What is the hardest Yoga pose?

For many people, they think that the hardest yoga pose is the one where some thin, blonde, model-y type person has managed to twist themselves around so that you can’t even identify how it could be accomplished.  

Clear your mind of that image because…for each person their “hardest” yoga pose is the one that challenges them the most.  For some people that may indeed be a pretzel-y pose where they need to work months if not years to stretch the correct combination of muscles to be able to successfully balance on one hand while holding their foot with their other hand.  Please don’t ask me to find a picture of that.    Just as a personal intention for your practice or a single class is different for each person or a life-goal is different for each person, your own hardest yoga pose is very individual.  

For me, the hardest yoga pose changes.  I’m currently working on arm balances, because I hate that I can’t do them.  I have worked for years to feel comfortable with my skinny wrists and to embrace their strength.  For me, this is what my hardest pose is now.  For many years it was hand to big toe pose.  I wanted that strength and stability that I saw in that pose.  Once I was able to accomplish it, you will find me doing that in my kitchen… just because I can.  

For others who are just starting yoga, savasana may be their hardest pose.  Just lie there.  Relax all your muscles.  Resist the urge to move.  These instructions to someone who is very animated or anxious may seem like a death sentence the first time they get into savasana.   It’s easy to spot these people, and I sincerely try to find a good balance when I am teaching to make the pose long enough for the people who love it and short enough for the people who find it challenging.   

 


For those of you still needing some help finding your “hardest pose”, the way to find it lies in the following questions:

  1. What challenges you?  If that challenge is to sit still, then maybe a long yin hold is where your challenge lies.  If it is a challenge to see your own strength, then maybe a balancing pose (not necessarily arm balances) may be your challenge.  Maybe it has been your goal to touch your toes, so maybe a deep forward bend is your challenge.
  1. What is your weakness?  Now weakness isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but it does show you where you need strength.  This can be both physical weakness and mental weakness.  If you find that sitting still for more than 5 seconds is torture, maybe a meditation practice is where you need to focus your challenge.  For me, my skinny wrists prompted me to find several poses where I could build that strength.  

 

  1. How do you identify yourself?  One of the best ways to find where you need to challenge yourself is to challenge the labels you put upon yourself.  If you strongly identify with being a certain age, then maybe your hardest pose should be one that makes you feel young.  Maybe you identify yourself as strong and sturdy, then maybe you need to find a pose that makes you feel vulnerable.  That is your challenge.  

Long story short… find your own challenging yoga pose.  For inspiration, check out the various poses on Yoga Journal’s pose page.  Find something that looks fun or challenging to you and research how to build the strength or the flexibility to make that pose your own.  As always if you have questions or want help to find a challenging pose for your yoga journey, reach out to me at 831yoga@gmail.com and I will be happy to discuss it with you and how you can get there.  

Private Yoga Lessons – What you need to know

For many people, going to a yoga class is a special treat – reserved for those times where you need to take care of yourself and get out of the house.  Once you set up on your mat, you realize how much better you feel after stretching your body.  Often this leads to other questions about how to keep this feeling after you step off your mat or how to find time for yoga in your everyday life.  Private lessons are a perfect way to begin this journey.  

Why you should schedule a private yoga lesson…

  1. Experience / comfortability:  Private lessons are perfect for those students that are just beginning their journey.  Many studios offer 101 classes, but this can be overwhelming if you are nervous about being in a class with other students.  If you are nervous around other people, the full benefits of the yoga practice might get lost in the anxiety.  Getting comfortable with both yoga etiquette and basic poses can allow you to enter any yoga class with confidence, even if you aren’t at a familiar studio or even if you are in a brand new city.  Yoga etiquette and poses translate all over the country.  
  2. Personal Goals vs overall stretching:  When heading to a yoga class you are on the instructor’s class plan.  The class will be geared towards an overall stretch or a peak pose of the instructor’s choosing.  While this is wonderful experience and gives great benefits, a private practice can give you the opportunity to discuss with your instructor your personal goals both physically and mentally.  Often in a private lesson, the instructor can create a personal class to focus on your needs and your problem areas (arthritis, back injury, flexibility, etc.).  I have personally taught standing yoga classes as well as chair yoga classes that are geared towards what the student needs to work on while recognizing their limitations.  
  3. Cultivating a Personal Practice:  Private lessons are a perfect way to cultivate a personal practice either in a group setting or in a home practice.  A one on one setting is the perfect way to craft a home practice routine designed with your own goals and problem areas in mind.  Back issues, maybe your home practice should focus on forward bends and restorative poses.  Arthritis in your hands, maybe it should start with seated hand stretches and breathing.  In a private yoga session, 
  4. In Depth Study:  Private Yoga lessons should not just be considered for the beginner yogi.  For the advanced practitioner, private yoga lessons can help you deepen and strengthen your yoga practice in ways a group class may not be able to offer.  If you are working with a certified Yoga instructor (registered with the Yoga Alliance), they are required to learn about all 8 limbs of yoga – not just asanas.  Depending on their focus of study and training heritage, a trained yoga instructor can offer a wealth of knowledge about Ayurveda, aromatherapy, or advanced yoga poses.

Common Questions:

  1. Who should you seek out for Private Lessons?  When looking for an instructor for a private yoga lesson, look for someone who speaks to your style and what you want to learn.  If you are preoccupied with the yoga instructor’s music or tone of voice you won’t get much benefit of a one on one with that instructor.  Many students seek out someone who has offered them good advice or given them an “ah –ha” moment in a group class.  If advancing your practice you should seek out someone who is trained in the area you wish to explore.  Most instructors will have a focus of study and can offer a wealth of knowledge in a private setting.  
  2. Should I do at home lessons or go to the instructor’s studio for a private?  When deciding on a yoga instructor for a private lesson it is important to discuss setting.  There are usually two options when deciding on a location for a yoga private.  Some instructors will be associated with a studio where they can book the studio for a private lesson during off-class times.  Other times it may be more convenient for you or the instructor to come to a location of your choosing (often your home or the instructor’s home).  There are a couple different factors you want to consider when choosing a location.  
    1. Time – Private lessons at a studio will be restricted to off-class times.  Lessons at home can be scheduled when both of your schedules permit.  If you don’t have an instructor in mind, you can also contact a yoga studio to set up a private lesson with an instructor that fits to your timeline.  Many studios will be able to accommodate your request and be able to suggest a teacher for the time you request that will be a good fit for your needs.  
    2. Props – Private lessons in a studio will usually have free reign of any props that the studio has for regular classes – giving you more options if you are working with an injury or want to try out various modifications.  Private lessons at home are restricted to any props that either you or the instructor have for personal use – which can be beneficial if you are cultivating a home practice and need to see what you can use in a home setting.
    3. Location – Time in a studio will provide ample space and usually a good solid working surface for yoga.  A private practice at home may require you to move furniture or find room in a location not usually dedicated to laying out a mat and/or balancing.  If a home practice is your goal, the instructor can suggest areas in your home that may work the best with minimal rearrangement.  
  3. What do I need to know before setting up a private?  There is really nothing you need to know before setting up a yoga private.  It is beneficial to tell the instructor whether you would like additional time before the lesson to talk about your particular goals and limitations.  Usually the instructor will allot a small amount of time at the beginning for this purpose, but if you would like a more in-depth talk then you should let them know beforehand.  Sometimes a get-to-know-you session is best in this type of situation and can be set up to meet in a lounge area rather than on a mat.  
  4. How do I prepare for a yoga private?  Like any new experience, come with an open mind and don’t be afraid to speak up about what you need.  The instructor is just as curious to know about how they can help you as you are to learn.  A good instructor will take the time to evaluate your needs and goals before suggesting exercises, but only you know your body and how certain poses make you feel.  It is important to work with your instructor and make known anything that makes you uncomfortable.  The goal for both of you is a safe and enjoyable yoga experience.  

 

More questions?  Interested in what a yoga private can do for you?  

Space?

5 elements

For the past several weeks I have been speaking about space in my classes.  This subject first came to me while feeling very claustrophobic in my own life.  A little background with me.  I don’t hide my emotions easily.  If I’m sad… I LOOK sad.  If I’m happy… I am the bubbliest thing on earth.  My class themes usually come from a very personal place in my life.  I usually try to bring either what I need in my own life or what the people around me are struggling with to my students.  For example, if I am feeling very child-like I teach a class on finding your playfulness on the mat.  If various people around me are dealing with loss – I try to bring compassion and acceptance of emotions into my class.

So back to space.  This is such a complex subject in yoga.  There are so many ways to find space: physically, psychologically, mentally, spatially, metaphysically, etc.  So now we are going on 6 weeks talking about space.  Seriously.  First we started out very basic and brought space in our bodies through stretching and expanding through the breath.  From there we have explored space for our yoga practice, space to be unique, space to be exactly who you want to be, and space to be in the present moment.

Whew!  Is it sad I think that space is pretty awesome?  There are so many ways that space can come into our yoga practice and into our lives.  Every time I think that I’m running out of space to talk about space (yes, I meant to do that), I come up with another way that space can come into our lives.  From the moment we wake up we are creating space; space in the world for ourselves and our ideas our personalities and our voices.  There is no way to avoid creating space.  So… in that inevitability, shouldn’t we be mindful about creating our spaces?  Shouldn’t we care about what we put out into the world because eventually whatever we put out there comes right back to us?

Today I challenge you to choose one aspect of space (see list of suggestions below).  Take a WHOLE day – from the moment you wake up to the moment you finally curl up for the night – and think about that space.  Make those conscious choices.  Choose what type of space you put out there.  See how that affects the space of those around you.  Just this day. Just this moment.  Create your space.

Examples of SPACE:

  1. Space in the body from stretching (muscles and subtle body space)
  2. Space created in the body from the breath (prana).  Where does the breath go? How deep is the breath? Etc.
  3. Space for your yoga practice at home (asanas, meditation, etc.)
  4. Space for your yoga  practice in your everyday activities
  5. Space for creating your creativity
  6. Space for your childlike aspects (curiosity, looking at life with fresh eyes)
  7. Creating space for your personality in your yoga practice (dancing to music, paying attention to transitions)
  8. Creating space to be silent

You see where I’m going with this, right?  So try it out.  Think more 8 full limbs of yoga rather that just asanas/ poses.  Let me know what you think.  How does being mindful of space affect you?

When did we stop feeling comfortable in our own skin?

This wonderful video was the source of my inspiration for my latest class.  My question to my own class was… “What popped into your head when I asked the question, ‘What one thing would you change about your body?’… “What would your “kid” answer be?”  Realizing the things we would change about our bodies brings a new realization that we, as yogis, need to accept those parts of us that we see as flaws.  When did that idea of our own perfection leave our minds and our distinguishing features become our flaws?  I encouraged everyone to think of their ‘kid’ answers and to let that acceptance and love of self follow them throughout the day/week/month.

Watch the video for yourself and think about your own answers.

Balancing stones challenge

The simple at of balancing stones can bring peace and focus to our everyday lives.   The challenge for today,  or maybe this week, is to find several stones out in nature and stack them so they balance.  

As you stack the stones, listen to your breath and notice how it slows.  Notice your focus.   Does it improve?  Where do you find your mind? 

Post your pictures below.  Let’s see how many stacking stones we can create around the world this week.  

I will be attempting to do this everyday.  Please join me.

Daily Practice… Mula Bandha

Also known as the Root Lock… Mula Bandha… this can be practiced even when simply sitting at your desk.  This lock is the hardest and, I believe, one of the most basic of all pranayama (or lifeforce) locks in the body that needs to be mastered.  To engage this root lock, engage the muscles between your anus and your pelvis.  Sometimes these are known as kegels for women, but men can engage in this practice as well.  Simply try engaging these muscles as you sit at your desk during the day.  Not only will it strengthen your body, it will also allow you to engage this lock in your yoga classes as well.  If you have a desk job, like I do, sometimes practices like this allow us to engage our bodies during the day as well as our minds.

Meditative Knitting

For us knitters, we have all come to it from different places.  For some it was taught to us by our grandmothers and mothers, our trusted friends and our patient neighbors.  For others it was picked up from a sense of wonder at an image or a person we knew who knit.  Maybe we threw down our knitting as a child, only to pick it up later and never set it down again.  For all of us, there is a certain peace that comes when the yarn is flowing through our fingers and the needles are clicking away.  We find our breath slows, our heartbeat falls into a deeper rhythm, and our focus shifts from the bustling world around us to the project at hand.

I am about to teach my first Knitting Meditation workshop this October.  I am scared and also excited to share this side of my yoga practice.  Over the years, I have fielded so many questions about knitting that I feel it only fair to share this wonderful art with others.  I can only hope that this knitting meditation translates into my workshop.  I’m scared that it won’t be relaxing, that people won’t “get” it and that no one will ever ask me about my knitting again.  (Melodramatic I know)

For some reason, there is a bond that forms between knitters.  I can’t tell you the many times I have struck up a conversation or bonded with a total stranger over our knitting.  Maybe they have the needles and I butt in, or they have been so intriqued by what I am knitting that they say something.  An innocent question… “What are you knitting?”… and the friendship has begun.  I really hope that I can give this moment to others.  There is something so special in that moment, that experience.  Maybe it is the peace that we find while creating something that speaks to that same part in all knitters.   Maybe we just know the satisfaction and relaxation that knitting creates. Whatever it is… I hope that I am able to share this with others and that they get that “ah-ha” moment one day while the yarn is flowing through their fingers and something very special is taking shape in their hands.

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Yoga is beyond body issues

Good article… Please read.

Home Yoga Practice

 ganesha-coloringpage

There is a great deal of talk about body issues in Western yoga. This discussion is by fed an industry called LOHAS (Lifestyle Of Health and Sustainability) which is making millions off of yoga fashion and dietary products. The latest issue of Yoga Journal has a woman who is considered “full figured” on the cover and a full article about body issues. There is another article that talks about diet. We are fed these ideas that all a practitioner needs to do is get a xyz brand yoga mat, do xyz style of yoga, eat an xyz type of diet, and viola! you fit into xyz brand of sized 5 yoga clothing, or shouldn’t worry about being sized five because you read Yoga Journal that tells you it’s okay to be full figured and practice yoga.

But yoga, when done classically, instructs you right from the beginning that your…

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Work / Life Balance

5-Stones-Balancing-with-Leaf

 

So often as yoga teachers we hear that familiar phrase of obtaining a work/life balance and how important it is for everyone to find that. We instill it as a theme for our classes, we use it as an excuse (not in a bad way) to sleep in that extra hour on a Saturday. And we struggle with it, as everyone does. Almost everyone has a story about how they have battled with it and overcome some obstacle that shows them how important it is to obtain a work/life balance, and even more of us feel comfortable telling people that we haven’t gotten there yet. The problem I’m running across is that as much as the yoga community instills that value of obtaining a work/life balance, there are not many tools out there to support us. The Business of Yoga is getting in my way. When I first starting teaching yoga, my teacher training (thankfully) included a dedicated workshop on the business of yoga. Never before did I realize all my teachers had to go through to obtain that persona and presence at the front of the classroom. The requirements to maintain your own separate business in addition to creating your brand and fill your classes can be quite overwhelming. Government regulations haven’t caught up with social media and still require some outdated requirements just so that we can be authorized to teach and to protect the studios that we love and call home. Never before did I realize all the hoops and juggling that came with running my own yoga business. Create an LLC they said. Post on social media they said. No one said anything about needing to maintain a blog and a website when the blog didn’t cut standards. No one mentioned all the paper I might have to waste printing out fliers to submit to my studios so they could even employ me, by government regulations. Darn that red tape.

And then there is the continuing education and finding your niche. I feel so jealous sometimes of the teachers I have met who have time to attend so many workshops and have already found their own particular brand of yoga. Can I just show up and make everyone giggle? Is that a yoga style? Can I make jokes about spirit fingers during Warrior I and make my students hold plank without branding it? Not to get me wrong. I’m kinda finding my own niche. I love outdoor yoga and randomly doing yoga poses places I’m not supposed to be doing them, like on my lunch hour in my business attire and climbing a tree in my backyard. But how do I know if that is my “brand”? Can I market “Random Yoga?”
I love that every yoga teacher I have met has their own certain way of teaching and I suppose that to remain a student forever is the goal of yoga. So that makes me Wonder Woman apparently. I still get butterflies when I go into my regular class and I still stumble and fall out of tree pose when I am a bit too jumpy. I forget to practice asanas sometimes and I never have gotten the hang of meditation. I try, but according to Yoda… that’s only “not doing” it.  I stay up too many nights working on publishing materials and posting classes on facebook and don’t get enough sleep sometimes. I’m overly critical of myself and I hope I’m doing my students some good. I guess that’s all I can wish for.

I guess to make a long story short (too late), remember the next time you go to a class. Be gentle with the teacher who cues left instead of right. Be patient with them and with your fellow students when something doesn’t go according to plan. Know that they are doing their best and think of all they have had to go through to make it to the front of the class for you. Work/life balance is not just balancing job/ home life but might mean balancing main job/second job/ taking classes/ home life and a hundred other scenarios. As yoga teachers, we too have to remember to take those deep breaths, smile at our mistakes, and secretly cry sometimes at the amount of effort that goes into doing something you love. And I do love teaching yoga.

Daily Practice – Restorative Pose: Viparita Karani

 Viparita Karani = Legs up the Wall
 
While getting into this pose may take a bit of practice or an awkward moment or two, the benefits are undeniable.  Leg Cramps, Restless Leg Syndrome, Anxiety… all of these things can be helped with this simple pose.  
 
I like to recommend this pose for anyone and everyone.  Ever experience knots in your calfs?  Ever feel that restless feeling like you need to walk or run or something?  That feeling is caused by lactic acid buildup in the legs caused by all our “upright” movement throughout the day.   Most of us spend so much of our day in that upright position, hunched over at a computer, biking, driving, walking or any other number of activities that this simple inversion can really benefit just about anyone.  
 
In addition to the anatomical benefits, this pose has fantastic calming benefits as well.  Gentle Inversions, especially restorative ones, have the ability to calm our nervous system and bring a sense of relaxation to the body.  This particular pose is fantastic because it combines a gentle inversion with a variation on Savasana or final relaxation.  
 
There are many variations to this pose including, but not limited to; putting a bolster or blanket under the hips, placing a block under the hips, placing a block on top of the feet, placing an eye pillow over the eyes or over the wrists, or even moving this pose away from the wall.  
 
To get into the pose.  Sit with knees bent on a blanket next to the wall with one hip touching the wall.  As you slowly lean back onto your tailbone, straighten your legs and bring them up so the side of one leg is touching the wall.  Slowly rotate on the blanket so that your butt and heels are up against the wall.  (HINT:  This works best if you are on some sort of hard surface.  Carpet will make this more difficult.)  Shift and scoot till you are comfortable and your butt is against the wall.  This pose works best if you keep your legs relatively straight, although a slight bend can be more comfortable to some.  Gently relax. 
 
As I stated before, many variations can be made with this pose including placing soothing lavender pillows over the eyes or the wrists to further relaxation.  You can even place a blanket over your chest and torso to make this even more comfortable.  You might feel a slight tingle or even numbness in your feet.  This is completely normal and is part of the acid draining out of your legs.  Feeling should return to normal once you come out of the pose.  
 
There are two ways to come out of this pose.  The first way is if you are on a blanket and on a hard surface (and if you have enough room behind you).  Simply bend your legs till your feet are flat against the wall and push!  It’s fun and an effective way to exit this pose and a lovely transition into Savasana if that is where you are going.  Again, make sure you have enough room for this dismount.
 
The second way is a bit more intuitive, can be done on any surface, and involves coming out the same way you came into the pose.  First start to rotate your body so that the side of your body is next to the wall.  Gently lower your legs down towards the ground.  From this reclined position you can either move slightly away from the wall to come to Savasana or you can gently roll to one side and use your arms to push yourself up to a seated position.  
 
Anyone can benefit from this pose. Try it and see how it works for you!  What did you feel?  Did you find yourself more relaxed?  Let me know your thoughts in the comments.  
 

 
Check out more of the benefits here:  http://www.yogajournal.com/basics/2336