Today I give a shoutout to one of my favorite YouTube yoga teachers. After I maxed out a yoga exercise video almost ten years ago, I looked up different yoga teachers online to learn more. Money was tight, but I knew I needed extra guidance if I hoped to progress. So I went exploring and finally found Adrienne’s channel!
She is a great teacher for beginners. I often go through her videos to learn new ways to teach beginner students. We have never met, but I view her videos like an old friend’s. She helps me identify and ground into the basics. By going through her videos once a week or so, I can focus on what is most important in my yoga practice.
Adrienne has multiple monthly yoga challenges beginners, and seasoned practitioners can experience. Her latest 3-Day yoga series Breathe inspired me to conduct my month-long challenge. She’s a gentle, personal, and calming yoga teacher. I recommend her videos to anyone interested in either getting back to the basics or starting an at-home yoga practice.
I made a monumental discovery today. Meditation is more than sitting on a pillow with my eyes closed while concentrating on deep breathing. Not that I don’t love doing this! But I have an eclectic mind and thrive on variety and exploration. So today, on my third day off from intensive yoga practices, I meditated on different ways I mediate off my yoga mat and pillow.
Honestly, yoga teaches how to practice mindfulness in all aspects of our life, even during activities and habits usually not associated with meditation or spiritualism. Here’s a small list I’ve made for myself.
Reading Familiar Books
Rereading favorite books creates a safe space for the mind. The more I read a story, the better I understand its meanings and life applications.
Reading New Books
Discovering new and wonderful books is one of my life’s joys! I believe attaining knowledge through reading is one of the most beneficial medicines we can find.
Re-watching Favorite Movies
Much like revisiting favorite books, re-watching my favorite movies has a medicinal effect on me. Many of them remind me of the things that are most important to me.
Watching Children’s Shows
Watching old cartoons or children’s shows brings me a lot of joy. I don’t feel myself opposing, sorting, and relabeling what I see. Nor do I have to switch on my language in my brain.
I am empathic, so going outside, breathing in fresh air, and walking is one of my favorite ways to sort and quiet my thoughts.
Clean rooms are happy rooms. Clean minds are happy minds. Cleaning my space helps me simultaneously clear my mind of anxiety and turbulent thoughts.
Researching and Writing
I love research projects! I love sharing what I learn! Research and writing taught me to FOCUS and connect my thoughts.
Playing and Listening to Music
I’ve loved music since I was young. When I need to unwind in a very personal way, sometimes I sit and play the piano or sing. I can’t list all the times beautiful music has uplifted and enlightened me.
Riding in cars, buses, trains, or airplanes sometimes brings me wonderful enlightenment. I especially love to look out the window and ponder the scenery and people I see.
For any who read my posts from the last few days, my physical practice has been on a steady decline. I had high expectations for myself, even while I am not feeling completely up to it. For several days I was going to do deep breathing exercises with longer-lasting asanas. But after doing it for one day, I knew it was not the right thing for me. Thankfully, this February yoga challenge is about understanding my limitations. For the next few days I want to focus on different aspects of my practice.
I’ve often wondered what it means to rest mindfully. People are so busy nowadays I wonder if they have forgotten how. For me, it is a matter of mindfully setting aside busy things I can do that I think I should do and being still.
I don’t need to go onto the mat today if I am not physically up to it.
I am not obligated to do extensive research if I am mentally tired.
I don’t have to walk three miles if it is 10 degrees outside and snowing to feel accomplished.
If I take the time to rest, it doesn’t mean I failed to meet my goals. It just means I’m listening to my body and adjusting what I do according to its needs.
My affirmation today is I will mindfully rest without judging or criticizing my choices.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 articleBlindfolded 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.
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.
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.
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.