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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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Filed under Dharma, Goals, inversions, Non-Judgement, Practice, Uncategorized, Yoga, Yoga Snax

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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Filed under Goals, inversions, Practice, Uncategorized, Yoga

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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Filed under Goals, Uncategorized, Yoga

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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Filed under Food, Goals, Uncategorized