February Yoga Challenge: Day 28, What have you been searching for?

Human Meditation, Benjavisa RuangvareeDreamstime.com

My final yoga day has come! I’ve learned a lot about myself this past month and how my yoga practice interweaves with my personal struggles. Since March is upon us and I am focusing on literary writing, I hope this last post for this challenge can convey insights I’ve received as I’ve stopped, reflected, and written about my daily experiences.

I’m striving for balance between my desires and needs. One of my hardest struggles is seeing my desires as more than just personal wants I can sacrifice. On my post Day 3, What do you want to do? I surmised, “Sometimes, it is good to sacrifice our immediate wants for things we need. However, it’s important to have passions, desires, dreams, and wishes as well. Right not in my life maybe, it’s not about what I should do. It’s about what I want to do.”

I’ve thought about this post for most of the month. I’m still unearthing my passions and finding what I really want to do.

It’s okay not to meet my expectations. Multiple times this month, I thought I could do certain sequences, or I should push through my mental anxiety and physical cycles. I’ve learned my health and needs fluctuate almost daily. When this happens, it is extremely important to flow with my body’s needs. Otherwise, no matter how awesome my practice may look, I will harm myself.

I write like a teacher. This actually shocked me. I expected my writing, the more personal it became, to change in feel. True, I talked more about my personal experiences, but my primary goal through writing these posts was to help and teach others.

I value everything my past teachers have taught me. I often quote and draw from my past experiences as a student. I truly value the lessons I’ve learned from more experienced yoga practitioners.

This month of writing about my yoga practice ahs been a wonderful experience for me! Thank you to everyone who has followed me! If you are interested, check out my new post on books I’m reviewing in March.

February Yoga Challenge: Day 27, How do you create clear and loving intentions?

Photo of Leslie Fightmaster, passed away November 2020

Since I practiced for one of Leslie Fightmaster’s videos, I wanted to take the time to talk about her and her legacy. Besides Adrienne at Yoga with Adriene, Leslie Fightmaster is the yoga teacher I turn to the most when I practice from home. Adriene’s videos help me remember and apply the basics. Leslie pushes me to deepen my practice and use more energy. After each of Leslie’s videos I feel invigorated and pleasantly worn out.

Unfortunately, Leslie died three months ago in November 2020. I was so shocked when I found out. I’ve been following her videos since 2014, and it almost feels like we were close friends. This post is partly a tribute to what I learned from her after all these years.

  1. How important it is to set a intention for each practice.
    • No matter which video I choose from her repertoire, Leslie makes sure to remind watchers to set and follow up on their intention.
  2. There are multiple ways to deepen a pose.
    • As I’ve grown as a teacher and student I’ve really appreciated the multiple layers Leslie adds to each pose and sequence. It’s amazing how many students from different physical backgrounds can use her videos.
  3. Find ways to respect and use various yoga practices.
    • Leslie pulls from multiple yoga disciplines throughout her videos. This is really useful, especially for practitioners who can’t go to their studio or haven’t picked a favored practice.
  4. How to build strength in order to do harder poses.
    • She does not shy from doing harder poses during her videos but she shows step by step what students can do to build necessary strength. Even if I couldn’t do the poses right then, she helped me know it would be one day possible.
  5. How to be kind yet challenging as a yoga teacher.
    • She challenges me, but she has such a gentle loving spirit I never feel frustrated or ashamed doing her videos.
  6. How to end each yoga practice.
    • She always finds a quote to ponder in shavasana. I also really love her mantra, “Hands to the forehead for clear and loving thoughts. Hands to the heart for clear and loving intentions. Hands to the mouth for clear and loving communications.”

All in all, I’m so grateful for everything Leslie Fightmaster has done for me, as a student she’s never met before. Please check out her videos on YouTube!

Thank you for reading! See you tomorrow for my last yoga post for February!

February Yoga Challenge: Day 26, You are stronger than you think you are

Lord Of The Dance, MimiPrints Anatomy and Science Art

Now that I’ve shed a lot of anxiety and lethargy I’ve been carrying the last week, I’ve pushed myself to push my physical limits while I practice. One of my hardest and favorite teachers, Sisi, consistently encouraged me to work harder during her classes. I especially appreciated how often she told us, sometimes during our most strenuous postures, “You are stronger than you think you are.”

That doesn’t mean we should pull muscles, break our bones, or hurt our bodies in any way. However, I do think we can always do just a little more than we think we can. Oftentimes the one thing holding us back from becoming stronger is ourselves.

In a B3 class with Sisi, she instructed us to do multiple exercises to practice for handstands. Most of them I couldn’t do very well. I thought more than once to myself, “I’m just not strong enough. I’ll have to wait before I can do this.” Because I had this mindset, I felt ashamed watching so many other students succeed where I was failing.

Maybe she noticed how much I was struggling, because, after a while, she had us pair with each other and conduct a small experiment. She instructed us to go into a plank pose and have our partner grab and hold our ankles. Sisi then had our partner let go of one leg while we tried to keep the released leg upright.

To my surprise, this exercise was incredibly easy for me. My legs and core were in great shape. After we finished the class, I told Sisi about my experience. She smiled and said that if I was that strong, a strong mental block and my fear of failing were keeping me from doing a handstand and other inversions. “If you don’t believe in yourself and your own strength, you can’t progress.”

I think it is vital for any yoga practitioner to take the time to reassure themselves they are capable of amazing things. Whether that means stretching an inch deeper, lifting the knees for plank, or even taking the time to be still in chavasana the principle is the same, even if the journey is different for each person.

Thank you for reading! See you tomorrow.

February Yoga Challenge: Day 25, How to you take up space?

Screenshot from Children of the Sea (2016)

As I went through my yoga routine today, I pondered a comment a yoga teacher made while she explained proper Virhabadrasana B (Warrior Two) alignment. She said when we look over the fingers of our extended hand, we aren’t focusing on the hand but the space around the hand. It is fascinating to stop and ponder the Space around us as we move through each posture and how we use space as we live. This idea goes beyond yoga practice.

Every moment of every day we inhabit a unique space in the universe.

Because we take up space, we exist. 

Other objects can’t inhabit space where we are.

No person can use space the same way. 

No matter my physical or mental state, I’m glad I exist.

Thank you for reading! See you tomorrow.

February Yoga challenge: Day 24, How Do You Face Your Fears?

Artwork featured in A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness, from an original idea by Siobhan Dowd,

Life circumstances today reminded me there are still things in this world I fear. I know others besides myself suffer at times from PTSD. These feelings are rooted in fear and are triggered randomly.

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a mental health condition that’s triggered by a terrifying event — either experiencing it or witnessing it. Symptoms may include flashbacks, nightmares and severe anxiety, as well as uncontrollable thoughts about the event.”

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) by the Mayo Clinic Staff

I don’t like viewing my reoccurring symptoms as a disorder. The word ‘disorder’ puts my Obsessive Compulsion into overdrive. It makes me want to rid myself of any feelings of fear in order to avoid shameful judgment. Seeing it that way causes me unnecessary stress and anxiety. I view these feelings as they are, naturally occurring feelings I face and overcome sometimes. There is no shame in feeling fear or being sensitive to our trauma.

Sometimes it feels like these emotions and thoughts are me. But one of the benefits of studying yoga is separating who we are from our thoughts, feelings, and other elusive human characteristics. I love how Caroline McHugh talks about identity in her TED talk The Art of Being Yourself.

You are not your thoughts because you think them. And you can’t be your feelings because otherwise who’s the you that feels them? You are not what you have. You are not what you do. You are not even who you love or who loves you. There has to be something underneath all that.

Caroline McHugh

I featured artwork from Patrick Ness’s A Monster Calls to illustrate how giving our fears and traumas a name helps overcome them. Just as Connor needed to speak his truth about what he feared most, we all need to face our monsters. But just like Connor, our monsters take on different forms based on our experiences. As real and frightening as our fears are to us we can overcome them.

There are important truths I remind myself of to help me endure my mental pain and trauma.

My personal worth doesn’t hinge on my experiences. Individual worth is inherent. That is what yoga is for, so we can se our true, glorious selves.

I am not alone. I have friends, family, and other kindred spirits who I can turn to. Most importantly, no matter where I am I can turn to God in prayer.

I grow beyond my fears. I’ve overcome fears before and I can do it again.

Though this may not seem like a yoga post, I really believe facing and seeing these parts of ourselves reflects how we practice and teach others. I hope my thoughts and feelings came across well enough.

Thank you for reading! See you tomorrow.

February Yoga Challenge: Day 23, How firm is your foundation?

Yoga Pose MimiPrints on Etsy.com

I’m grateful I’ve built a solid foundation for myself in my yoga practice. Looking back at my first year practicing, even going through the basics was incredibly challenging. Part of it was I had not developed the right muscles to fully support myself in those poses. I also didn’t have ample experience to believe I could do it.

If we don’t master the basics and learn to solidly hold each pose, we will fall and even hurt ourselves. Yogic experience builds physical stamina, muscles, and confidence in ourselves. I like to think of having a solid foundation as being fully committed in each pose. To be committed means syncing breath with movement. It also means activating proper muscles to deepen each posture. Most importantly, we commit our minds to being in the moment.

Thank you for reading! See you tomorrow.

February Yoga Challenge: Day 22, Which is better; Looking Ahead or Looking Behind?

“Youth and Age”, H. Vali via Saatchi Vali Art

“Do you suppose you will look the same when you are an old woman as you do now? Most folk have three faces—the face they get when they’re children, the face they own when they’re grown, and the face they’ve earned when they’re old. But when you live as long as I have, you get many more. I look nothing like I did when I was a wee thing of thirteen. You get the face you build your whole life, with work and loving and grieving and laughing and frowning.”

― Catherynne M. Valente, The Girl Who Fell Beneath Fairyland and Led the Revels There

I often wonder why The Ashtanga Primary series constantly switches directions for the standing poses. Having finished the teacher training, I understand how logically it is more effective. It is easier to flow through Trikonasana (triangle pose), Parsvakonasa (extended side angle pose), and Virabhadrasana A-B (Warrior one and two) by simply turning back and forth from the back to the front of the mat.

But yoga is more than just a physical exercise. It mirrors a deeper, more personal experience running parallel to our physical attentiveness. Since I started my teacher training, I always feel jumbled switching sides for the standing, extended postures. Funnily enough, after going through my yoga practice for the day, I started thinking about how these feelings extend into my everyday life.

Then it hit me all at once during my run. How we see the world and face its challenges varies as we age, as does our attitude towards life’s challenges. Much of our life is also centered on longing. Children long for experience and respect. Young Adults long for purpose and direction. Mothers and Fathers wistfully yearn for personal space and better finances. Single adults long for marriage, married adults long for personal time and freedom from obligations. And so the list goes on.

It takes a special eye to see the value of the life we are living in the moment. Every stage of life is valuable and needed for our personal growth. Taking time to do yoga helps in developing a mindful perspective. Just as we move forward, change our gaze, and shift directions on the mat, we steadily evolve on our life journey.

Thank you for reading! See you tomorrow.

February Yoga Challenge: Day 21, Do you feel the sunshine?

Autumn Forest Illustration Valery RybakouDreamstime.com

Today I had a walking meditation under blues skies and beautiful sunlight after church. Seeing the sunshine is a rare treat in Upstate New York during the winter, so I was glad I took the opportunity to go out and soak in the light. Just being outside for a half an hour in the sunshine lifted my spirits exponentially. This experience reminded me of my hardest winter in Rostov, Russia.

January 2017 was the grayest month I’ve ever endured. Rostov winters aren’t white. They are grey, windy, cloudy, and cold. Having grown up in the West my whole life, it was difficult never seeing the blue sky. At the time, I was also working through painful emotional challenges. Long story short, I had terrible seasonal depression.

During my scripture study one dank morning, it occurred to me I had the power to bring sunshine into my day in other ways. I decided to write all my daily blessings on sticky notes and put them all over the hallway mirror where I could see them every time I came home. Around that time, I also took the time to write fun daily events texts to other missionaries serving in my area.

This change in attitude made all the difference for my missionary service. The greatest change, however, was most present in my heart and mind. My thoughts were brighter because my focus was not on my pain or the sad, winter landscape. I created daily sunshine to stimulate and enhance my life.

What does this have to do with my yoga practice? I like to picture the sun salutations as a way of opening my heart to change and honoring the sun, which anchors me physically, spiritually, and mentally. Traditionally, Surya Namaskar A and B sequences represent a persons’ external and internal veneration for the sun. Hands are placed at the heart at the beginning and end of each salutation, symbolizing this reverence and connection.

One of the means of honoring the sun is through the dynamic asana sequence Surya Namaskar (better known as Sun Salutation). The Sanskrit word namaskar stems from namas, which means “to bow to” or “to adore.” (The familiar phrase we use to close our yoga classes, namastete means “you”—also comes from this root.) Each Sun Salutation begins and ends with the joined-hands mudra (gesture) touched to the heart. This placement is no accident; only the heart can know the truth.

The ancient yogis taught that each of us replicates the world at large, embodying “rivers, seas, mountains, fields…stars and planets…the sun and moon” (Shiva Samhita, II.1-3). The outer sun, they asserted, is in reality a token of our own “inner sun,” which corresponds to our subtle, or spiritual, heart. Here is the seat of consciousness and higher wisdom (jnana) and, in some traditions, the domicile of the embodied self (jivatman).

Richard Rosen, Here Comes the Sun: The Tradition of Surya Namaskar

However, sometimes we salute the sun even when we can’t see it. It is wonderful to think each person has an anchoring light within them. We don’t need to always see the sun to know it’s real, to feel its warmth, or experience its power through the earth’s rotation. I like to think all of us are beings of light, and yoga reminds us to look inward and recognize this within ourselves. 

Thank you for reading! See you tomorrow.

Sunshine Envelope via pushing the envelopes

Yoga Inspiration: Day 19, Do you enjoy deep stretching?

One of my favorite things to do is deep breathing and stretching. After being sick, enduring finals, finishing huge writing projects, or . . . going through monthly womanly experiences, taking the time to stretch deep into my aching body feels wonderful. It’s miraculous how much stress gets trapped in my muscles.

Today I dedicated my practice to breathing and stressing my anxiety out of my hips, legs, shoulders, and back. I wondered why stretching helps fight stress so effectively. A fun website Resilient Educator I found explains, “Stretching stimulates receptors in the nervous system that slow the production of stress hormones.” Ashley Previte explained in the article “Stretch Your Body, Stretch Your Mind” other benefits. Deep Stretching,

  • Releases hormones for mood and emotions.
  • Increases blood flow and circulation to your muscles and your brain
  • Encourages a relaxed awareness of your body and mind
  • Improves balance, flexibility, range of motion, and strength
  • Focuses your awareness to the present

Though I prefer yoga sequences that push me physically, there are times like today, after I built up too much stress, I need to really stretch it out. These kinds of sequences, for me at least, don’t follow a predestined pattern. I like to pay attention to my body and ponder which muscles need a lot of focus. (Most of my stress goes to my lower body in my hips, lower back, and legs.)

What I especially like about these yoga sequences is how fun it is to think about how I would teach this to a class. There is nothing so liberating as allowing yourself to stretch and flow according to your needs. Because, when it all comes down to it, we do yoga for ourselves, not to please or impress other people.

All in all, I had fun today and enjoyed releasing several days of tension from my body.

Thank you for reading! See you tomorrow.

Yoga Inspiration: Day 18, Do you follow any YouTube yoga teachers?

Snapshot of Adrienne from her YouTube channel

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.

This is the video I did today! It was the perfect pick-me-up after several days of lethargic 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. 

Thanks for reading! See you tomorrow.