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Days 26 & 27: Turning Upside Down Part Deux

Hello Friends!

I had every intention of posting last night, but I ended up being preoccupied with decorating this new addition to the apartment:

I downsized this year, but he's a cute little guy.

I downsized this year, but he’s a cute little guy.

Nevertheless, I am really excited to tell you about the Inversion workshop yesterday at The Yoga Room.  It was taught by one of their teachers, Marko, and I think he did a fantastic job.  He began with a dharma talk that was all about the importance of process over final product; that, as much as we want to be able to do a handstand right now, the journey is the most important part.  Lessons like this are what yoga is all about.  What we learn on the mat is completely applicable to our lives off of the mat.  Breaking down a handstand into steps and practicing each step slowly and purposefully teaches us the value of hard work and persistence.  And when you finally reach your goal, it makes it all that much sweeter since you worked so hard to achieve it.

That is how Marko designed the workshop.  We worked on several variations of headstands and handstands over the two-hour class, and he broke down each pose into different steps, giving us the option to stop where we felt comfortable, or move on if we wanted to challenge ourselves.  My headstand practice is still on hiatus, which gave me the opportunity to really work on headstand prep, which is basically a downward dog with forearms and head on the ground.  If you’ve never done this prep before, it is challenging!  It really works your shoulders and core.  I also practiced bringing one leg in to my chest, which really got my ab muscles fired up.

By the time we got to handstand practice, my core was nice and warm, which, as I’ve mentioned previously, is really important for inversions.  We did several preps for handstand including L-shape against the wall and extending one leg up, which really helped me to get a feel for handstand away from the wall.  There was also more core work that included hopping over a block with our hands on the floor, arms straight.  This probably sounds easy, but it’s definitely work.  When he finally cued us to go up into handstand against the wall, it felt like my legs floated up, as opposed to my usual method of flinging my legs as hard as I can until I reach the wall.  I even managed to come off the wall for a few seconds.  If The Yoga Room offers this workshop again, I highly recommend it!

Today I found a Yoga Today class that was dedicated to handstands and forearm stands.  It was great to get in more practice, although I have to say my arms were tired from yesterday!  So I did what I could and either took a childs pose or just watched the yogis on the screen when I needed a break.  Marko made sure to let us know that consistent practice is the way to achieve our goal and I would have to agree; this 30-day challenge has definitely helped me to become more comfortable with turning upside down!

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Day 18: Turning Upside Down

Last night I decided to check out the Inversion Workshop with Corey Loftus at Yoga Agora , which was a lot of fun! Corey makes going upside down look super easy, but he did a great job of breaking down the practice into a warm-up, strength training and partner practice in order to help everyone achieve their own level of success.

We began with sun salutations: first a round of traditional sun A’s, and then we moved into rolling sun salutations in which you have to squat down and roll on your back then roll up into each pose (chair and high lunge on each side). They were pretty challenging at first, but then I found myself getting into a rhythm and had a lot of fun with it. Really great for balance and engaging core muscles. Then we moved into some strengthening poses with partners in order to activate our core muscles, which is crucial for going upside down (and staying there!). My favorite was what I might call a hanging vinyasa, in which you begin in plank with your partner holding your ankles. Then you proceed to flow from chaturanga into upward dog, and on your way to downward dog your partner lifts your legs up so you end up in an “L” shaped handstand. I’ve practiced these before on a wall, but not having anything to press into except your hands really forces you to rely on your core muscles to maintain balance.

This is a fantastic shoulder strengthener and preparation for handstand.

This is a fantastic shoulder strengthener and preparation for handstand.

Another variation we practiced--the person on the bottom barely feels a thing!

Another variation we practiced–the person on the bottom barely feels a thing!

After we were warmed up, it was time to fly! Corey had us work on headstand and handstand, and then showed us a great partner pose to relax the neck and spine. We worked in groups of three, as one person was needed to be a spotter and the third person would lend a hand (or rather, a shoulder) if the “flier” or person going upside down needed help getting there. It was actually a really great excercise in team work and trust; many of us there last night had come alone and did not know people there. It’s a lot to ask of someone to entrust a stranger with their safety. However, since everyone was in the same boat and Corey and Francesca were really wonderful teachers and demonstrated everything really clearly, the trust was there and everyone was willing to try whatever they put in front of us. The hour and a half flew by and I left with a lot of great tips to improve my handstand practice. Thanks Corey and Francesca!

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Day 16: Monkey Business

After several days of deep hamstring and hip flexor opening, I decided to evaluate if I’ve made any progress in Hanumanasana.  Luckily, Yoga Today makes it super easy to find a specific kind of class, either through their filter system or the search box.  I decided on this class by Neesha.  It’s the second in a two-part series, and since I had done the first one a few weeks ago (pre-challenge), I opted for part two.  As always, Neesha does a great job getting the body ready for the peak pose, including standing splits at the wall, which really helped me to open in the front of the legs.  When it was finally time to attempt the splits, I was able to go further than I ever had before–I usually rest on a block under my front leg, but today I had to remove it in order to move deeper into the pose.  Progress!

Not only did Neesha make sure to warm us up physically, she also thread the story of Hanuman throughout the practice, encouraging us to encompass the spirit of this monkey.  You see, Hanuman, son of the wind god Vayu, was born with all kinds of exceptional abilities:  He could make himself big or small, leap over mountains and even change his shape altogether.  But Hanuman was also very mischievous, and one day when he mistook the sun for a mango and tried to eat it, the sun god Surya struck him down and put a curse on him so that he wouldn’t remember his godly abilities.  Then one day, Sita, the wife of his best friend Ram, was kidnapped.  Ram asked Hanuman if he could go save her.  Hanuman had no idea how he would do it, but his love for Ram  gave him faith in his own abilities.  With that confidence, he leapt (in a split pose) over the ocean to get to the island of Lanka where Sita had been taken.**

The message of Hanuman’s story is universal: we are all born with incredible abilities, we just have to have the faith and confidence to accomplish them.  Unfortunately too often, our fears and doubts get in the way and we forget this; I know I do sometimes.  That is one of the reasons my yoga practice has been so invaluable to me: with every difficult pose I accomplish off the mat, I am only further encouraged to strive for goals off of the mat.  Today’s class was no different.  Ten years ago I would have laughed if someone asked me to do a split.  Five years ago, I probably would have tried it but only after qualifying that I had never been flexible enough to do splits as a kid and probably never would be.  Today, I am confident that I’ll eventually get there, as long as I keep doing what I’m doing.  Thanks, little monkey.


**If you’re interested in learning more about Hanuman and other stories behind the different yoga asanas (poses), you should check out Myths of the Asanas by Alanna Kaivalya!

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Day 14: The Power of Intention

I’ve finally gotten back to the point where, if I don’t practice for one day, my body (and mind) are begging for a good practice.  I admit that yesterday I didn’t get in a physical practice, as I got stuck in post-holiday traffic driving to Harrisburg and then had my hands full introducing and helping my dog Honey get along with the man-friend’s dog Macky….Honey Bun isn’t so used to other dogs.  It was a little touch-and-go at first, but I think I see a doggy friendship in their future!

Honey (doing her best Dobby impression) and Macky: BFS (Best Friends Someday) :)

Honey (doing her best Dobby impression) and Macky: BFS (Best Friends Someday) 🙂

So today, after a couple long car rides and two dogs keeping me on my toes for the day, I needed to get back on my mat.  I did so at Yoga Agora here in Astoria.  This studio is my backup whenever I can’t make class at The Yoga Room and don’t feel like doing a practice with Yoga Today.  It’s just $5 for a 75-minute class–not too shabby!  I took Anna’s class today, and I think this was my favorite class so far.  In fact, if I had to describe this class in one word, it would be delicious.  It was a nice, slow flow in which we held the poses nice and long (but not too long!) which really allowed me to stretch out my aching body.

As good as the physical practice felt, Anna’s words also provided inspiration.  The first was simply, “Vibration is good.”  This really resonated with me (you see what I did there?) because it made me think of my favorite part of the “om”:  when I say the “m” and I feel the vibration move through the length of my body, which is extremely calming…kind of like a baby riding in a car.  During the practice I really brought my awareness to the vibrations I was feeling through my breath and from the rest of the yogis in the room.  Feeling the positive energy throughout the practice reinforces that what we put out there comes back to you.

Anna ended class with this quote (I’m paraphrasing), “Our job is not to seek love, but to seek the barriers we’ve put up that prevent us from accepting love and let them go.”  This made me smile, because it has essentially been my practice since July; I recognized that I tended to stay away from heart openers and decided that it meant that those were the poses I needed most.  I began every practice with the intention to have an open heart, and it has made all the difference, both on and off the mat.

How have your intentions influenced your practice?

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A very thankful Thanksgiving

Hi all!

I will get back to posting about my yoga practice tomorrow (I promise I have been keeping up with it). My sister, Dad and I have been cooking up a storm this morning–everything from Brussels sprouts to butternut squash to apple cider sangria, oh my! Although i did manage to squeeze in a few sun salutations to get the blood flowing and get a moment away from the craziness of cooking.

I just wanted to take a minute to wish everyone a very healthy and happy Thanksgiving. This is my favorite holiday, but this year especially I have so much to be grateful for-my family, friends, health and yoga practice. I am especially grateful to spend this Thanksgiving with my best friend who traveled from Seattle to be here today!

So, wherever you are and whomever you are with I hope your day is full of family and friends, football, and of course food (and maybe a little yoga even though it doesn’t start with an F :))

20121122-151821.jpgHappy Thanksgiving!!

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Day 8: A Mindful Meditation

It has been a fun few days in Philly!  Between the amazing food, beautiful weather and getting to see old friends, I couldn’t have asked for a better trip.  That said, we’ve been going non-stop, so when it came time for the man-friend to go to work yesterday, it suddenly hit me that I was exhausted.  Usually I look forward to getting on my mat for some “me time,” but yesterday even that seemed like too much of an effort.  As I’ve said before, the practice of yoga is about tuning in and understanding what your body needs.  Yesterday afternoon, I knew what my body really needed was a nap.

Of course, napping in the middle of the day can end up throwing you off, especially this time of year when it gets dark out so early.  When I woke up yesterday I was pretty groggy, and since I was meeting an old friend for dinner, I really needed to wake up.  I decided a short meditation would do just the trick.  I set myself up on the bed with a lot of pillows for support so that I wasn’t distracted by any physical discomfort in my body, set my phone alarm for 10 minutes, then closed my eyes and began some deep ujaii breath and repeated my so hum mantra (I discussed meditation techniques more in depth back in this post).  When the alarm went off, I felt more centered and calm and I was ready to catch up with an old friend over delicious food!

Today I’m hoping to try out a yoga studio in the area.  But first, it’s time for some touristy action at Independence Hall.  Have a great day everyone!

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Days 6 & 7: Yummy Hip-openers and Scrumptious Brunch

Hi All!

I may not have blogged yesterday, but that doesn’t mean that I forgot to practice.  I had to catch a bus to Philadelphia in the morning, so it was this handy-dandy Yoga Today practice for me.  It ended up being a great mix of hip openers and strengthening core and arm balances.  There is a misconception that you have to be super strong arms to accomplish arm balances, but in fact, a strong core is really the key; Neesha’s inclusion of knee-to-nose planks and navasana (boat pose) were not only strengthening, but also got the core muscles firing, making it easier to tap into that strength when it came time for the arm balances.  However, I especially needed the hip openers since I had a long bus ride ahead of me.

Today’s challenge was finding time to practice.  As I said, I’m in Philadelphia for the weekend with the man-friend, who so kindly invited me to join him on his work trip.  Since he didn’t have to work until later, we had a long, leisurely brunch at a restaurant called Farmicia, which turned out to be an amazing recommendation from my friend Lindsay.  We feasted (not an understatement) on baked Brie, french toast with apple-cherry compote and a mexican omelette with potatoes, after which our waiter had to roll us out the door.  So. Good.


After that, the man-friend had to go to work, which would have provided a perfect time to do yoga….except that too much food had happened.  I was also torn because the Jets game is on, and for those of you who know me, know that the NFL is a fall sunday staple for me.  So what to do?  I made a pretty fair (if I do say so) compromise:  I watched the first half of the game, and then found this 30-minute practice from Sarah on Yoga Today to do during halftime (and a little bit of the 3rd quarter).

Just a few notes on this practice:  There is a lot of intense hip-opening, which is necessary to prepare for Bird of Paradise pose in under thirty minutes, but was a little too intense for someone like me who has very tight hips.  I was also having an off-day concentration-wise (which I think can also be a symptom of squeezing in your yoga practice rather than having a time carved out for it).  But overall, it’s a good practice when you’re short on time.

Alright guys–that’s it for today!  Time to go enjoy more of  Philadelphia on this fine Sunday (i.e. head to a bar to watch the afternoon games :))

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Day 5: Hey Ego, Simma Down Now.

Happy Friday Yogis!

After taking it easy the last two days, I was ready for a vigorous flow this morning.  I decided to take Emily’s Level 2 class at Laughing Lotus in Manhattan.  I’ve practiced at Laughing Lotus a handful of times, but this was my first time taking Emily’s class.  It was everything I was looking for: great flow and challenging sequencing.  Of course, whenever I find myself in the midst of a challenging sequence, my ego likes to come out to play–not so yogic, I admit.

I find my ego is even louder when I haven’t been in a class setting with other yogis for a bit.  When I’m by myself in my apartment, it is a lot easier to focus on advancing my own practice and not worrying if my pose doesn’t look “perfect.”  However, get me into a yoga studio and all bets are off.  Side Angle Pose with my forearm on my elbow is no longer good enough–I have to stretch my hand to the floor.  Step back to plank?  No thanks, I’ll jump into chaturanga today.  And the thing is, nothing is wrong with changing your practice from day to day.  But what we need to pay attention to is WHY we are changing it.  For me, in a group setting, it is often to try to impress others, or at the very least, boost my “yogi cred.”



Today, the beginning of class was not much different for my ego and me.  I was definitely not practicing non-judgment as I fell out of Utthita Hasta Padangustasana (Extended Hand-to-Big-Toe Pose), blaming my empty stomach (and subsequently my poor time management that prevented me from eating this morning).  I felt slightly better when I improved on my second side.  But why?  Because everyone else around me will approve of me more?  After a while, the chatter in the mind becomes exhausting.

And then, before we knew it, she was leading us straight for headstand.  I didn’t recognize it at first; she had us lowering into dolphin with clasped hands, and I was anticipating a forearm plank or forearm stand.  But then she directed us to lower our heads down and walk our feet in and I realized what we were doing–and what I should not be doing.  As I mentioned earlier this week, I am on a headstand hiatus until my wonky neck starts to feel better.  But this was Laughing Lotus and, without looking up, I estimated that at least 3/4 of the class would be going upside down (I later learned I was correct).  It was really tempting to want to get up there to basically say to everyone, “Hey guys, I can do it to!” (accompanied by a side-to-side head shake and maybe even a “Pshhh!”).  But I decided (to the relief of my neck) to remain in the prep for the pose, and when that started to feel uncomfortable, I surrendered into child’s pose.  Of course, a tiny part of me was still looking for a way to alert the entire class that, in fact, I am able to do a headstand, I am just CHOOSING not to.  But alas, that did not happen and the beautiful thing is both my ego and my neck are still in tact.

So…not a perfectly executed “extinguishing” of my ego…but it was a small step.  And really, that’s all we can ask for from our yoga practice: small but meaningful steps towards our goal.  They will keep adding up to something great.

What small step have you made recently towards a goal?

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Day 4: Primary Series Express

Remember yesterday when I said I was going to get up for my roommate’s 7am vinyasa flow this morning?  Well, that didn’t happen.  I couldn’t quite get my act together so early in the morning, especially since I would have had to leave straight from the studio to go to the hospital where I teach yoga in the Pediatric department to renew my “volunteer” status (I use quotations marks because, as I talked about in this post, I am sponsored by the wonderful Starlight Children’s Foundation).

However, the wonderful thing about yoga is that it not only improves your physical flexibility on the mat, but also helps you to be flexible in your every day life.  The fact that I didn’t make it to the studio was not an invitation to beat myself up over it; after all, my practiced hadn’t been sacrificed, just changed.  Instead, I pressed snooze two extra times (my best friend will tell you that’s quite an improvement from college), got up, grabbed my laptop and rolled out my mat in my living room.  In just a few clicks, I’d found my favorite g0-to quick practice from Yoga Today, which I actually access through YouTube: Adi’s Primary Series Express.  Though I definitely prefer at least a full hour of practice, if not more, this is a really well-rounded class to do when you are pressed for time.

The Primary Series Express is a shortened version of the 90-minute Primary Series of Ashtanga yoga.  Ashtanga is a really powerful style of yoga that incorporates a lot of push ups and lift ups and jump throughs, of which the latter two I am still working on.  In case you aren’t sure what a lift up or a jump through look like, you can see examples here and here.  And no, it is not lost on me how ridiculously easy both of these yogis make it look.

Aside from a mat, yoga blocks are probably the best investment you can make for your practice–they are extremely versatile and can bring your yoga experience to a whole new level!

Oh sure, Michael Taylor, I will just bend my knees a few extra times and take a big deep breath to warm up and then I will lift myself up light as a feather.  No problem.  Except…that advice kind of helped me.  You see, recently when I practiced my jump through (using blocks under my hands of course!) I would end up majorly stubbing a toe or falling over completely.  This was strange only because I used to be able to do it (again, WITH blocks!) without much of a problem.  Something was getting in my head and I wasn’t sure what it was.  So today, after watching (…and scoffing) at these two videos, I gave it another go, taking some deep breaths before and voilà!  My legs were through.  It wasn’t pretty, but I got there, and now I can continue moving forward.  Which just shows how powerful taking a deep breath and focusing on the task at hand can be; it’s something I tell Charles all the time during school, but clearly need to work on myself.

What’s a pose that has been challenging to you?

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30-Day Challenge: Days 1 and 2

Good morning friends!

Yesterday I told you all about my 30-day challenge.  What I failed to tell you is that I officially started it on Monday!  So let me take a few minutes to fill you in on the classes I took.

Since I was in Harrisburg visiting my man-friend, I practiced at a studio called Just Plain Yoga in Camp Hill, PA that I discovered last month.  There are a bunch of yoga studios in the Harrisburg area, but I originally chose this one for the variety of classes they offer and the convenience of the schedule.  I chose to go back this week because I loved the teacher I had and everyone was so stinkin’ nice.

On Monday morning, I took their Hatha 1-2 class, which was described as an all-level “moderate to mildly dynamic” class, which was pretty accurate.  It was slow-paced in that we held each pose for a while, but by no means was it cake.  In fact, for me, having to hold poses for a long time can be extremely difficult.  That’s when the chitta vritti (sanskrit for “mind chatter” and more fondly referred to as monkey mind) really gets going.  “How much longer am I going to be here?” or “What will she make us do next?” start to get in the way of the breath and being in the moment.  During this class I tried to make a conscious effort to really focus on my breath during these long holds.  Don’t get me wrong, more than once I silently cursed our sweet teacher for keeping us in bound side angle pose for so long, but that is why yoga is a practice–because we are constantly working on it.  Overall, it was a good class–and even more noteworthy is that it was my man-friend’s first yoga class ever!  He’s taking the challenge too 🙂


This guy seems to have triumphed over his monkey mind 🙂

On Tuesday, I went back to JPY to take their Vinyasa flow, which was the first class I took there last month.  When that first class began, I mistook the teacher’s soft-spoken directions to mean that the class was going to be easy and relaxing.  Boy was I wrong!  Anne is Ashtanga-trained, so there were tons of chaturangas and power poses throughout the class to make me sweat.  Therefore, after Monday’s slower-paced class, I was excited to switch it up a little bit.

Anne didn’t disappoint.  In addition to several rounds of Sun Salutations A and B to get the body warm and the heart pumping, she included plenty of slow 5-counts lowering into push-up, plus some core work (knee-to-elbow planks anyone?).  And as in the first class, she offered up yogi’s choice of inversion at the end of class.  My neck has been feeling pretty sore lately, so I’m abstaining from my headstand practice for the time-being (which has been quite the test for my ego, but I’ll talk about that another time); therefore I decided to work on my handstand, which I still practice against the wall.  She gave me a great tip for finding my balance in the pose: Move back a bit from the wall, kick up into handstand and find the wall with your feet.  Bend one knee so that just the big toe is touching the wall as you lift the other foot up straight.  As you continue to lift and straighten the one leg, the toe touching the wall will gradually start to come off the wall…theoretically at least.  This wasn’t a magic fix for getting my handstand away from the wall, but it did allow me to play around with the balance.  Maybe by the end of this 30 days I will break my dependency for the wall!


If I have to be on a headstand hiatus, at least I can enjoy the cutest attempt ever!

I have yet to practice today; I had to say goodbye to the man-friend and Harrisburg at the ungodly hour of 5am (the golden hour of meditation for many yogis, but not this girl) to make it back to NYC for work.  My goal is to do a practice with Yoga Today later this evening.  Worst case I will roll out the mat for a few sun salutations before I inevitably collapse into bed tonight!

Several of you have said you will join me in the challenge.  Keep me posted on your journeys!

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