Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Happy Birthday Dolly!

Everyone send your happy thoughts to Dolly, one of my very favorite people and the best yoga teacher ever.

Dolly, every year that you're on the planet makes it a good year for the rest of us!


After a day like today, I really need to celebrate even a small victory. I'm in class this morning, and we do our thing, standing postures and balances, lots of good heat. We hit the floor and start doing hip openers and stretches and we get the cue to work splits, if we can. I've made strides in the split department, but it's been slow moving.

So, I keep inching down, slowly, carefully, then inching down more, then a little more, and then much to my surprise because I never expected it, I was in a full split with my right leg forward! I wasn't able to get all the way down with my left leg forward, but I was so chuffed it really didn't matter. Obviously a regular practice in which you play your edge helps you to advance. But I am finding that the less I set "goals" for myself in yoga, the more progress I seem to make. It was a good feeling to have crossed that threshold.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

I'm in the Mudra

Proof of Law of Attraction: Last night, I spent hours online searching for info and photos of hand mudras, because suddenly, I want to know more about them. Walk into my usual Thursday morning Power Vinyasa class, and throughout our practice today, Dolly showed us various hand (hasta) mudras. I tripped. The info I was looking for came to me!

So…as promised, here's some info about Guyan Mudra and Hakini Mudra. First, a quick disclaimer: in searching for mudra images, I found that there are subtle mudra name / interpretation / demonstration discrepancies. I’ve done the best I could to represent these mudras accurately, but if I’m wrong about something, please post a comment to let me know.

Guyan/Gyan Mudra: The Knowledge Seal
Guyan (also spelled Gyan) Mudra "increases memory, intelligence and concentration in studies. Strengthens the nerve system, cures migraines, headache and insomnia. Helps in over powering anger and developing spiritualism." [Source: http://www.astropalmist.com/mudras.html]

I love using Active Guyan Mudra in Warrior II—already a very strong asana with the arms outstretched. Adding upturned Active Guyan Mudra hands, for me at least, gives my Warrior II more purpose and grace.

Guyan Mudra

The tip of the thumb touches the tip of the index finger, stimulating knowledge and ability. The index finger is symbolized by Jupiter, and the thumb represents the ego. Guyan Mudra imparts receptivity and calm. [Source: http://www.kundaliniyoga.org/mudras.html, which notes that this information was taken from the book Transitions to a Heart Centered World, by Gururattan K. Khalsa Ph.D.]

Active Guyan Mudra
In Active Guyan Mudra, the first joint of the index finger is bent under the first joint of the thumb, imparting active knowledge. [Source: http://www.kundaliniyoga.org/mudras.html, which notes that this information was taken from the book Transitions to a Heart Centered World, by Gururattan K. Khalsa Ph.D.]

Hakini Mudra: The Memory Seal
We've probably all done Hakini Mudra at some point without even knowing it.

Hakini Mudra is supposed to help when you are trying to remember something, or need focus and concentration.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Mudra Power

Being a relatively green yogaphile, recently my attention has been drawn to hand mudras in yoga—I've begun playing with one or two in my practice. I like mudras (mudra means "seal" in Sanskrit). They help keep me focused and make asanas feel complete.

My two favorite mudras at this point are Anjali Mudra and active Gyan Mudra. Most everyone has seen Anjali Mudra—prayer hands. It's a very centering and spiritual hand mudra.

Anjali Mudra: Salutation Seal/Heart Seal

Please see Yoga Journal's page on Anjali Mudra for a complete description of this popular mudra.

In "For Beginners: Anjali Mudra," Shiva Rea suggests a variation on Anjali Mudra that I just loved:

"...slightly part your palms as if to make a cup, so that your hands resemble the bud of a lotus flower. Depending on your spiritual orientation, you can metaphorically plant a seed prayer, affirmation, or quality such as "peace," "clarity," or "vitality" within your anjali mudra. Drop your chin towards your chest and awaken a sense of humility and awe with which to begin your practice, as if waiting to receive a blessing of good things to come."

The concept of using your Anjali Mudra to plant and hold a seed—an intention for your practice, perhaps—brings a more physical element to an often intangible intention.

Next blog...Gyan Mudra: The Knowledge Seal

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Sailing on the SS Svadhyaya*

We've all said it before: "If you'd have told me that in a year I'd be...[fill in the blank]...I never would have believed it." I'm having one of those moments.

Me, a year ago:
Hopelessly addicted to shopping (well, not much has changed there—but I've gotten a pretty good grip!). Doing everything I can to lose weight by diet alone, with some measure of success, but totally unhealthy—sugar substitutes, low carb, high fat, Starbucksaholic, closest thing to exercise is walking my dog. Pretty inflexible, mentally and physically. I was working, going home, napping, walking the dog, shopping. Working, going home, napping, walking the dog, shopping, devouring fashion and gossip magazines. That's about it.

Me, February 2007:
Who is this girl? I am working, but also working out, walking the dog. Getting up at 4:40am to practice yoga, then working, walking and running the dog, no longer buying gossip magazines. I'm taking yoga teacher training (?), pressing 30-pound dumbbells (!), eating carbs and not getting fat(?!). I'm actually chastising myself for judgmental thoughts. I only stop by Starbucks about once a month, for a nonfat Chai Latte. I am teaching kids yoga starting in March! Holy crap!

It's amazing how little mental effort it takes to transform yourself completely (well, almost completely). But teaching kids yoga? Me, who wants no kids? Never saw that coming. It's going to be fun. I observed the kids the other day, being taught by the other teacher I'll be sharing the class with, and I smiled for 45 minutes straight. They are absolutely adorable. Any reservations I was having about making this commitment were instantly erased when I saw them in Downward Facing Dog for the first time. The cutest thing you've ever seen! I actually can't wait to get started just so I can tell you all about it.

Being Brave
If you know me well, you know I am a confessed chicken. It has taken me years as an adult to be brave enough to spend the night in my own home without my husband there (and I'm still not fully alone...my 75-pound Doberman is my bodyguard). I just get so freaked out by every little noise—I swear, I'm a psychoanalyst's dream: I just happen to fall in love with and marry a 6'8" former bodyguard and self-defense instructor, and it's no purse dog for me...I have to have a big, black, stereotypically scary dog...but I digress. I normally don't go outside my comfort zone, rarely try anything new except food. I avoid the slightest bit of mental or physical discomfort whenever possible. This is probably part fear, part ego.

At the end of our first yoga teacher training module, Dolly had us do this closing exercise in which we wrote down affirmations, like, "You are strong," or "You are blessed." The first thing I wrote was "You are brave," hoping that seeing it in black and white will make me be it. Dolly took our affirmations up and redistributed them amongst the group, so we now had someone else's affirmations in hand. We then closed our eyes, and on her cue, one at a time, circulated and whispered the affirmation we were given by Dolly into the ears of our classmates.

Guess what the very first voice whispered to me?

"You are brave."

Setting Sail
I find it very interesting how once you commit to sailing into uncharted territory, as experiences unfold, each one becomes the perfect preparation for the next. Recently, the more I have surrendered control (yes, I am a control freak), the more delighted I have been by the way the bits and pieces of my life have connected without my orchestration. It makes you more brave and more willing to get outside yourself and take a leap of faith. Things seem to just be falling into place without any thought or planning on my part—only an intention to be enlightened in some way.

I started taking yoga with no expectations and fell in love with it. Signed up for yoga teacher training with no plans to teach, because the thought of teaching a class of adults is mortifying—I only wanted to deepen my own yoga practice. So what happens? An opportunity to teach kids comes up—baby steps, literally. (See, God does have a sense of humor!) So I'm on deck again, raising the sails for another journey. Not quite sure where I'm going or how I'll get there, but I'm heading out, riding the crest of each brand new day (while wearing a life jacket, of course!).

* Svadhyaya is Sanskrit for self-reflection or self-study. Read more about svadhyaya at http://www.yogajournal.com/wisdom/726_1.cfm.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

While I'm on the Subject of Sting...

Did anyone catch him on the Grammys? He opened the show with the Police (who are reuniting to tour...very cool). He looked fan-freakin'-tastic! Damn! This is a man who is in his mid-50s! He was taught, toned, and on his game. Now, sure, there's no telling if he has partaken of any facial plastic surgery or Botox, but no plastic surgery can produce perfectly sculpted biceps—he and his wife Trudie are admitted yoga fanatics—and have been practicing for years.

Video of Sting at the 2007 Grammys

All I'm saying is, if that's what yoga can do for a man who's had his share of fun and wild living, imagine what it can do for those who live life on the simpler side? It seems to be a key tributary of the fountain of youth. Like Sting, I love that it is a practice that will be with me the rest of my life. Something to balance me, challenge me, inspire me, ground me.

Read more about Sting and yoga:

PS: Sting's love of yoga isn't just lip service, either. You can now do a yoga retreat at his lovely little castle in Tuscany, Il Palagio. How cool is that? Note to self: Add that to my list of things to do before I die.

Friday, February 9, 2007

Unintentional But Necessary Pratyahara

I was supposed to be at the Rolf Gates seminar this weekend, but as luck would have it, my knee, which has been painful on and off for a couple weeks, flared up again. I spent the day making arrangements to sell my passes to the Saturday and Sunday intensives to someone else in order to avoid doing serious damage to my knee. I was unable to get someone to take my place tonight and tomorrow morning, so I went to the studio only to learn that due to a registration snafu, there wasn't space for me in the class anyway!

An interesting twist. Something is telling me I need to take it easy, which is hard for me to do. I really don't like missing a workout or yoga. And I've never had a knee problem a day in my life, so I'm sort of in unchartered territory. I've been telling myself it's no big deal, but it keeps hanging on, and my unwillingness to recognize it as something potentially serious could actually turn it into just that. Not going to the Gates seminar—not being able to go because there was no space—suddenly changed my whole weekend.

As I was driving home I thought, What am I going to do? I now have absolutely nothing scheduled for the entire weekend. A little panic went through me—won't I be bored? And then, joy. Nothing scheduled! It's been weeks...maybe since December that I haven't had a day of nothing on the calendar. My week is usually work, gym, yoga, work, work, gym, yoga, work, gym, work, yoga, church—plus all kinds of other appointments peppered in between.

Suddenly, a recent Yoga Journal newsletter about this very subject began to surface in my memory. And I totally get it. Here's an excerpt:
Return to Stillness
In a world of information overload, the yoga practice of pratyahara offers us a haven of silence. By Judith Lasater

"...In the Yoga Sutra of Patanjali—the most ancient and revered sourcebook for yoga practice—the second chapter is filled with teachings about the ashtanga (eight-limbed) yoga system. The system is presented as a series of practices which begin with "external limbs" like ethical precepts and move toward more "internal limbs" like meditation. The fifth step or limb is called "pratyahara" and is defined as "the conscious withdrawal of energy from the senses." Almost without exception yoga students are puzzled by this limb. We seem to inherently understand the basic ethical teachings like satya (the practice of truthfulness), and the basic physical teachings like asana (the practice of posture), and pranayama (the use of breath to affect the mind). But for most of us the practice of pratyahara remains elusive...

To me, practicing pratyahara doesn't mean running away from stimulation (which is basically impossible). Rather, practicing pratyahara means remaining in the middle of a stimulating environment and consciously not reacting, but instead choosing how to respond..."

Now that I have nothing scheduled, I'm going to choose to keep it that way. Go with the flow. SLEEP LATE! Get this knee better. Maybe, not even blog!

Thursday, February 8, 2007

Gearing Up for Gates

Rolf Gates, that is...not Bill Gates! I'll be attending the first day of his Vinyasa intensive tomorrow...til then!

Tuesday, February 6, 2007

For the Traveling Yogi(ni)

One of the most wonderful aspects of yoga is that it is fully portable—even the mat is optional for spartan travelers.

But...if you're a frequent traveler still working on a serious self-practice, and crave the knowledge and discipline of a formal class, an Om Pass would serve you well. The $14 Om Pass is an international pass designed to help you find "...OM away from home..." at a studio somewhere along your travels—for 15% to 30% off the drop-in class rate.

For complete details, click a link below:

PS: Short-n-sweet today. My dog is really pouting. He hates it when I come home from work and get on the computer instead of devoting my afternoon and evening to him!

Saturday, February 3, 2007

Get Your Crow Flying with Cheeky Yoga Gear

Who says yoga has to be serious? As my teacher Dolly has noted, yoga is supposed to be fun! Switching your practice up a bit helps with this, as does laughing when your Crow takes a nosedive.

Ding-Dong, the Purple Mat is Dead! (I wish)...

If you're tired of the ubiquitous purple mat and Yogitoes* skidless towel, Plank Designs may have just what you're looking for to inspire a not-so-serious yoga practice.

The company, founded by Doreen Hing and Jennifer McKinley, "...is a sophisticated resource of cheeky, unique and beautifully designed accessories for yoga and life." And cheeky they are. And expensive. But, if you're willing to spend...

I think their PlankYoga Mat (see left), of the Photo Series collection, is hysterical. Sure to be a conversation starter when you visit other studios—so if you're shy, or moving to a new place, this might be perfect for helping you break the ice.

Also delectably silly: The Text Series Chocolate Chocolate Chocolate Yoga Mat and matching bamboo Chocolate Towel Set. Are you a foodie-slash-yogini? Does chocolate inspire you (like it does me)? How fun would Downward Facing Dog be with a Chocolate mat underfoot? Again, just another way to lighten up the mood a bit.

Also interesting visually, and possibly back for a very limited engagement: The Deluxe Yoga Mat from Nike—my mat du jour. While I haven't tested any Plank Designs products, I love this Nike mat so much I bought two, and rejoiced when I did, because it sold out on its first run. I've had the least amount of slippage on this mat, even though I'm beginning to realize that with perpetually sweaty palms in the studio, slippage is inevitable. I love this mat—nice neutral colors, interesting design, and the canvas strap rocks! It not only doubles as a yoga strap for your practice, but it makes a perfect cross-body sling for toting your mat hands-free.

Why can't I have a mat collection, like a handbag collection?
I'm seriously considering putting together a mat collection. This flies in the face of bramacharya (moderation), but if it helps me be a better yogini on and off the mat, doesn't that count for something? Wouldn't it be fun to have a little menagerie of mats to match my mood (hell, maybe even my outfit!)? For a yoganista, the mats and the props and the towels are merely accessories to the yoga togs. So, if I'm feeling tired, wouldn't it be cool to have a beautiful, vibrant green mat to roll out in class to wake me up? Honestly, I can totally see myself doing that...I think my friends would probably agree...you never know which me you'll get on any given day. A mat is just an extension of the way I express myself, I suppose.

Anyway, I'm thinking in print. But this is really starting to sound like a lot of fun. And again, that is the point.

* On the subject of Yogitoes, why can't they make one in black or a soft neutral? Grey? Ecru? Cream? Sage? Yeah, yeah—I know the colors match the chakras, but something aesthetically pleasing (for the girl eternally in black) would please my chakras way more than a chakra-matching rainbow color. That's half the reason I don't have one!

Friday, February 2, 2007

Yoga in Everyday Life

Had a session with my trainer at the gym this morning. Post-snow, the gym opened late, the weather is cold and grey, and I've got to get back home and log on to my virtual work environment, which, frankly, I'm dreading. I'm starting to feel less and less interested in work, but that's another story.

Coming out of the gym, a guy that works at the gym asked me how I was doing and held the door for me as I exited. This is not what you think...not a guy being nice with "pick-up" intent. You see this guy is a diminutive soul, and not to sound mean, but he is challenged in some way, physically and possibly mentally (though I could be totally wrong). I'm not quite sure how to describe him physically so that I can capture that. All I can say is this: he asked me how I was with an interest so genuine, I might have thought myself the only living soul around. He looked me straight in the eye, beaming, and waited for my answer. His smile instantly lifted my heart, and his kindness reverberated in me, filling me up with happiness. Isn't it funny how a person like that, who has likely been the brunt of much distress and teasing in his life, can give so freely of himself? And so genuinely?

In yoga teacher training, we talked a lot about being your authentic self, and about Santosha/Santosa (Contentment). This person—I'm going to get his name next time I see him—has obviously found both contentment and authenticity. You can't fake intention like his. And it makes me think of that age-old question: Why am I here? It's a question many of us struggle with when looking at our own lives, or wondering about the disarray of other people's lives (a homeless person, criminals, addicts, etc.). I have no clue why I'm here, and I'm sure most of us don't, at this point in our lives. But I'm not so blind that I can't see the lesson of that guy's life, even if he is unaware: he is an inspiration to others. On a cold and dreary day, he is not at home wallowing in his challenges or shortcomings. He will never be the prominent athlete, or the gorgeous ladykiller. He will never even be of average height. But he is out there, imperfect on the outside, filled with another kind of beauty most of us will never be lucky enough to know.

This is yoga in every life: The ability to radiate kindness, and the ability to see it.

Thursday, February 1, 2007

Snow! And Snow (Yoga) Fashion

Well...it did snow today, but I still got myself to yoga (woo hoo!), then came out of Savasana to a winter wonderland. I like our kind of snow. It's never here more than a couple days. Just enough to love it.

Brrr...Stay Toasty and Stylish
Dressing for yoga when it's freezing outside can be a challenge. Sometimes we get to class and it's still freezing inside, instead of the usual 80 to 85 degrees it should be. So you can't strip down to your class outfit just yet. The key to dressing for wintertime yoga is lots of layers.

Lucy.com has some lovely Ts and hoodies that are excellent for layering. I love these tops!:

For Ugg-mazingly Warm Tootsies
I have a confession: When the Ugg phenomenon swept California, I'm sure they could hear my "Ugh!" all the way over on the West Coast. I just hated these sloppy looking boots. I now stand corrected, and understand exactly why the were all the rage, and why you still see them everywhere. They're perfect for going to yoga, especially when it's cold out—easy to slip on and off. Mind you, they're not waterproof, but they'll get a city girl into the studio dry and warm. At the moment I have some Ugg knockoffs I love, but they're a bit short for capri-length pants. I've got my eye on the Ugg Women's Ultimate Tall II Boot—they look like they might be exactly the right height.