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October 10th, 2010

Thank God For Pregnant Women

By Charlie Samos

I remember only one pose from my first yoga class. Downward facing dog, or in that yoga language, Adho Mukha Svanasana. Seemed simple at first, got ugly in a hurry. My foolishness stacked the deck against me. I was a really fit guy, in what was considered good shape, but with a back injury. My chiropractors words almost verbatim: “Charlie, you can come see me, your doctor, for the rest of your life, and I will always take care of you, or you can do something about your back, see me a lot less and we can be great friends.” I asked him what the “something” was, and the answer was yoga.

Less than 48 hours later, I entered my first class. Of course I picked out the perfect class, a level one, designed for beginners…Yea right. Not a chance. Instead I asked around the local gym for advice on taking up yoga. Being non-competitive compassionate people, they sent me to an advanced flow class. Thanks guys, I love you too. I suffered from heat stroke, sun stroke (as in too many sun salutations), and almost had a stroke, but I will try to recall the story, hoping you can benefit from it, or at least laugh at my expense.

Let’s set the stage: of course I don’t know where the studio is, so I’m late. Zip up the stairs, already sweating, and into the room. First OMG moment. One hundred, I am not exaggerating, or more students in a huge room. Four guys, and 96 women, AND the guys are all skinny. I have an intelligent thought enter my mind: what if, just what if, this yoga thing is hard. I don’t want to look like an idiot, so I better find someone that looks like they just might suck at yoga. I kid you not, I scanned the room for this “suck at yoga student.” Then into the room, a gift from the heavens, a pregnant (8 months 29 days), woman enters. Lays her mat down, lies down, belly nearly touching the ceiling, and closes her eyes. I of course immediately lay my mat next to hers. She seems to be breathing heavy already and her eyes are closed. Poor lady is exhausted. Awesome, I should look great. Me, I sit up, and watch everyone talking, or stretching, waiting for class to begin. In walks the instructor, and an air of silence falls over the room. From this point on everything is a blur.

I’m sure he didn’t start out in down dog, but I can’t remember, or more likely I blanked it out. So let me describe what I remember. Down dog. That is what I remember. I also remember some of my thoughts in down dog. I remember thinking who in their right mind would keep holding this pose, what benefit can it possibly have. I also recall thinking, why the f@ck won’t he stop doing this pose so I can feel my arms again. I am sure we did other stuff, but then I know we did down dog again, and again, and held it for far too many breaths. These yogis breath way too slow, come on folks, speed it up. Did not matter, because we always ended up in down dog anyways.

By now we are 7 minutes into this 90 minute adventure, and I can feel something in my shoulders, and my triceps, and my hamstring, my calves, pretty much the whole back of my body beginning to burn. I guess it was that opening the teacher was talking about. Looking back, it was more likely the blood leaving my extremities in order to save the more vital stuff in my torso. But I forced myself to go on—and why? Well I had to. When I looked to the side, my 8 month, 29 day, heavy breathing, exhausted pregnant lady, was unfazed by this whole down dog thing. The audacity of this woman. Not one break. Not one child’s pose. Not one moan, or groan. Unless she takes a break, I of course can’t. I am a young, fit male, with way more strength than this pregnant lady. No way am I losing to her. By the way, I was not referring to her as a pregnant lady. It was more like, this F@&^%g pregnant chick better put her knees down or I’m gonna…well you get the idea. It was not one of my great yogic moments to say the least.

Seriously, what was the real reason, the real cause of my agony? Well quite a few things. One of the main things was my competitive mind. I had been very competitive prior to this. I had excelled at sports, playing in college and beyond. Competition was all I really knew. Compare, compete, win! That simple. So I did what I trained my mind to do for years. Not give in, compare myself to others, and do my best to win. Well, the pregnant lady won. Hands down.

After taking about a week to recover, I looked back and made a decision. I actually decided I was not going to compete in yoga. Most amazing, I pretty much have stuck to my promise. I have my moments where I wish I could get into some pose that my body is not open enough or strong enough to do, but those moments are short lived. I don’t let my mind get in the way of my practice. I do yoga for me. It is that simple. I take classes and could care less if I use a block, a strap, skip a vinyasa, take a child’s pose, skip an entire sequence, whatever. Don’t get me wrong, I do my best. However, I listen to my breath, and let that direct me. I refuse to damage the essence of the practice: mindfulness. Be mindful, and move within. Don’t let your ego lead you into injury. Allow your heart to make some decisions, and put the thinking mind on hold. So next time you see me in class or take one of my classes and I make light of difficult pose, or offer you a chance to take a break, or slow down, remember where I am coming from. I got schooled by a pregnant lady, and she still holds a special place in my heart. Namaste.

September 10th, 2010

Mama Om: Shedding Light On Yoga For Mamas

By Latham Thomas

Light pours into a pale green room full of manicured plants and bare walls with the occasional Buddha or stick figure drawing mounted in an ornate picture frame. No sight of the phone, computer, or fax machine. All is silent as the cool breeze moves the sheer curtains and makes a faint whistling sound. I lie back over soft bolster, shut my eyes, and begin to breathe- focusing on opening my ribcage, feeling the expansion in my chest, spreading of my collar bones, and the opening of my heart. I turn my palms face up in Hasta mudra: a hand gesture that in yogic tradition reminds us to stay soft and open so that we can receive. This 15 minutes may be the only time I have for myself...but, hey I'll take it.

As a single mother raising a 7 year old boy in New York City, I often find myself entangled in the hustle and bustle of everyday modern city living. Sounds of buses, police sirens, car alarms, and boisterous pedestrians create a symphony of sounds that weave together in vibration....OM...As a yoga practitioner and teacher I am constantly striving to cut away time for myself in the midst of mama duties and career responsibilities. I recently started a pilot series of Mama Meditation hours- guided meditations for moms.

All you need is 5 minutes, a comfortable area to sit in peace and quiet, a nice scented candle, and you're set. Create the space for yourself to relax and focus intentionally on your breathing. Come to a comfortable seated position whether that is in a chair or on the floor with your legs crossed in sukhasana, elongate your spine so you are sitting tall and firm on your sits bones. On each inhale draw cool breath in through your nose, and exhale and sigh the warm breath out through the mouth. Do this at least 10 times. With each inhale continue to draw breath in through the nose, and on your exhales allow the breath to exit through the nostrils.

Choose serenity, choose peace, on each inhale, and release stress, tension and anxiety on the exhales. Quiet the mind and the ego- that voice that takes you out of the moment. If complete silence is not your thing, then focus on an affirmation- a positive thought that you can silently repeat as you sit; for example- "I choose balance. I am grounded in the present moment".

When you are ready to inhale, reach the arms overhead, and exhale the hands to your heart. Gently remind yourself throughout the day to stay grounded and balanced- remember when you are holding space for serenity, nothing can shake you from your bliss- not even a bowl of cheerios spilled on the floors you just mopped.

For more info on yoga & guided meditations with Latham visit her website and blog at www.tendershootswellness.com

Follow her on Twitter- @TenderShoots

August 9th, 2010

Attitude Determines Altitude

By Ricky Tran

Maitri karuna mudito 'pekshanam sukha dukha punya apunya vishayanam bhavanatas chitta prasadanam

According to the great rishi Patanjali, there is more than one path to yoga.  In other words, one does not have to practice asana, pranayama and meditate to achieve the state of yoga, which is a peaceful mind. In sutra 1.33, Patanjali prescribes four (4) attitudes to be cultivated toward four (4) distinct objects (people). When these four attitudes are cultivated toward 4 distinct objects over time, one's mind will automatically become clear and lucid.

These four attitudes are:
Friendliness
Compassion
Delight or Appreciation
Indifference / Equanimity

The four objects (people) are:
Those who are in their agreeable space. People who are content or happy.
Those who are not in their agreeable space. People who are unhappy or suffering. Opposite of the 1st type.
Virtuous people.  People that do good things in this world. People who are living their dharma.
People of vice. People who do things deemed wicked by society.  Opposite of the 3rd type.

Explanation:

By cultivating an attitude of friendliness toward people who are happy, you become like these people. Surround yourself with those who have what they want and want what they have and you will soon find peace of mind. It is said we become who we hang around.  

By cultivating an attitude of compassion toward those who suffer, you will soon find peace of mind. You don't want to have joy or delight when you see someone suffer. Likewise, you wouldn't want to have compassion for those who are happy and content.

By cultivating an attitude of delight or appreciation toward people who make this world a better place, you will find peace of mind. When you see someone do something good, like return a lost wallet, you should have delight and appreciation. When you see someone help an elderly or disabled person across a busy street, you should have an attitude of appreciation. When this attitude is cultivated toward these types of people, you will soon have peace of mind.

By cultivating an attitude of indifference toward those who do bad things, your mind will become clear and lucid. If you surround yourself with people of vice, you soon will become a person of vice. If you hang out with thieves, you too will soon be a thief. According to Patanjali, one should not have an attraction or even an aversion toward this type. If you become unaffected by these individuals, you will soon find peace of mind.

July 28th, 2010

Featured Ambassador: Jill Miller

Jill Miller is a serious yogi, caring teacher, and a charismatic spirit. Her passion for yoga is infectious, and this comes across in every breath. Jill possesses intensive knowledge of yoga philosophy, sequencing and human anatomy. Her clear teaching style makes yoga accessible to the beginner as well as the advanced student. Jill is devoted to yoga, and Manduka is devoted to her. She exemplifies the definition of Ambassador, and Manduka is happy to share her with you…

Learn more about Jill here.