Tuesday, September 29, 2009

The Give Back Yoga Foundation

A quick post today to spotlight the "Give Back Yoga Foundation"! This fantastic new venture for taking yoga and other services to underserved populations was started by Beryl Bender Birch, some of her senior students, and colleagues. They've done some great work already and provided avenues for more great work to happen where it's needed.
Get more info at their website:

Friday, September 25, 2009

It's a Breathing Practice!

Over the past year or so, my teacher has added some challenging poses to my yoga practice. It seems that at just the moment when I start to feel all pleased with myself about "what I can do", my teacher adds another layer of depth to my practice! ...which is as it should be and one of the many reasons I continue to practice with him. :)

Slowly over the past few weeks though, it has become very apparent to me that in the the places where I am challenged, I rush the breath. Suddenly 5 breaths sounds more like 3 breaths! So, my new work: take 5 full complete breaths in the intense, challenging poses and transitions.

It has made me wonder, if I'm rushing through the places in my yoga practice that are uncomfortable, then what else in life am I rushing through...and maybe missing out on due to discomfort?

Ashtanga yoga practice really is a breathing practice. The physical postures have multiple purposes in the practice, but I really think one of the primary reasons for the poses is to challenge the breath. Lengthening the breath and really working for a steady breath in challenging postures forces me to "lean into" the intense poses....and therein lies the work that brings about transformation in practice!

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Beauty in Practice

A student practicing behind me at a class this week complemented me on my practice as we were walking out of the studio. I appreciate their kind words, but I really think that it is the practice itself that is beautiful regardless of who is doing the practicing. While advanced practicioners may demonstrate the grace and control that is possible after many years, beginning practice has its own beauty. If you have never had the chance to watch an Ashtanga yoga practice, I encourage you to go to Youtube and search "Ashtanga yoga". You will find clips of every stage of practice...and they are ALL beautiful to watch.

Friday, September 4, 2009

When do we practice yoga?

When discussing the benefits of daily yoga practice compared to "once-in-a-while" yoga practice with students, I often hear the sentence "I don't think I could do that." Current yoga culture in the west often depicts yoga as a workout, something to increase strength and flexibility and perhaps workout some of the stresses of modern life as well. Casual yoga asana practice certainly has these benefits.

Yoga as defined at the beginning of the Yoga Sutra, however, is something different. Yoga is what happens in those few brief moments between thoughts when the mind goes quiet. Daily yoga asana practice is a tool for learning to create more of those quiet moments and stretching them to last a little bit longer when they do happen. How does reaching to touch the toes and breathing make space for the mind to be quiet? I don't know. I can say that in my experience, if my body will not be quiet, then it is very hard, if not impossible to get my mind to follow. When my body is calm, relaxed, and steady, it is far more likely that my mind will for just a moment step off the hamster wheel and pause.

For me, this shift in focus has only come from daily asana practice. It has changed my perspective on what is "yoga" and what is "yoga practice".

Beryl Bender Birch is well know for asking this question: "If the practice of yoga is really the practice of quieting the mind, then when can we practice yoga?"

The answer, of course, is "All the time!"

Thursday, September 3, 2009

A Return to Home Practice

I'm back on my own for practice this week. The workshop is over and this week I will see how long I can hold onto the intensity of practices with a group and a teacher that I enjoyed last week. There are benefits of doing long stretches of home practice alone and of regular practice in a studio or shala with a teacher. I have had both experiences. There are days when I am wistful for the years that I spent practicing in a studio with a teacher. On the days when I was tired or my focus was wandering, the energy from the teacher and other students would keep me going.

On the other hand, I would not trade for anything the adventure of these last few years of home practice. I have really begun to experience the practice from the inside out. When there are no mirrors for your practice in the form of a teacher's suggestions and adjustments, then all you know is what you experience.

I have been fortunate to practice with my teacher for a few days a couple times each year since the shift to doing primarily home practice. These few days with my teacher are invaluable for establishing a base line of what is possible, establishing some feeling of where practice may be heading, and soaking up some great energy to keep practice going.

The practice itself has also been an invaluable teacher, however. Really looking to answer my own questions that come from practice, rather than looking to someone else for all the answers has brought another layer of depth to both practice and teaching. While I am overwhelmingly grateful for the times that I spend practicing with my teacher, I am also learning to embrace the days when the practice itself is the teacher.