I’ve been finding inspiration in many places lately – and isn’t that where we want to find it, in a multitude of sources? It’s no secret that I love dancing, whether I’m donning pink tights and a tutu, black tights and barefoot, or a mini skirt and stilettos (read: ballet, modern/jazz or possibly cleaning the house, Saturday night). I love moving the body, and truly tapping into how that makes my body and spirit feel. Reading through some quotes, I stumbled across this one:

“The dance is a poem of which each movement is a world.” ~Mata Hari

I also love Mata Hari – seductress, dancer, alleged spy.. And I feel this quote can extend to yoga – each movement being its own world. I’ve been chatting with friends and colleagues here lately about feeling yoga..truly feeling each movement, on a “5-senses” level..not just feeling in the figurative heart. It was brought to my attention after a class recently of something I said during my cues, “Don’t just take your arms overhead, but reach and lengthen the body as you inhale.” This student mentioned it really changed that moment for him, and that’s one thing I live for as a yoga teacher.. to change ones viewpoint of their own practice, and at the same time helping me change mine! Students don’t often realize that as teachers, we learn more from teaching and watching you than you learn from us. So when the student brought this to my attention, it returned me to a period in my personal practice that I felt I was truly feeling every stretch and lengthen and twist and fold with every fiber and breath of my being. After teaching as much as I have been lately – 7 days a week, multiple classes a day – it’s easy to fall back into ‘going through the motions’ during my own practice and I found myself craving the connectedness with my body, every morsel as it moves within my skin and breath. So next time you’re in a class… perhaps try tapping into the moment within each movement. It’s another level of being present and aware. Sure, you can be focused on the alignment and the poses and such, but going a little deeper and actually feeling the massage as you fold your torso over your legs in Paschimottananasa or Uttanasana is truly a beautiful thing. And perhaps it’ll relieve the burnout factor if you feel you’ve just been “going through the motions.” Perhaps try to feel the motions. Spring is a beautiful time to till the soil and plant some fresh roots.. in your garden, or in your practice!

“Burnout is nature’s way of telling you, you’ve been going through the motions your soul has departed; you’re a zombie, a member of the walking dead, a sleepwalker. False optimism is like administrating stimulants to an exhausted nervous system.” ~Sam Keen

Don’t let the winter blues burn you out.. Spring is springing, let’s awaken and take advantage!

~Namaste

Two videos, 1 sequence.. you vote on which one you like better! There’s no prize..just a way to interact with everyone. 🙂 The beautiful yogini, Jennifer Key, and I were playing around after class today, and one of our lovely students recorded this asana sequence. I set it to music post-production, and I think I have a favorite..but I’ll let the public decide! 😉

Video #1
Visual Effect: Aged Film
Music: Middle Sex Times (Donnie Darko Soundtrack)

Video #2
Visual Effect: Bleach Bypass
Music: Liquid Spear Waltz (Donnie Darko Soundtrack)

I was talking with a friend the other morning about the difference between yoga instructors, classes, and the different feelings we come out with from different classes with different teachers. All other things being equal – say, if we’re discussing Vinaysa – the relative format is the same. You go into any Vinyasa class and you can expect to merge movement with breath. The variables: pace, sequence, energy of the room, how long you hold each pose, and of course, the level of experience of the practitioners. While these seem like common variables in any given yoga class (regardless of style, save your designated sequences like Ashtanga, Bikram), there’s another variable that we often fail to consider. This is the focus variable. In my years of study, I’ve found there are two types of focus – the focus within and the focus without.

The focus within is an internal focus, where regardless of the teacher, the sequence, the energy, the style..you are focused within yourself, within the four corners of your mat, within your breath. You see your practice through your mind’s eye, not your physical eyes. You are listening to the cues of the teacher, listening to their silly jokes and quips (without pulling your attention). You are not listening to the grumbles of your neighbor, not focused on their practice, their level of advancement (or lack of advancement) in the given poses. While you are aware of these other beings, you are not focused on them, and they don’t affect your practice one way or the other. You may not even “see” them because your gaze is so strongly focused inward. You feel the breath on the internal layer of your skin, caressing your organs, interweaving with the brain cells, muscle tissue, bone marrow.

The second type of focus: the focus without. I don’t mean a practice without focus, but in the adverb (literary, archaic) sense of the word ‘without’ meaning ‘outside, not within’ – an external placement. Your focus is on the group collective. You focus on your breath and your poses, but that focus is turned outward. You feel your breath as part of the group, your pose as part of the collective corps de ballet, as something you’re giving to the room, to the world, to the teacher. Your contribution to the world of yoga. You view your practice through your physical eyes, not your mind’s eye. You physically see the objects and people around you. You feel your skin at the surface, how the air feels against the outside layer of skin, how you push through the molecules of O2 externally. Now, this is not the same as a distracted class where there is much chit-chat with your neighbors, laughter, and clapping – I consider this to be a class without focus, not a class who’s focus is without. While levity and questions can be appropriate during class, extensive conversations are a recipe for injury (through distracted practice). There is a seriousness to the practice for reasons of safety, no matter how light and casual the atmosphere.

I’m not saying one focus is more right than the other.. I’m simply making an observation I’ve come to find over the years. In fact, I think we need the existence of both. For those who are constantly in their heads, constantly taking from the world (not in a negative/greedy way), continuously receiving and never having the opportunity to give, I feel the focus without is a more fulfilling type of class. For those who are constantly extending themselves and their words to others, constantly contributing to the world, continuously giving and never having the opportunity to receive, I feel the focus within is a more fulfilling type of class. This is why it is important to try different styles of yoga, and especially different teachers. If you come out of a class with feelings of agitation, perhaps ruminate on the practice – first, did you do a lot of hip openings, but then see if you felt inward or outwardly focused. If you tend to be a giver in the world, find a focus within and take a little time to be selfish. If you tend to be a receiver, find a focus without and have a chance to share something. On the flip-side, take note if you come out of a class feeling like you’ve just come home..examine the tendencies of that class. One teacher may be the kind who encourages the focus without, and other may encourage the focus within. You need to find what works for you, and at the same time..allow yourself to evolve. In one lifetime you may flip between focus depending on which aspect of your life needs balance. And isn’t that one of the grander points of yoga practice, to find balance (and no, I don’t mean in Uttitha Hasta Padangusthasana 😉 )…

~Namaste

Be always at war with your vices, at peace with your neighbors, and let each new year find you a better man.  ~Benjamin Franklin

About 10 or 12 years ago, I resolved never to make a New Year’s resolution again. And so far, I’ve stuck with it. In fact, it’s the only resolution to ever stick! I always hated New Year’s resolutions, never understood why at the new year we’d make the effort to change when the opportunity lies with us all year long. (Of course, I was never big on the ‘Hallmark’ holidays either – Valentines Day? Why not show how much you care all year, why just one day?). I only made resolutions because everybody did it (I know, not very self-standing, but hey.. what does the average teenager know of standing up to the crowd?), and everybody always asked, “what’s your resolution?” When I would try to answer, “I don’t care to have one,” I’d receive looks of disappointment and annoyance. Well I don’t really care to disappoint or annoy anyone, and until I gained a little more self-confidence in my individuality, I conceded to having resolutions.

Good resolutions are simply checks that men draw on a bank where they have no account. ~Oscar Wilde

I witnessed others making resolutions, and failing.. I don’t know of a single person, who has made a New Year’s resolution and stuck with it all year. I’m not saying it couldn’t happen, I’m just saying I’ve never met anyone. Most resolutions are about losing weight, or getting in shape, or cutting out an unhealthy habit (i.e. smoking, drinking, etc.). These are all great, but I often wonder if the label of a resolution sets us up for failure. There is the pressure to accomplish the goals we set before us, and if/when we don’t accomplish them we self-flagellate. The minute we eat that donut or pack of cookies, or have a cocktail with dinner, we accept ‘failure’ and give up. Perhaps that cookie or cocktail is part of the process.. why condemn when we can easily get back on the path? Why do we fight ourselves, and force these resolutions upon us?

I think in terms of the day’s resolutions, not the years’. ~Henry Moore

Perhaps this year, resolve not to resolve. Make an intention, to seek the truth of your self – not to change, but to grow every day. If you have habits you want to get rid of, ask yourself if they are truly serving you and who you want to become. If not, acknowledge that and they’ll eventually fall to the wayside. Perhaps these habits have existed until now to help you realize what truly lies deep down, at the very heart of your being. And like Valentine’s Day, you don’t have to grow or acknowledge yourself only at the societal designation of the new year.. an intention can be formed now, in this breath, in this moment. Of course, the end of the year is a great time to look back and reflect on the choices you made, the questions you asked, the answers that arose. Reflect on these and learn from them.. but don’t try to force a change. In the course of evolution, there were rarely any dramatic solitary instances that changed the outlook of the world. It was always tiny little tweaks and twists over hundreds, thousands, millions of years that brought about the world we know today. It’s only because it takes a while for these tweaks to be realized, it appears to the outside observer that they were extraordinary events. So start with a little tweak, and see how you can grow! Peel back the outer layers, and find the truth that lies beneath…

~Om Shanti and Happy New Year!

“Selfishness, if but reasonably tempered with wisdom, is not such an evil trait.” ~Giovanni Ruffini

There are good yoga classes, and bad yoga classes. I define a good class as one where I can focus inward the entire time, upon myself – a bad class.. when there is unending distraction (whether through my own lack of focus, or the class itself is unfocused). Don’t get me wrong, even bad yoga is good. I still feel good coming out of it physically, but the mental tidy is not there. The main reason I practice is for the mental tidy. For the rare selfish time I get to spend with myself and only myself (spending 90 minutes listening to my body, listening to the subtle cues of what’s going on in my throat, heart, liver, intestines, hips, knees, soles of my feet, pinky toe knuckle..all of it.. I WANT TO HEAR IT!) I practice for the rare time I get to remain a student these days, not the owner of a studio, not the instructor.. I crave to remain a practitioner as well! Maintenance of practitioner status is the only way I feel I’ll grow as studio owner and instructor. While I loved my practice (so much so I chose this path), I feel in a small ‘unbeknownst to me’ way, I took my practice as solely a student for granted, and now crave the “getting lost in the breath”.. letting the world melt away and experience everything that I share with my students as an instructor. But in order for me to continue sharing my entire being..going in wholeheartedly, I need to be able to be selfish. Even as a student, I seem to be occasionally pulled into ‘instructor’ or ‘owner’ mode these days. I know it sounds, well, selfish.. but I think in this world you need to be selfless with yourself so you can be selfless with others..and that means, at least to me, being selfish and taking time just for you. Give over completely to yourself, and let your Self hoard a small portion of your undivided attention. Whatever that task may be, golfing, hiking, painting, singing, jumping on the trampoline.. whatever it is.. indulge in yourself for a small window of time, and don’t let anyone (including yourself) distract you from yourself for that designated time.

~Namaste

 

“Courage is what it takes to stand up and speak; courage is also what it takes to sit down and listen.” ~Winston Churchill

Take the courage to sit down and listen to your body. Let the hustle and bustle rest for a while, and simply listen. Listen to the molecules within your body. Listen to the cells individually, on a microscopic level. Listen to the bones – the hips, the knees, the ankles, shoulders, wrists..even the knuckles of each individual finger and toe. Listen to the breath as it moves in and out of the body, through the nose. Listen to the lungs as they expand against the rib cage and massage the heart. Listen to the visceral organs as they digest or rest from digestion. Listen with courage. This internal listening, this internal focus is a practice in Pratyahara (sense withdraw, drawing inward and freeing yourself of external distraction) – one of the 8 limbs of Raja Yoga.

When you really listen to the body, you can hear the whispers of body’s requests. Even during an asana practice, listen. If you can’t hear your body (through internal focus) or your breath (both physically and mentally), then your thoughts are drowning out the calls. Listen as you move between the postures – listen to the knees as they bend into Virabhadrasana (warrior), listen to the ankles as they stablize in Vrksasana (tree pose), listen to the heart and back as you open in Ustrasana (camel), listen to your abdominal muscles as they carry you through Chaturanga Dandasana (four-limbed staff). This focus will improve your practice, both anatomically and psychologically. By becoming more in tune with the quiet whispers, you’ll be less likely to injure yourself and more likely to reduce the severity of the injury if one occurs. If we ignore the warnings our body tells us, that’s when injuries occur – through distraction.

Beyond the physical whispers, there is also an element of emotion. Listen to the emotions that arise when you take a deeper Ustrasana or Matsyendrasana (spinal twist). Listen to the emotions that arise at the beginning, during, and the end of a yoga class – note how they may change or resolve over the course of one class.

The body will tell you what it needs, if only you listen. The practice of listening will eventually extend beyond the four corners of your mat.

“Often I am still listening when the song is over.” ~M de Saint-Lambert

When the practice is over, the knowledge is still there.. we simply have to continue listening. As your practice develops and grows, you’ll eventually notice the length increasing in your post-Shavasana bliss as well as the brief moments of epiphany occurring more regularly. You’ll become more aware of your body, more in tune with the symphony of physical, psychological and emotional feelings and energies that reside within. More importantly, you’ll become more aware of how you move through the molecules of the world, and how these emotions and energies affect your day-to-day actions and thoughts. It is this greater state of awareness that we receive through dedicated yoga practice – including meditation, concentration, pranayama, asana…all of the 8 limbs.

~Listen

In the ancient yogic texts, there are guidelines to living a yogic life. These guidelines are dubbed the Yamas and Niyamas. According to the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, there are 5 Yamas and 5 Niyamas. In this “Yamas & Niyamas” series of posts, we’ll be discussing each of them. These are the moral imperatives, the ‘right living’ aspects, the ‘do’s and do nots’ if you will. Now I am not a moral elitist believing my way is the only way (because I know that to not be true), and I do not think my opinions are above all others..they are simply that, opinions..thoughts..feelings on the matter. Feel free to disagree. The Yamas comprise the ‘shall not do’ list of moral/ethical living. The Niyamas comprise the ‘shall do’ list of moral/ethical living. Whether you agree with these codes of conduct or not simply because they are of Hindu/Yogic origin, I think you’ll find similarities to all religious lists of moral codes for right and moral living. My personal feeling (and it’s half my blog, so that’s what you’ll get..my personal feelings) is that regardless of your religious beliefs, I think we can all agree on living an ethical life for the betterment of all Earth-kind. So in this series, and because this is a yoga blog, we’ll discuss the yogic codes for ethical living – the Yamas and Niyamas. For now, I’ll just list them out with a brief description..a light introduction to the list. But as time goes on, we’ll discuss each in further detail.

Yamas:

*Ahimsa – non-violence; non-harming

*Satya – absence of falsehood; truthfulness

*Asteya – non-stealing

*Brahmacharya – appropriate use of vital essence

*Aparigraha – non-possessiveness

Niyamas:

*Saucha – cleanliness of body and mind

*Santosha – satisfaction with what one has

*Tapas – austerity, traditionally in regards to yoga practice and discipline

*Svadhyaya – self-study

*Ishvarapranidana – acknowledgment that there is something greater than your Self, modesty, humility

Not only should these moral and ethical precepts be extended to all others you encounter physically, mentally, and emotionally in the world..but the world also includes you. Extending these same attitudes and actions towards yourself is the first step to extending truth, non-violence, cleanliness, austerity, humility to the world at large.

So let the wheels begin to turn, and we’ll discuss in further detail each Yama and Niyama in it’s own dedicated post.

~Namaste

Here’s a recipe that is sure to please, and perfect for this time of year. Serve it as a soup course/appetizer at your holiday feast! Roasted Butternut Squash-Potato Soup is courtesy of The Innocent Primate Vegan Blog. Not that anyone will know, or that it differs from any other traditional squash or potato soup recipe..but knowing that it’s vegan (i.e. no dairy, eggs, animal byproducts whatsoever), anyone can eat it: omnivores, vegetarians, vegans, etc. – save they don’t have bodily reactions to potatoes or squash 😉 Also, knowing that it’s vegan assures you that this is truly a yogic form of sustenance in that no other being had to suffer to allow it to come to your table, and fill your belly.

Non-violence leads to the highest ethics, which is the goal of all evolution.  Until we stop harming all other living beings, we are still savages.  ~Thomas A. Edison


~Namaste

“When I let go of what I am, I become what I might be.” ~Lao Tzu

Humans tend to hold on to something or someone, even when all they (or it) bring(s) our lives is tragedy and pain. Just as a tree willingly lets go of the leaves in Autumn, we need to learn that even though something has been an integral part of our lives for whatever length of time – whether it is something beneficial or harmful – there comes a time when we need to let go. There is no telling who we will become, who we are truly meant to be…until we let go of the limitations, the labels, the self-imposed restrictions we place upon ourselves.

It wasn’t until I let go of certain notions I previously had of myself, certain expectations I imposed upon myself, certain qualities I forced myself to possess..that I finally allowed my true self to blossom from within. While something like that can be scary, through yoga and meditation practice I strengthened my ability to see the excitement of change – the opportunity and possibility of the new.

There are many visuals that can embrace the idea of letting go – releasing a caged bird, the leaves falling from the trees, a gentle exhaling sigh. A photo taken by my father, I feel, embraces the duality of remaining strong while letting go.. the delicate balance it requires to see that holding on beyond necessity actually weakens us.

courtesy of Gypsy Dancer Gallery

The dew drop, clinging with strength and suppleness, travels down with the assistance of gravity to the tip of the leaf. The dew drop does not resist, but allows gravity to nurture the path the dew is destined to follow.  As the dew releases its hold on the leaf and the leaf releases its hold on the dew, the separation of these two entities allow the memory of formerly crossed paths to emerge and remain, but not dominate the new path. As the dew is now received with a splash by the Earth, it returns to nourish and quench the soil from which the entire plant (and by extension the leaf itself) emerges. If the dew fails to let go, the Earth remains dry and over time will wither, leaving no nourishment for the plant. By holding on beyond its proper time, the dew ultimately deprives itself of greater, more fulfilling life. It’s easy for a dew drop to let go without regard.. it has no central nervous system, and thereby no mind telling it to hold on. If we can let go of the mental blocks and fears that continually tell us to hold on, don’t let go, then perhaps we can experience some new life – nourishing ourselves and those around us in the process. Perhaps even nourishing those whom we wish to continue clinging, giving them an opportunity to take our nourishment and share their energy with the world.

“Some of us think holding on makes us strong; but sometimes it is letting go.” ~Hermann Hesse

Be strong my fellow yogis 🙂

~Namaste

Some of you know me already, but to many of you, I am a phantom presence.  I’m Sara’s sister, Jo, the other half of CBY’s ownership.  I’m sure you’ve heard Sara talk about me, or quote me.  I can’t guarantee that she’s always accurate. 😉  But now that we have the blog up and running, I have the chance to speak myself, even when I’m not in Houston.  It surely has not escaped your attention that I don’t spend much time at the studio.  I live in Alexandria, VA, in the DC metro area.  I have a job.  It does not involve yoga.  😦 But, someday it will.  I know it!

I practice Ashtanga yoga.  I started off with a Mysore practice 3 years ago, and it was a revelation.  I know that other people find value in taking different types of yoga, but for me, Ashtanga is all I want and need.  It is endlessly challenging, yet improvement is rapid with regular practice.  It definitely appeals to my scientific mind, with the repetition of the same sequence each time, a focus on precision, and the large impact that subtle changes in your motion or placement can have on a posture.  There are also things to measure in a Mysore class:  the addition of poses to your practice, the length of time your practice takes, the number of breaths you hold each pose for, the distance between your pose today and the full expression.  I love measuring things.

Ashtanga also makes you feel good.  I know that other yoga classes make you feel good, too, but ashtanga is different, for me at least.  I’m euphoric afterwards.  I think part of that is because it is very challenging, and after each practice, I feel like I’ve accomplished something incredible.  Especially under the guidance of a gifted teacher, you can do things that you never thought possible, and how many aspects of your life is that really true for?

Ok, that’s enough proselytizing about ashtanga for now.  Any yoga is good yoga!  I hope you enjoy our new blog.  I’m looking forward to getting to know everyone a little better, and letting you get to know me.

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