Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Breaking Negative Habits with Yoga

Here's a Yoga Journal perspective on breaking negative habits

Here is a bit from my own perspective:

Often, our practice on the mat is a microcosm of the world off the mat that we've created for ourselves. If we're traditional "Type A" individuals, we might seek to rush to the end pose, as in pigeon pose, missing the opportunity to lengthen the spine, exhale as we fall forward, breathing at the point of resistance and giving our bodies time to open up. Once there, our mind tends to wander and we think about what the next pose will be or what we need to do after class is over.

If, however, we lack self-confidence, we may hold ourselves back and miss the same opportunities. Staying upright, we look around the room and watch what others are doing, maybe even beating ourselves up a little for not being able to go further!

In either case, we have removed ourselves from the present moment and missed the real purpose of yoga: to connect our mind, body and spirit. A lack of awareness in the present moment creates ideal conditions for stress-related illness. Through a regular practice of pranayama and asana, we can regain our connectedness and release stress.

Remaining present also helps us be more able to avoid foods and activities that are bad for our bodies. An awareness of self at any given moment gives us the tools to question why we are choosing this or that negative habit. We are better able to step away from it and replace it with something positive.

It's all a slow unfolding into the promise of true freedom.


Friday, February 13, 2009

Love and Yoga (an exercise for couples)

Showing true love for another person requires conscious choices in our words and deeds. It doesn't just have to happen on Valentine's Day. Do we really listen to what our partner is saying? Are we in the present moment with them, or are we thinking about our other obligations that day? Are we looking into our partners' eyes, or are we fidgeting about, eyes over here, eyes over there, hand on our keys or the doorknob?

Being present means choosing to connect in that moment. What are we waiting for? If we constantly are thinking about the past or the future, we are missing the beauty of the present moment. Even in our darkest, most stressful moments there is beauty to be shared.

If we are not in a relationship, our awareness of the present moment creates lasting and meaningful connection to people in our lives. We have the power to make or break someone's day, with a kind gesture or smile or word.

Learning to center our focus on the breath allows us to be truly present. We can use this pranayama, or mindful breathing, as a daily exercise and come back to it whenever we feel our mind and our awareness darting about. Whether you practice yoga or not, pranayama will help you to be a better friend, parent, spouse, or partner... a gift more valuable than any chocolate or flowers.

This is a great exercise to do with your partner. Have him or her read this to you slowly and take lots of time before switching places. With practice it will come naturally to you.

Simple Pranayama

Sit in a comfortable upright position in a quiet space. Allow the top of the head to extend up, as if a thread were pulling you up. Feel the vertebrae separate, allowing the tailbone to sink toward the ground. Place the hands lightly on the thighs or knees. Roll the shoulders back and release tension in the neck. Close the eyes. Relax the muscles of the face. Let the tongue hang loose in the mouth. Begin inhaling and exhaling deeply through the nose. Try to make your inhales and your exhales the same length. Try not to force the breath; try not to resist it. Notice where the breath goes in your body. Place your hands on the belly around the area of the navel. Feel the belly rise as you inhale; your hands will move out. On the exhale, allow the belly to sink inward and the hands follow. Try to notice the space at the end of the exhale; pause there briefly in that silence. Your thoughts are like this- there is space between them. Bring your awareness to the space between the thoughts. Find the peacefulness that is there. If thoughts come, and they will, simply let them float on by. Try not to attach any intention to them. Continue this breath for several minutes and slowly open your eyes.

If you like, you can close with the hands together in prayer position, and speak the following words: Namaste. The spirit within me honors the spirit within you.

Intimacy and Ecstasy

What better time than Valentine's Day to think about how our own connection to ourselves and our own breath affect our physical relationship with our partner? Love is a choice; true intimacy requires a deeper choice... to have interest in the needs of another... to enjoy the moment... to be aware and present at all times.

Read more about it here, in Yoga Journal.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009


The Yamas, or moral restraints, and the Niyamas, or observances, are two limbs of the Eight Limb (or Ashtanga) Path of Yoga. Rather than a set of Ten Commandments, the five yamas and the five niyamas are a set of guidelines in the practice of yoga meant to open the mind and heart and provide the inner peace necessary for eventual samadhi, or union with the divine. Whether or not this is your ultimate goal, the yamas and niyamas are chock full of common sense that, in my opinion, if everyone attempted to practice would make a world of difference.

The niyama santosa, or contentment, teaches us to be okay with whatever ups and downs might come our way, to be in love with the present moment. I might be disappointed that I had a low turnout for a class, but instead of fretting about it, I could use the time to work one-on-one with the people who did come in. It might be a more rewarding experience for both me and my students. Having positive energy about a challenging time can reap rewards in other arenas, too. People want to be around positivity. It tends to build on itself. I had a student tell me that I am a pleasant person to be around and that she feels happy being around me. That's the best compliment I can receive, I think!

When you are an open and warm person, people tend to gravitate towards you. Just today a young lady who works in my neighborhood coffee shop offered me some extra smoothie that she made... it ended up being a full size, for free! If I were a gloomy or "too cool for school" kind of person I don't think she would have felt comfortable extending that kindness. It's true for me too... so even when that positive person that I encounter has a down day, if I have had a comfortable, easygoing history with them, I am more willing to talk to them and hopefully brighten their day too. So contentment and openness are a two-way street.

The idea of "every man for himself" doesn't fly with me. I think our attitudes and their resulting choices influence not only our own lives and those in our immediate circles, but also everyone with whom we come into contact. Her extending that kindness to me no doubt will be repeated somehow and "paid forward" to another person in my own life. Perhaps even just reading this will motivate you to act with kindness toward the rest of the people with whom you interact today.

In these uncertain times, we are challenged to find ways to feel safer and fulfilled in ways that might not be in line with what have come to be our cultural norms of doing, buying, and having more. Sometimes "having more" is simply being content with what we do have: our health, our happiness, the love of the people around us, and the love that we are capable of extending to others.

I saw a bumper sticker today on the way to class: "Life is the School. Love is the Lesson."

I couldn't agree more.


Friday, February 6, 2009

Private Yoga Sessions

I teach one-on-one private sessions that are 75-90 minutes and can be customized to your individual needs (i.e. more intense, more restorative, shoulder/hips/hamstrings, etc.) Private sessions offer the opportunity to ask questions and correct undesirable habits before they begin.

I think if you check costs around the area my rates are quite reasonable-- $40 for a session at my home studio which is centrally located in Richmond-- $45 if I come to your house to teach. You can add a partner to split the cost for no additional fee. To add a third person, it's a mere $10 more.

For more information visit my website:


Thursday, February 5, 2009

Wii Fit Review

The following is an oldie but goodie from

I tried it: Wii Fit Yoga

wii fit Nintendo released the Wii Fit game on Wednesday (see my original July 25, 2007 post). Players use a wireless balance board, which is reminiscent of a bathroom scale, to practice yoga, strength training, and aerobics, in addition to balance games such as Ski Slalom and Tightrope Walk.

My husband found the review copy on our doorstop Wednesday morning, and had it hooked up in 45 minutes and had gone running and skiing before I even had a chance to look at it. Naturally, I was most interested in the yoga component. But first, I chose a Mii character that would be my on-screen personality (Gema) and completed a body test that revealed my BMI (20) and my Wii Fit Age (eight years younger than my actual age. Yahoo!). Then it was on to yoga. There are 15 yoga poses, but only four were "unlocked." I needed to practice for a certain amount of time before the next yoga pose was available to me. After doing Deep Breathing, Half Moon, Warrior, and Tree Pose two times each, I was allowed to practice Sun Salutation and Standing Knee pose. But after 65 minutes of practice, I still didn't have access to the other nine poses, which was frustrating. Even though I executed the poses "perfectly," I could not move to the next level until I had exercised the required amount of minutes.

As I did each pose, the game could tell if I was balancing correctly or if I was favoring one leg or another. In fact, it is easy to become more focused on the Balance Indicator than doing the pose properly. At the end of each pose, the game gave me a ranking of Yoga Newcomer, Yoga Novice, Yoga Trainer, or Yoga Master. It also ranked me against my past performance and other yogis who used the game earlier. My friend, Grace, didn't like this feature. It made her feel too competitive, she said.

The balance board is two inches high, and it was a little strange doing Warrior Pose with one foot elevated on the board, and the other on the ground. But at the end of the day, I do think Wii would be a fun way to help beginning to intermediate level yogis develop a home practice. Wii Fit, with the Wii Balance Board, retails for about $90. To play Wii Fit, you must first have the Nintendo Wii game system, which costs about $250.


I have Wii Fit Yoga at home and I agree with the comment following the original review that there should be a longer "game" so that you don't have to stop and manipulate menus after each pose. I am not sure yet if one exists now.

Also some of the cues and info about the poses are strange: for example, Tree Pose as a spine stretcher? If you add the arms-as-branches component, maybe...

Still, I always say it: any yoga is better than no yoga. So Wii away!


Why I Practice

I can't say it any better than this.

from Meditations from the Mat, by Rolf Gates and Katrina Kenison

Day 218:

"If your eyes and ears are open, you will see the windows of opportunity around you." --Cherie Carter-Scott

In asana our eyes are open, our ears are open, our minds are open, our hearts are open. As the months turn into years, we realize that our practice is a long unfolding, an opening into promise. We learn to stand easy, firm, and relaxed, and our problems become the open windows of opportunity.

Day 219:

"True men of Yoga, striving, see Him within themselves." --Bhagavad Gita

Success in asana requires stamina. I forget this in times when I am not working very hard at my practice, and remember it when I am. If I train hard and long enough, usually over the course of a few months, something magical happens. I find that in posure after posture, I can endure past the initial difficulty. The pain softens, and the training of my mind begins to kick in. I invite myself to relax, to breathe, to enter the dance of the asana, mind, body, and breath. I encourage myself to have faith, to smile, to have fun, to feel gratitude, to be in love with the moment, the opportunity, the posture. This requires strength, physical endurance, and mental discipline. The fruit of this strength, this discipline, is that I am able to pause in each posture and connect to life pulsing in every cell of my body-- life dancing in me, life dancing through me.


One of my clients gave me this poem. I love that I have a job where people hug me and give me poems. The next day when I taught a group class I read the second half to them as they lay in savasana.


Go placidly amid the noise and haste,
and remember what peace there may be in silence.
As far as possible, without surrender, be on good terms with all persons.
Speak your truth quietly and clearly; and listen to others,
even to the dull and ignorant; they too have their story.

Avoid loud and aggressive persons, they are vexations to the spirit.
If you compare yourself with others, you may become vain and bitter,
for always there will be greater and lesser persons than yourself.
Enjoy your achievements as well as your plans.

Keep interested in your own career, however humble;
it is a real possession in the changing fortunes of time.
Exercise caution in your business affairs,
for the world is full of trickery.
But let this not blind you to what virtue there is;
many persons strive for high ideals,
and everywhere life is full of heroism.

Be yourself. Especially do not feign affection.
Neither be cynical about love;
for in the face of all aridity and disenchantment
it is as perennial as the grass.
Take kindly the counsel of the years,
gracefully surrendering the things of youth.
Nurture strength of spirit to shield you in sudden misfortune.
But do not distress yourself with dark imaginings.
Many fears are born of fatigue and loneliness.

Beyond a wholesome discipline, be gentle with yourself.
You are a child of the universe no less than the trees and the stars;
you have a right to be here. And whether or not it is clear to you,
no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should.

Therefore be at peace with God, whatever you conceive Him to be.
And whatever your labors and aspirations,
in the noisy confusion of life, keep peace with your soul.
With all its sham, drudgery and broken dreams,
it is still a beautiful world.
Be cheerful. Strive to be happy.

Max Ehrmann

Dog Yoga

Article on Martha Stewart about doing yoga with your dog. While I think it's a cute idea, it doesn't seem safe to me for either the yogini or the dog. If you do try it please be careful.

Sasha Cohen on her Yoga Practice

Olympic Ice Skater Sasha Cohen talks about her yoga practice and demonstrates some common poses. She has great form!

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Looking Up

I began practicing yoga as a way to engage in exercise without the impact produced by other activities, such as step aerobics, kickboxing, and running. But what I have received from my practice has become and continues to be so much more.

Things are looking up since I truly committed myself to the practice of yoga. I have practiced in some way or other dating back over 12 years but going through the postures without mindfulness and healthy habits is a less than true yoga practice. It was only when I began to see yoga as more than a physical action and began putting the philosophy into play in my life that I think the benefits really began to show themselves. I feel calmer in traffic. I don't lose my cool so often. I am more tuned in to how I am feeling day to day. I know to listen to my body and avoid things that make me unhealthy. I feel stronger, more centered, more in control of the things I can control and less worried about the things I can't. I think I am kinder to people. I sleep better.

It's a constant process for me. I re-booted my practice two years ago when I took on a nearly daily habit of strapping on the ipod with the latest from, hoofing it to the gym (before we moved to this house with the delightful yoga room!) rolling out the mat, and getting to it. Eventually it became easier to see yoga as part of a regular day and not just icing on the cake.

The off-the-mat stuff has been longer in developing. I remember feeling a connection to ancient Asian traditions as far back as ninth grade, when we studied Taoism and other Asian traditions in World Studies. I remember the appeal of a philosophy rooted in human behavior and our connection to a greater, less definable underlying entity. It seemed like the easiest way to feel integrated spiritually but able to relate to other religious traditions. Later on, while minoring in religious studies at Virginia Commonwealth University in the 90's, I began to notice that nearly all religious traditions have some unifying qualities in that they all have a meditative inquiry component and all strive for unity with a higher power or greater entity. I grew up agnostic, but wanted to believe in something bigger than myself, so this element was very appealing to me and gave a name to what I already felt inside.

So-called "new age" philosophy never appealed to me personally, though I understand its value to other people. Using crystals and hypnotherapy and past-life regression and those sorts of things were untested in general, but more importantly, for me, they lacked a unifying quality.

The practice of yoga, however, dates back prior to the time of Christ. The word Yoga comes from the Sanskrit yuj, which means yoke, or union. It refers to the union of the mind and body through the breath, but it also refers to union of the individual with the divine. So a physical practice that could lead to spiritual unity sounded pretty good to me.

So anyway, that's how I got into yoga. It's not that unusual and probably not that different from others' experiences. I haven't been to India (yet). I am not a vegetarian (today). I can't do headstand away from the wall (yet). But I am more focused than ever on my practice and also on teaching others to open themselves to the possibilities that yoga offers on and off the mat, and this blog is an extension of that.

I love reading what others have to say about their own experience of yoga, and I will share those insights here along with my own. I also will gather literature that is out there that inspires me in my own practice. Perhaps I will even throw in some suggested poses to help unlock difficult areas. I hope you get something from it all.