The truth about a home yoga practice

Pose 1.3 Downward facing dog
Pose 1.3 Downward facing dog

If you are waiting for things to be perfect to have a home yoga practice you will never have a home yoga practice.  If you are waiting for a room devoted to yoga, or a full hour to be able to practice every day you will never have a home practice.  The best advice I ever received was practice every day even if you only have 10 minutes.  10 minutes every day is better than an hour once a week.  This serves me well even today.

Before I became a yoga teacher I thought yoga teachers had these perfect home yoga practices.  They must have whole rooms in their house devoted to nothing but their mat, a mediation cushion possibly a Buddha, and a stereo.  They must have these perfect hour-long daily practices at 4am where cares just fall away and they lose track of time they are so in the moment.

Yeah, not true.  Well, I sorta have a yoga room, but it's also sorta filled with boxes and other things too and there are many dust bunnies full of dog hair floating around.  There is a dog that I know I should put in another room, but he sits in the same room watching me.  I normally have time to practice right when I get home from work not early in the morning and I rarely get more than 30 minutes let alone an hour.  The house is normally a disaster zone because even though I'm great at many things, I am not great at keeping a clean house.  There are oodles of distractions around me.  It's just like normal life.  A normal life and a home yoga practice go hand in hand.

Tonight when I got on my mat, I found myself distracted because I was using my least favorite mat (yes, yoga teachers or at least this yoga teachers acquire multiple mats) and I kept slipping. Then I noticed the floor needed cleaning, and the dog being curious about what I was doing. Then I remembered it was about the breath not those other things.  For a few minutes I was able to stay with my breath and then I quickly got distracted again.  I noticed and then I tried to take it inward once again.  I wasn't very grounded tonight.  Getting on my mat and trying in the first place was the reason I noticed.

My message is don't wait for the situation to be perfect, Don't wait until you have enough time.  Just go get on your mat for 10 minutes even if you lay in savasana breathing for all 10 minutes.

Alignment

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IMG_2426

This is a scary post to write.  I'll be honest.  I'm sharing very private feelings with you in a very public forum, but I believe these are important conversations that we are failing to have with one another.  This post is not a cry, it is an acknowledgment that you might be working through these feelings as well and you aren't the only one.  These feelings are uncomfortable, and that doesn't make them bad, in fact I want to get cozy with them so that I will understand.  I want to understand these sharper edges of life, explore the dull ache telling me that something is not right, and dig into the quiet knowledge that there is another way. As a yoga teacher I think and talk a lot about Alignment in the physical body.  My goal is to help students move into postures that allow them to make space in their bodies.   The hope is all of our extra space in the body will create extra space for our souls to breath, explore, create, enjoy and handle what the world throws at us.

After feeling generally not good yesterday I started to think about how maybe not feeling good is a sign that I'm out of alignment not within my body, but out of alignment with a deeper place.  My soul and spirit feel stuck and stagnant.   If I'd covered up my feelings, with various different distractions, I wouldn't have come to that conclusion.

In yoga it can take us years to find the right physical alignment in yoga postures.  I don't think the spiritual space and alignment I'm looking for is going to happen overnight, just like it won't in our physical practice.  It will take more than getting over my cold, a few fifteen minute meditation practices, or hot soaks in the tub (although those things do help!).  Finding the alignment I'm looking for might be unattainable, but the first step is acknowledging a problem even if I can't tell you exactly what that problem or solution is.  What I do know first hand is that the physical practice of yoga is a long bumpy journey.  You don't ever perfect or arrive at a pose, they are new each day.  Some times a pose that normally feels magnificent in all the right ways suddenly feels painful.  If I'm looking for alignment in my spirit and my soul then I'm sure it will be a bumpy journey to find what feels right for me.  

This journey for a deeper spiritual alignment has begun because now that I know there is a problem there is nothing else to do but start walking.

On the surface there is nothing wrong with my life, in fact there is an abundance of greatness.  Greatness includes but is not limited to my wonderful partner, my deep and caring friends, the community that is growing at my studio, the colleagues I work with at my day job, and of course my family.  Once you get past the surface I can tell you there is a storm brewing and it needs to be addressed.  I have a hunch that coming into alignment might take some courage, it might take big steps and leaps of faith, and require me to make big decisions that I'm not yet ready to make.  Maybe I'm not ready to do it all at once, but I'm ready to explore.

I don't plan on inviting you into my thoughts every time I'm thinking this over, I've got much more interesting content I intend on sharing here. Yet, as I ponder this journey for personal alignment, I'll check in once in a while and let you know what I'm doing to find the deeper alignment in my spirit and soul.

Rest Days, my extra long shavasana

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IMG_2426

Shavasana, corpse pose, final relaxation is what I consider the most important pose in all of yoga.  At Greensboro Downtown yoga I require my teachers to give students a minimum 10 minute Shavasana.  Why?  Because in our culture we need rest more than we need anything else.  You all push hard, I know.  I see it, I hear you talk about it, and I watch you pull your tired selves into yoga class and push even though you need rest.  Shavasana helps you find balance.  Push yourself hard in class and then fully relax into a well deserved Shavasana.  It's about balance.  Your body needs to rest.

I need the shavasana too.  Let's just say running a yoga studio, working full-time, running regularly and juggling the demands of life can be difficult to balance, difficult to find the personal shavasana of life.  Yes, I too struggle with balance, ironic for a yoga teacher (it's not lost on me).  Space for Alisha to rest, find peace, relaxation, and free time that is desperately needed to nourish the body and soul.  Those are actually necessary to spur creativity, repair muscles and leave you energized enough to follow through on a demanding schedule.  Shavasana on the mat, shavasana in life, it's a must.

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IMG_2478

What happens when you don't make room for Shavasana in life?  My body is often the signal that puts up a big fat stop sign and forces balance.  The pendulum swung hard this time to force me to stop as I spent the first 3 days of my vacation mostly in bed sore from the race on saturday and nursing the tail end of a cold that will NOT let up.  This year has been a trial, mostly created by my own doing.  There has been little space for rest, recovery, balance and shavasana.

I've been training for last Saturday's 30k since the beginning of the summer.  I struggled a lot during the training for The 2014 Salem Lake 30k.  Finding the time to run seemed more challenging than normal, and emotionally I may be hitting a wall juggling a business and full-time job.  Emotions like to bubble up in your running if you aren't addressing them.  It's just like yoga, you can't ignore reality, you can't push the truth out of mind especially if you are someone in touch with your body.   Have you ever found yourself in tears in shavasana for no apparent reason?  Yeah, that's just like when you have a crappy run, after a crappy run ALL  SUMMER LONG.  They are signs.   Recently the parts of life I try to push down out of mind (even though I know you can't do this) are popping up in my yoga, in my body, in my running.  That's why my running doesn't feel good, it's why yoga feels hard.  You can't hide from yourself.  There comes a time when you need a break, a rest, especially if those things aren't already a regular part of your day or your week.  the Shavasana of life is so important and if you don't get it your body will tell you.  Self time is not something I'm good at working into my own life.    Do you do this?  Do you tell yourself you are fine, you can handle more, you sign up for the PTA meeting, you join the board of the non-profit when you know you don't have the time for, you say yes to the extra project at work that isn't necessary to your job?  All of a sudden you've taken away any "you time" but you think "What the hell, I can handle it".

I knew the wall was coming.  There was some planning for a week off from my day job and subs for all of my yoga classes.  A full week off from the day job, even a plan to go away to the mountain for a most of that time.  So what's the problem?  I let myself get too depleted that when a rest was finally available, my body almost completely shut down.  This lingering cold threatening my dreams of long spells on the yoga mat by myself, shutting down dreams of slow recovery runs in the mountains.  This week I spent A LOT of time in bed.

It took me most of the week to recover, I got a slow bike ride and a slow run in, but mostly it was a prolonged rest, a prolonged Shavasana.  Maybe you can learn from my error?  If your body is talking to you right now, listen.  If you are tired find a way to rest, maybe take the restorative yoga class instead of the power flow. If you don't do it your body will find a way to do it for you.

The Chill Out Hat

Transportation
Transportation

Yesterday evening Tumbleweed was on my front porch staring at my car. An uncomfortable feeling began to creep up in the pit of my stomach, "look at your wheel" he said. "Flat". Ugh, maybe a nail through the tire, I'm not sure. Tumbleweed like the gallant man he is dressed in his button down shirt and good pants began to make a move towards the spare. "Hold up" I protested "we aren't putting the spare on". This was the icing on the cake to a very frustrating week. The type of week where nothing quite falls into place. You say the wrong things (more than once I might add), your running doesn't even feel good, and you get the distinct feeling you are knocking on the wrong doors.  If I'm being honest with myself these feelings of frustration, of feeling out of synch have been going on a lot longer than the past week.

Tumbleweed and I stood looking at my car not saying anything for more than a few minutes, It wasn't dramatic, but it put us both into a state of reflection.  It's just a flat tire, worse things have happened, but this was a sign. This was a big fat, red stop sign plowing into me and I knew I needed to digest the lesson.

You might say I'm crazy, but this flat tire was asking me to look at something other than my flat tire.  It was saying "Wake Up!"

It was saying...

Alisha You've hit a limit. There is only one of you! You don't need to be productive every single minute of every day." Why do you think you need to move, move, move and do, do, do?!"

My mind was thinking of plan B as I stood in front of my 14 year old dirty VW with a dumb look across my face.  I was reflecting, knowing that leaving the car parked for a least a day would be the best medicine I could take to break out of my funk. I have a bike, I have two strong legs, I'm sick and tired of rushing around everywhere trying to do everything, trying to check a million items off of my to do list.

I could not think of a single good reason to fix the tire immediately. We took Tumbleweed's car, got a bottle of fix a flat and went to Green Valley Grill to split a bottle of wine and call it at evening. I'll use the fix a flat Monday and fill up the tire, drop the car off at Firestone on the way to work.

In the mean time I rode to teach yoga today. I had to slow down, I couldn't just run out the door and start a car.  I had to be present and plan a bit more.  Where was my helmet, bike lock, did I want to stop for breakfast after yoga?  Was I dressed properly, did I have everything I needed.   A bike slows you down causes you to focus on the moment at hand, see the pavement beneath you, the air on your face, the climate of the day, of the hour, it's a mediation of immeasurable value.  It's a perfect pause button.

later I may ride out to visit Tumbleweed 15 miles down the rd. I may decide to take a nap. I've already spent the better part of the last two hours at deep roots enjoying a leisurely brunch and coffee while I pondered this post, something I enjoy but rarely allow myself the time to do.

The many hats I wear have me going every which way, it's all my own doing, and I'm aware of that.  I love my hobbies and I'm fiercely competitive at work and sometimes play, but there comes a time you have to say "ENOUGH!".  The flat tire reminded me it's really ok to hit the pause button. Rest is just as important as work and productivity.  Just like running, cycling or yoga you can't get stronger if you don't take your rest days!  You can't get innovative or creative unless you take time out to rest and reflect. I know that intuitively and through experience, but often I need to be reminded.

What calls you out?  What helps you hit the pause button?  How do you slow down when you know you are going the wrong speed?

I'm taking inventory of the many aspects of life today and I'm only going to do what feels really good and really right.  I'm going to finish this blog post, pedal home and then decide if it's a nap that feels best.  I'd encourage you to take inventory too, to stop and do what feels best to you.

Wearing the "Chill out Hat" yours, -Alisha

5 beginner poses: Series 2

This is the second post in my series on beginner yoga poses. to recap...Recently I’ve gotten many questions about good poses or asana’s for beginners. I’d like to first say that I don’t think there is any substitute for going to an honest to goodness beginner class. Finding a teacher who is in the same room with you, looking at what you are doing, making sure that you aren’t doing something that could cause an injury is critical. A teacher who is being present with you, listening for your breath, sensing the energy of the room is worth their weight in gold. That said I know it’s not always possible to get to a class. I’m going to do a series of posts in the next four weeks of my favorite beginner poses. Try them out. See how they feel in your skin, release self judgment, release the idea of thinking these postures need to look a certain way. I promise they don’t need to look a certain way. It only matters how they feel in your body. If you can go find a class! Go find a good teacher, just use this as a supplement.

You don’t always need an hour to practice, try starting with 10 minutes a day right when you get up or right before you go to bed. Listen to your body! If something hurts don’t do it! Yoga should never ever hurt! Find your edge and don’t push past it. You are the only one who knows how things feel in your body, honor that. Yoga is not a competition not even with yourself. These are just suggestions. Get curious about what is going on in your body and in your mind. Use this practice of yoga to start a love affair with yourself.

The next five poses I'd like to introduce are mostly standing poses.

Standing Forward Fold
Standing Forward Fold
Standing forward fold with shoulder opener
Standing forward fold with shoulder opener

1) Standing Forward Fold and Standing Forward Fold with Shoulder Opener: Stand at the top of your mat, feet directly underneath your hip sockets.  Toes of both feet point towards the top of your mat.  Let your upper body fold forward over your legs.  don't lock your knees especially if you have tight hamstrings.  This pose will help stretch your hamstrings, but sometimes you can get a deeper stretch if you put a little bend in the knees.  Let your head be heavy and hang down.  You can let your arms dangle hanging down or you can grab your elbows and hang forward or you can swing the arms back and forth.  The point is to let gravity do the work.  Let the low back relax, don't try to hold anything.  If you want to try the shoulder opener which is great if you sit at a desk all day, simply interlace the fingers together back behind you and fold forward trying to open the arms to where ever they go.  Don't push past your edge.  Hold each pose for at least 10 breaths.

Downward Facing Dog
Downward Facing Dog

2) Downward Facing Dog: This is one of my top three all time favorite poses.  This one is sneaky because it's also an inversion!  Surprise your head is below your heart, so not only are you getting a ton of benefits already you also get the benefit of an inversion!  You might even say it's an advanced pose, but it's a foundational pose and you should try it.  This is basically an upside down V.  You are stretching, strengthening and in some cases taking an active rest when you play in downward facing dog.  This is a pose that takes me home to my body.  This pose will also stretch your hamstrings, it will strengthen your arms, it's great for your back, arms and legs.  Try coming up to the pose from a table top position (knees under your hips hand planted on the ground under your shoulders).  Then tuck your toes, lift your hips and behind up towards the ceiling.  You are pushing back with your arms.  You are spreading your fingers wide out on the mat.  Try to evenly distribute your weight between your arms and your legs.  Let you head be very heavy don't try to lift it up, let it hang.  Let your vertebra relax, find space in the spine and the low back.  The point of this is not to make your back flat.  you want to keep the curves in the lumbar as well as the neck.  If you are new to this pose try hanging out for 5 full breaths, work up to 10 or 20.  There is so much that you can do with this pose.  You can pedal your feet.  You can be still.  IF you are new to down dog this will not feel good at first, it will be hard and that's ok.  Breath into the shape, some day it will just click and it will start to feel magical with all of the benefits it brings to your body.  Make this posture your own.

Wide Leg Straddle
Wide Leg Straddle
Wide Leg Straddle w/ right twist
Wide Leg Straddle w/ right twist
Wide Leg Straddle with Twist Left
Wide Leg Straddle with Twist Left

3) Wide Leg Straddle and Wide Leg Straddle with a Twist: This is a fun pose that will bring strength to your legs with the benefit of an inversion and if you add the twist it feels great.  Open your legs wide on the mat 3-4 feet apart with feet pointing straight out.   The sides of your feet should be parallel to the sides of your mat.  Lift arms up and then fold forward.  If your hands touch the ground place your hands directly underneath your shoulders.  Legs stay as straight as you can get them.  Your feet should be firmly planted.  If you feel grounded and strong try the twist.  Take your right arm over to the left ankle and lift the left arm to the sky.  Then repeat on the other side.  Try holding each variation for 10 breaths.  To come out, come back to the wide leg straddle without the twist.  Bring your hands to your hips and lift half way.  Pause for 5 breaths and then come all the way up.  Heal-toe the feet together into the middle of your mat and wait for your blood pressure to come back to normal.

High Runners Lunge
High Runners Lunge

4) High Runners Lung: This pose will test your balance and strengthen your legs:  From your standing forward fold plant your hands down on either side of your feet and step your right foot back.  You will be up on the toes of the right foot.  Front Knee should be directly over top of the ankle and you should be able to see the big toe on the inside of the left knee.  Eventually you will want your front thigh to be parallel to the ground.  Lift arms up over head and lift the rib cage away from the hips.  Keep the back leg as straight as you can get it.  Start with 3 breathes in this pose and work up to 10 or 20.

Squat
Squat

5) Squat: Ok, the benefits of squatting are innumerable, but as my teacher taught me I'll tell you.  The cultures that squat do not have the digestive and reproduction issues that americans have.  We need to squat more!  Squat down, plant your heels down on the mat if they will touch (mine don't as you can see, but maybe yours will!) take your elbows to your knees and hands together at heart center.  hang out for as many breaths as you can and work up to a LOT!  Don't forget your smile!

To review last week's beginner pose check out this link

Let us know how your practice is going.  Is this helpful.  Is there anything you would add after trying?  We'd love to hear from you!