Presence (On Dancing and Being Still)

Photo by Cait Loper.

This weekend was wild!

Dancing... hanging out with friends... hula hooping... staying up super late and talking... sitting by the fire... checking out a new bar... dancing to the DJ's beats... meeting new friends... hanging out in Oakland for ecstatic dance, brunch, and a walk by the lake...

All the while, I felt very active and alive and connected. 

I gave myself the freedom to move, to express, to seek my highest joy.


I gave myself permission to change my plans at the last minute, and to listen to my body.

And I must say, I danced more than I have in years and it felt so good!

After such an active couple of days, I'm feeling very satisfied, grateful, and ready for some rest and relaxation.

It is beautiful to transition into solitude and quiet after being active and social. Tonight I took a bath, ate meditatively, wrote in my journal, reflected on the upcoming yoga class I'll be teaching, and allowed myself to be instead of do.


According to Ram Dass, “[The] distortion comes from defining ourselves in terms of doing instead of being. But behind all the doings, all the roles, you just are – pure awareness, pure consciousness, pure energy. When you reside fully in the present moment, you are outside of time and space.

Trungpa Rinpoche notes, “Our lives awaken through ordinary magic.” It’s in everyday things that the miraculous happens. If we practice being here now, we develop the sensitivity to perceive and appreciate the daily miracles of our lives."

My invitation to you tonight is to slip effortlessly into just being. Turn off your phone for a few minutes. Light a candle. Let the attachments and stories and fears recede into the background of your awareness.

If you feel like dancing, dance.

And if you dance for hours, rest.

And in all you are doing or not doing, simply allow yourself to be.

I Like Hugging You

 
Photos via Pinterest.

You came over for yoga class yesterday. When you got to my apartment, I gave you a big hug. I could feel you smiling as I pulled you close.

I looked at you in class and I wanted to squeeze you again. I just felt so proud of you for being present in your practice, for being so strong. I wanted to hold you as a way of saying you are beautiful. Maybe to be held by you a little bit, too.


Sometimes a hug is like saying thank you.

In savasana, I massaged your feet for a few moments; this was its own way of hugging.



After class, I was saying farewell and gave you a big hug on your way out. We kept talking for a second and then had to have another one. I didn’t mind. 

Thanksgiving Flow (I'm Teaching My First Official Yoga Class!)


Next week I teach my first “official” yoga class!

I’m holding space for students and rock climbers at Granite Arch in Rancho Cordova at 7pm on Tuesday, November 26. I’m super excited to do a one-hour vinyasa flow with a gratitude theme in honor of Thanksgiving. 

Join me – bring a friend and a mat, dress in layers (it’s cool inside), and climb afterward if you like! I recommend getting there a few minutes early so you can fill out a waiver.


My goals for this first class are to:

Get grounded.
Be present for my students.
Connect—body, breath, spirit.
Allow myself to be seen.
Be gentle with myself if I get nervous or make mistakes.
Trust my intuition.
Help encourage others to live in gratitude.


Hope I see you on your mat!

Yoga for Star Wars Geeks

Photo illustration via Yoga Peach.

When you think about it, Ujjayi breath sounds a lot like Darth Vader. If you’re doing it right, that is :)

Ujjayi means victorious breath and there are a lot of reasons why we practice it in yoga.

Ujjayi calms the mind and body. The breath allows you to go deeper into your practice. It also increases lung vitality and respiratory efficiency. I think my favorite part about the ocean-sound breath is that it tends to inspire the yogis around you to meet their edge, to be present.

I think next time I teach, I want to wear these wild pants... simply as a way to inspire students to breathe deeper.

Leggings via Black Milk Clothing.

PS If you need some practice, check out this tutorial on Ujjayi breathing.

On Happiness

Photo by Sarah Rhoads.

Health is wealth. Peace of mind is happiness. Yoga shows the way.
-Swami Vishnu-Devananda

What makes you happy?

Photo by Christine Hewitt via Yogic Photos.

Lately I have been reflecting on my tendency to seek outwardly for happiness. I achieved my goal. I feel connected to my friends and family. I feel validated in my relationships. I feel good about what I do. I am happy that I took the time to practice yoga today.

Yet there is the possibility of something much deeper: happiness from within.

Photo by Tyler Branch.

I am happy simply to be. I am who I am. I accept and love myself. I am able to sit with myself comfortably in silence. I am OK alone.

My intention this week is to seek peace and contentment from within—not based on external circumstances, experiences or attachments. This week I will be gentle, loving and accepting with myself, creating happiness from the inside out.

Photo by Tyler Branch.

Where do you find happiness?

Teaching Yoga

Photos by Christine Hewitt of Yogic Photos.

What’s it like being a new yoga teacher?

So far my experience looks like this:

Gather friends through various conversations, text messages, and hugs. Invite them to a 1-hour yoga class at my apartment.

Get really, really excited thinking about the group of people who’s going to gather in my living room. Imagine their mats set up next to each other, and all of them sitting in child’s pose.

Spend the entire day at work thinking about the Baptiste flow, envisioning the postures, mumbling the transitions and cues to myself. Spend several days leading up to class reciting the flow out loud in my car on the way to and from work.


Put together a playlist of my favorite songs, and smile at the thought of rocking out to some of my favorite songs while watching some of my favorite people do yoga.

The day of class, write down the flow and some ideas for teaching I want to share. Consider the theme for the class, or a quote or message to share. (For my first class, I read a passage from Meditations on the Mat about letting go of attachment during savasana. For the second one, I discussed ujjayi breathing and mountain pose as foundations at the beginning of class, and then spent a while in the middle breaking down the Warrior poses.)

An hour before class, practice the flow I’m about to teach. Feel it in my body.

A few minutes before anyone knocks on the door, light candles and turn on peaceful music. Feel my stomach do flips as I set up my mat at the front of the room. Ground into my feet and feel my heartbeat, generating positive energy and clearing the room, making space for the practice that’s about to take place here. Release my attachment to the outcome. Devote my practice to my students, bringing love into my heart.


Say hello and give hugs as everyone walks in.

Breathe deeper.

Teach. Connect. Assist. Allow each student to have their own experience on the mat.

During savasana, offer energy, healing, light and love to each person in the room. Notice the feeling of calm in the air, and the look of peace on their faces. (The first time I looked, it literally took my breath away. My heart soared.)

End class humbly, in gratitude, and do my best not to squeal and yell joyfully at everyone about how stoked I am.

And then do it all again. :)

Do you teach? What was your early yoga career like?


PS Next on the list: teach private one-on-one classes and lead a gratitude-themed flow at my local rock climbing gym! Stay tuned.

Changes


Lately I am surprised by my own body.

In downward dog, my heels skim the floor.



In crow, my arms, wrists and hands are and steady and strong. I can stay for eight breaths instead of three.

I’m working on bringing my torso down onto my forearms in wheel.

Last night I moved effortlessly into Eka Pada Koundiyanasana II (Pose Dedicated to the Sage II), both feet hovering off the ground, my body resolute to hold the posture. Instead of falling out like I have so many times, I felt weightless, resilient.


I can hold handstand off the wall for a few breaths, and I recently tried handstand-ing forward from downdog into forward fold, and it worked. I hovered for a moment, feeling the thrill of the inversion, before I continued in my flow.

It is exciting to experience my practice deepening, my body unfolding, my heart opening.

It is beautiful to witness the beauty and power of change, to ask: whose body is this?

Chanting


Hi beautiful yogis :) Check it out: I bought a djembe drum!

I'm so excited to feel into my creative, musical side, and to add a new element to my practice of singing and chanting.

One of my favorite teachers at my home studio always begins class with a little mini kirtan session. He sings out a mantra, and then the class repeats it back. There is something so calming and purifying about joining in song with a community of yogis, especially when the intention behind the words is devotion and love.

 
Jai Uttal and Snatam Kaur are two of my favorite kirtan artists.

Do you ever sing mantra or chant at your yoga studio? I'd love to hear!

Lines of Energy


Do you consider the lines of energy in your body when you practice?

In each pose, we draw energy through the body along different meridians.
  

I discovered these photo illustrations via Wanderlust and love how they provide a beautiful representation of the shifting of energy that happens in yoga.

Each asana is like a painting with its own color, texture, richness.


Yogi/ writer Erich Schiffmann describes it this way:

Stiff and tight areas of your body inhibit the free circulation of energy and thereby strangle your internal supply of nourishment. These are the areas where you experience pain or discomfort to one degree or another. They are undernourished - crying for help. When clenched tightly this way, they remain separate, constricted, unrelated to the whole. As they open, they begin to receive nourishment once again. Physical discomfort and pain will disappear as healing occurs. When you restore lost movement to these tight areas of yourself, you rejuvenate them, bringing life to more of yourself.


As you open the physical meridians in the body, enlivening these energy channels, you are able to embrace life more fully. Body, mind, and spirit are all connected through these energy lines.

Become aware of them in your practice, inviting more space for transformation. 

Staying Young: Yoga and Its Effects on Aging


With yoga, you can grow younger every year.

I mean, have you guys seen the world’s oldest yoga teacher (above)? Or Dharma Mittra (below)?

They glow. And it's because they have been dedicated to their practice for years. Today I bring you an awesome guest post by health writer Tara Heath about the anti-aging benefits of yoga. Haven’t you heard you should do inversions for fewer wrinkles? Well, that’s only the beginning! Read on…

Photo via Pinterest.

Aging is something that nobody can prevent – even as much as everyone in the world would like to. However, there are some things you can do in your day-to-day life to help slow the process of aging and stay healthy. The most obvious of those being simple things like eating a healthy diet, exercising regularly, and getting enough sleep each night.

Yoga, despite its popularity and generally accepted health benefits, isn't something people always think of when considering ways to slow the clock on aging. Surprisingly, it turns out that it may actually be a beneficial weapon in the fight against time. 


Even if you’re not in your senior years quite yet, or aging isn't the first thing on your mind, taking steps to stay healthy and feel young can benefit everybody, and starting early is always better than starting late. 



Image courtesy of Flickr .

Increased Flexibility 

Men and women are born with the same amount of flexibility, but as they age, that flexibility decreases. While the decline typically occurs faster in men than women, adults over the age of 35 are generally much less flexible than they were in their 20s.


Yoga, which puts the body in a variety of unique positions, helps improve flexibility in a way that isn't overly uncomfortable or painful. Over time, doing the poses can make it easier for you to do daily tasks. This can help you tremendously as you age, as many injuries for adults and seniors come from doing everyday activities. 




Image courtesy of Flickr .

Improved Joint Strength 

Like flexibility, joint strength tends to diminish with age. Yoga is beneficial for building or restoring some of that joint strength, however, as many types of yoga incorporate poses that require you to support your body weight. In that way, yoga is much like strength training, which also helps improve joint strength.


Of course, the positions you use that require you to support your body weight also aid in building muscle. More muscle mass also helps reduce injuries and keep your body weight down.


Better Sleep 


Aging adults tend to have more sleep problems than younger ones. Not getting enough sleep can result in serious health problems and more rapid aging.


Doing yoga regularly can help you improve your quality of sleep since the asana practice combines both exercise and relaxation techniques – two things we know are essential or a well-regulated sleep schedule. 


If you have trouble sleeping at night and it’s causing problems in your daily life or making you feel run-down, taking a few yoga classes could go a long ways toward curing your problem.



Photo via Pinterest.

It’s impossible to stop the aging process completely, but that doesn't mean that you can’t slow it down a bit. Although eating right is what you hear about most when the topic of aging comes up, exercise and relaxation are both a close second.

Luckily those are two things that yoga can provide for you, making it an almost ideal anti-aging activity. 




Photo via Pinterest.

Tara Heath is a freelance writer in Southern California. She enjoys practicing yoga regularly, finding that it is very beneficial in helping her to relax and unwind after a long day. As a health writer, she contributes to the Presidio Home Care blog

Get Sponsored to Do More Yoga


Would your practice look different if the cost of yoga classes and gear were less a part of the equation?

If you had some free yoga classes at a studio, would you be more consistent about making time to be on your mat?

Maybe you've got your eyes on a DVD by your favorite teacher that you wish you could play at home, but you can’t justify purchasing it.


Or perhaps your yoga mat is old and stinky, or you've never even owned one. Or you’re feeling ready to upgrade to a high-quality mat, and aren't sure where to start.

You could really use a  new yoga outfit to get yourself feeling confident and inspired. You wish you had a block, a strap, some mat spray, an eco-friendly water bottle.

And you could really use a community of yogis to ask questions, to share stories with, to help hold you accountable, to ask for support on your spiritual journey.


If this sounds like you, consider applying for SPONSORED YOGIS 2014! I’m choosing a select few people around the country and local to northern California to:
Receive yoga classes and gear
Try new products and healthy food samples and review them
Study the 8 limbs of yoga
Share their yoga stories on the blog

I’d love you to be a part! Email me today at aliveinthefire at gmail dot com for the application. Submissions are due November 15th, 2013 (unless you let me know you need a few extra days!).

For more information, check out the Sponsored Yogis page.

Namaste.

Move Toward Your Edge

Photos via FYeahYoga and Yoga Dudes.

Where is your edge?

I know I’ve found my edge in a posture when, instead of trying to change something, I simply stay.
  

I come into the breath more strongly.

I trust the teacher’s words, not hesitating to move into the pose when it is cued.


I trust the strength of my own body, releasing expectations and previous experiences trying the pose.

I move toward feeling more rather than backing away from what feels like a fire in my muscles, or an upsurge of emotion.

I trust the teacher within, the one that tells me yes, you can.


Have you found your edge in your practice today?

Mantra and Manifestation with Steve Gold


Last weekend I had the pleasure of practicing a vinyasa flow class with live music from Steve Gold, and then attending his workshop on Mantra and Manifestation. Both were incredible yoga experiences!

It was so powerful to sing during class, to be freely encouraged to make noise and to express from the heart. The studio was jam-packed, yogis lined up like little sardines. There’s always something exciting about a full room and I was inspired by the energy created by all of us moving and breathing together.


And I have to say it was pretty magical singing So Much Magnificence and feeling the voices resonate in the room during savasana. If you haven’t heard that song, you should definitely check it out.

During the workshop, Steve dove into an exploration of mantra.

We sang om namah shivaya, a mantra close to my heart. You may remember, I have it tattooed on my right ankle :)



Though the Sanskrit words are hard to translate, some interpret the phrase as “I am that I am.” The breakdown of each word can be explained with various definitions:

  • Om: the universal sound; an exuberant roar of joy; “yes!”; verily; so be it; amen
  • Namah: to bow; “I invite this energy into my heart”
  • Shiva: that which contains all things; all possibility; maximum expansion; the destroyer of ignorance
When chanting om namah shivaya, I acknowledge my higher Self. I acknowledge all aspects of my being, and all possibilities for what may come. I ground myself, considering the path I walk. I see the path clearly before me. Om namah shivaya. I am that I am.

The words have such power, and for me personally, they conjure up a lot of memories of the past year when I chanted as a way to invite strength into my life. When we sang the first time during Steve’s workshop, I couldn’t help but tear up.

Om namah shivaya, Om shanti
Om namah shivaya, Om shanty

The words felt like such a relief, and the collective sound of the chant brought me into a space of light, peace, and comfort.



After explaining the meaning of the mantra and letting us experience it firsthand, Steve launched into a compelling story about moving to Hawaii in his 20s. His goal was to cast aside physical and material attachments, to detach from society in pursuit of enlightenment. He encountered several wise mentors and spiritual texts along the way, and was surprised to find that while the adventure was initially very appealing, he couldn’t sustain this simple life of living in a hut, spending days by a waterfall with his guitar, and doing yoga and meditation.

Perhaps most surprising was finding confirmation that his path toward enlightenment didn’t have to look like that of a monk.

He was struck by the words in the Gospel of Sri Rama Krishna that stood in stark contrast to the lifestyle of his spiritual quest:

As long as you have desires, you must exhaust them.

Later, another teacher put it in this way: All of us seek something to do, and someone to love.

Why not discover what it is you seek, and run after it exuberantly?



So often in yoga and spiritual circles, we hear about the ancient masters who sacrificed a so-called “normal” life and retreated to the caves to do the “real” yoga, meditation, praying, fasting, and other sacred practices.

I found it refreshing to be reminded that we each have spiritual gifts, and many of them involve worldly connections. For Steve Gold, fulfilling his dharma means being a conduit for spontaneous spiritual connection and transformation through musical gatherings. He travels, connects with people up close, and shares his music in a very visceral, immediate way.

He’s had to overcome fears and self-doubt in order to do so. Again and again, he returns to his heart’s truest desire in order to find the motivation and inspiration to keep playing his songs and speaking his truth.

I am grateful to Steve for sharing his wisdom and his powerful music, and for challenging me to be clear about my desires – to be conscious of them, and active physically, emotionally, mentally and spiritually in pursuing them.

Om namah shivaya om!


 

Steve has a new track called Golden Om. I highly recommend his albums Let Your Heart Be Known and So Much Magnificence

He's also on Facebook.

Forget What You Think You Know

Photos via Pinterest and Yoga Dudes.

In this moment, can you release expectation?

Be curious about the present. Instead of dwelling on the way your body, mind, heart and spirit felt yesterday or an hour ago, sit with where you are now.


Perhaps you’ve tried a challenging posture (like an arm balance or an inversion) a hundred times. Perhaps every one of those times you fell out. Today, you are ready. Your body moves into the pose effortlessly. Or your mind releases resistance to the teacher’s words. Instead of trying to control, you relax and let go.


Forget what you think you know. Learn to be OK with not knowing what will happen when you try. Be open to possibility, receptive to what is.

You may surprise yourself.

Happy HallOMween!


Hey beautiful yogis! Happy Halloween :)

I hope you're celebrating and enjoying festivities today.

I decided to dress up as a recently-tattooed yogi… :)

I met up with Jennifer at Leonardi Tattoo last night to start working on my half sleeve again, and I couldn’t be more stoked about how the piece on my shoulder turned out. The mountain scene is a little tribute to Mother Earth, nature, and the importance of being present (as inspired by Lake Tahoe and life in California). I see the flowers as a representation of the divine feminine – of beauty, strength, self-acceptance and love.


It’s been wonderful wearing my heart and my art on my sleeve today (ha!) and it’s so fun seeing other people light up when they notice the new ink. Looking forward to showing my yogi friends at the studio tonight, too!

Did you dress up today?

We had a cupcake decorating contest at work, and I have plans to go salsa dancing after yoga class tonight. I’ll be rocking the masquerade mask :)


Photos via Pinterest.

Hope you guys are having a blast practicing yoga as ghosts and zombies!

XO

What Do You Want to Do with Yoga?

Photos via Pinterest.

Leave behind the comfortable. Find a way to make it harder to go back to what you’re used to than to go forward into strange, exciting, but uncomfortable new territory.

Get rid of the possibility of comfort, so that the scary journey you want to take is your best choice.
—Leo Babuta, Zen Habits

My heart did a little flip in my chest while reading these words over at Zen Habits today. As my vinyasa teacher training goes on, and as I grow deeper in my practice and more connected to my yoga community, the question arises: where do I want to go from here?

And my soul calls with a resounding and startlingly simple answer: farther down the yogic path!


I so want to teach, falling more and more in love with yoga and all it has to offer, the way it opens me and brings peace. I am called to share.

I met up with one of my most inspiring teachers last night to chat about the path toward teaching. At one point in the conversation he turned to me and asked, “So where are you in your yoga career?”

And I laughed. “Um, two weeks in to my first training?!” I said, and he nodded in a way that told me he knows what it means to be in that place of beginning and to see the horizon in the distance.

I couldn’t help but smile because all of a sudden, I could imagine the wonder and thrill of realizing my passion, of having a career in yoga. I can picture it. I can feel it happening already.


I am living it now, embodying my voice as a teacher, making connections and considering the possibilities of where I will teach.

He also asked me this: “What do you want to do with yoga?”

And as I’ve turned that question over and over in my head, I see that the answer is simple: give it away. Let it fill me up. Let it allow me to serve.

Yoga draws me deeper to that place of truth, of inner knowing, of spiritual connection. Yoga humbles me. I want to do whatever I can with it. And I plan to.


Namaste.

Being Vulnerable, Being Seen

Photo by Max Wanger.

Do you practice being present in each moment?

When is the last time you really looked into someone’s eyes while you spoke to them?

Photo by Tyler Branch.

When you are connecting with others, do you allow yourself to be seen?

Vulnerability challenges us; it requires us to trust ourselves and to honor our self-worth, to live in truth.

Photo by Tyler Branch.

When we are vulnerable, we can embrace any experience, whether we perceive it as positive or negative. We take it all in, allowing what is.

Commit to being present with those around you. Connect. Stare deeply into their eyes; witness them. Allow yourself to be witnessed. Listen. Even if there is a moment that feels awkward or uncomfortable, stay. Do not abandon this person who you love, who is just like you. 

Photo by Sarah Rhoads.

You deserve to see clearly, and to be seen.