Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Be Present

As a yoga teacher, yep, you guessed it, I spend a lot of my time driving around town. 

Although much of my teaching time, I find myself repeatedly reminding students to focus on the breath, let outside thoughts go and be present, while driving around town, I go over check lists in my mind or do a self review of the class I just taught or wonder why a student was giving me a funny look and on and on....

Not being present in my daily life. Not being present just driving down the road or walking the dog or even at the grocery store. I've noticed this more recently as I have caught myself slamming on my brakes or almost missing an exit, or not noticing the 2 dogs on my neighbor's f lawns as George (my beloved black lab) and I trot right up to them or the many times that I've forgotten why I went to the store in the first place. 

Even in class. It does happen. There are those days when I'm more distracted than others-taking class and teaching class. But those days when I let the mind be free and focus on the breath, just enjoying being there, those are always the most fulfilling. 

Since the last time I slammed on my brakes, I have made a pact with myself to become more present in my life. In yoga class and not in yoga class. works!

One of my favorite feelings after teaching a class is wondering where the time went, feeling like, even as the teacher, I got a break from my outside concerns. When I get that feeling after a class, it's my way of recognizing and knowing that I was present with my students. Believe me, the students can feel that too and it definitely feels better to them!

Today while walking George, right on my neighbor's lawn, right here in Cleveland Heights, there was a deer. Just hanging out and I am so glad that I was present enough to notice. 

So, my advice is to soak it all in. Enjoy & celebrate each moment. We can't change the past and the future is unknown, and the present, well, it is a gift. Breathe it in and enjoy, it's one thing that we can know for sure. 


Sunday, June 3, 2012

Competitive Yoga

When I found yoga many, many years ago - I was surrounded by no one. With the help of VHS taps and a few books I practiced at home, alone, at least once a day. I would day dream of the day I could go to a "real" studio and study under a live teacher. It was the dream, and one I couldn't wait to fulfill.

Now it's many years later and if you walk down the street of any major (or minor) city you will find yoga everywhere. In studios, in ashrams, in gyms, in apartment complexes - yoga is main stream. If we lived in India I can guess accurately it would be very different, but here in the old United States it has become the "it" exercise to do.

Do you yoga?
Where do you yoga?
What are you wearing when you yoga?
Who do you yoga with?

I like to call this "Competitive Yoga."

I am 100% against competitive yoga, or competitiveness in general. Just like I can guess accurately without ever have visiting India that the yoga scene is very different than here - I can guess accurately that when being competitive in a practice like yoga - you are setting yourself up for failure.

If you MUST be competitive, complete only with yourself.

The practice of yoga exists to help you connect with yourself - the word translates as "to yoke". Combining the breath with the movement of your body and the chaos of your mind - it brings all of your frayed parts back together and units you as one person. By challenging yourself, you can open up new avenues into your life, release past baggage, and expand your wings.

By competing with others you set yourself up for frustration, the need for approval and a long bout of life where you will be angry, aggravated and most certainly - never happy.

Don't be fooled by the glitz and glamor of this over saturated yoga market - be pulled in by the teachers who care and want to help guide you on to your path to find your true self. Let go of the "who, where, why, when, how" and concentrate on the you.

There is no judgement in yoga - only release.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Yoga Gives Me a Sense of Control

Yoga Gives Me a Sense of Control
By April

It is hard to believe that it has been almost three months since I lost the baby I so desperately wanted.
At first, I complained about having to wait three months before trying to conceive again. Now that the
time has passed, I realize that I really did need to heal physically and emotionally.

As we prepare to start trying again, I’m worried about losing another baby or it taking almost another
year before we even get pregnant. The past year has been such a roller coaster that I can’t help but
expect the worse. There are two things that have kept me sane throughout this process: writing and
practicing yoga.

Writing gives me a place to explore and discuss my concerns and fears and struggles. There aren’t many people who know or understand my miscarriage, so writing is like my free therapist.

Yoga, on the other hand, has given me control over my body. For the past year, I’ve felt like my
hormones were so out of whack. I almost didn’t even recognize myself anymore. I gained weight and
started breaking out like a teenager. Yoga keeps me from feeling helpless.

When I practice every day, I remember that while I can’t control when or if I have a baby, I can control
how I treat my body. I can make myself as healthy as possible for the child I hope to bear, and I can keep my mind calm and focused. I don’t have to feel out of control.

I don’t know what will happen in the next few months, but I know I am strong enough to handle
whatever life throws my life. Let’s just hope it’s a healthy pregnancy.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

This practice of yoga does work

We contort ourselves, twist ourselves, turn ourselves upside down & back again.

People may think we're crazy, but we're fine tuning our body. Fine tuning our body leads us to a calm the breath. 

Take a deep breath in. 

Yoga does work. This action and practice on the mat leads us to different actions or reactions of the mat. We find that we are not so quick to react negatively or angrily to things. Our heart is more open to others, which in turn sets an example to others, shows them that there are positive, loving people out there. 

Ever notice an angry or upset person? Their breath is short, huffy & quick. 

Take a deep breath in. 

Create a chain reaction of love & openness and, eventually, that chain will make its way back to you, give you love, happiness and peace. 

An openness of spirit. A union of people in love and support. 

We are all worth it. 

This practice of yoga does work & each time we step on our mats, we open our body, we open our mind and we open our heart & spirit to love. 

Enjoy this blessing.

Hari om~om tat sat
Immerse yourself in unconditional love & saturate yourself in unlimited consciousness.


Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Self-Awareness & the mind-stuff

In yoga there 5 koshas - veils - that shroud us on this humanly plane:

1. Annamaya kosha - food
2. Pranamaya kosha - air
3. Manomaya kosha - the mind-stuff
4. Vijnanamaya kosha - wisdom
5. Anandamaya kosha - bliss

While all of these effects throughout our lives, Manomaya kosha probably affects us the most. This is the veil that shrouds our mind judgments. The mind can hold us in chains, but it can also set us free. That is why, in yoga, we practice self-awareness.

The hardest part about being yourself is self-doubt. People and things can be a constant reminder of past wrongs and the people we used to be. On those days like those, I come to my mat and I remind myself that we, human beings, judge other solely as we see ourselves.

Instead of taking commentary and criticism from people, I remind myself that this world is bigger than "me"and in knowing that I accept who I am, wholly and completely, that I am doing all I can and should.

Through the practice of self-awareness, we can begin to sift though the messes in our mind and see what is really out there. We can reflect, gain perspective, quiet the reactionary self that attacks instead of listens and shift our perspective to a more positive one.

Self-awareness is like anything else in this world, the more you practice, the easier it becomes. The next time you are in yoga class draw your mind to your breath and to yourself. Don't mind what's happening around you, stay on your mat and inside of your heart. Reflect on your intention, and the theme of the class - reflect on why you showed up on your mat that day, whatever the reason may be. And after savasana, when you have om'd our last om, take a moment with yourself. How you live life on your mat should be reflected in your life off of it.

Prayer is where we ask the questions, and meditation is where we receive the answers.
It all lies within the self.

Friday, April 13, 2012

Yoga Reminds Me There is Nothing I Can’t Handle

By guest blogger April

Over the past month, I’ve kept myself busy and distracted. Instead of dwelling on the baby we lost, I’ve been focusing on improving my health, career, and relationships. I was starting to think that I was healing from the miscarriage faster than I expected. Then, this week happened…

It all started off with a piece of mail and a family game night. The hospital finally sent the bill for the surgery, and that little piece of paper brought back all the emotions I’ve been avoiding. Later that night, I was forced to spend hours next to my sister-in-law’s adorable pregnant belly. Our babies were supposed to be three months apart. It’s hard not to think about how big our baby would be right now every time I see how much her belly has grown.

The next day, I had to go to my follow-up appointment for the D&C. When I first got there, I was the only patient in the waiting room, so I sat quietly enjoying the calming music and an old magazine. I tried not to think about the reason why I was sitting in that waiting room. Then, three pregnant couples came in and changed everything. They were talking about where they plan to deliver and looking at photo albums of cute babies the doctor had previously delivered. As they all basked in the glory of expecting, I sat there trying to fight back tears.

The only thing that kept me from sobbing in the middle of that waiting room was yoga breathing. I put my hand on my belly and focused on slowly inhaling and exhaling. I learnt that it is extremely difficult to cry and breathe properly at the same time. I might have looked a bit silly since I prefer to close my eyes when I’m focusing on my breathing, but it was less embarrassing that crying about my miscarriage in front of several happy pregnant couples. 

I learnt two things this month: 1) Healing takes time. Most days I’m strong and moving forward, but sometimes, little things like a pregnant woman’s belly or hospital bill can bring on the waterworks. 2) Yoga truly is relaxing and medicinal. When I feel like I’m losing control, I remember the things that yoga has taught me: relaxation, focus, awareness, balance, and strength. Yoga reminds me that there is nothing I can’t handle. 

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

My experience with Navratri

At the beginning of the month, I attended what is called Navratri or nine nights at a local yoga studio. Every evening during these nine nights, devotees come together to worship the Goddess Durga (Goddess of the Sacred Female Power) and her different forms. Now, I had never been to one of these gatherings before, but had always been curious. This celebration occurs twice a year in days that are close to the spring & fall equinox, so the next one will be in September/October if you are curious.

Each night we did 3 different chants: the Mahamrityunjaya mantra, the Gayatri mantra both 108 times and then we would chant the 32 names of Durga 9 times. These chants are supposed to help us clean out the maya (veils) of ego and whatever other muck and remove difficulties that we've been experiencing and been carrying around with us and make room for us to gain clarity, spiritual knowledge and prosper.

At first, I felt like I was fumbling over the words even though I had my mantra sheet gripped in my hands...but then as I kept chanting and feeling the rhythm, the words started to just flow off my tongue and it was really almost like entering a trance like state. I have to admit, I hadn't heard two of the mantras, but the Gayatri mantra we had chanted in my yoga teacher training. But even that sounded completely different as we were chanting it in a completely different rhythm. By the ninth night though, I could close my eyes and make it through the first two mantras pretty well. The 32 names of Durga was not as easy to remember, and I was still fumbling on that last night, but that's okay.

After we finished the 108 times of the two mantras and the nine times of the names of Durga, a little hand drum was pulled out and we did some kirtan and sang to whichever version of Durga we were worshiping that evening...Kali or Lakshmi or Durga. It was really quite moving. I found myself tearing up a bit. It felt good to just to release through singing with these other people in this joyous way. The energy just overtook me.

I have always wanted to go to a kirtan concert and although this was different from that, finding how much love and energy just explodes out of this chanting and singing, I believe I will finally make my way now. I encourage you to give it a shot sometime, you may just surprise yourself.

At the end of the last night, Swami Atmarupa, who was leading these sessions told us that it is actually encouraged that we chant all 3 of these mantras every single day 11 times each right when we wake up to "cleanse" ourselves before starting our day. Even before we get out of bed.

Here are the Mahamrityunjaya & Gayatri mantras along with their translations if you are interested:

Mahamrityunjaya Mantra

Om Tryumbakam Yajamahe
Sugandhim Pushtivardhanam
Urvarukamiva Bandhanan
Mrityor Mukshiya Maamritat

We meditate on the Three-eyed reality
Which permeates and nourishes all like a fragrance.
May we all be liberated from death for the sake of immortality,
Even as the cucumber is severed from bondage to the creeper.

Gayatri mantra

Om Bhur Bhuva Svaha
Tat Savitur Varenyam
Bhargo Devasya Dhimahi
Dhiyo Yo Nah Pracodayat
Om Swaha

We meditate on the Divine Light of the radiant source.
May that inspire our hearts and our thoughts.
O, nourishing solitary traveler, controller, source of life for all creatures spread your light
And subdue your dazzling splendor so that I may see your blessed self.
Even that very self I am.

As for the 32 names of Durga, here they are:
Durga (The reliever of difficulties), Durgatirsamini (who puts difficulties at peace), Durgapadvinivarini (dispeller of difficult adversaries), Durgamacchedini (who cuts down difficulty), Durgasadhini (performer of discipline to expel difficulties), Durganasini (destroyer of difficulty), Durgatoddharini (who holds the whip of difficulties), Durgenihantri (who sends difficulties to ruin), Durgamapaha (who measures difficulties), Durgamajnanada (who makes difficulties unconscious), Durgadaityalokadavanada (who is fire for mighty tree like demon civilization), Durgama (mother of difficulties), Durgamaloka (perception of difficulties), Durgamatmasvarupini (the intrinsic nature of the soul of difficulties), Durgamargaprada (who searches through the difficulties), Durgamavidya (the knowledge of difficulties), Durgamasrita (the extrication from difficulties), Durgamajnanasamsthana (the continued existence of difficulties), Durgamadhyanabhasini (whose meditation remains brilliant when in difficulties), Durgamoha (who deludes difficulties), Durgamaga (who resolves difficulties), Durgamasurasanhantri (the annihilator of the egotism of difficulties), Durgamayudhadharini (bearer of the weapon against difficulties), Durgamangi (the refinery of difficulties), Durgamata (who is beyond difficulties), Durgamya (this present difficulty), Durgamesvari (the empress of difficulties), Durgabhima (who is terrible to difficulties), Durgabhama (the lady to difficulties), Durgabha (the illuminator of difficulties), Durgadarini (who cuts off difficulties).

I hope that you too can find clarity and feel any difficult times disappear.

Om shanti~Marcia

Monday, March 19, 2012

There is no sin in self-love

Sometimes, life feels like a box and we're trapped inside. Circumstances build upon circumstances and one day we wake up not sure where we are at or even how we got there, but the one thing we do know is we feel trapped.

Maybe it's a job that we don't like, but the pay seems "too good" to pass up, or a relationship with someone you've known for a long time that has become toxic over the ages that you can't leave because you've been "friends forever". In the end our voice has shrunk and we sit by waiting for divine intervention unsure it it will ever come, scared and seemingly alone.

But we are never really alone.

People say that it's the little things that matter, because it's true, the good just like the bad. The small bad moments grown and build until we can no longer wait for divine intervention, we have to speak up about what is right for us.
We must stand up for ourselves.

Divine intervention comes to you in the from of loved ones that offer you support during these times, or maybe a surge of strength when you can't take any more, but it does come, it is around you so know that the darkest hour truly is just before the dawn and that most people give up five minutes before success would be theirs.

Some may feel guilty for standing their own ground, like they aren't as important as the rest of the world, but you are - we are all important. Protecting who we are from the damages of negativity is worth the time.

Today realize the box you feel locked in is actually unlock. Lift the lid, stand up for yourself and spread your wings.
Everything will be okay.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Finding balance in an unbalanced world

There is often so much going on around us that it's hard to find balance. Between careers, school, family, friends, housekeeping, bills and on and on and on, many of us end up feeling tired, stressed, out of whack and most definitely out of balance.

In our yoga practice, it's all about balance. Not just standing on one leg balance (although that is welcome too), but finding evenness in the breath, finding focus in the mind, finding a balance between muscular energy and organic energy and yes, even finding balance in the balancing postures. We come to our mats to help us create and find that balance and bring it to our daily lives. When we take the time to consciously breathe and find that time for ourselves, we find that we can find the focus and figure out the balance in our daily lives.

When we fall down on our mat, we get up, brush ourselves off and try again. If we do this enough times, perhaps, when we fall down in life, we will do the same. It's all just a practice and we keep on learning with every step.

A simple breathing technique to find that balance in the breath is sama vritti or "same change". So, as you inhale through your nose, count your breath in. As you "change" the breath, or exhale, also through the nose, try to find the same count. Do this for several rounds. You are welcome to incorporate ujjayi breath for this practice also. You should start to feel yourself settling down and finding some focus and balance, not only in your breath, but in your body and mind.

For a balancing posture to practice, give vrksasana or tree pose a try. Stand firmly on your left leg, bring the bottom of your right foot to the inside of your left leg, anywhere except the knee. Open your right knee out to the side, so that the hip is opening. Stand tall, draw your shoulders back, draw the navel towards the spine and bring your palms together at your heart or raise them above your head. Breathe. Take 5-8 breaths here and then switch sides.

Like trees, we need to firmly plant ourselves in the ground and then we can bend and blow in the wind.

As B.K.S. Iyengar says, "Yoga, an ancient but perfect science, deals with the evolution of humanity. This evolution includes all aspects of one's being, from bodily health to self-realization. Yoga means union - the union of body with consciousness and consciousness with the soul. Yoga cultivates the ways of maintaining a balanced attitude in day-to-day life and endows skill in the performance of one's actions."


Monday, March 12, 2012

Yoga is Healing Me

Yoga is Healing Me
By Guest blogger April

As a child, I was obsessed with dance and cheerleading. I loved feeling strong and flexible. As I got older and began “working out,” I feel in love with yoga. Not only was it relaxing and toning, but it reminded me of my favorite childhood activities. For years, I experimented with different yoga videos and routines I found online. I tried yoga for weight-loss, yoga for stress relief, A.M. yoga, etc. Then, life would get hectic and I would lose track of my workout schedule, but whenever I was feeling bad about my body or life, I always returned to yoga.

I recently experienced one of the most difficult obstacles in my life. After almost a year of trying to
conceive, I finally got pregnant. My husband and I were so excited. We started working on the nursery
and planning for the future. Then, we went to the first ultrasound and came out crying. After weeks
of blood tests and repeat ultrasounds, the doctor confirmed that I had a missed miscarriage. At three
months pregnant, I was devastated to find out we lost the baby.

For the first few weeks, I just cried. I needed a way to deal with these emotions, so I finally returned to
yoga. I went to the bookstore and bought a book on the practice. I was relieved to find that yoga has
actually helped many women conceive. I started doing the routines at home and instantly started to
feel better. Needing more, I joined a gym that offers several yoga classes. My mood and my attitude
have become much more positive. Some days, I still feel sad or angry, but yoga has given me back some control. We aren’t allowed to start trying to conceive again for a few months, but I am using that time to improve my health by practicing yoga. I’m now more confident that we will eventually have a healthy pregnancy and baby.



If there is one thing we can count on it's change.

The color of our hair. The car that we drive. The place that we live. The people we call "friends".
Change displaces the things we swear we know and some we didn't even realize was there. It is the current of our stream. It is the jucieness that weaves in and out of everything and just like change to life, juicy to change is a constant too.

But while juicy change can some times be fun - it can also bleed you dry.

Pulling the essence of ourselves from the bones of our lives until we don't know who we are. Doubt creeps in and then its nothing but long wakeful nights trying to figure out what you did to deserve fate that was brought upon you.

How you are wrong.
You are being punished for your mistakes.
And then... there it is... you are bad.

But that's not true. You're not bad, you're not wrong, you didn't do anything - you're human and humans mess things up. They say the wrong thing and forget to listen and get flustered and scared when things begin to change.
When we let doubt creep into our lives, into our heads and into our hearts we quickly forget the one thing we should always remember - who we are.

Who are you?

I bet you're amazing and even more, I know that you are. Don't let those juicy moments of change become some burden of doubt. Don't let it take you from you - because you're here for a reason. We all are. And yes, maybe at times seeing that reason clearly is harder than finding the proverbial 'needle in a hay stack' - but underneath all of that baggage is you.

Beautiful, smart, fun-loving, perfectly perfect you.

Spend this week celebrating you. Loving you. Being you. And know while change is a constant, your essence is too.


Monday, March 5, 2012

Inspiring Yogi-Jennifer Martinez Atzberger


Interview with Jennifer Martinez Atzberger, Founder of Urban Lotus Youth Yoga

RYJ: What made you interested in yoga?

Jennifer: I started practicing yoga for stress relief.  I was in a very high stress job and I had just had my first child, my daughter.  Honestly, I used to drink wine after work to relax, but with a baby that wasn’t really practical anymore.  I went with a friend and thought we were going to be doing some gentle stretches. I strolled into a hot powerful flow class.  I was not in great shape at that point and it was incredibly hard! By the end, I was a puddle of sweat on the floor. As I lay there the teacher read this passage, I don’t remember the whole thing, but the last line was, “You are not broken; you do not need to be fixed.”  I loved that, and just knew somehow that I had been meant to come that night and hear it.  After that I was hooked. 
RYJ: Do you have any special stories about yoga or anyone you’ve worked with?

Jennifer: I have so many.  Every time I walk into a yoga experience I am amazed by how much it has to offer. What I was not expecting was how many positive people it would bring into my life.  I went to teacher training thinking it might help to improve my practice and give me the skills to teach kids.  I left having created a bond with people that changed my life.  I met some really amazing and talented people that are now my dearest friends, and some of the people that I admire most in this world.

RYJ: Do you have a style of yoga you feel drawn to? 

Jennifer: I started out doing vinyasa “flow” yoga, which is really just a hybrid of many different hatha yoga traditions, but I enjoyed the focus on connecting the breath to the movement.  I really find that every style has something to offer.  I enjoy the challenge of Ashtanga, but I also appreciate the spirituality of and compassion of the Jivamukti tradition. Right now I am enjoying slowing things down.  I tend to go to more “Slow Flow” practices so that I can move more mindfully and breathe deeper.  Philosophically, my teacher came from the Tantric tradition.  He really spoke to me in terms of the divine being inside all of us, and the concept of “household yoga” being the next wave.  I see yoga as something that is for everyone, regardless of sex, race, or religion.

RYJ: A lot of people will say, "Yoga changed my life." Do you feel with that way? Why or why not?

Jennifer: I do feel that yoga changed my life. Not to be a cliché, but it really did.  It didn’t change who I am as a person, but it has really opened me up to the voice inside.  It also led me to interact with certain people I would not have normally encountered.  Those relationships have changed my life as well.

RYJ: Do you think yoga benefits people with mental and physical handicaps? Why or why not?

Jennifer: For a person struggling with mental health or physical challenges it can be a means to finding some self love. Yoga can be so healing and therapeutic.  In the end, it does not matter how many tricks you can do with your body, it is what you learn about breathing deeply and letting go of expectations that leads to a happy life.  Learning to be ok with who you are is one of the greatest gifts of yoga. 

RYJ: What are the advantages of practicing yoga?

Jennifer: Yoga can create physical health, mental clarity, and relaxation.  It also allows you to spend time with people who are trying to follow a path of kindness and compassion in this world. My teacher often quoted his teacher as saying, “You are the company you keep, so keep good company.”

RYJ: What are the disadvantages of practicing yoga?

Jennifer: Yoga can open you up and expose you to some things you may have been repressing.  Breaking through layers of denial has its downside.  It challenges your assumptions and pushes you out of your comfort zone. 

And yoga is also expensive.  Yes, you can practice on your own, but first you need to learn from others for many years.  This is one of the reasons I was inspired to start a non-profit organization that brings free yoga to children in the inner-city.  It is just not available to them right now, and it should be.  I started by teaching to the girls in our local detention center because I had worked with them as an attorney and I knew they could benefit from yoga.  After class they would ask me how they could find yoga when they got out.  I didn’t have any good answers. I knew it would be hard for them to find in their neighborhoods, and even if they could find a studio, it would be too expensive for them to go regularly. That’s when I decided to bring it to them in their schools, and through community organizations for free.  

RYJ: What is your favorite thing about being a yoga teacher?

Jennifer: I love teaching because it takes you out of your own head for a while and asks you to be totally selfless.  You can’t teach class thinking about what you want.  Ideally, you are all eyes on your students, trying to feel what they need and make sure they are moving in a way that is safe, and hopefully really feels good for them. It is also creative in a way.  You get to choose the sequence of poses almost like a dance.  Some days you have it all planned out, others you can be very improvisational. The best part though, is that you get to make people feel good. When I walk into a class at the detention center, often the girls look so stressed out and angry or sad.  To see them start to smile and have some fun, and maybe by the end look a little relaxed and happy, that is an amazing thing to have accomplished.

If your students could walk away with one message from you that is close to your heart, what would it be? 

You are not a bad person because of your imperfections.  In fact, it is those very imperfections that make this life interesting, and add to this amazing cloth of life we are all woven into together.

Or, I guess, “you are not broken; you do not need to be fixed.”

Jennifer’s style of yoga is Vinyasa yoga, meaning flowing movement from one asana to the next, with the breath always leading the way. She is inspired by the Tantric philosophy that embraces and celebrates our differences while recognizing that we are all inter-connected by a higher divine existence. She believes that yoga is for everyone and that the more people that practice yoga the better world we all will share.  To that end, she teaches in local Cleveland studios as well as teaching free yoga classes to children in detention centers and schools where she is both humbled and inspired by her students.  She believes that yoga not only heals our bodies, but helps us to open our hearts and gives us the strength to live a more meaningful life.

She is also an attorney with the Legal Aid Society of Cleveland where she works on behalf of children and families. She founded Urban Lotus Youth Yoga, a non-profit organization that provides free yoga classes to inner-city youth,  

Jennifer received her 200 teacher hour certification through Yoga Alliance in May of 2010, studying with Mitchel Bleier and Tammy Lyons at Inner Bliss yoga studio, in Rocky River, Ohio. Her other greatest teachers are her husband and children who support and motivate her to be a better person every day.

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Let's talk hips...

We've all either been or seen that student in yoga class that has tears flowing down her (or his, but I've definitely seen it more from the ladies) face, just to overhear this student say to their friend after class, "Those hip openers really got to me today."

Yup, the hips, the keeper of our emotions.

The hips are part of the pelvic girdle: the ilium (back part of the hip bone), the ischium (uppermost & largest part of the pelvis), the iliac crest, the pubis and the hip joint. Not counting the numerous ligaments, membranes, and cartilage that also comprise the pelvic girdle.

The hip joint is a synovial joint between the acetabulum of the hip bone and the head of the femur. This joint is what allows the movement of the hips in yoga asana. You can find flexion (decreasing the area between the bones of a limb at a joint), extension (increasing the area between the bones of a limb at a joint), adduction (bringing in closer to the midline of the body), abduction (bringing away from the midline of the body) and rotation through this joint.

It's no wonder emotions & stress can find a place to hide in this area of the body! Ever notice how tight people's (or your) hips get?

Here are a few poses to help you loosen and open those pesky hips...tears are optional!

Be sure to warm up with several rounds of sun salutations and standing postures like Warrior 1 & 2, triangle pose and extended side angle (all of which are standing hip openers).

Anjaneyasana or low lunge: step your left foot back, extending the leg long, with the knee to the floor, top of the foot comes to the floor. The right leg is bent, foot pointing forward. Walk your hands up the right knee, inhale and lift the chest, find some length in your spine. Hook your thumbs in front of you and inhale your arms up, lifting the chest and exhale, lunge into the right leg. Take 5 breaths here. Exhale your hands down and switch sides.

Baddha Konasana or cobbler's pose: Sitting on the floor, draw your knees in towards you with your feet on the floor. Open your knees wide and bring the soles of the feet together. Grabbing onto the big toes, open your feet so that the soles of the feet are directed up towards the sky (if available to you). Draw the heels in as close to the pelvis as possible. Inhale, lift your chest and look up. Draw the naval towards the spine and exhale, lead with the chest and chin (helping to maintain a straight spine), draw your heart center towards your toes. If your elbows are resting on the insides of your thighs, you can gently press down and back. If your hips are tight (your knees may be lifted pretty far off the ground), you can put blankets or blocks under your knees to relieve some of the pressure from your hips. Take 5-8 breaths in this position and come up and on inhale. Repeat, but for the second pose, round the spine, drawing the 3rd eye or forehead towards your toes. Take 5-8 breaths here and then come up on an inhale.

Agni Stambasana or fire log pose: You may also have heard this pose called double pigeon.
From baddha konasana, stack the right shin on top of the left. Ideally, the heel of the right foot will be just past the left knee. Both feet are flexed. If the hips are tighter and you have quite a bit of space between the knees and the hips, you may put a blanket or block in that space until your hips become more flexible. If this is enough for you, place your hands on the floor directly behind you and breathe. Or, I like to press my thumbs into my hip creases here, give it a shot, it may feel good to you, it may not. If you would like to go farther, inhale, lift your chest, draw the naval in and exhale, walk your hands in front of your legs, folding forward. Try to draw your chest past your legs. Take several breaths in this position and then inhale, slowly come up. Switch sides.

These are just a few, for some more poses that help out your hips, check out this page at Yoga Journal:

As a reminder, everybody's body is different. For some, their hips are already pretty open and these poses seem easy. For others, it can take a long time to get the hips open. Just be patient with yourself and keep trying, they will eventually become more flexible. Listen to your body and don't force anything.

Happy practice!


Monday, February 27, 2012


This painting is one of my very favorites ever to be created. Painted by Frederic Edwin Church around 1860 "Twilight in the Wilderness" is a combination of many outdoor spots that Mr. Church loved about America. (If you're a Clevelander, it is housed at the Art Museum)

I noticed "Twilight in the Wilderness" in my late teens and became obsessed with it as I grew up. If there was a first moment I meditated it was while I viewed this painting.

The museum was kind enough to position a bench directly in front of it and when my life went out of whack I would make my way there, plop down and stare into this oil covered canvas wilderness. Seeking out each little sparrow, creature, rock, ripple, and pigmentation that took me away from the things that were bothering me. Yes - the space I found in that landscape helped me to find space in my mind and in my life.

That space is meditation. For me I found it in a painting, maybe for you it's petting your dog, swimming for hours, practicing on your mat in the park.  Most people think meditation is a hard practice, but in truth, it's simple - just like most truths often are. It's accepting the fact that we need to let go to move forward.

And until we learn to control our minds, we can't ever be fully in control of our lives.

Spending all our time trying to control the things outside of us won't change how we feel or who we are. Taking that path is like painting your house in order to fix a fracture in the foundation.

Paint may look pretty, but the if the foundation is cracked its only a matter of time before you have many more problems with your house.

Meditation helps mend wounds. It allows us to see what needs to be fixed and what we can leave behind. It can help fix the fractures in our foundations, which will allow us to paint everything else the pretty colors we love.
The chaos in our minds, the karams and baggage we carry with us from day-to-day, year to year, life to life, is only as big as we ALLOW it to become. Assumptions we make about things, people, experiences accumulated and grow into monsters that keeps us up at night. They fester into worry and rob us of, well, us.

When we silence our mind we can find space between those thoughts, and then we can see what's real and what's a shadow of nothing.

No, the first time you sit you won't be able to make it 60 minutes with freedom, but you can make it for 5 minutes and then the next time you'll make it 6 minutes.

So whats the secret to meditation? The "trick" we're all looking for is persistence. Don't give up on yourself because the first time is hard. Keep trying and working and follow these few steps:

#1 - Find a quiet spot, one without a TV, that is not a path of traffic and isn't by a phone. If you're cell phone is with you - turn it off. You don't need it for 5 minutes. (& if you have children, find someone to watch them so they won't come looking for you.) And sit.

Find a comfortable seat with your legs crossed. Place a pillow under your butt to elevate your hips closer to your knees. Sit with a tall spine. Image your spine is an antenna and it should be erect, with your shoulders on your back, so your intentions can float up and away into the air and off like a cloud.

[Note: if you have back problems, knees problems and sitting like this hurts, find a comfortable spot to lie down. NOT ON YOUR BED - YOU WILL FALL ASLEEP. Meditation is NOT sleeping. Meditation is that spot between sleep and being awake.]

#2 - Follow your breath. We breathe every day. Our bodies take in the vital air we need to stay alive and never once do we consider that it's happening - day in and out. Watch your breath. Watch the inhalations. Watch the exhalations. Which are longer? Are you breathing from your chest or your belly?

Allow your breaths to grow longer - breathing in to a count of 4 and exhaling to a count of 4. Drawing the breath evenly and constant. Image it flowing throughout your entire body. Down your arms and legs. Into your fingers and toes. Breath into your sore back and tired shoulders.

Begin to count your breaths. Each number is a full inhale and exhale, and as thoughts pop us - because they often do - just come back to #1.  See if you can make it to #10, and if not this time, maybe the next - but keep breathing.

#3 - Mantras. These words, these prayers, help us concentrate on something else, something bigger than our daily lives. They move our energies toward something positive - health, love, faith.

#4 - Guided Meditation - when we're new a meditating and finding the strength to quiet the mind is a daunting task, using guided meditation is a wonderful way to begin and a useful tool to continue. My very favorite guided meditations are from Meditation Oasis. Mary Maddox is a beautiful spirit. They have free podcasts you can download onto your ipod so you can go sit in the  middle of the woods (if you'd like) and let go.

These 4 steps will help you add meditation into your every day. It is suggested you meditate at the beginning of the day (and after time at both the beginning and the end) - but I think you should meditate when you can. Maybe on your lunch break, maybe for 5 minutes before you go to bed.

The most important thing is to do it.

As your practice builds you will begin to notice the days you didn't meditate. You will notice that change almost immediately.

Meditation is give yourself the love you deserve and the time you need to be the complete you that you deserve to be. Be love, be free, be you to the best of your ability.

Always smile because it's a gift we can share with strangers and loved one.

The light in me honors and respects the light in you.

Shanti! Shanti! Om....

Friday, February 24, 2012

Walking our own path

"No one saves us but ourselves. No one can and no one may. We ourselves must walk the path." ~the Buddha

The story of the Buddha is one of the most famous of all men. Born into a life surrounded by luxuries most only dream of, one day - after finding blinding passionate love and having a child - he gave it all up to follow a spiritual path.  It took him 6 years and almost dying for him to reach nirvana - and when he finally did, he did it on his own.

In that idea is the most beautiful and revolutionary idea. It is the idea, the inside of all of us, lies the answers to everything our soul is searching for. Inside of our own human shell, we already have the truth, the answers, enlightenment. All we have to do is stop and listen to it. 

We live in a world that tells you the only way to know your true path is to have others show it to you - a guru, a professor, a boss, friend, parent - they have been given to us to lead us to our true nature. Maybe they are here for support, but the truth is until we stop to learn ourselves, we can never really move forward. 

To know thyself and to love thyself is a freedom no one can ever give us. This is something we can learn. We can learn to say "I love you" in the mirror and mean it, we can learn to move past the past and we can learn to embrace who we are in this moment. All we need to do is to face ourselves with the knowledge we are human and flawed and that is ok. 

You gain strength, courage and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face. ~Eleanor Roosevelt

Monday, February 20, 2012

Pratyahara: the silence within

In yoga there are many things to learn. The asasna are the third limb of yoga and before them come the yamas and niyamas. Two paths to talk about the restraints and practices in our every day life.

The first two paths of yoga are there to help us set a structure for how we are to live our life, because when we do not have structure we fall apart. Chaos creeps in and we can get lost - distracted by shiny objects in life.

Asanas help us to keep our temple in shape and pranayama teaches us to use our breath to use that strength internally as the asanas help us use it externally.

Today I would like to talk about Pratyahara - the 5th limb of Yoga - which is the control or withdraw from the senses.

In our modern society we are over stimulated from the moment we wake to the moment we go to bed. Television, computers, smart phones, radios and everything else in between - our mind never has a moment to breathe. Suddenly we are unable to follow our gut, because we can't hear it any more. Shiny objects that distract us from what's inside.

I the silence that lies inside of us are all the answers and the truths to what we have been asking all these years. Seeking answers out of our own being will only generate more questions, lead to confusion and steer us from the path we were destined to follow. Because the truth is, we really are all here for a reason - we all have purpose and yes, there is room for all of us.

Those moments of fear we all have, that voice in our head that says things like, "But there are 27 others who do what I do! There is no room for me!" that voice in your gut, the one you hear when you practice Pratyahara will answer, "But you are you and that makes it different. No one can life the life you are meant to live. Just you."
Stepping away from the self, from the noise, from what you think you should be doing and helps you see who you really are. Meditation, pratyahara, washed away the worry of every day life.

Yoga Sutra 2.54: "When the senses withdraw themselves from objects and imitate, as it were, the nature of the mind-stuff, this is pratyahara."

Yoga Sutra 2.55: "Then follows supreme mastery over the senses."

Through the practice of pratyahara you will bring all of your senses in control - this control will lead to the freedom to be happy all the time. No longer relying on temporary happiness brought to us by food, television or even sex - we can find the true voice inside.

To quote Sri Swami Satchidananda, "If we have that control, [over our senses], we can do whatever we want, find peace and joy within and share the same with all humanity."

Spend 30 minutes a day to sit in silence, allow the mind to drift and find that inner peace that lies in all of us.
Have a blessed week! The light & strength in me honors the light and strength in you.


Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Find the calm in your inner storm

"Do not fear mistakes. There are none." ~Miles Davis

A friend posted this quote on Facebook last week. Words of wisdom from the late great Miles Davis. We've all had those days where nothing seems to go right.

The question is, do you feel a pattern of criticizing yourself when this happens? Or perhaps, you blame others when things aren't perfect on your plane of existence? For a yogi, one of the things we try to achieve/learn/practice is to take whatever situation arises and find a way to be content in that situation no matter what. Your contentedness is at your inner core and what happens around you does not disrupt that core.

Easier said than done...perhaps. Had I seen that quote just a few days earlier when mishaps and imperfections and inconveniences occurred on my plane several days in a row, I would not have believed it. The more I beat myself up about things or got upset with outside forces, the more things went "wrong" or the worse I felt.

I knew that if I was truly practicing being a "good yogi" I would need to find a way to say "swaha" and let it go. That's what I tried to do. Breathing exercises and asana practices helped in the moment, but then I would come back to the issue and become stressed out again. Finally, at some point, I said, "It'll all work out the way it's supposed to work out.", out loud to myself and like magic, my mind settled down, my shoulders lowered away from my ears and it actually did work itself out. We all make mistakes, but that's what makes us all perfectly imperfect.

"Sthira sukham asanam."~Patanjali's Yoga Sutras II.46
The connection to the Earth should be steady and joyful.

Find that calm steadiness inside regardless of whatever the storm around you may be and you will find joy.


Monday, February 13, 2012

The Journey

Life is a journey, time passing by us woven into the bridges that connect one portion of our life to the next. Sometimes we look moments we loved so dearly and lift them up so high we create a fear of letting go, convincing ourselves if we do, all the joy and love in our lives will slip away or bad moments are destined to repeat themselves.

These fears can cripple us, stopping us from moving forward, discovering the people we are destined to be.
When we hold onto those moments, a wall is created, separating us from the rest of the life we were intended to have. An island is formed and we sit in that memory as if it were the present while the rest of the world spills forward onto the next destinations. We can no longer search for anything, because to hold something new, we must let go of the old, making room in our heart and soul for change.

We must evolve into the next version of ourselves, one that is stronger and more diverse than the last.
Appreciating an idea, or a moment, adds layers to our lives, guiding us forward along the path of our life. Each step brings us into the present allowing us to be the person we were born to be. A person that loves themselves and others, regardless. A person that can see beyond the boundaries of their limitations. Someone that knows what the answer to “are we there yet” really is.

Are we there yet? It is true, the journey is more important than the destination. Just as it is important to be moving on that path and not trapped in an opinion, memory or fear that moving forward will bring sorrow and death, because the answer is no. If you’re reading this, then no, you are not there yet and that means you still have time.
Let go of the things that are holding you back: the past, resentment, anger, fear. Look at them from a different angle to get perspective, accept the situation for what it was and keep moving. Life will take you to the end regardless of what you did or didn’t do on your journey, you may as well enjoy yourself along the way.

The moment you finally let go, is the moment you are truly free.