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January 2011 Archive

January 28th, 2011

Handstand Nation: Why Keeping Your Feet On The Ground Is Still Important

By Sarah Ezrin

Since when did yoga become synonymous with handstands? Don’t get me wrong; I am a supporter of handstands. I believe there are innumerable benefits to handstands (or Adho Mukha Vrksasana as we yogis call it), from building upper body strength to increasing blood flow to the brain to helping overcome fear to sometimes just having fun. I regularly build sequences that include handstand to help open us for something deeper, and some days I build sequences that lead directly up to handstand itself. However, like anything in life, I firmly believe that too much of anything is not good and we have become a nation obsessed with more. People who can hardly hold Warrior II for five breaths are jumping up into handstand every moment they get a chance, because of some notion that handstands are more “advanced.” And suddenly the practice has become more about learning to fly instead of learning to ground.

Yoga used to be about sitting in stillness and finding acceptance with the present. Instead we are becoming more fascinated and, frankly, obsessed with going further and pushing harder. Level 1/2 classes are now more closely resembling 2’s; Level 2’s now look like 2/3’s; and 2/3’s like 3/4’s. What happens with this process is that we are getting further and further from our foundation. Yes, the physically advanced postures are sexy and alluring, but many people are jumping (no pun intended) right into learning them, without first establishing the most basic elements of any posture -- alignment and breath. In my practice of Ashtanga, we work on very intense physical postures; however, the process of the practice is that we first learn a number of more “basic” postures that help lay the groundwork for the later more “advanced” poses. Without this foundation, the later poses can be extremely risky and unstable. Like any architectural structure, each earlier posture lays a brick that forms the solid ground upon which we build the next posture. Intelligently sequenced flow classes, such as the YogaWorks method and Annie Carpenter’s Smart Flow style, achieve this same effect.

Now let’s be clear, I am not knocking learning nor teaching handstands, scorpion, or any of these delicious inversions. These are phenomenal postures and hugely integral to the practice of yoga. I am apart of this handstand culture and just as guilty! I am just saying that we need to be careful that we are not supersizing our yoga practices as we have supersized our meals. That we should remind ourselves that spending a few moments with both feet on the ground, in stillness and just breathing, is truly the advanced practice. And I think yoga goddess, Judith Lasater, put it best in a 1980 Yoga Journal, when she began to foresee the "more is more" phenomenon, and said “probably the most difficult ‘asana’ of them all is standing on one’s own feet, questioning and analyzing for oneself the deeper meaning of asana, yoga, and life.”

January 23rd, 2011

# Practice Weekly Inspiration

This week's social media highlights:

Walk in light (a line borrowed from Martin Luther King)
http://www.facebook.com/MandukaYoga/posts/186786798007192

Notable yogis Sting and his wife Trudie thank their daily practice – and look about 30 years younger than they are: http://www.facebook.com/MandukaYoga/posts/157185861000769

An intellectual debate on the ethics of yoga competitions: http://www.facebook.com/MandukaYoga/posts/182615811761992

Congratulations to the first winners in our series of #Practice Reverence giveaways; honoring the teachers and yoga styles that brought us to our path:

Vince Doss, winner of a Round airCore Bolster:
"I suffered a head injury from a fall 2yrs ago and during subsequent neuropsych evaluation, I mentioned my "feeling that there is more out there, a spiritual thing that I could not quantify/qualify", a Clinical Psychologist recommended reading anything by Jon Kabat-Zinn he said that meditation was the only way he made it through medical school. Reading "Full Catastrophe Living" by JKZ lead me to several other titles but one was "The Seven Spiritual Laws of Yoga" by Deepak Chopra which lead to a Google search on Ayurveda in my region which came up with my first Yoga Instructor Michelle Fondin of The Ayurvedic Path. Her Meditation and Hatha Yoga class and gentle kindness has truly helped transform my life."

Hadji Jones, winner of a Black Mat PRO:
"The Prana-Flow(@ShivaRea students) brought me to my path of #Practice. But along the way I found @DoYogaPhilly & she's my guide!"

January 19th, 2011

#Practice 365 Golden Yogi Winner: Carrie Griffiths

What can you accomplish in 365 days?

In early September, we asked you to imagine the possibilities that a year of free-flowing asanas could open up. We wanted to bring more yoga into your every day, practicing anytime and anywhere – on us!

Our Golden Yogi, Carrie Griffiths, won a free year of yoga at a studio of her choice. She’s letting us follow her on this spiritual journey of #Practice 365 with monthly blog updates along the way.

Bio:
My name is Carrie Griffiths and I currently live in Alexandria, VA. My first yoga class was 12 years ago in a little studio overlooking the beautiful Pacific Ocean. I was instantly hooked.

I practice in a variety of studios, gyms, and workshops, both indoor and outside (the latter being my preference). I will try any style of yoga, although I prefer a challenging Vinyasa flow. I am currently quite dedicated to three instructors, each with their own style and each who inspire me differently.

At least every other month I consider taking a teacher training course. Not necessarily because I want to instruct, but because I think it would strengthen my own practice. Although teaching might be fun too!

I practice yoga simply because it makes me feel great. I have a few lifelong physical limitations, which have only been made better through my practice. My yoga helps ease pain. It challenges me to see how far I can push myself. It relaxes me. It reminds me to breathe. I feel taller, more grounded, more open and happy after I practice! I feel that these are all things I am able to take with me out of the studio and into my everyday activities. I'm so grateful that I have something in which I can continually grow and take with me wherever I go.

So thank you, Manduka! I'm really excited about this!

January 19th, 2011

The Road Back To Myself

By Eka Ekong

I remember my first time on a yoga mat. At the suggestion of my then-boss, a devout Ashtangi, I took my first yoga class. It was a new, strange, yet exciting experience. I liken it to Bambi trying to stand up on roller-skates, a mixture of fumbles and limbs, gasps and frustration. Although trying, it felt as if I was engaged physically and on a higher plane of being. I also intuitively felt, at a soul level, that this practice was very special. In many ways, and for the first time in a long time, I felt I like I had come home.

I practiced, practiced and practiced. The more often I practiced yoga, the more I came into a deeper understanding of myself. People, experiences, desires that were once appealing to me, seemed to fall away. Being on my mat I felt a wave of sacredness, and as if I was being held by the hand of the Divine. It wasn’t a church in the traditional sense, but I was in the temple of my own inner light and wisdom. I felt at ease in my own skin. Through the window of my physical asana practice, I walked through the door of my own heart.

Often I am asked, why do you practice yoga? I share that yoga saved my life, and helps me to remember I Am That(So Hum). Yoga teaches me to honor the Spirit within myself, and within all things- That we are all connected, not just in those moments of happiness and love, but even in those moments when we seem separated, whether by distance or conflict, misunderstandings or circumstances.

Whether on my mat or teaching, my intention is embody this sacred heart and possibility of yoga; to honor this tradition that has been passed down through the centuries; to share that yoga is not a fad, or something that needs to be constantly re-invented; It is a tried and true methodology that if practiced with vigor, persistence, love and openness, can and will help us gracefully navigate the course of our existence.

Last year, my dear friend and relative who introduced me to my then-boss, passed away. I often think of how blessed I am to have met her (she was a vibrant, loving spirit who facilitated the meeting that would lead me to my mat), and the many other beloved souls who guide, inspire, and encourage me daily in my practice.

Each time I bring my palms together in Anjali mudra, I honor my beloved, departed friend, my teachers, my ancestors, my students, loved ones, and this tradition. I am continually challenged, humbled, and awed by the richness of this practice, for through its’ grace, I was led back to my Self.

January 18th, 2011

How Do You #Practice Reverence?

Here's to a 2011 full of brilliant possibilities. New ways to practice and new places to see our practice reflected.

In the spirit of the early days of a new year, we asked our community to share their intentions for 2011 throughout the month. Anything is possible. We can be anyone we want.

How do you #Practice Reverence?

Check out some of these inspiring replies:

Arika Harman Cloud's intention.

Doc Rodrigues on his path to yoga.

Shared stories of the yoga journey.

Melissa Williams on her moment of gratitude.

Other highlights from the week include:

India’s recent kite fest with beautiful images of yogis in unison for miles.

Our post on yoga in prisons, where one Illinois paper took a surprisingly gracious look at the practice behind bars

January 12th, 2011

Yogis For Haiti: Off The Mat, Into The World

On January 12, 2010, a 7.0-magnitude earthquake struck the country of Haiti, devastating the capital and largest city, Port-au-Prince. A study by the Inter-American Development Bank as reported by the New York Times, estimated that the total cost of the disaster was between $7.2 billion to $13.2 billion, based on a death toll from 200,000 to 250,000. While public response was strong in 2010, there is much to do and Haiti needs us now more than ever. More than a million displaced people still live under tents/tarpaulins, reconstruction has been slow to start, and an outbreak of cholera and political unrest has made conditions worse and recovery difficult.

Off the Mat, Into the World believes in the power of the yoga community to come together to make a difference. Therefore, OTM is initiating the 2nd “Yogis for Haiti” day on this anniversary to demonstrate our solidarity and collective support for relief efforts in Haiti. Last year, the yoga community came together raising over $18,000 for organizations on the ground serving Haiti. This year, we’re uniting again on January 12th, 2011 to show our support and make a difference by taking our yoga off the mat and into the world.

To support this initiative, and in solidarity for these efforts, Manduka is offering 10% OFF ALL PURCHASES MADE ON JANUARY 12, 2011.

The coupon code is: Y4HAITI10 (This offer expires at midnight, January 12, 2011).

January 4th, 2011

Featured Retailer: Renaissance Yoga

Bio:

Some things are just meant to be. Picture a pastoral, semi-rural, sailing community on the Chesapeake Bay landscaped by horses, corn and old tobacco barns with lots of warm, genuine people all around, yet no yoga studio anywhere in sight. Enter a fellow of modest means with an ardent desire to share his practice.
The resultant: Renaissance Yoga.
Established in 2005, with just a single yoga class a week, Renaissance Yoga of Galesville, Maryland has flourished into a dynamic, mobile yoga abode featuring 15 - 20 classes a week in an array of community halls and centers that dot the local landscape - not to mention corporate classes, sports team trainings at high schools and universities, and a host of other special offerings and events.
Satyam, the founding director and lead instructor of Renaissance Yoga, began his journeying into yoga in 1991 through a meditation-based practice with an emphasis on yoga lifestyle. By '93 he yearned to take it deeper.
That fall, he and his brother departed Forestville, CA & put foot to pedal on a 6-month bicycle tour from NW China over the Himalayas via the silk road / Karakoram Highway - the highest public roadway in the world (15,397 ft) - into Pakistan and across the entire Indian subcontinent. Far more than just a bike tour, it became an immersion and exploration into the culture of yoga.

Over the next ten years, Satyam spent months upon months living in ashrams (yoga houses) in India - most of the time in remote villages without any amenities, i.e. bathing outside by a well and living in a mud hut with an earthen floor, where he studied one-on-one with a yogacharya.
Renaissance Yoga aims to provide anyone and everyone their own personal gateway into this ancient practice that is a perfect complement to the demands of modern-day living. All the wonderful people who come to class, spread the word, and inspire the next great program.

Life is an experiential, sometimes thorny, yet joyous journey – and they are all part & parcel of a singular universal family. To all those aspirants & practitioners venturing about, via road or web, when in town, please know you are most welcome, www.renyoga.com.

January 4th, 2011

New Year, New Sankalpa

By Todd Lavictoire

In the spirit of preparing for the New Year, I have been spending more time in my practice dedicated to self-study (svadyaya). I have heard this process of deepening self-awareness described as a process of making the invisible visible. In other words: “What are my patterns (samskaras)? Which ones are serving me? Which ones do I need to change?” Essentially, I am getting ready to make my New Year’s resolution, or in yoga-speak, I’m looking for my sankalpa for the new year.

I have often been amazed at how the yoga practice has helped me on my life path, and on how many levels my practice has given me insight into my samskaras.

On a purely physical level, those new to the practice come face to face with that which was hidden fairly quickly. The posture (asana) practice has a knack for making us aware of our strengths and weaknesses quite quickly. I often see students who find a strength in their practice and want to work on their strengths every time they practice. Many students also prefer to avoid or neglect working on some of their weaknesses. We also tend to, while avoiding weaknesses, sacrifice proper alignment in order to get “deeper” into a pose. We tend to exploit openings and focus on destinations, usually to the detriment of the quality of our breath and other parts of body that often could use more attention. But many of us, over time, also realize that the recognition of these weaknesses, our acceptance of them, and our willingness to work with them, are at the very heart of a yoga practice that is beginning to gain depth. “Sthiram sukham asanam.”

These physical samskaras are easier to identify and address. Where yoga has a largely hidden value is in addressing the more subtle subconscious patterns. Yoga also helps to make the invisible subconscious patters visible and then provides us with the tools, similar to the asana practice, to reshape and re-pattern these, as well.

As a mindfulness practice, the yoga practice helps us observe our mind’s patterns. First, we begin to recognize our narratives on the mat. Then as our practice expands into our lives, our narratives out in the world become more apparent. At least this has been my experience. Some patterns I had, I had become resigned to. I didn’t know how to address them. I simply thought that that was the way I was. It wasn’t until I was presented with the tools to work with my patterns that I realized that I could change long standing behaviors. My first teacher, Yogi Vishvketu taught me that to change a behavior, we need to foster an opposing behavior. In other words, to get out of your rut, create new ones, more positive ones. If you find yourself in conflict with others put yourself in service to people. If you are stuck in your head, move through your heart. Karma Yoga.

As for changing the way I think, changing behaviors will help shift thought. But to eliminate the kernel of the initial thought, the source of the behavior, yoga offers an even more subtle tool. My guru, Rod Stryker, has taught me that mantra is the means by which we can shift on a deeper, more subtle level, the very seeds of our thoughts. Plant positive seeds so that they may take root and alter the landscape of your mind. There are many kinds of mantras. Some, japa-mantras, are given to us by our teachers, these remain secret and have a particular purpose in our practice. Others are mantras we can choose to help us affect change in areas of our lives where we need a shift.

You see, we all have many mantras already. Many of us say: “I can’t”, “I won’t”, “I hate” or something that puts us into a negative or defeated mindset. Others among us fall into habitual patterns like the need to feel wanted, special or even the need to be against. These are attitudes which keep us invested in or attached to the ego and often focused on difference rather than union.

Whatever your own mantras are, we lay the groundwork for our thoughts and behaviors through these kernels or seeds that grow and infect our days and our lives. Adopting a new positive mantra to help you shift a behavior can serve a purpose in shifting your attitude towards those around you, which can in turn affect those around them. Mantra can help you be the change you wish to see in the world.

The mantra I have decided to begin my day with and share with my classes to spread more happiness and peace for the new year is: “LOKAH(HA) SAMASTA(HA) SUKHINO BHAVANTU” – “May all beings everywhere be happy and free, and may the thoughts, words and actions, of my own life, in some way, contribute to their happiness and freedom.”

My experience with mantra is that, fundamentally, most of them point to the same truth: Through love and understanding for ourselves and others, we come to the realization that we are all divine. Yoga.

Here’s to a successful new year sankalpa!

January 4th, 2011

#Practice Inspiration

A very ‘off the mat’ piece in today’s Colorado Springs Gazette on slowing down. “Can you go slow when you’re back in your work pants and heels? Can you breathe deeply when you have to wait through three cycles of a traffic light?” We completely understand – this takes #practice.
http://www.gazette.com/articles/yoga-110311-notice-own.html

The lone Indian in yoga class. Did you hear this fascinating piece on @MorningEdition today?
http://n.pr/hBENgb

‘The sweet simplicity of OM’ - @Yoga Journal blogs remind us to keep it real and come back to what matters.
http://blogs.yogajournal.com/yogabuzz/2010/12/the-swet-simplicity-of-om.html

Today we practice gratitude – telling the people in our lives how much they mean because gratitude only does good when it is expressed. What does Manduka help you #practice?

‘Extreme Yoga Positions’ in today’s @LA Times. Love the amazing things the human body can do. If photo 10 looks familiar, it’s because Manduka was there. Some images are ‘extreme’ because of contortionism, some are extreme because of who or where they feature. Still beautiful to look at.
http://www.latimes.com/news/health/sns-c-extreme-yoga-positions-pictures,0,200639.photogallery