Sunday, February 27, 2011

Being Still Vs. Doing Nothing

As a little girl I was obsessed with martial arts films. One more way of bonding with my dad, I enjoyed watching films like The Karate Kid and Enter The Dragon over and over again. Mr. Miyagi, Bruce Lee and the various Samurai shown in Akira Kurosawa films provided great entertainment for me.
It's no wonder that when the new Karate Kid came out last year, I was too much of a Karate puritan to entertain watching it. This week, however, I was outnumbered when my dad convinced my sister and mom to vote in favor of watching the film. Reluctantly, I sat with a frown on my face and a mug brim-full of piping hot coffee on my lap. Within a few moments I was laughing so hard I spilled coffee on my jeans and listening to my sister's cackle, my dad's boisterous laughter and my mom's pleas for us to all be quiet, I was instantly transported back to the 1980s when life was as simple as the wisdom Mr. Miyagi offered his student Daniel LaRusso.
Jackie Chan (I've been a fan ever since his "Rumble In The Bronx" days) plays Mr. Han, a wise maintenance man who happens to be a Kung Fu master. Though he does not officially teach Kung Fu, he does take Jaden Smith's character, Dre Parker, under his wing. The two spend hours together training for a big Kung Fu competition and along the way there are lifelong lessons that are learned and mastered within a two hour-period in classic Karate Kid fashion. The one part of the film which stuck with me the most is when Mr. Han teaches Dre that, "There is a difference between being still and doing nothing."
During my own Yoga-practice it is really easy for me to slip into the motions. Whether it's an intense Heated Power Yoga class or a chill Hatha Yoga class, I often find I'm breathing and flowing from one Asana to the next, but internally I'm doing nothing. My mind might wander to the next posture or even begin thinking about what my plans are later in the evening. Only when my mind is totally still can I actually focus on each inhalation and exhalation. During these rare moments where my mind is completely still, I am the most open to the world around me.
Perhaps if I had already mastered this I wouldn't have been so foolish as to refuse my dad's suggestion for this film in the first place! Ya live and learn :)

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Relax :-)

Namaste Everyone!
Thanks so much for sending me all your questions about the Valentine's Day video I promised. Even if I haven't responded to your e-mails or FaceBook messages, I have been reading them :) Sadly, though we did actually complete the filming of the Valentine's Day "balance" video, my friend and cameraman is going through some seriously tough times and it will take a while for that video to be complete.
In the meantime, I'm back with my horrible camera-skills and I hope you all can look past the poor quality of the video and still benefit from the instructions.

Monday, February 21, 2011


A lot of people tell me they are way too stressed out. Whether it be workers stuck in cubicles for long hours, or people dealing with personal affairs that take a toll on their physical and mental well-being, I think one Asana (posture) can help everyone relax a little.

I typically practice Savasana (Corpse Pose) for about 3-5 minutes at the end of my daily Yoga Practice. It feels so nice and it helps when you have a nice song to listen to. My go-to song is Krishna Das' Baba Hanuman. Okay, so it's closer to 7 minutes, but hey, you can always fast-forward.

To get all the benefits of Savasana, it's important that you really relax your entire body. As you can see in the picture below, there's a slight difference between being tense and being relaxed:

Lay on your back, spread your legs and your arms. Face your palms up towards the ceiling, relax your toes, close your eyes and just breathe. Breathe deeply and naturally. Relax. Think of really soothing thoughts. Begin relaxing your toes, the soles of your feet, your ankles. Allow the relaxation to move up your legs, your knees, your thighs, into your pelvic area, your stomach, chest and shoulders. Relax. Spread the relaxation down your arms, your wrists, your hands. Allow the relaxation to spread through your palms, your fingers, all the way down your finger-tips, back up your arms, moving all through your neck and into the crown of your head.
Relax. Just breathe. Just be.

Friday, February 18, 2011

The Fs of Life

The facts of life are pretty simple. You're born and like the brilliant contemporary philosopher and comedian Chris Rock says, no matter what your horoscope sign is, eventually, "You're gonna die." Why is it then that death seems like such a big deal?
This morning I awoke to the sound of my alarm and like all mornings I immediately checked my e-mails. There's one person in particular whose e-mails I anticipate with such eagerness some nights I can barely go to sleep wondering what humorous stories will await me at dawn. My inbox becomes the base of my very own daily Christmas tree, opening the e-mails sent by this individual feels like unwrapping presents. My cheeks rise, my eyes light up and I speed-read through the entire e-mail only to re-read, with care, the words as I sip my morning coffee slowly before I begin my daily Yoga practice.

This morning, however, one fleeting comment cast a dark shadow over all the other remarks that typically would make me laugh so hard my phone would plop right on my pillow. An 11 year old child was unintentionally hit by a car and died. I have no idea who the driver is or who the child was, but something about the story just lingered with me throughout the entire day. It's devastating to think that now so many families are being effected by a death that probably, with some additional care on behalf of all parties involved, could have been prevented.

Souza has a quote about life that I try to live by. “Dance as though no one is watching you. Love as though you have never been hurt before. Sing as though no one can hear you. Live as though heaven is on Earth.

For me the facts of life have been less to do with the obvious fact that death awaits us all and more to do with the three Fs I believe that if juggled with great balance can offer the most fulfilling life.

Above is a picture of my, "Ama." My 93 year old grandma who is the rock-solid foundation of my entire family and also my hero.

While in Hangzhou's Lotus Garden in China, I took a picture of these three amazing women. They had each been friends for well over 40 years and every morning they met to take a hike at dawn and practice Tai Chi. Their friendship inspires me till this day.

In Bouddhanath you can find monks who left their families as early as their adolescent years. They perfect their crafts, whether it is painting intricate Thankas, playing instruments used in religious ceremonies or analyzing ancient Tibetan texts, they each live with diligence and faith.

Musician Gerard Way once said, "One day your life will flash before your eyes. Make sure it's worth watching." When it comes to a matter of life and death, I couldn't agree more.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

The Force Is With You

Lately I've been doing so much Yoga, going to the gym no longer feels like a chore. I think holding Asanas like the Warrior One for 20 breathes has really strengthened my quads and the Monday morning Guided Meditation sessions have tremendously improved my concentration. The only form of exercise I have ever found painful is running. Not physically painful, but whenever I hit the second or third mile my mind begins asking legitimate, yet impeding questions, "Why are you doing this? What is the point of running on this treadmil?"

Runner's talk about the "Runner's High," and why they are madly in love with running. The only runner's high I've ever felt is after my longest run ever-- 9 miles two years ago--I was elated when the run was finished! Somehow I think there was a disconnect in the definition for me.

Recently, I've been listening to this amazing mix c.d that my good friend, Sab, made for me eight years ago. It's full of up-tempo Soca music and it keeps me motivated while running. Yesterday I couldn't find my ipod or my headphones. I was convinced I was doomed and there would be no way I could last on the treadmil beyond 5 minutes without music. To my surprise, a captivating show on ESPN (I read the captions since I had no headphones) held my attention during my entire run and I was able to make it with no music at all.

The story on ESPN was about a high school kid named Dylan Reboer who was deeply dedicated to his football team. Unfortunately, he was diagnosed with terminal Colon cancer. His belief in his team and himself, however, was so great that eventually his spirits uplifted all the players so much they ended up winning the State Championship title for the first time in 58 years!

As I watched this emotional report including an interview with Dylan's mom, teammates and best friend, I got choked up during my run. A huge knot in my neck formed and a tear streamed down my right cheek unintentionally. All of a sudden, my regular three-mile run was over, as was the program, but out of nowhere I felt a surge of energy. I thought about the fight Dylan had to go through... that so many victims of cancer must face... and I was overwhelmed by a sudden sense of internal power. The power, I realized was not within my ipod, the Soca music, Dylan's story or any other external factor. The force was and is within me. Always.

Arthur Osborne edited a wonderful book entitled The Teachings of Bhagavan Sri Ramana Maharshi in which the Sage of Arunachala states, "The Guru is the Self." I think I finally understand what he meant.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Partner Yoga: a touchy subject.

With Valentine's Day right around the corner, I can't help but think of a better topic for today than the importance of touch. According to Dr. Deborah Moore, "We're all born with a great need for touch. To thrive, newborns must be fed touch as much as food. Studies in orphanages and hospitals repeatedly tell us that infants deprived of skin contact lose weight, become ill and even die." So why is it that the older we become we seem to simply lose touch with, well, the importance of it?

Desmond Morris, the author of several books including The Naked Woman: A Study of the Female Body, Intimate Behaviour, and The Nature of Happiness, says that, "Something special happens when two people touch each other physically, whether it be a handshake, a pat on the back, or a slap on the face." We tend to rely on body language 75% more than we do verbal discourses. It's no wonder that, "Touch establishes communication, and what is transmitted has more meaning than words."

Typically in Yoga classes, students stay on their individual mats avoiding touching their neighbors with much caution. Partner Yoga is completely different in this regards.

Elysabeth Williamson, who developed Principle Based Partner Yoga over the course of 15 years, explains that Partner Yoga is about incorporating, "Themes such as trust, compassion and other universal principles," into one's practice. "Inspiring our human potential for intimacy and connection with others," through touch and the human connection that is inherent in any sort of partnership.

While I spent my summer in 2010 at the Asheville Yoga Center I was fortunate enough to take some Partner Yoga classes. My life's never been the same since. It is remarkable how splendid shifting a typical Yoga Asana (let's say the Boat Pose/Navasana) to fit two or more people (try sitting across from one another and allow soles of both parties feet to touch, clasp hands together) can be.

I understand that not everyone is in a relationship. I'm sure, however, that everyone has at least one friend, family member, co-worker, neighbor, son, daughter, niece or nephew with whom they could practice one Partner Yoga posture. I encourage you to find a partner and, "Keep in touch."

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

The Wonders of Wheel Pose!

Namaste everyone!
I think the "Wheel" pose might be my absolute favorite Asana (posture) of all times. For so long I didn't have the upper-body strength to lift myself up. Once I started lifting weights I finally gained enough strength, but didn't have the faith in myself to lift up entirely. When at last I was capable, it seemed like a huge accomplishment.
Recently, one of my most loyal students, Alison, was able to overcome her fears and ever since, she's been rockin' out the Wheel week after week! Whenever I see her in the wheel pose, my heart genuinely smiles from deep within. Alison runs marathons regularly, she has the most sculpted muscles I've ever seen on a pint-sized woman so she totally has the physical strength, it was all a matter of believing in herself. What a wonderful breakthrough moment? I was honored to be able to witness it for the first time!
For my weekly vlog this week, I've drawn inspiration from Alison and I hope when you watch this at home if you are doubting yourself, you too, can feel a little bit of encouragement.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

The Power of Kindness

Here in Michigan, we're in the middle of a pretty brutal snowstorm. It's the kinda weather that makes you want to curl up under a blanket (preferably a Khasto... people who come to my Yin/Yang Yoga classes know these blankets well) and read a delightful book. I've just completed one written by an Italian philosopher and psychotherapist, Piero Ferrucci. The name of the book is The Power of Kindness. It's only about 250 pages long; a quick & easy read!

Each chapter focuses on different ways to partake in acts of kindness. In no particular order, some of the elements of kindness according to Ferrucci include:
* Patience
* Flexibility
* Gratitude
* Loyalty
* Joy
* Empahty
* Mindfulness
* Honesty
* Humility... the list goes on and on because acts of kindness are not exactly limited to just a few handfull of elements.

Initially, I was so frustrated by the snowstorm. I can't even snowboard as my car is stuck in a pile of snow. Our family dog is so old, he is unable to join me on hikes and I had to cancel all classes due to the weather. Then, as I lay tight in the fetal position and read Ferrucci's words it occurred to me that this snowstorm is a chance for me to be blissfully kind to my body.

Monday's Guided Meditation class was all about the power of patience. I read parts of the "Patience" chapter and shared a fascinating story about a group of American scientists who were working in a rural area of Mexico. They hired a group of Mexican porters to carry all of their scientific equipment. During the long, arduous trek, the porters suddenly stopped walking. Initially, the scientists were confused, then grew frustrated and eventually they were irate. They were in a rush to reach their work-site and furious at the illiterate Mexican porters who clearly didn't understand their situation. Then, abruptly, the porters at once picked up their respective loads and began walking again. When asked by one of the scientists why the porters stopped, one of them replied, "We were walking so fast, we had to rest to allow our souls to catch up to us."

Days like this... when the snow hits hard and unexpectedly... it rocks us to our core: we begin thinking about all the errands we should be running, but are incapable of completing. Maybe it's just Mother Nature's way of providing us with an opportunity to allow our souls to catch up to us.

Book complete, my body rested and my soul all caught up: I think it's time to modify a Sun Salutation (Surya Namaskar) with a Snow Salutation! I'm excited to introduce this during tomorrow night's Heated Power Yoga Class!!