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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