Regaining My Teaching Legs

As you probably know, my studio of over six years, Bliss Flow Yoga, closed unexpectedly on July 4th, 2019.  The only notice we received was a single email from the owner letting the whole Bliss Flow community know that their yoga home was gone.  I’m still dealing with feelings of betrayal and sadness that remain, but more than that I was left with a massive amount of doubt.  Nothing throws uncertainty into your mind about your abilities than being laid off. Thankfully, I was able to secure a teaching spot at another studio. Not everyone I know was so lucky.  I have never had a lot of self-confidence. Growing up, I always felt like I was less than the other people around me.  This led to feelings of depression and sadness. Not surprisingly, that is where my yoga journey began.

calm daylight evening grass
an un-examined life is not worth living

I believe all good teachers go through a period of doubt about their abilities. I would absolutely hate to be so confident in my teaching ability that I lost the butterflies in my tummy when I step in front of a class.  Yes… I still get them … Every Time.  What I wasn’t prepared for is the doubt that would continue to plague me for another month – even after being hired on in another space.
When I was hired at EarthView Yoga, it was explained to me that I taught in a different style than most of the teachers that taught there.  That was part of the draw of my classes – they were different.  Even with this in the back of my mind I still felt the need to conform, to fit in with my new community.  The space itself was very similar, but it still seemed much different from my old studio.  First, they had a LOT more electronics than I was accustomed. The blinds could be lowered for savasana, the lighting could be bright or super mellow, your playlist could be connected via bluetooth, and most of the teachers used a mic (something I had never attempted).  Second, it was much bigger space – brighter – quieter.  Not bad, but different enough I was intimidated.
I tried lowering the blinds for Savasana like the other teachers. I tried different music that wasn’t so loud or out of the norm. I tried everything I could think of to make my classes just exactly like they were at Bliss while conforming to my new community.  It took me several classes and one student literally walking out of my class, for me to re-evaluate my methods. I won’t lie, I cried a lot that day. Partly because it was near the anniversary of my dad’s death, but also because I doubted my ability to be a good teacher. What if I lost my mojo when I lost my teaching space?

rectangular gray photo frame
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I finally had an epiphany.  I didn’t need to teach to my new space or conform to anyone else’s ideal of how yoga should be taught . People didn’t show up to my classes at Bliss because I was just like everybody else. I didn’t grow my classes teaching from a script. What I really needed was to teach from my heart. I started to realize that was the one and only place I was going to find the answers for my new teaching practice.

Look at all those happy f-s flying away
Look at all those happy f-s flying away

I won’t lie and say that I am back to my former self. I won’t tell you that I’ve completely found my teaching mojo.  I can’t say that my small classes aren’t disappointing in some ways. But I have begun to see regulars showing up each class. I have people that I am actually reaching with my teaching style. That is where I will find my focus and regain my confidence.

A book that I have really connected to lately is “Be Here Now” by Ram Dass. (or as I like to refer to it… the super awkward book that won’t fit on a shelf)  One of the ideas that has kept coming back to me is the idea of chopping wood and carrying water.  The very act of service, of doing what you are supposed to be doing reminds me that I am right where I need to be on my journey.

by diane sing

Have a Seat… and Do Some Yoga

Seated Yoga Practice

For many of us, sitting for most of the day is not a new thing. The toll this practice takes on our bodies (as well as benefits of moving throughout the day) have been studied extensively. So what can we do when our jobs require sitting for long periods of time? The answer: Taking a short seated yoga break. It can invigorate your practice and save you from after-lunch drowsiness.

green wooden chair on white surface

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Seated figure 4 – Sit with your feet planted on the floor. Remove your shoes or simply plant your feet on the floor. If you are wearing heels, it is a good idea to remove them. Try to find a non-rolling chair to ensure that the seated surface is stable and will not move

Start by lifting your right knee up into your chest and rotating your right ankle over onto your left thigh. Sit up nice and tall and press with your right hand onto your right knee. This will engage the hip flexor. If you want to deepen the stretch, you can place the left foot on a block or a raised surface.

Stay like this for several breaths (1 full minute if you want to get technical), and then switch sides.

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Forward bend – sit with your feet planted on the floor. Remove your shoes or simply plant your feet on the floor.

Lean forward and try to bring your chest to your legs. If you can comfortably lean forward you can grasp the back legs of the chair with your hands or use your arms to grab opposite elbows behind your knees. Use the arms or hands to pull yourself deeper into the stretch. Stay like this for several moments until you start to feel the back opening up.

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Eagle arms – Stretch the arms out wide on a deep inhale. On your exhale cross the right arm under the left arm – crossing at the elbows. From here, either bring the hands to the shoulders (shoulderblades) or lift the hands and bring the backs of the hands together. You can grasp one thumb to secure this grip or, if your wrists allow, you can bring the palms of the hands together.

For each variation, lift the elbows and (if the hands are raised)

smiling woman stretching in front of woman

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Side stretch – sit with your feet planted on the floor. Remove your shoes or simply plant your feet on the floor.

Sit so that your shoulders are right over your hips. Sitting up tall, drop your arms down beside the chair. Begin to lean slightly to the right, letting the right hand become heavy. Stretch as far as you feel comfortable. Hold for 5 breaths. Slowly rise back up. Repeat the same stretch on the left.

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Chair Twist – Sit with your feet planted on the floor. Remove your shoes or simply plant your feet on the floor.

Inhale and lift both arms overhead. On the exhale start to twist to the right. Bring your right hand to the top of the chair. Let your left hand grasp the side of the chair. Keep your knees pointed forward.

Hold for 3 – 5 breaths and repeat on the left side.

Wrist exercises – Stretch your right arm out front with the fingers pointed down. Grasp your fingers with your left hand and pull your right fingers back towards you as you exhale.

Stretch back one finger at a time starting with the thumb. Inhale to switch fingers and exhale to pull back. Switch hands.

Breathing techniques – Close your eyes or keep the gaze soft. Start to notice your breathing and pay attention to the stillness at the beginning and the end of the breath.

Start to lengthen the breath to a count of 4 for the inhale and the exhale. Continue this breathing for several moments. Pause and return to your normal breathing.

Once again lengthen the breath to a count of 4 for your inhale and a count of 6 for your exhale. Continue this breathing for several moments. Pause and return to your normal breathing while noticing your heart beat.

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The most important thing to remember is to listen to what your body and mind needs. It’s easy to power through the day without pausing to catch our breath at times. Take care of yourself so that you can take care of others.

Senior Yoga – adapting a yoga class to our aging bodies

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I get to pick on my mom in this one… LOL.  (Hi MOM!!)

I asked my mom what topics she would like covered in one of my articles and she brought up senior yoga. Over a year ago, my mom attended a yoga class at a gym and, following the teacher’s instructions, lifted her leg and opened up at the hip. Soon after leaving the class, her knee started to swell.  After a few days she went to a doctor and found that she had injured it in her class.  This can be a potential nightmare for many seniors. My mom was able to recover over time, but the recovery has not been complete. She still experiences some swelling that may never go down. Sometimes the risk of injury can prevent seniors from trying new things – especially physical ones that rely heavily on the instruction of another. The following are a few tips for seniors (or those who love a senior) to consider when selecting a yoga class.

1. Choose your class wisely – including the studio

When choosing a yoga class, do your homework. The type of classes offered in any given area can differ by teacher and by studio. Gentle yoga with one instructor may mean something entirely different to another teacher. There may be a senior class that is geared towards what you are hoping to accomplish or one that focuses on gentle stretching. Silver Sneakers Yoga classes are offered around the country and may be a good place to start a practice. Often you can stop by a studio between classes to ask the advice of the office staff about the intensity and skill level of a potential class. They may also be able to recommend a teacher and/or class that would fit with your skill and age level or hook you up with a yoga instructor that can address specific needs. The goal of a studio is to provide safe and valuable classes for all of its students, so it is beneficial that students address their concerns at the beginning of a practice.

2. Start small

If you are just dropping into a studio for a class and don’t have time to do any research, try to look for a Gentle or Yin class. When trying a new studio, you don’t want to just drop into the hardest class they offer – especially if you are concerned about the level of activity. Every teacher and every class is different. If you have a bigger window of time, rely on the knowledge of the staff and call ahead to discuss the options.

3. Take it one day at a time

As we age, the connective tissues and bones of our bodies age as well.  We can stave off most of the affects by a healthy lifestyle, but many changes are a normal part of ageing.  The most important aspect of practicing  yoga is to pay attention to the body at any particular moment. If you woke up with a sore hip, don’t try an intense hip opener that the teacher suggests.  Listen to your body and what it needs at the moment.

4. Consider a private lesson to learn modifications

All body shapes and skills can all benefit from private lessons. It is never a bad idea to consider a one-on-one consultation to go over poses or modifications relevant to your age and lifestyle. In a one – on – one session, a teacher can give you the attention and concern that you may need as your body is ageing. This is especially relevant if you are diving back into your yoga practice after many years away. Your body will have changed and you will need to pay attention to the current state of your body.

It is important to honor our bodies at whatever stage we happen to find ourselves. As long as you stay mindful of how movement feels – you will always find a safe and effective practice.

Leaning into your practice: prep-work for tough times

You arrive at class, lay out your mat, and maybe grab a drink or chat with a friend.  When you finally settle onto your mat, you start to scan through your body.  Maybe your eyes close as you concentrate on your breath.  These are the moments where your practice is made.

Getting on your mat felt like exercise at first, but then slowly you started to discover the quiet peace that you found in breath and stillness.  It may be a struggle to get there, but it is never a disappointment.  These are the thoughts of the good times.  Then it happens…

Maybe it is a smell or a fleeting thought that brings on the emotions.  It doesn’t matter what it is.  Suddenly you are “in it.”

Yoga means to yoke or to bring together – thoughts, feelings, breath and movement – all of these can be brought into the same mental space during a yoga class.  Most of the people I know were brought to their yoga practice because of tough times.  Eating disorders, violence, substance abuse, depression; almost everyone has something in their past that has the potential to break them.  Like so many other people, I thought that I had struggled and overcame my challenges.  I was in a good place and I just needed to do the bare minimum to stay in this blissful space I had created.

Little did he-she know

If the last couple months have taught me anything, it is that all of the breathing and mindfulness that I have been doing up to now were just to prepare me for the next couple months.  In case you don’t know me, my dad died recently in the flooding in Wisconsin.  He was swept away by the floodwaters one Monday evening… and my whole life changed.

I’ve always had a tough relationship with my dad.  We were never what you would call “close.”   Although there was lots of love on either side, it was hard for us to express it.  My dad left us when I was one.  I never knew him in the house.  He was always there, but never ‘right’ there.  He was the one we spent summers with, the one with the all the stories and songs, but not anyone I would have called for life advice.  Meaning… there was a lot going through my head when I faced his sudden absence.

The particulars of my loss are not the important.  Everyone is dealing with life’s suffering.  What I want to express here is the way that my practice supported me.  Whatever had brought me to my mat in the first place was only the beginning.  For weeks, nothing seemed safe except the sanctity of my mat.  When I closed my eyes and sank into feeling my breath, there was nothing but me.  There wasn’t the constant battle between tears and numbness.  There wasn’t the overwhelming list of things to do.  There was just breath and movement and mindfulness.

I probably took many more opportunities to sink into child’s pose the first couple of classes.  I definitely didn’t push myself as hard.  That’s okay though.  I don’t need to be anything more than what I am.  My teacher, Meg Galarza, once said, “Get out of your head and into your body.”  I really love coming back to that when I get overwhelmed.  With every vinyasa flow I forget judgmental thoughts.  With each test of my balance I find peace.

Litany_Against_Fear_by_kubuzetto

For now, I get up each day and do my best.  I’ve been playing this game long enough that I know my triggers.  I know that late nights are bad times for me and that proper self-care is key.  I know that keeping a list of coping mechanisms close is a good thing and naps are my friend.

get sleep – check

take your vitamins – check

drink lots of water – check

be kind to yourself – check

eat good food – check

be present – check

if you find yourself with emotions – HAVE THEM – check

breathe and stretch – check

notice your mind – check

 

I’m FAR from being through my loss, but at least the yoga is helping.

fitness girl hands lifestyle
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The class ends and you peel yourself off the mat, reluctant to leave the sanctity of your own space.  When can you get back to that head space?  Can you make it that long?

Maybe it is the loss of a parent.  Maybe it is the loss of a job or status.  It can be big.  It can be small… so small that no one even knows you are struggling.  The emotions can come and go and the only thing you can control are how you receive them.  Yoga strengthens your body and creates long lean muscles, but the real test of this practice is finding out how much you learned when you weren’t supposed to be thinking.

Connecting to a Theme in a Yoga class

theme

1.     a a subject or topic of discourse or of artistic representation:  guilt and punishment is the theme of the story

        b a specific and distinctive quality, characteristic, or concern:  the campaign has lacked a theme

2:     a melodic subject of a musical composition or movement
3:     a written exercise composition a research theme
4:     stem 4

play\ˈthēmd\ adjective

A theme, particularly for a yoga class, is a central idea on which the class focuses.  This theme can be related to a particular pose that the class will be working on, current events, or centered on a particular aspect of yoga (breathing, chakras, etc.).  Themes are a vital part of any yoga class because they take your practice from an exercise class into something deeper.  The teacher gives your mind something to stretch around rather than just stretching the body.  This can be as simple as asking you to breathe and internally notice the muscles stretching and can be as complex as asking you to gather forgiveness into your heart. I try my hardest to find themes that either relate to things I am going through or poses that challenge my students.  Often I will scrap an idea for a class if the students are giving off a drastically different vibe than the one I had planned.  Reading the energy of the room is important to connecting to a theme.  

There are a couple key points that will help you connect to a teacher’s theme.  I am not saying that there is anything wrong with you if you aren’t able to connect with the suggested theme.  As with anything, some ideas translate better than others.

  • Keep an open mind – maybe the teacher is asking you to breathe into your toenails.  Teachers may use absurd or funny cues to take you out of your comfort zone or open up the way you see things.  If you do come across one of these phrases, try to hear what the teacher is trying to communicate even if they are using ideas that don’t translate well.  What would it feel like if you could breathe all the way down into your toenails?  

 

  • Don’t get hung up on the details.  The teacher is really trying to communicate and connect you with an overall idea, rather than an individual detail.  Themes can be delivered through visual images, feeling through movement, and other mindfulness techniques. If you are closing your mind because of one bad phrase or an idea that doesn’t immediately register with you, you are missing out on the bigger picture.

 

  • Let go of Judgement.  Maybe the teacher is asking you to explore how to forgive someone who has hurt you or allow yourself to be selfish.  Themes, especially useful ones, are not easy to wrap our minds around. It could strike you as universally wrong that anyone would ask you to forgive someone who has hurt you.  For the little time that you are in the class, take a moment to explore the idea of forgiving this person. If it is wrong to you, then really evaluate why it is wrong – what value does it contradict. If it makes you angry, explore that anger and where it resides both in the mind and the body.  Just as a physical stretch can be uncomfortable, mental stretches can be uncomfortable as well.

 

  • When all else fails – find your own focus.  There are times I have stepped onto my mat only to fail to connect with what the teacher is saying.  Maybe it is because I’m already dealing with something when I showed up to class. Maybe it is because I don’t relate to the theme.  There is nothing saying that you HAVE to do what the teacher says. Just as child’s pose is always an option during an asana practice.  Your own focus is always an available theme for the mental aspect of yoga.

 

So, next time you step onto your mat (whether it is at your own home or at a studio), take a moment to identify the purpose of your practice that day.  It can be a purpose of your own making or it can be a theme that is well laid out by the instructor. Try to identify how you can incorporate the ideas of the theme into your practice for that class.  Often the teacher will give you ideas. Other times you come up with your own connections. Try out both ways… see what gives you a better practice. Identify what types of themes enhance your practice (physical focus, mental focus, social issues focus, etc.) and see how bringing the mind into your practice through a theme can deepen your understanding of yourself and the world around you.  

How can I get more comfortable sitting cross-legged?

Poses that help:  figure 4 pose (alt – pigeon pose), legs into the chest, simple seated with legs out front, reclined butterfly

There are three main motions that go into sitting cross – legged so that an easy seated pose is comfortable to your body.   First, the bend from the legs to the hips. This motion lengthens the back of the legs which can be especially tight on some people.  If this is a particular problem area for you, I suggest coming to a simple seated pose with the legs out front to begin. The next bend is from the hips outward which extends the inner thigh and can be tricky with tight hips.  The third bend is the bend at the knee which can be tough if you have larger calves or arthritis.

The following sequence can be done in a variety of ways to gently increase your ability to sit comfortably in easy seated pose.  Lying down on the floor, bring your knees into the chest. Take 3-5 deep breaths and make any little movements that feel good (rocking from hip to hip, rolling out ankles, etc.).  

Drop the right leg down and bring the left ankle over onto the right thigh.  Use the left hand to press into the left thigh right at the hipbone. This brings the stretch deeper into the hip.  If this is tight for you, stay right here for 1 full minute. It takes a full minute to release the muscle in the hip.  If it feels ok after a few breaths, you may bring the right leg into the chest for a deeper stretch and take any of the following options

  1.  Bring the right foot to a block
  2.  Hold onto the right thigh with a strap or hands
  3.  Hold onto the right shin with a strap or hands

Most importantly… this is a stretch for the lower body and the upper body should remain relaxed.  Try to relax your jaw and take deep breaths that fill the entire chest cavity. Hold for one minute.  Repeat on the other side – hold for one minute.

Carefully untangle yourself and bring both knees into the chest.  Roll over onto the right side and take 2-3 breaths in a fetal position – scanning down through the body at whatever areas may be asking for your attention today.  Use the strength of your arms to bring yourself up to an easy seated position with the legs stretched out front. Remove the flesh from beneath your buttocks to really ground yourself down.  Flex the feet strongly.

Inhale to reach the arms up and hinge at the hips to reach forward over the legs.  Keep the legs straight. When you have reached as far as you can comfortably, drop the hands down to the legs and release the head towards the toes.  Breathe here for 5-7 deep breaths. Let yourself lengthen through the inhale and hinge forward on your exhale. Reach to find tension but not to find pain.  If this becomes difficult, return to a simple seated position.

Slowly start to walk the hands back towards the hips.  Find the legs long and the shoulder blades down the back as you sit tall.  Place the hands flat onto the earth either right beside the hips or slightly behind.  Lengthen all through the back of the body while you flex the feet.

Bring the legs wide and repeat the forward fold.  Let the hands either rest on the ground between the legs or bring the hands to the legs.  Hold for 5-7 deep breaths. Draw yourself back to a seated position and bring the legs back together.  

Bend the knees, grab behind the knees and slowly roll down to the ground.  Bring the feet side by side and allow the knees to open to either side. Gradually bring the soles of the feet together coming into supta bada konasana (reclined butterfly).  Let the heels come in further towards the tailbone to deepen the stretch or extend the heels towards the bottom of the mat to lessen the tension in the hips. Gently close the eyes and find 3-5 breaths.  

Extend the legs out wide to the outside edges of your mat and release the hands about a foot away from the hips with the palms facing up (savasana – corpse pose).  Take 2-3 minutes to release entirely – even releasing any control over the breath. At the end of your practice, end in a gentle seated position with the legs crossed in front.  Bring the hands to Anjali Mudra and end your practice.

Unusual Ways to Bring Yoga Into Your Day

When you are busy working all the time, it can be hard to find time for your yoga practice.  It is important to remember is that yoga isn’t only a physical activity.  Mindfulness, breathwork, and how we treat ourselves are all vital parts of a yoga practice.  Here are several ways that I have been able to incorporate yoga into my workday.  

Passwords

The idea of mantras or repetitive phrases is not a new concept.  Self-help programs thrive on daily repetition to establish routines and re-focus the mind.  Think about how many times you type a password a day. If you work in an office the answer can be over 100 times.   The words in a password stick in your head long after you finish typing them.  

Now think about the words in your password.  As password length has increased over time, we are required to create more complex passwords.  If you are the type of person who generates their passwords through a program and uses a secure application to store them, consider instead if you made one of your passwords a mantra.  It can be a phrase that inspired you or helped you focus on your current motivation.  

A while ago, all of my passwords were destructive… “IH@t3W0rk” and such (btw… this is not an actual pw I used).  I found myself feeling more negative every time I typed it.  I started to relate to the negative words I was typing.  Then, my password expired and I needed to create a new one. I decided to try an experiment and choose one that reminded me of things that made me smile. I found my feelings and mood improved each time I used the new password.  

“Now what about security?” you ask.  In a recent business conference I attended, it was statistically proven that passwords consisting of three words totaling 15 – 30 characters could be considered more secure than a program generated one.  Technology experts have been telling the public for years that those are more secure than a more personal password.  Three. Little. Words.  It can help you re-focus each time you typed them. (I double dare you not to say your password in your head as you are typing it.) Three little words to help you bring yoga and a mantra into your day.  Think about what that password might be.  Depending on the program, you may still be required to include a number and a special character, but the words and  feel of the password are the important part.

Desktop “altars”

For those who are not religious or spiritual, the word altar may carry a negative connotation.  If it is a word that bothers you, call it whatever you like.  Tchotchkes is often a word that describes most of mine.  Altars are simply little spaces that you create for yourself, designed to remind you of  important things.  They may contain pictures, toys, stones, or symbols.  If you are new to the process, here are some basic dos and don’ts to create beautiful spaces for yourself.  

Do – find things that bring you joy.  These spaces are a special selection of items that hold meaning for you.  There is no room in this space for any sort of bad energy.

Don’t – put too many items in one place.   Try for about 2-4 items per space.  If you have a lot of items, consider making two spaces to avoid clutter.

Do – pay attention to placement.  You want a light arrangement that allows your eyes to move over the objects.  Try a couple different placements and see what speaks to you.

Don’t – put family photos in this space.  As much as the people we love inspire us, they can also cause strong feelings.  Relationships can be complex and those feelings can make these sacred spaces infused with conflicting emotions.

Try a couple of different spaces and see if it brings more peace to your workday.

Mindfulness Breathing

Stuck in traffic? Waiting for a meeting to start?  Take a moment and pay attention to your breath.  You can even close your eyes if it feels good.  If you are keeping your eyes open, try to keep a relaxed gaze.  

Try the following exercise next time you find a moment or two without activity:

  1. Find an easy seated position with your feet flat on the ground and shoulders relaxed
  2. Breathe a long, slow breath in through the nose (eyes open or closed) – feel the breath coming in. 
  3. Breathe a long, slow breath out through the nose or the mouth – feel the breath coming out
  4. Try to remain present – notice sensations, sights, smells, and noises
  5. Notice your heartbeat
  6. Relax the tongue from the top of the mouth and relax the jaw
  7. Continue breathing slow deep breaths until you feel a bit more relaxed or until your meeting starts.  This could take several minutes or just a breath or two (depending on the situation).  

Lunch breaks

Lunch breaks can be an awesome way to bring yoga into your day.  I’m not suggesting you run to the gym each lunch hour, but this time can be a golden opportunity if you use it efficiently.  Things that you can do on lunch include: taking in a moment of nature, taking a nap, or finding a space for mindful breathing.  Chances are, in a typical 30 minute lunch break, you can find 5 minutes to practice a little breathing or mindfulness. Check out apps like Headspace or Calm if you need some guidance.  

If you are looking for a natural space to de-stress during lunch, a nearby park may be the answer.  You may be surprised at what you find with a simple google search.  In my city, I am constantly finding little-known parks that I can retreat to during my lunch hour.  If you have the time during your day, find a new space to take you away from….

To do list or daily habits list

A to-do list or a tracking spreadsheet may seem counter-intuitive to yoga, but it can be a good way to track your mindfulness throughout the day.  If you bullet journal, this can be a way to express your creativity and remind yourself of your daily mindfulness goals.  A to-do list can set a daily intention to find space for yourself, while a tracking spreadsheet can track your mindfulness habits over time.  My to do list contains reminders to drink enough water, write something every day, and find 5 minutes for a mediation practice.  

Start small and find 3-5 habits that you want to work on.  Try bringing those activities into your everyday routine.  See how you feel after a week or two.  Add 1-2 more habits once you have established some good routines.  Be mindful of the habits on your list and whether they are bringing you ease or stress.  If a habit only causes you stress, drop it from your list.  The purpose is to keep you on track for your overall health goals and not drive you crazy.  Re-work your list until you find an achievable list of habits which benefit your mindfulness goals.

What is the best time of the day to do yoga?

When trying anything new, the question always comes up… what’s the BEST practice?  It’s natural to try to research anything before diving in. The same holds when staring a yoga practice (specifically asanas and movement).  What type of classes should I attend? Is hot yoga good for me? Should I go to a class or start at home? Are private yoga lessons worth it?

One of the ones that has come up lately is “when is the best time of day to practice?” The answer is, of course, all the time! Not the answer you were looking for, right? The choice of morning, afternoon, or evening yoga is really up to your preference and how you choose to work in yoga into your daily schedule.   There are definite and recognizable benefits to bringing a yoga practice into your daily routine.  That being said, there are certain types of yoga that usually work better for the different times of day.  

 

Yoga in the Morning:  

Morning yoga can be either a reflection or a kick start for your day ahead.  With either choice, any morning routine should start off with a gentle mediation.  This mediation can last anywhere from 1-2 minutes or can be a longer meditation session if you choose.  Mediation in the morning allows the body to wake up gradually and allows the mind to settle into a waking state.  It is also a perfect time to set an intention for your day. After sitting quietly for a time, you can begin to start moving.  This movement can either be simply gentle stretches if you would like to wake up gently or it can be a more lively practice.

Yoga in the Afternoon:

Afternoons are frequently a time for a lull in activity.  An uplifting and invigorating practice is usually the best at this time of day. Many times a short invigorating yoga practice will wake you up enough to finish your day. Although, if you have had a challenging day and are already amped up a seated meditation might focus you better to tackle the projects ahead.  

Yoga in the Evening:  

Evening practices that involve movement should be finished at least an hour before your actual bedtime.  Even restorative practices can wake up the body and the mind enough to disrupt sleep. The only pose beneficial immediately before bed would be legs up the wall or a variation of yoga nidra or yogic sleep.  

This advice, of course, should be taken with a grain of salt.  You will want to practice the different types of yoga according to your daily cycle.  The most important thing for yoga at ANY time of the day is to listen to your body.  If you are creakier in the morning, maybe a yin practice with longer holds is what is going to work best.  If an afternoon practice lends itself to more mediation and less movement, let that happen. If you happen to need a vigorous practice later in the evening, don’t shy away just because of the time of day.  Make sure you are allowing your body to find the normal rhythm that is necessary for a good day or a good night’s sleep.

Hot or Not: What is the best way to practice?

I am asked this question all the time… is hot yoga good for you?  With the prevalence of hot yoga studios popping up all over the place, it really is a great question to ask.  The last thing I want is for any of my students to walk out of a class in which they have stretched beyond where they are comfortable and cause themselves lasting injury.  The result is detrimental, not only for your body at the moment (and until you recover), but it may turn you off on yoga entirely.  I like to say there are two ways of practicing yoga… safe and not safe. We want you to practice safely, whether that means taking a step back or adapting a pose to your own individual ability.  

So… Is hot yoga good for you?  Yes… and no. Like all answers having to do with exercise and mind/body techniques, the answer is not so simple.  First, let’s look at the benefits.

Hot yoga definitely has its advantages.  

  • Hot yoga classes allow you to get into the deeper muscles that may not be accessible in a non-warmed class.  In the Vinyasa Style practice (the tradition in which I was trained) you naturally warm the body up with a series of sun salutations designed to create heat within the body.  This heat allows you to find deeper stretches and release in the deeper areas of the muscles. This is why you will usually start off with Sun Salutations in a Vinyasa Style class and then move into longer holds or more difficult poses.  This type of heat is essential to deepening your yoga practice.

 

  • In a hot yoga class, you can start with warmed muscles and experience a longer period of heated stretches designed to give your body more release instead of flowing through a series of vinyasa sequences to naturally warm up the body in a non-warmed studio.  This allows you to be more in that sweet period of release for a longer period of time – perfect if you only have forty-five minutes to practice rather than an hour and a half.

 

  • WINTER CLASSES!!! There is nothing better for my yoga practice than stepping out of the snowy weather to a warmed yoga room.  It’s like summertime in a bottle. I feel lighter and any seasonal affective disorder melts away as I settle onto my mat.

 

There are also several things to be cautious about when attending hot yoga classes.  

  • Hot yoga classes have the potential to cause lasting injury.  In order to get the most out of a hot yoga practice you need to already know where your natural edge is (the extent of your muscles in a non-hot stretch).  Hot yoga allows you to go the extra 10% that you couldn’t if your muscles were not already warm. If you aren’t aware of where that natural edge is, you could end up going an extra 30% over that limit and cause lasting injury to yourself.  

 

  • Certain conditions such as high blood pressure, diabetes, pregnancy, and the intake of certain medicines may cause you to feel light-headed during a hot yoga practice.  For each of the circumstances above, I strongly recommend staying away from hot yoga classes until you get a doctor’s ok. Unheated yoga classes can still build heat, but in a safer and more supportive way for a variety of conditions.  

 

  • Hot yoga temperatures can vary greatly.  While I like to step into a good heated room (around 80 degrees) in the winter, I can’t breathe in a class where the temperature is set to 100 degrees or more.  I barely enjoy non-heated yoga when the temperature gets to be 100 degrees plus humidity. Add in the humidity of a heated yoga studio with lots of people sweating and the temperature feels more like 120 degrees.  I personally have a history of asthma and attending this type of yoga class doesn’t support my practice.

 

Ultimately, your practice is your own.  Whether hot yoga supports your practice is something you will want to discover for yourself.  My advice has always been to establish a non-hot yoga practice to find a good baseline of where your natural stretch exists.  That way if you do want to find yourself in a hot yoga class, you aren’t going too far over that natural edge. Safe is always the best way to practice.  

 

What do you think of hot yoga?  Let me know in the comments.

How to keep up a yoga practice during the summer months

If you are anything like me, when the weather warms up and outdoor activities are more accessible (especially with two small kids – the snowsuit struggle is real) I fall out of my yoga routine. Early mornings spent at a yoga class get replaced with watering the garden or just hanging out and enjoying the warmer weather. Evenings or weekends get filled with other fun activities that take you outside. And then there is the heat. Who wants to get all sweaty in a yoga class when you can do that standing still? Here are some tips and tricks to keep up your yoga practice no matter what you have going on.

Have a plan.                        “An unexamined life is not worth living.” ~Plato~

When deciding on how to incorporate yoga into your busy schedule it’s important to recognize what works for you. If morning yoga isn’t your thing, then creating a schedule where you get up at 4am to practice isn’t going to have lasting power. If schedules aren’t your thing, make a goal to work in 2-3 times a week to hit the mat whenever you can. If you have 15 minutes to yourself, you can break out the mat and get some quick stretches in which will not only make you feel better about how you feel physically but can be a quick mental break to all that activity.

Find fun classes

In the summer there are all sorts of interesting classes that aren’t available during the winter months.  SUP (Stand Up Paddleboard) Yoga is a great option and can be found at different locations around  Madison. Outdoor yoga is another great option. You can either join a class outdoors (check out my  Meetup group Madison Outdoor Yoga for more info on FREE outdoor yoga) or you can just grab a mat and head to a park. Many studios also offer different workshops and additional classes when the weather warms up, so check out your local studio or your favorite teacher’s website to see when and where they have special events planned.

Switch it up!

Depending on your yoga journey, you may not want the same type of yoga practice you had in the winter. Practice times may become shorter and may consist of a more free-flowing yoga rather than the Yin or Slow Flow yoga you were practicing in the winter. Maybe you want to focus more on your meditation practice rather than work on arm balances. Listen to your body and your mind to know when and where yoga will work into your busy summer schedule.

Don’t be so hard on yourself

When working yoga into your busy schedule, don’t beat yourself up for taking a day or even a week off. It’s important that you find the balance associated with yoga on and off the mat to really bring yoga into your everyday life. If you are constantly seeing your yoga practice as a burden you won’t find the relief that comes from getting on your mat, quieting your mind, and tuning into that authentic self.