Monday, August 31, 2009

I love Tree Pose

My mind was troubled when I started my practice today, so I focused on two poses that I know help me feel relaxed and centered.

The first of those two poses is Vrksasana, or Tree Pose. I've loved balancing in tree pose since I first started yoga. I used to stand by my Grandfather's hospital bed in tree pose, to help keep my emotions under control. I especially enjoy tree pose with my eyes closed. Balancing with closed eyes is usually more difficult, so it helps me to focus even more.

The second of the two poses I love is Virabhadrasana II, or Warrior II pose. I like lunges in general, but in Warrior II, I feel strength not only in my legs, but also my arms. And I find it peaceful to balance in Warrior II with my gaze soft over my leading arm.

I wonder if everyone has certain poses that they enjoy most for centering and focus. I wonder if most people find the same poses enjoyable for this, or if everyone prefers different poses. And, I wonder where the preference comes from. The only thing I can think of for me is cheerleading. Both Tree and Warrior II are positions that I am familiar with from many years of cheerleading practice. I used to balance on one leg all the time to prepare for stunts, and lunges are a key part in any cheer routine. Maybe it's that familiarity that helps me focus and center in those poses, since my body doesn't need as much guidance from my mind.

If you're reading this, I'd love to know what you think. Do certain poses help you feel focused and calm? Do you have favorite poses for other things?


Sunday, August 30, 2009

2 Weeks!

Today marks 14 days straight of yoga and blogging, and it feels fantastic!

I switched things up tonight, and walked my dogs for about a mile right before I practiced. This was a good change for two reasons. One, the dogs were relaxed and quiet after their walk, instead of trying to get my attention. Two, I was warmed up and limber from being outside walking in the warm, humid air.

I've realized that Angus is obsessed with my yoga mat. It's old, and I've been wishing for a new one. I think I'll cut this one to size for his crate, and replace it with a new, eco-friendly mat for me. Angus has hip dysplasia, and we have a tile floor, so I'm sure he will really appreciate the repurposed mat.

I practiced with Power Yoga again tonight, and marveled at just how much stronger I feel after only two weeks! An Anusara teacher I admired in Florida used to say that when you lunge, you should push forward with the back leg and pull back with the front leg, pulling strenght upward from the center, into the heart. The concept made sense to me before, but I'm just starting to actually feel the difference. The strength in my legs seems to be taking the strain off my knees in deep lunges, making it easier to hold the poses longer, and with what feels like better form.

I can't wait to see what the next two weeks bring!


Saturday, August 29, 2009

Fit Yoga?

Today I tried a Fit Yoga class. Maybe my idea of yoga is too narrow minded. Even though I have tried and enjoyed many varieties of yoga, I could not see the yoga in this class. Sure, we lunged in Warrior 2, performed a lot of Chaturanga Dandasanas, and ended in Shivasana, but it didn't feel like yoga at all. There was no discussion of breath, no tweaking of the poses, no pulling from inner and outer strength. It felt like a bastardized version of yoga, using the poses in ways they weren't meant to be used to build muscular strength only. I realized that playing new age music, dimming the lights, and saying namaste does not turn a workout into yoga.

It didn't make me happy.

Will I go back? Yup. Because it showed me weaknesses in my body that I wasn't aware of. Would I recommend it as a yoga class? Nope. But now that I know what to expect, I won't be disappointed.


Friday, August 28, 2009

Judgement and Letting Go

Today was another wonderful day. I've definitely kicked whatever was making me feel bad a few days ago, and now I'm feeling strong and energetic.

Since today was another Zumba day, I was concerned with being stiff for yoga. I paid extra attention to the stretching portion of the cool down, and after walking home, I continued to stretch some more. I also had a massage scheduled today, but I'll get to that in a moment.

Zumba was so much fun - good friends, good music, and good laughs. It's *almost* possible to forget it's exercise! I'm getting more confident with the routines, which means I can enjoy the class more instead of trying to hard to keep up. And while I feel like I'm getting better at the cardio portion, I'm also sweating more than ever. I'm not sure I understand that, but it feels good, so I'm going with it.

When I went to my massage appointment, I asked her to focus on my back, between my shoulder blades. As she started working, she said it was obvious I hold everything there, emotionally and physically, and that I need to learn to let things go. At first I was slightly uncomfortable. I'd never met this woman before, and while she was very good at the physical portion of a massage, she didn't have a comforting demeanor about her. I felt like she was judging me, and I didn't like it. After a few tense minutes, I let it go though, and focused on relaxing.

Tonight I did another version of the Solar Flow Matrix, this time with a build up to shoulder stand. I'm not able to do a full shoulder stand yet, but I am definitely feeling a difference as I work on the poses to build the base. I'm not pushing myself to hard, and I don't feel bad that I can't complete a shoulder stand yet. It used to bother me in class when I couldn't do a shoulder stand at all, while everyone else perfected theirs. But no more. Just feeling the gaining strength makes me feel successful and full of purpose.

When I read today's Meditation from the Mat, it all came together. Here's what stood out to me. "Only when we act without judgement can we truly flourish in our lives... Before our bodies can open, they must first let go; the clenched and guarded muscles must relax. But the mind must let go first."

How's that for all of my concerns for the day coming together into one meditation? I could practically tie my day up in a bow! When I relaxed, trusted, and respected my body, I was able to enjoy Zumba more. When I went for a massage to work out tightened muscles, I was cautioned that I needed to let the emotions go first. And when I practiced yoga tonight, I realized how invigorating practice can be when you accept where your are in your practice, and don't judge yourself unfairly.

I'm going to bed tonight feeling strong, confident, and relaxed. :)


Thursday, August 27, 2009

Somewhere in the middle

Tonight, I practiced with my favorite Yoga DVD - Shiva Rea's Solar Flow. I had a productive day today, and I felt like I had the energy for a challenge. And Solar Flow can definitely be challenging!

I used the Matrix feature on the DVD, focusing mainly on the balance poses flow. This DVD is awesome because it accommodates so many levels, and gives you so much to grow into. On most of the balance poses, I stay at the first phase. But I am proud to say that tonight, I managed a new phase in the split balance pose. While I still can't do the whole shebang, I am stoked that I am just one phase away. I surprised myself, and I am so happy about it.

What makes me happy about all of this is that I see that I'm somewhere in the middle, and making progress. I'm no expert by far, but I've come a long way from the beginner phase. And while most people would look at Shiva's amazing arm balances and think 'no way', I'm getting to a place where I'm thinking 'someday'. And hopefully someday soon!

I ended with a longer shivasana than usual after my hard work, complete with puppy kisses to tell me it was time to snap out of it. Now it's time to hit the sack, because I'm meeting a friend for Zumba in the morning. I've got a massage scheduled too, and I think I'm going to need it!


Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Varied Thoughts Today...

Today, I've got several things I want to write about, so I'm going to try my best to organize them.

First, the practical. On Tuesdays and Thursdays, I go to a Zumba class with a great friend. I love this class - it's high energy, high impact, and makes me sweat buckets. I am starting to see though, that Tuesdays and Thursdays are not my best yoga days. By the time I get around to yoga, I'm tight and tense. I'm not sure what I think about this. Zumba is great for my body, and I think it's doing good things for me in the cardio department. But I don't like that it tightens me up. Maybe I need to come home and stretch more, or walk into the gym after and stretch there. I definitely can't do yoga right after. I'm way too worn out for that. So that's something I'll be mulling over in the near future, and working on.

Second, the practice. I am still feeling under the weather today, even though I did manage to make it through Zumba this morning. I remembered an article in Natural Health about Yoga for specific ailments, so I went and dug it up. I did the routine for headache relief, and it was wonderful. It didn't involve a lot of movement, so I started with sun salutations on my own, then transitioned into this routine. It mostly focused on expanding the chest and focusing on breathing, based on the premise that headaches are often caused by short, shallow breathing. My spine feels longer now, my neck more relaxed, and my headache has lessened.

Third, the philosophy. Today's "Meditation from the Mat" talked about the shift in perception that must occur before you can reach the renunciation phase of yoga. It says, "The furniture of our life gets moved, and we are forced to pay attention... We look at our friends, our habits, our choices, and see them all in a new light, as our old assumptions fall away... When we are ready to let go, we will do so with relief." This was a powerful passage for me. I can relate it to so many things in my life.

I can specifically remember feeling relieved when I finally made the decision to go vegetarian. My perception had shifted, and that shift had caused unhappy feelings before I made the change. Making the change, and letting the unhappy feelings fall away felt freeing. So many people think that being a vegetarian is about restrictions and rigid guidelines. But I feel the opposite away completely, and this passage helped me to put that into perspective.

I think my perception is shifting again. I'm looking at the things I encounter every day, and often participate in, and realizing that they are not enjoyable, and not conducive to the way I want to live. I made a decision this week to let some things go, to take a step in the opposite direction, and already I feel relieved by doing so. Some changes can be made with a simple decision. This is not one of them. So it will take time and effort, and I think practicing yoga daily will help me achieve the results I want.


Monday, August 24, 2009

New Yoga Goodies on the Way...

Today I am not feeling well. I'm still going to practice tonight - I'm not giving up that easily! I'm planning on a series of Sun Salutations followed by restorative poses and a good long Shivasana.

Planning my yoga for the evening according to how I feel got me thinking. I need more tools in the toolbox. So I went shopping online, with the goal of finding a few more things for days like today, when I don't want to skip practice, but I really don't have the energy to give to practice either.

Here's what I ordered:

Gentle Vinyasa Flow with Zyrka Landwijt

Yoga for Stress Relief (with the Dalai Lama) by Barbara Benagh.

I also ordered a copy of Light on Yoga, The Bible of Modern Yoga by B. K. S. Iyengar. I've heard wonderful things about this book and what it can do for your practice. I'm looking forward to reading a little bit of it every day.

Living in Hawaii, shipping can get very expensive. I decided to order a few things at once so I could qualify for free shipping. Soon, my tool box will be expanded, and I can't wait to try out my new DVD's!


Ugh, abs...

No matter how in shape I am, or how much I work out, my abs always seem to be my weak spot. Since I took it easy last night with my old friend, Power Yoga, I decided tonight should be more of a challenge. So I pulled out an old arch nemesis - Yoga for Abs.

This was another VHS tape from long ago, one that I never conquered. I'm hoping that with this new goal of daily yoga for a year, I can master it finally.

With that said, this is a short post. I'm trying to keep it positive, and well, I just don't have much nice to say about Yoga for Abs. So I just won't say much at all. ;) But at least I did it, and I'm sure tomorrow I'll feel the evidence of my hard work!


Sunday, August 23, 2009

One Week Completed!

Congratulations to me! With this blog post, I have successfully finished the first week of my one year commitment to practicing yoga daily and writing about it!

Tonight I continued with my late night yoga trend. Instead of going it alone though, I decided to bring back an old friend - my Power Yoga for Beginners with Rodney Yee VHS tape. Yes, that's right. VHS. It's that old.

Power Yoga was my first Yoga video, and my first Yoga experience. I bought it back in 2001, when my first year of teaching High School was creating more stress than I had ever imagined possible. I had taken up jogging that year too, and I would jog first, then do this tape after to help keep me limber.

Since I've been having trouble focusing, I thought going back to the basics would help me. I know this tape so well, and practicing with it was like pulling a pair of favorite jeans that you haven't worn for a while. I fell back into the familiar rhythm, and let my mind focus on breath work. Before I knew it, the tape was done, and I felt great.

My lesson learned for today is that going back to basics can be a wonderful thing.


Saturday, August 22, 2009

Late Night Yoga

Last night, I mentioned that waiting until the last minute of the day to yoga is not a good idea. Yet I did it again today. And again, I struggled to keep my mind clear. I kept reviewing the events of the day, especially the things that I said that I wish I hadn't said at all.

This has got me wondering. Is late night yoga really a less than stellar idea, or is it a challenge that could help me strengthen my practice? Which is the better path - to realize I'm not as focused at night and switch to an earlier time, or to realize I'm not as focused at night, and continue to struggle through it hoping to gain insight and clarity?

I am a worrier by nature. At the end of the day, my worries can be consuming. Today, I'm leaning towards continuing the night time practice. I think I would benefit, body and soul, if I could curb the nighttime worries, and maybe yoga at night is a step in that direction.

Ideally, I would do both daytime and nighttime yoga. Until then, I think I'll continue to switch it up, instead of ruling out one or the other altogether.

Before I head to bed, I'd like to share something from "Meditations from the Mat" again:

"If you do what you did, you get what you got."

Simple, powerful words.

Friday, August 21, 2009

3 Things

There are 3 things I learned today about yoga:

1. It's not a good idea to wait until the very last minute in the day to do yoga. But it's still better than not doing it at all.

2. Practicing yoga after cleaning the bathroom with harsh chemicals isn't the smartest idea either, but it does make a case for all natural cleaners.

3. No matter how hard you try, it's hard to clear the mind when you've got songs from an earlier Zumba class stuck in your head.

Lessons learned.



Thursday, August 20, 2009

Today, I prepared for my yoga practice by reading from "Meditations for the Mat" by Rolf Gates and Katrina Kenison. I picked a sequence of poses from Yoga Journal, and sat down on my mat to read. One line really stood out to me, and gave my practice purpose:

"Let your practice be a refuge from the need to control."

Reading that, my heart felt lighter, and I was eager to begin. I eased through the sequence, conscious of my body and its movements. I focused on aligning my breath with the transitions, and in doing so, let the worries of the day fade away.

I can't control other people's thoughts or actions. Most days, I struggle to control my own. And I certainly can't control the Navy. (For those who don't know, I am married to a Submariner.) Even though all of that is obvious, I recognize that I have trouble truly accepting it.

Practicing yoga is one way to help myself let it go, and calm my mind from the worries over lack of control. I hope that in this year of yoga, I can learn to carry the calm I find while doing yoga into the rest of my life, and be a better person for it.


Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Furry Complications

Yoga and dogs don't always mix.

In the past, my dogs have often been confused by yoga. To them, me being down on the floor means playtime. Usually though, a few stern words and they get the hint and just lay down beside me, and I find solace in their presence.

Tonight was a different story. I got knocked out of tree pose. My hand was licked during a spinal twist. And the best part of all, a huge jolly ball was dropped on my belly during shivasana.

Laying there with the wind practically knocked out of me, I pondered the fact that you must be flexible in more than the physical sense to practice yoga. I ended my practice with a hip rub for the dog, who has hip dysplasia and was obviously jealous of the love I was giving my own muscles. He loves laying on my mat, which usually annoys me. But tonight I decided to go with the flow, and share the happiness that comes from limber muscles and a quiet mind.

Namaste (and woof!)

Monday, August 17, 2009

Pau Hana Yoga

Today, I went to my first shoulders, lower back, and hips yoga class. But I've given it a different name - the Pau Hana class.

Class was at 4pm. The sun was beating down, and it had been a long day. The gentleness of this class was perfectly matched to the deepness of it. Hip openers and shoulder openers let tension flow right out of my muscles. I started off tight and tense, but found myself sinking deeper into poses than I ever have before. When class was over, I truly did not want to leave Shivasana, but a long Om and a few conscious breaths brought me back to a better reality.

Walking out of the studio with fresh eyes, I felt so content. I turned down the street, and took in the view - a water sculpture with the harbor beyond. I saw cheerful faces everywhere. People were leaving work and heading to happy hour - or Pau Hana as it's known in Hawaii. And that's when I realized that today, for me, yoga was my Pau Hana.


Committing to Yoga for a Year

Anyone who knows me knows that I love yoga. (And that I don't do it often enough.)
Anyone who knows me well knows that I love to write. (And that I don't do it often enough.)
So here I am, committing to practice yoga every day for a year, and to write about the experience daily as well. Namaste, 365.

Sound familiar? I won't claim to be original. I did just see Julie and Julia last night! But it wasn't until I was driving home from yoga class tonight that I thought about it. I have been looking for a change, feeling the need to give my days more structure and purpose. I want to be a yoga teacher and a writer, but I'm just not there yet. But committing for a year - that I can do! And writing about the experience is appealing for two reasons. First, even if nobody reads this, I'll have a log of the journey to reflect upon when I'm done. Second, putting this committment out there for the world to see gives me that push to prove I can stick to it, which I'm sure I'll need some days.

So, today is Day 1. I tried a Kundalini class at Open Space Yoga in Honolulu this evening. Having been to one Kundalini class in my life while on vacation 2 years ago, I thought I knew what I was getting into. I was wrong! I imagine if someone watched a Kundalini class without participating, they would wonder if the students felt anything at all. But let me tell you, I felt quite a lot! Sitting cross legged on a mat for over an hour with good posture is work in itself, but adding breath of fire and static arm positions makes it downright difficult for this weakling.

In yoga, it continues to amaze me when the easiest things become challenging when I focus and slow down. This is definitely true with Kundalini, but also very rewarding. Kundalini is definitely a different experience for me, but one I look forward to trying again next week.

I'm looking forward to Day 2, and all the days to come after. I hope that by doing this and sharing it, I can deepen my yoga practice, gain inner and outer strength, and build my confidence as as writer. And I hope that someone out there will enjoy reading about it!