Yoga Inspiration: Day 15, How do you face inner conflict?

Yin Yang Yoga, by Naama Ben-Daat on Behance.com

Today I remembered why doing slow yoga sequences is so hard for me. Minutes before I laid out my mat, I passed one of the upstairs bedrooms while a show played. I had periodically watched episodes of the show and was impressed with some of the characters and ideas. (I won’t specify which show it was because I don’t think it’s necessary.) However, when I passed the room to change for yoga, a scene flashed before me that floored me emotionally. After that, my brain kept trying to sort through and process what I saw.

Doing an hour of slow breathing and posing almost killed me. The whole sequence, I felt like I was facing what I saw over and over again, trying to fix it and reassure myself of what I know is right.

Some people do softer yoga to relax and forget about things that upset them. I do intensive sequences because they help me burn through those problems. If I slow down, my thoughts become so heavy it’s self debilitating. My counselor almost five years ago called it Obsessive Compulsive Thinking. The only time I become like this is if I face situations, ideas, or people who directly oppose my spiritual or moral beliefs.

The best way to describe it is I get stuck in my thoughts trying to fix the unfixable. Though the problems I face in my head seem easy to let go from the outside, its not so simple. Those conflicts and the emotions they arouse feel very real. Sometimes they are absolutely terrifying. Renee Fabian explained this very well in her article “How to Stop Obsessive Thinking.”

Obsessive thoughts can impact both your mood and functioning. When they enter our mind, generally our first instinct is some level of discomfort, followed by attempts to banish the unwanted visions. This is human nature: When something is bad, we avoid it. The stove is hot, so we don’t touch it. Simple. But obsessive thinking is a different beast.

When we try to avoid a thought while in an obsessive state, the brain keeps reminding us about the unwanted thought so we don’t forget to stop thinking about it. It’s the same basic principle behind being told not to think about something — say a pink elephant — and our next thought becoming exactly what we are not supposed to think about.

Renee Fabian, How to Stop Obsessive Thinking

Knowing this, it is easy to imagine how I felt yesterday trying to breathe deeply and move slowly while fighting these thoughts. Luckily, I established for myself a pattern to ease myself out of this pattern of thinking. First, I RECOGNIZE I am having harmful compulsive thoughts. Second, I REVIEW the thoughts. Third, I RELABEL them. Last, I face them and mentally walk away from them. Usually I have to repeat this process many times before my thoughts settle down.

For anyone else who grapples with anxiety and Obsessive Compulsive Thinking, having these kinds of thoughts is okay. What’s most important is knowing we are not our thoughts and it’s okay to struggle to calm ourselves. There is nothing wrong with us. Everyone to one degree or another faces these kinds of trials. 

Thank you for reading! See you tomorrow.

Yoga Inspiration: Day 14, Accepting and pondering emotions is part of yoga

Artwork by 9 Jedit (This is one of my favorite artists! Please check out their website and their Instagram and Grafolio accounts)

Since I didn’t do a physical practice today, I thought about what I could give to anyone who reads this post today. I settled on discussing for a short time how accepting and pondering our emotions is part of a healthy yoga practice. I know this seems like a strange thing to post on Valentine’s Day. But anything I could post about love wouldn’t be very sincere. 

Today I will be honest. Practicing yoga sometimes makes me painfully aware of the sorrows I carry. But, other times I use it as a way to relish in my joys. I believe we carry certain emotions throughout our bodies. I’ve pondered this ever since I watched “The Guru” from Avatar: The Last Airbender (2004-2008) and studied chakras for my yoga teacher training. Much of our physical healing and inspiration comes from facing difficult emotions blocking our path towards fulfillment. 

How could any of this relate to Valentine’s Day? Well, I know quite a few friends and family members who are struggling right now. Some have never married. Some are recently divorced and estranged from their children. Other’s have had spouses die. Valentine’s Day is one of the hardest holidays to go through for many people because of many unique circumstances. On the other hand, I have many many friends and family members who are newlywed, have newborn children to enjoy, or are happily able to meet those they love.

Whatever our life circumstances, it would be incredibly beneficial to breathe and accept whatever emotions we feel at this time. This is fundamental truth I’ve had to learn over many years. Until I was about twenty-five, I didn’t know how to positively face and feel my emotions. As a child, I would hold in powerful negative emotions until I broke down when t became too much to bear. Meditation, prayer, and positive friendships have definitely helped me to mature emotionally enough to confidently say it is worth it.

Above anything else, I assure anyone who reads this there can always someone who loves, cares about, and wishes you happiness. That person is you. Even if that isn’t a reality now, it can be. I think it all starts with a desire to let go and simply be who we are: and that is someone truly and sincerely wonderful

Thank you for reading! See you tomorrow.

Yoga Inspiration: Day 13, Do you take time to slow down?

“Big Sky” by 9 Jedit (This is one of my favorite artists! Please check out their website and their Instagram and Grafolio accounts)

Because my practice yesterday was so stressful, I decided to slow down and take extra care to relax. Instead of focusing on continuous movement patterned after my breathing, I stayed in each posture for 1 minute, changing when a bell rang on my phone. I also limited the sequence to only an hour, so I didn’t pressure myself to do more.

I wonder if I am an anomaly. I don’t like to be rushed, especially during tests, yet I struggle to slow down when exercising or starting new projects. It takes a lot of self-control to let myself not go all the way, to not give everything I can. But that is a lot of pressure to put on one’s self. I’ve come to terms with having a perfectionist mindset, but still expect perfection from myself, even with the smallest things.

Today’s yoga experience, as slow as it was, gave me valuable insight into how I move and relax. When I sat within each posture for 1 minute, I focused on the muscles I needed to engage but also how my body settled as I breathed deeply. Even the simplest positions could be physically challenging if I had the right mindset.

Through some studying, I discovered there is a yoga style called Iyengar Yoga which holds postures longer like this. Named after its founder B.K.S. Iyengar,”poses are held much longer than in other schools of yoga, in an effort to pay closer attention to the precise musculoskeletal alignment within each asana.”(Types of Yoga) Another yoga style, which holds postures even longer than in Iyengar, is Yin Yoga. Paulie Zink established this style in order to, “apply moderate stress to the connective tissue – the tendons, fascia and ligaments – with the aim of increasing circulation in the joints and improving flexibility.” (Types of Yoga)

Funnily enough, when my practice ended with the last bell chime, I was melancholy. The timing couldn’t be better for me to experiment with this slower, more focused sequencing. I won’t be able to do more intensive practices because of monthly menstrual issues. But I am excited rather than dismayed because I can now find a yoga style I can do freely in the future when I can’t go all out.

Thank you for reading! See you tomorrow.

Yoga Inspiration: Day 12, How do you handle smells during yoga?

Ylang Essential Oils, Illustration Daria UstiugovaDreamstime.com

I learned today how important it is for me to control how my environment smells while I do yoga. There is a funny story connected with my post title. A few hours before my yoga practice, My brother started washing the carpet on the stairs ten feet from my usual yoga space. I didn’t think too much about this until, while I was writing on the couch, I smelled the cleaner he was using. The cleaner’s smell was so powerful I could barely stomach staying in the same room. Several hours later, I moved my yoga mat into the kitchen to avoid the awful stench in the living room, only to have OTHER scents from our pantry and sink assault my poor nose. I felt slightly nauseous and struggled concentrating on the poses I was doing.

Conclusion, smells have a powerful effect on me especially when I exercise. This experience brought back many memories from my childhood, especially in the Arizona heat, where powerful smells completely ruined my concentration while playing sports in PE or participating in church activities. There was even an instance a few years ago in a yoga studio in Utah. The studio and the teachers were nice and I liked the overall feeling there. However, the incense or smells the owners of the studio used made me nauseous and a total mess for the rest of the day. Unfortunately, I never went to that studio again.

After my experience today, it got me thinking about how other people react to smells. Are there others who have a hard time practicing because of it? I do know many yoga studios use smell as a means of to help students mediate. As Ta Yoga founder Terri Kennedy once noted, “Scent denotes certain things, so we use scent to set a mood, energy, and space.” Though this is the case, there are most likely more people like me who are super sensitive to scents.

I don’t think there is necessarily a right or wrong answer on whether teachers should use incense or essential oils for their classes. What is important for me, especially as I think of how I want to teach yoga classes in the future, is trying to make a studio or class as welcoming and comfortable as possible. Sometimes that means having a candle or incense burning in or outside the room. Other times there are poor people like me who need the air as clean as possible.

One article I found that addressed this subject really well was Addressing Scent and Sensitivity in Class by Angela Pirisi. Feel free to check it out!

Thank you for reading! See you tomorrow.

Pepperment, Illustration by Daria UstiugovaDreamstime.com

Yoga Inspiration: Day 11, Have you ever done yoga blindfolded?

“必要なことだから” (Because it’s necessary) Illustration by Re°

It’s interesting how extraordinary experiences happen when doing familiar things differently. When I tried going through my Ashtanga Vinyasa Flow today, I decided on a whim to change my routine. Yesterday, I talked about being true to our personal practice and not following a yoga routine mechanically. Building off this idea, I had a curious thought come to me while I began my sequence today. “What is yoga like for people who are blind?

This thought became the catalyst for the rest of my practice. I made a makeshift blindfold and resolved to go through my whole sequence without seeing. My hour of blindness was enlightening. Because I couldn’t use my eyes to position myself, I had to root down into postures more to not lose balance. However, I realized throughout all my years of practicing, my body had developed sufficient muscle memory to go through the sequence without seeing.

My senses of sound and touch heightened to make up for my lost sight. I could trust myself to move correctly, without fearing failure. My breathing pushed my body through the flow and became a more active participant especially as I transitioned between different positions. By the end of the practice, I was physically exhausted but my mind felt less restricted.

There is a quote I feel fits today’s theme. Maya Angelou once said, “We are only as blind as we want to be.” I can honestly say I didn’t feel restricted as I went through this sequence today. I trusted myself more and didn’t judge my body for its weaknesses or imperfections as badly. Perhaps this is because I was trying to see in a deeper, more fulfilling way. I had no one to compare myself to, including myself. All I had to go on as an indicator for my practice was how I felt. It’s hard not to feel proud of yourself when your body and mind feel so satisfied.

After going through my experience, I went on to see if there are other yogis around the world who do their practice blindfolded. Unsurprisingly, there are many studios around the world who do this. (If you are interested, here are several websites detailing blinded yoga practices: yogalife.org, wanderlust.com, yogabasics.com, Gaia.com.)

Yoga teacher and writer Andrea Rice from Wanderlust.com noted in her article Blindfolded Yoga: Not Seeing is Believing, “When sight is removed from your yoga practice, there’s no choice but to turn inward and heighten your other senses.” In an interview with fellow yoga teacher Rina Jakubowicz, she asked a poignant question. “How does blindfold yoga help to improve the practice?” Ms. Jakibowicz’s answer really got me thinking.

When you remove your most relied-upon sense—your sight—your other senses heighten naturally, forcing you to look within and observe the weaker areas that need strengthening. You will get physically stronger because you are more consciously using your muscles so as to not lose your balance.  You also get a window into your deeper, inner-most thoughts, which could be making your practice suffer.

And because you’re blindfolded, you’re not competing with anyone in class and really tuning into yourself without judgment.

Rin Jakubowicz, as quoted by Andrea Rice in Blindfolded Yoga: Not Seeing is Believing

If you have never tried blindfolded yoga, I would recommend it, even as just a one-time experience.

Thank you for reading! See you tomorrow.

Yoga Inspiration: Day 10, Are you devoted to YOUR practice?

I’ve been searching through multiple yoga podcasts lately because it gives me a better connection to other people who practice. Since I don’t currently have a studio, this has been very therapeutic for me. For today, I wanted to do a shoutout to a yoga podcast I listened to after I finished my practice this morning.

My practice this morning didn’t go as smoothly as I would have liked. There were multiple interruptions, my muscles were stiff, and I kept pondering all the things I needed to do after I finished. Once I finished, I went to dress and shower. Before I started anything else for my day though, I decided to listen to a short podcast from The Ashtanga Dispatch called  Is Our Definition of Yoga Practice Changing.

If you are confused or feel lost in your personal practice, I would recommend listening to this short podcast. In the podcast, the speaker spoke out against uniform practices or becoming like others. She stated,

Is a practice for you? Sincerity isn’t towards the practice. It is to yourself. Idea of practice becomes bigger and more spacious. Are we ready to open our minds to something bigger. Explore who we are and why we are here.

Is Our Definition of Yoga Practice Changing? The Ashtanga Dispatch

I love how in this podcast the speaker asserted that it is better to simply BE present for whatever happens during the sequence. To note where we are and breathe through it. We don’t need to fix ourselves, run from our weaknesses, or overanalyze every move we make.

There are bigger and better reasons to practice yoga than becoming physically fit, or bending into cool positions. But this knowledge comes over time as our physical weaknesses become smaller and our minds become more attune to who we are.

So one new goal I have for myself for the rest of this month is to become better devoted to myself when I practice. I think it will be good for me to stop comparing myself to others and building unhealthy expectations for myself.

Thank you for reading! See you tomorrow.

Yoga Inspiration: Day 9, What does having energy mean?

Lotus Pose Nataliya AnichkinaDreamstime.com

I thought a lot about energy today.

To be energetic usually means going faster, or more specifically getting lots of things done faster. Better efficiency means completing allotted tasks more quickly. We think speed is better because we expect it to be that way. Its why it takes less then three minutes to receive our orders at a fast food restaurant and less then a second for us to find a word definition online.

But efficiency doesn’t always equate to better quality. In fact, because we have almost unlimited fast access to things like information and food, we become dependent on convenience. What this system cannot give us is experience, better results, or a sense of achievement. To work hard doesn’t always mean going fast. Nor does having lots energy always mean we should move more quickly.

Speed isn’t energy. People, animals, and objects use energy. We use energy. So perhaps the more appropriate question for today’s practice is “How do you use energy?”

This is a principle I have more fully come to appreciate over time through my yoga practice. There are times when I’ve had to rethink the way I approach it. I remember one Primary Ashtanga series I completed with one of my teachers Nicole. At the beginning of the class, she let us know she would not count between each pose. As an added bonus, she invited us to hold these poses longer than normal.

Honestly, it was frustrating at first because I had built for myself expectations for that sequence. I wanted to move faster. I thought I needed consistency. But by slowing down, I appreciated each pose more. I stopped counting and started simply being there, breathing in the moment. My whole body felt like it was on fire and I can honestly say its the most energetic I have ever felt during a yoga practice. The class ended before I knew it and I was mentally and physically exhausted. But I felt deeply satisfied with the work I had done. 

Today, for the first time in a long time, I felt super fired up to do yoga. Instead of playing calming piano music or more thoughtful soundtracks, I turned to one full of guitar, bass drops, and orchestral crescendos. As I began my sequence, I started rushing my way through each of the poses. After finishing my Sun Salutation A’s, I asked myself what I think having energy means. As I pondered this question, my movements evolved and I changed how I viewed each of my movements.

Within multiple yoga disciplines, various practices can connect us to our divine self. (For reference check Yoga Basics) What I find interesting though, is to connect to this part of ourselves we don’t need intense speed or physical ability. We need stillness and rest after releasing built-up energy. To release this built up energy requires concentrated, deliberate use of our energy. It is moving with purpose.

Thank you for reading! See you tomorrow.

Yoga Inspiration: Day 8, Where do you focus?

“Ustransana” by Sybilleart at etsy.com

Week two has started off well! While doing my yoga sequence this evening, I thought about different themes I could have for my posts these next few weeks. The first idea that popped into my head was Drishti. Maintaining a good Drishti is very difficult for me in most practices, so the challenge to focus on it better seemed right.

Drishti translates from Sanskrit into “Focused Gaze.” During my yoga teacher training, my instructor Monica constantly emphasized how changing our Drishti, or where we look, changes our practice. It can change how a posture feels, helps maintain sharp mental focus, and affects the spine as we shift and root into different postures.

The phrase that embodies the purpose of Drishti is, “You want to look where you are going.” Every time I stop and pay attention to my Drishti, I notice how often, especially in a yoga studio, my eyes wander to other people around me. Because I focus on other practitioners, I lack special insight into my practice and start comparing myself to them. But on rare occasions, I take special care in how I use my gaze to move forward. 

An unfocused gaze invites in negative comparisons, imbalanced poses, and a wandering mind.

A focused gaze encourages mindful self reflection, a healthy elongated spine, and slows down thoughts.

Just like in other aspects of a yoga practice, a strong Drishti morphs into other aspects of life. Pondering Drishti makes me wonder where I am looking and where I want to go. I still love how the Cheshire Cat answered Alice’s simple question, “What road do I take?”, in Lewis Carroll’s novel Alice in Wonderland.

“Alice asked the Cheshire Cat, who was sitting in a tree, “What road do I take?”

The cat asked, “Where do you want to go?”

“I don’t know,” Alice answered.

“Then,” said the cat, “it really doesn’t matter, does it?”

Lewis Carroll, Alice’s Adventures In Wonderland

This is why yoga can’t be a casual thing. Because yoga is a moving meditation, it requires more from us physically, mentally, and eventually spiritually. That is if we are willing to be fully committed to the journey. I know my yoga journey started because of less than spiritual reasons. (My pride hurt because a yoga exercise video kicked my butt.) But it has evolved over the years, and the more I practice the more focused I become. I understand better my yoga goals and how I want them to apply to my everyday life.

For today, I am grateful I could take the time to ponder my Drishti both during yoga and off the mat.

Thank you for reading! See you tomorrow.

Yoga Inspiration: Day 7, Do you take time to rest?

Child’s Pose Floral Benjavisa RuangvareeDreamstime.com

Since today is Sunday, I felt it was very fitting to take a day of rest. I remember one class period during my senior thesis that changed my life. My teacher started the class with a question. “If there were eight days in the week instead of seven, what would you do on the eighth day?” All of my classmates named things like homework, shopping, cleaning, and other busy activities. I felt a growing sense of dread the closer it came to my turn. I was the only one in the class that had a different answer.

When my teacher turned to me I answered, “Nothing. If I had an extra day I wouldn’t force myself to continue activities I know will cause me stress. I would go on a walk without any particular place I need to go. I would watch a movie without taking extensive notes and researching. I would stay off my phone, sit outside, and take time to think.”

I went on and said I already took Sunday off from school studies and work because after six years of college I realized I needed time for myself to breathe. When I took that time for myself it made a tremendous difference in my school and work life.

So today, I didn’t do yoga or write. I let myself rest and I feel great! For now, I will just leave any who read this post with a happy adieu!

Thank you so much for reading! See you tomorrow.

Yoga Inspiration: Day 6, How do you breathe?

Breath in, Breath Out, Benjavisa RuangvareeDreamstime.com

Before there is movement, there is the breath. My yoga instructor Monica at 3B Yoga began our teacher training using an exercise that emphasized the different areas of our bodies that move with our breath. She explained, deep inhales expand into the stomach, the ribs, the shoulders, the lower back, and even into the neck. Full exhales allow us to move deeper into poses, and relax the body more efficiently.

I found it fascinating to watch her teach us, and see the many connections within our bodies.

Since my teacher training days, I have a hard time taking any yoga classes that don’t emphasize breathing for each posture. Since practicing and memorizing sequences throughout the last few years, I think of the breath as the anchor for any class I teach or any session I participate in.

Breathing is an essential part of our everyday life, yet we hardly think about it. I actually looked up some breath statistics, curious how often I breath throughout the day. What I learned blew my mind.

Per minute, we breath in and out 12 to 20 times.

Per day, we breathe an average of 20,000 times.

Per year, we breath almost 8.5 million times.

Isn’t wonderful to think some of the most miraculous events happen within our bodies without our even being fully aware of it?

Today, as I went through my yoga routine, I paid attention to my breathing. I noticed how cool the air was when it first came into my lungs. When I rested into certain postures like Adho Mukha Svanasana (Downward facing dog), I liked playing with how deeply I breathed in and out, just to see what difference it makes. Overall, practice today was one of the most relaxing I’ve ever had.

Deep breathing during yoga is absolutely essential for a well-defined physical and spiritual experience. I like what health coach Ron McDiarmid said about deep breathing.

Breathing is what causes the movement of energy and what helps the body relax. An already-stiff body that tries to shape itself into different poses will only injure itself. But when we breathe deeply, we can open ourselves to feel more emotion, as well as be more in tune with what’s happening in our bodies. Breathing deeply in yoga can actually help you avoid injury. . . Circulation is increased, hormonal balance is cultivated, the organs are regenerated and the nervous system is pacified.

Anyone can choose to only do the poses, which can offer a good physical workout. However, yoga is intended to be far more. Breathing deeply allows us to access our transformative power. It opens us to yoga’s ability to rejuvenate and refine our minds and bodies. Finally, deep breathing helps us find our way to unity.

The Importance Of Breathing In Yoga“, Ron McDiarmid

If breathing without thinking 22,000 times a day keeps me alive, mindfully breathing 1000 during my yoga practice must teach me there is a higher quality of living.

Thank you for reading! See you tomorrow!