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.