck under the Potomac River. Looking through the windows simply revealed a concrete tunnel. It was snowing heavily that day, and all around me was the press of winter jackets against my body. I felt the familiar heat of panic rising from my stomach to my throat. Why had I worn a turtleneck?? Why are we stopped? What if it's a terrorist attack? What if we never get out? What if? What if? What if? With each question, the twisting knot in my chest tightened.

I was 22 years old, and brought to my knees by panic. It was not the first time. It would not be the last. I wanted to rip off my clothing and sit down naked in the middle of the train car. Anything to stop the constriction in my chest. I grabbed the jacket of the man next to me and in a voice that would have been recognized as terrified in any language, asked him to help me make room because I thought I was going to pass out. I can still see his face. He made a small area for me to stand in while my fingers fumbled to rip off my jacket, and 8 agonizing minutes later, when the doors opened on the DC side of the river, he blocked traffic so that I could get out first. This wasn't my stop, but it didn't matter.

Last Stop: Foggy Bottom Metro Station, Washington, DC
I stood on the platform until it emptied, leaning my still-shaking body against a large map of the metro system so that I could catch my breath. A metro worker asked me if I needed directions.

These trains, he said, are always stopping when it snows. I mean really, it's like putting a hair dryer in a bathtub.

I walked the mile to my office from the station. Anxiety had won. 

I wouldn't ride on a subway again until 2005.

My third wedding anniversary fell on a warm summer night in June of that year, and my husband's company had scheduled a cooking class event in the North End of Boston. Now living hundreds of miles away from DC, I was determined that I would take the subway to meet him for dinner and beat the fear. 

I left our apartment early. I was relieved that I didn't have a jacket or turtleneck to worry about in the summer temperature. I had timed my ride to be before rush hour, so that the cars wouldn't be crowded. As the doors shut, I focused on how much I wanted to get to the dinner and how good it would feel to get there. And in an unlikely foreshadowing of my later path, I told myself to just keep breathing.

When I burst into the bright sunlight at the top of the escalator at my stop, I remember swallowing in the warm air and feeling just a slight breeze on my cheeks.

I also remember being immensely proud.

Everyone else was commuting. I was being brave.

***

My anxiety still lurks, almost always, below the surface. But I ride the BART all the time now in San Francisco, and rarely think about the close quarters. As I have forged a deeper mindfulness practice and a healthier relationship with how I address fear, I have also developed an arsenal of coping techniques for what used to be instant triggers to my nervous system. Among them, meditation, breathing, and simple resilience.

Plato is often quoted as saying: "be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle."

If this is true (and I believe that it is), than we are also living in the midst of constant acts of bravery by those around us. Triumph over fear does not have to look like an extreme gesture. Not a single soul but my husband knew what a brave act that subway ride was.

When I support people on their journeys, whether it be a personal friendship, a student, or a co-worker, I try to remember what it felt like that day to conquer a fear, however small it looked to those around me. Perhaps even harder, is remembering that same truth for myself when I struggle with fears that seem so difficult and insignificant at the same time.

It would be convenient if every courageous act looked like the summit of a mountain, with big smiles and photos and the accompanying "I made it" status updates on Facebook.

In truth, some of our biggest climbing is putting one foot out of our bed in the morning. And then following with the other.

Fear and anxiety have taught me to appreciate, celebrate, and applaud baby steps. These are the small openings in our wounded beings that invite us to heal ourselves.

Because every struggle we have is a gift. And the universe is a relentless giver.

Try to never forget that someone's bravest moment might look ordinary to you. Courage comes in all shapes and sizes.

Everybody has a subway ride. 

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Savasana

This post originally appeared as part of a series of blogs for Yoga Tree and Pete Guinosso

On the final day of training, our morning practice was heavy with anticipation and finality. As we moved through the day’s last asanas, I found myself glancing forward and backward, scanning the room, and taking in our final day together as trainees. 

And then it was over.

We moved into savasana, the familiar feeling of warmth rising and the cooling sensation of fresh air circulating just above us. I struggled, wiggled, and finally gave in to stillness as I let my breath go.

I felt a sweaty hand slip into mine as if it was meant to be there. And I felt my breath catch in my throat.

There is, perhaps, no pose as vulnerable as savasana – lying on your back, arms open wide, eyes closed, deep quiet and very little movement. It is a pose that acknowledges all of the work that the practice has done to open and make space.

The stillness of savasana has always challenged me.

And yet here I was, in this otherwise emotional last day, enjoying a place of calm and comfort.  

Loved, supported, and understood.

I squeezed the hand back gently and held on. I smiled as I recognized how comfortable it all truly was.

Community allows for togetherness and solitude all at once.  

I expected the yoga to change me, but it was the friendships that literally changed my whole world.

Lighting the Path Teacher Training is a slow, winding road to personal truth if you are willing to let yourself move from a place of vulnerability. Pete compassionately guides his trainees in confronting stories and conditioning and holds space for the community to support each other. These breakthroughs become the building blocks for strong, authentic teaching.

When you strip the old stories away, what is left is the broken open truth in each one of us. 

With that knowledge, the way forward is clearer. Not planned, or set, or even steady, but illuminated.

It gives us a way to step into our power - not with harshness, but with affirmation of our own value as human beings - with gifts to offer the world. 

Photo by Scott Finsthwait

 All this time, I thought it was yoga that was lighting the path. And it's not. 

It's us: individuals owning and speaking truth. 

That is the light.

Yoga is a tool to get you there, but we have to do the work. We have to go deeper.

The people that walked beside me as I did this deep personal work know the real me. We show up for each other. They are the first to support my adventures, but also the first to let me know when I am falling into old habits and choices. They know my family and can intuit my fears. I need that kind of truth in my life. In the months since we have finished our training, it is vulnerability that has allowed me to continue to grow my own light.

Community, to me, looks very much like savasana.

A celebration of making space and being open. Pockets of stillness. Peace.