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 17: The Fountain of Youth

This morning I had to go to a meeting at Little Man’s school and afterwards spent some time catching up with my co-teacher (since we haven’t been traveling much lately we never see each other).  As we were leaving each other, there was an elderly lady with a boot on her foot and a cane about to cross the street.  She asked me if I would help her cross and I said yes.  As she held my hand and we slowly crossed, I found out she was going to a doctor’s appointment on the next avenue, so I offered to take her the rest of the way.  She thanked me and mentioned how difficult it was crossing the street and that if it was more windy, she would be afraid she would get knocked over.  In that time I learned that she used to love ballroom dancing and was also a fashion designer but, as she described it, now she “can barely move.”

When we finally reached her destination,  I watched her shuffle into the building and my heart ached, both for her and the whole event of aging.  I immediately thought, “this is why I do yoga.”  Because I don’t want to be relying on canes and other people to get across the street.  Ever.  Yes, that sounds incredibly stubborn, but I think being stubborn in regards to health and wellness is a good thing.  And while I do have good genes on my side (you may remember when I talked about my grandparents here….they’re 95 now), there’s no guarantee that they will prevent my muscles from stiffening up and wasting away on me.  I have plans to be a pretty kick ass (pardon my French) old lady and canes and arthritis are only going to get in my way.  So, yoga it is.

This is my plan for 83.

This is my plan for 83.

In that vein, when I got home I decided to address the thing that has been bothering me since August…my neck (August also happens to be when I turned 30…hmm…).  I’m still not sure what caused the wonkiness (that’s a word, right?), although I’m sure there is a connection to the crazy heavy bags that I carry my life around in as I trek around the city every day.  At any rate, I turned once again to the wonderful Yoga Today to see what they could do for me, and I found Sarah Kline’s class, Relieving Neck and Shoulder Tension.  Perfect, I thought.  And it was.  Sarah created a restorative class filled with tons of neck and shoulder opening stretches, including my favorite, threading the needle (if you’ve never done it, you should try it right now).  Within the first 20 minutes, my neck and shoulders were feeling more open and free.  I will definitely be adding this one to the queue.  I imagine I’ll have to keep coming back to it if I’m going to be doing peacock pose when I’m 83 (in pearls :)).

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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 15: Half-Way Point and Snax Remix

Hey yogis!

I’ve made it to the half-way point of my 30-Day Challenge!  Already I feel a million times better than I did on Day 1 (that is a technical measurement).  Now that my practice is pretty much back to where it used to be, I feel as though I can finally get back to goals that I had set for myself a while back.  One of those goals was to attain a full Hanumanasana, or split pose.

Not me…my hair is curly…

Since I have been noticing greater flexibility in my hammies, I decided to choose a practice that would stretch and lengthen my hip flexors, which are extremely important factor in whether or not you can do Hanumanasana.  I chose Lunging into Freedom from Yoga Today.  It is a shorter practice, and feels even shorter because she includes a guided savasana in there (often they will lead you into savasana and then advise you to stay for 5-10 minutes) but man, was it effective.  Some of the lunges (including lizard pose) were extremely intense and had me focusing on my breath to get through them.  Yet, unlike some hip-focused classes, this one was quite balanced, with plenty of vinyasas to get in a bit of upper body strengthening and bridge poses to clear the hips after the deep lunging.  Next up, I’ll choose a class that includes Hanumanasana to see if I’ve made any progress!

Yoga Snax Remix:  Remember this scrumptious treat that I wrote about last year?  Well I was really in the mood for some avocado toast today, so I made quick work of toasting some good 7-grain bread and mashing a perfectly ripe avocado…only to realize I didn’t have any lemons or limes!  It crossed my mind to just salt the avo and put it on the bread, but that seemed boring.  I scanned my kitchen cabinets, saw the balsamic vinegar and was reminded of the awesome bruschetta I shared with my best friend last week at Eataly.  So with that inspiration, I drizzled a little balsamic over the avocado-blanketed toast (rather than mixing it in with the avocado like I would the lemon–a little balsamic goes a long way, trust me) and I have to say–it was pretty delicious.  Creamy avocado mixed with a little salt was nicely complimented by the sweet balsamic.  Give it a try some time!

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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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Day 12: Ch-Ch-Ch-Changes

When I began this 30-day Challenge, I somehow did not consider that Thanksgiving would fall in the middle of it.  However, the great thing about said challenge is that it has helped me prioritize my practice.  Even during the craziness of Thanksgiving, I was able to find a few minutes to do some sun salutations.  That said, I have to confess that yesterday I did not end up doing a physical practice or a meditation; in the traditional sense, at least.  Instead, I was spending the day with my best friend (aka my Twin) whom I hadn’t seen in over TWO YEARS!  Clearly we had some major catching up to do.

We spent the day visiting some of her favorite places in the city as well as some new ones that she hadn’t yet been to (Eataly anyone?) since she moved from the city to Seattle 3 years ago.  There were Starbucks holiday cups, incredible food, and tons of laughs reminiscing about college and our time as roommates here in NYC.  It was so wonderful to reconnect with a great friend after so much time.  Even though I didn’t do a physical practice, this day definitely left my soul feeling fulfilled.

Twin and I loving our wine and spaghetti squash bruschetta at Eataly!

Twin and I loving our wine and spaghetti squash bruschetta at Eataly!

Today I went to the open-level community class at The Yoga Room in Astoria.  I was pleasantly surprised to notice that my flexibility has increased noticeably in the last few weeks.  It used to be that my heels would kind-of-maybe reach the mat in downward facing dog by the end of my practice, and that was only sometime.  However, today I noticed that my heels were skimming the floor on my very first down dog, and completely touching the ground by the last one!  My forward folds are also deeper, which shows that my hammies are getting flexy…now I just have to keep working on those hips!

Have you noticed any differences in your practice recently?

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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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