Yoga Pro Tips for Migraine Headaches

These pro tips were originally shared in the September 2016 newsletter. Sign-up here to get the scoop directly to your inbox once, maybe twice, a month. 

I get migraines. I actually have one right now. Sometimes they last up to 48 hours and Rx meds are no match for the rage inside my brain. My regular yoga practice helps a lot with prevention, but there are handful of poses + pro tips that I find helpful during a migraine. I thought I'd share these because they can also be beneficial for relieving stress and other types of headaches, including hangovers. A friend told me! ;) 

Remember, these are poses that feel good in my body but I am not a doctor or your in-person yoga teacher. I guess we could do FaceTime yoga!? Try them out, but only do them if it feels good in your own body. 

Child's Pose

In this variation I place a block underneath my forehead (you could use a small stack of books or a firm pillow if you don't have a block). This gives me more support in the pose without folding forward too much and the weight of my head on the block allows me to fully release the muscles around my jaw, face, and neck which tense up during a migraine. I get migraines on my right side, so sometimes I like to turn my head to one side for added pressure or release. 

I stay for a few minutes or until my legs get tired. I then move into the next pose. 

Prone Savasana 

I use three blankets for this one. The two folded and placed under my pelvis help to spread out my low back and provide softness for the front of my hips to land on. The blanket under my forehead allows my neck to be long and supported while giving my nose just enough space to breath easily without having to turn my head to one side. I stay here for several minutes before flipping over on my back. 

Eye Pillow

If you don't have one, get one. Blocking out light is a must when trying to recover from a migraine, but reducing visual stimulation is also essential in relaxing the nervous system. Here on my back I place one hand on my belly and one on my chest for physical feedback to the sensations of my body breathing. This helps me to shift my focus deeper into my body and away from the acute pain in my head. 

Work From Home Yoga

These pro tips were originally shared in the May 2016 newsletter. Sign-up here to get the scoop delivered directly to your inbox once a month. 

I spend most of my days in the office with my team, but sometimes working from home is the best way to create a little work-life balance. Here are two of my fave poses for breaking up work form home days, but these can be done at your desk or on the weekends! 

1) Supported Forward Bend on the Table

I love this version of a forward bend! Here I have four yoga blankets folded into a rectangle shape, but you can use any blanket or firm pillow to support your upper body. 

Walk yourself close enough to the table so that your hip crease lines up with the corner of the blanket stack. Lift your chest and lean forward to drape your torso over the blankets. Your hips should be stacked over your heels if possible. Rest your forearms on the table and turn your head to one side. Stay for several breaths and change the direction of your head halfway through. 

2) Table Pigeon Pose
 

My parents would not approve of me purchasing jeans with holes in them or putting my elbows on the table, but I think they'll let it slide for the sake of my yoga demonstration. 

The muscles that surround and support our hips do a lot for us when in motion, but also are affected by our stillness when we spend a lot of time sitting. Your side butt gets angry! 

For this version of pigeon pose, bring one knee, shin, and foot up onto the table. The lifted foot will stay flexed with toes pointing back towards your shin. You should feel the stretch in your outer hip area of the bent leg. If that's feeling OK you can explore folding forward by coming down to your forearms. If this feels uncomfy in your knee, please skip this pose!  

Cool It! Sitali Pranayama

This was originally shared in the August 2016 newsletter. Sign-up here to get it in your inbox. 

To help you stay cool for the rest of the season, check out the breathing exercise outlined below. It's a little different (that's how Midwesterners say it's weird), but also kind of fun so definitely try it out. 

This Pranayama (breathing exercise) is called Sitali Breath (aka Cooling Breath) and its benefit is to help reduce heat within the body. To practice this breathing technique you will inhale through an extended rolled tongue and exhale through the nostrils with the mouth closed. Detailed steps below. 

I actually can't do this one without thinking about the curled tongue scene from Free Willy! So here are how-to examples from Jesse, Willy, me, and BKS Iyengar :)

Steps for Sitali Pranayama:

1) Find a comfy seat on the floor or in a chair. 

2) Roll your tongue and stick it out like it's a straw and you're going to sip in air. If you can't roll your tongue you can just stick it out.

3) Inhale through your rolled tongue. Focus your awareness on the cool temperature of the air as it enters your body. 

4) Briefly pause at the top of your inhale. Bring your tongue in and close your mouth. 

5) Exhale through the nostrils. Feel the warm heat of the air as it leaves your body. 

6) Continue this pattern for several rounds. Close your eyes and tune into the temperature change of your breath on every inhale and exhale. 

7) Return to a few rounds of natural breathing in and out of the nostrils to close out and notice if you feel any changes with your breath, body, and mind. 

8) Take a selfie of your rolled tongue and send it to me ;)

Creative Process + Inspiration

From the April 2016 newsletter! Sign-up here to get them in your inbox. 

I want to kick this off with a quick excerpt from an interview I recently did for The Yoke. You can read the whole thing here, but only after you finish this newsletter, OK? :)

You’re a yoga teacher. But you’re also a tech person with startup and design experience. How do all of these things fit together in your head?
For a long time I tried to keep these parts of my brain and life separate. When I first started practicing yoga, I used it as a way to escape the startup and design parts of my life (among other things). But as I’ve evolved in my practice and now teaching, I actively try to bring all of these areas together. It’s all one interconnected life and I use that as inspiration and fuel for creativity.

We all have our own creative processes and methods for bringing ideas to life. Over the years I've refined my process and I apply roughly the same framework to designing yoga classes, writing this newsletter, bringing side projects to life, and in my work with The Design Gym

For anything that I'm working on, having a meditative outlet—usually yoga and/or a bike ride—is just as important in my process as having a clear brief, finding varied types of inspiration, and having a kind attitude towards myself when I get stuck. My practice helps me feel more settled and my thoughts are more fluidly connected instead of sharp shifts between ideas. Bonus: exercise and mediation can actually help to stimulate alpha brainwaves, which are helpful for creative thinking. Science says so

Choosing the focus for the Apartment Studio altar was no different than any other creative project. I landed on the creative direction brief of breathing -- it's what all living beings have in common and it's essential to the practice of yoga. The idea seed was there, but how exactly would I ground this idea so that it was rooted in reality? By letting my imagination wander between the worlds of what was possible and impossible, I arrived at the solution: a living, breathing plant wall.

I'm so excited that this is done and in the space! My super talented neighbor runs a small biz called My Little Greens and she was able to help bring my vision to life. I will try my very best not to kill the plants! 

Has yoga or meditation helped your creative process? I'm curious to know how you all incorporate your practice into writing, art, hobbies, etc. 

Travel Yoga Pro Tips

I travel quite a bit and I know you all do, too. Here are some of my go-to yoga moves to keep my body feeling A+ while on the road.

Step one. You arrive at your destination. Your bag is heavy. You are tired. Your hair is doing something crazy. Take several sips of cheap local beer :) 

 

Step Two. Ditch your bag and release your shoulders and low back. Interlace your fingers behind your back. Take a deep inhale and exhale to fold forward. Keep an easy bend in your knees. Come up slowly to avoid getting a head rush.

 

Step Three. Release your outer hips. They are very angry from sitting on the plane / train / minibus / van / camel (true story). 

Lie on your back or prop yourself up on your bag. Start with both feet on the ground with knees bent. Flex your right ankle and place it on top of the left thigh just above your knee. Repeat on the other side. 

Step Four. Finish with Supported Downward Facing Dog using a ledge, table, or wall. Place your palms on the surface of choice and walk your feet back until your hips are stacked over your ankles (still OK to keep knees bent). Straighten through your arms so that you feel length in your spine and side body. 

On Belay, Buddha?

I’ve recently started top rope climbing and bouldering at Brooklyn Boulders. It’s been challenging, humbling, and a ton of fun.  I highly recommend Stacie as an instructor for the Ropes and Sessions classes!

I’ve also recently started expanding the scope of my mediation practice beyond mindfulness of breath to include observing states of mind without getting completely overwhelmed. Huge thanks to Marlie’s weekly guided mediations that help me to settle and safely explore my mindstuff.  

What’s not so recent are my attempts at drawing connections between the methods and teachings of my contemplative practices (yoga, meditation, Buddhism) and my work, hobbies, and lifestyle choices. So here is a look at how my experiences climbing are analogous to mindfulness meditation. On belay? Belay on.

Even when empty, the climbing space at Brooklyn Boulders bombards your senses with stimulation — high ceilings with brightly colored walls, hanging ropes, variety of surfaces to stand on, and a smell that kind of reminds me of a high school locker room. On a busy day, there are hundreds of people (and loud children!) on the walls, standing and observing, and walking around the facility. There is A LOT going on, all of the time. It overwhelms me instantly when I walk in. 

This is not unlike my mind (and probably yours, too). Racing thoughts, ideas, plans, memories, daydreams, checklists, processing incoming stimulus, reacting to sensations, and feeeeeeeelings. There is A LOT going on, all of the time. When practicing mindfulness of breath meditation, you are working on keeping your awareness on your body breathing. In mindfulness of mind mediation, your practice expands to allow your rapidly changing states of mind to be there in the open. The work is to observe the existence of your thoughts without entertaining any specific one. This practice of being an observer of your own mind used to overwhelm me every time I tried it.

Not to try to mix too many examples here, but this feeling of being overwhelmed by my thoughts is similar to what happens every time I go surfing. As I walk out into the ocean and eventually begin to paddle out, instead of bobbing up and down slightly in co-existence as the waves pass by, I get pummeled, pushed underwater, dragged along the rocky sand bottom, and my surfboard hits me in the head as I surface for air. The waves control me. 

Back to climbing. When you are belaying — where you’re on the ground handling the ropes so your partner can safely climb — you have to be 100% focused on watching your partner’s journey up the wall. Your right hand never leaves the rope. Your left moves swiftly to remove the slack. Your gaze is up, locked in on their movements. You’re listening carefully for the sound of their voice commands. You’re so tuned in to the relationship you have as a climbing team for the duration of the route, that your attention is not interrupted by any of the distractions around you. 

Belaying a climber is a lot like mindfulness of breathing. Your breath, or in this case the responsibility of belaying a climber, is the anchor for your attention. Amidst all the stimulus, and opportunities for distraction, your attention stays honed in on the methodical movements of the rope and your climber above. It's a meditative state. 

Photo proof that I didn't drop Abby! 

Photo proof that I didn't drop Abby! 

After a few rounds belaying my friends, I took a break to rest my hands and scanned the room. There is a dude taking a selfie midway up the wall. There is a group of kids clapping and cheering. There is chalk dust floating in the air. Instead of feeling overwhelmed like I did when I arrived, I was able to watch and observe while maintaining a boundary between my mind and the stimulus around me. I was able to do this because I had just spent time in period of intense focus.

Whether it's climbing or meditation, you want to start and end on the ground. Before expanding the challenge for your awareness to include your entire state of mind, start with basic breath meditation. I solely worked with breath meditation for months before I was able to constructively add in new layers for my attention to focus on. And during every practice session, I begin and end with narrow focused mindfulness of breath with more broadly focused scopes of awareness sandwiched in between.

Breathe on! Climb on! 

The Yoke + Erin's Apt Studio Featured on YogaCity NYC

Image credit: YogaCity NYC

Image credit: YogaCity NYC

I'm excited, proud, and grateful to have been featured alongside my friend Bill and our student Raquel in this article highlighting The Yoke.  Read the full story here:  Yoga Outside The Studio System

Some of my favorite quotes:

"If New York’s studios are the yoga version of the Hollywood movie system, Bill Loundy’s The Yoke is the independent alternative."
"It is both a website and a community for teachers and students with a simple mission: to create a world where “teachers make more and students pay less.” 

Raquel Penzo is a student who practices regularly with both Loundy and Lamberty. “Like many New Yorkers, the bulk of my money goes to just existing here,” she noted. “Having the option to attend quality classes with trained yoga teachers at a lower price really helps out. Even if I end up paying the same per class via donations, it's good to know that on weeks or months when money is tight, I can still take a class.”

Penzo likes the intimate setting and personal attention of The Yoke experience. “I've found the classes to be better than bigger studio classes,” she said. “You can really get attention when there are only four or five other students in the room.”

 

Desk Yoga Power Poses

Power Poses! If you haven't seen Amy Cuddy's TED Talk you should check that out, but the summary is that certain postures have been scientifically proven to give you more confidence, be more comfortable with risk, and generally feel more powerful. Some of you may have taken a class with me where we Get Big and Take Up Space, which is inspired by this concept. 

These power poses also make for good afternoon stretches by your desk! You can try all of these arm variations by first coming to a standing position with your feet a bit wider than your hips. Try them each for 5-10 breath cycles and take note of how you feel afterwards. Do them before a presentation or important meeting to give yourself a boost and then go crush it :)

The Victor // Take your arms up like you've just won a gold medal. Or at least a gold star for doing your desk yoga.

The Villain // Interlace your fingers behind your head and allow your elbows to be wide. Muhahaha!

The Wonder Woman // Place your hands on your hips and draw your shoulder blades together on your back. My personal fave, obvs.
yoga_power_poses

Desk Yoga Pro Tips

This was originally published in the September 2015 newsletter. Subscribe here
 

"I got the back hunch, HALP!” — said every newsletter subscriber ever

"I got the back hunch, HALP! — said every newsletter subscriber ever

When I asked you all a few weeks ago to send in your requests for desk yoga pro tips, the majority of you asked for suggestions on how to combat the desk hunch back. This is a position I catch myself in a lot while working and have also noticed other times when I'm in a similar shape — sitting on the subway, on my bike, leaning on the back of a bar chair waiting for a drink. 

To counterbalance The Hunch, the muscles across the front of the chest and shoulders can be stretched, the muscles in the upper back can be strengthened, and the nervous system can be encouraged to relax leading to overall reduction in stress and tension. 

Here are some ways to do all three! 
 


STRETCH

This may not look like a backbend based on the photo, but after spending several hours (weeks? months? years?!) in a rounded position, this Lil Baby Desk Camel pose action will help to gently create space across the chest and shoulders. 

1. Begin by sitting upright with shoulders stacked over your hips. Bring your palms to your low back to support and maintain the natural curve in your lumbar spine.

Lift the center of your chest towards your chin while keeping your chin parallel to the floor and your shoulders down from your ears. Breathe into your chest and across the collar bones and exhale fully. Stay for a few breaths and then take a break in a neutral sitting position before trying the pose again. 

2. If the first pose felt good, you can add on by interlacing your fingers behind your back with the palms touching. Slowly begin to lengthen your arms while keeping your head and shoulders in the same position. Hold and breathe for 5 cycles.

3. If interlacing your fingers behind your back is too intense or uncomfortable for your arms, you can keep your elbows bent and press your fists together at the middle of your back.
 


STRENGTHEN

This accessible strengthening exercise is a great way to target the muscles of the upper back. I call these Wall Snow Angels. Set up close to the wall so that your entire back is flat on the wall. Bring your arms into a field goal shape (it's football season or something, right?). Inhale and reach your hands up over your head while keeping your shoulders flat against the wall. Exhale to bring your arms back down to the same starting position. Try out 10-15 reps.




 

 

Crappy iPhone footage and awkward eye contact ;)

Crappy iPhone footage and awkward eye contact ;)


RESTORE

When you get home from work, or if you have the space in your office, a gentle restorative backbend should hopefully feel pretty great. In a studio yoga class you might do this pose with blocks or a bolster, but this minimal version can be done with just a sweatshirt or a blanket. 
 

1. Make a sushi roll with your sweatshirt or blanket :)

2. Place the sweatshirt/blanket sushi roll on the floor and sit in front of it with your knees bent and palms down just behind your hips. Place your feet hips width distance apart and parallel to each other. 

3. Roll down slowly onto the sweatshirt/blanket so that it lines up underneath your shoulder blades and the center of your chest lifts slightly upwards. Adjust the placement as needed so that it feels comfortable.

4. Choose an arm position that feels best for you. I like to take my arms overhead to increase the opening across my chest, but resting your hands down by your sides or on your stomach is also great. Stay here for 2-5 minutes. 

Shine Theory x Yoga Sutras x Buddhist Virtues

This post was originally shipped out into the world via my monthly-ish newsletter. You can sign-up for that here.

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“Oh, another yoga teacher? Isn’t everyone a yoga teacher now?” 

I sometimes get this response when I tell people that I am a yoga instructor. It’s not totally off base when you consider that there are studios on every block and McMindfulness is a totally a thing. While market saturation has definitely crossed my mind, I think the industry growth is actually really great. Category demand! Niche market opportunities! Econ 101 point made. Moving on.

A couch full of amazing yoga students and teachers <3

A couch full of amazing yoga students and teachers <3

I’ve been thinking a lot about how this highly competitive yoga scene can influence relationships between practitioners, students, and teachers. NYC is a magnet for Type-A personalities and there is a drive to achieve perfect poses, out-practice another student, and build a teaching career. But this energy can lead to jealousy and judgement of self and others, which causes suffering for all parties involved. 

“Real life" x Yoga x Buddhism = How my brain works these days, so here are three ways of contemplating this topic from each of those perspectives. While these are particularly relevant for reflecting on your yoga practice, they can be applied to all areas of life. 

Real lifeOne of my fave journalists introduced the concept of Shine Theory a few months ago and I’ve been a believer ever since. Ann writes: "When you meet a woman [yogi] who is intimidatingly witty, stylish, beautiful, and professionally accomplished, befriend her [or him]. Surrounding yourself with the best people doesn’t make you look worse by comparison. It makes you better."

Yoga. The primary philosophical text for yoga is Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras and 1.33 reads: In relationships, the mind becomes purified by cultivating feelings of friendliness towards those who are happy, compassion for those who are suffering, goodwill towards those who are virtuous, and indifference or neutrality towards those we perceive as wicked or evil. 

Buddhism. There are four Buddhist virtues called the Four Immeasurables — attitudes that practitioners work on cultivating throughout their lifetime(s). The third of these is Muditā, which means appreciative, sympathetic, or vicarious joy. It is the pleasure that comes from delighting in other people's well-being. It is the opposite of envy.

Being supportive and truly happy for those that are experiencing success is easier said than done — but it’s the attitude that we all must work to cultivate as we are shaping the collective attitude of present day yoga.

I’m eager to add to the momentum when I hear about teachers opening studios, writing for new publications, and completing advanced trainings. I’m proud of my fellow yoga classmates and their new successes in studio, pop-up, and private class settings. I’m inspired when I see practitioners in class who are able to get into advanced asanas, open to a new pose for the first time, and rest when needed. 

The future of these communities is ours to create and I want it to be awesome :) Let's celebrate, collaborate, and explore new experiences together both on and off the mat. See you out there!

Yoga FAQ: Hip Alignment in Standing Twists

In standing twisted poses, should my hips also twist?

Yay reader submitted question! In general, you want to keep your hips level. There may be times when a teacher cues a variation that temporarily involves twisted hips, but in most traditional versions of twisted standing poses should first start with level hips. Your foundation and stability in standing poses is in your lower body which then allows for open expansion and rotation of the spine and upper body. The common poses seen in class are revolved chair, lunge with twist, revolved triangle, and revolved extend hand to foot. 

Here is a breakdown of what to look for when taking Parivrtta Utkatasana - Revolved Chair Pose. 

Have a question about your yoga practice, specific asana (pose), or yoga philosophy? Let me know and I'll answer it on the blog or in the newsletter! Don't worry, you can remain anonymous :) 

House of Cards x Buddhism (and the Five Wisdom Energies)

My capacity to binge watch an entire season of House of Cards in 48 hours is currently far greater than my ability to meditate for 20 minutes every morning, so I’m not even going to try and make the case that sitting for hours with little movement while watching the Underwoods take DC is a manifestation of Dharana (sustained focus), the 6th limb of Yoga. Instead I’m going to geek out about the Buddhist monks that make a cameo appearance in S3E6 and attempt to describe a theory on personality through the use of a mandala, which is what the monks were creating during the episode. 

Mandala is the Sanskrit word for circle. This symbol traditionally appears with a center point, a surrounding circle, and enclosed in a square. Mandalas typically have a balanced layout and invite creators and observers to focus in a meditative state while contemplating the symbols, stories, and details of the design.

There is a Buddhist framework for understanding personalities, emotions, and actions called the Five Wisdom Energies. In this context, the term energy is used to indicate that each quality of “self” has movement. Each quality arises as pure emotion — anger, desire, attachment, fear — and can then manifest in behaviors in one of two ways: with wisdom or with confusion. 

For example, when a moment of desire arises in the mind — OMG I really want a Salty Pimp cone from Big Gay Ice Cream right this moment — the emotion can come to life with a neurotic and confused behavior — I immediately put on my shoes and run as fast as I can to the East Village and am rude to everyone that stands in the way of ME and MY ice cream — or my actions can come to life with more wisdom — hmm it’s 28 degrees and I just ate dinner and dairy also isn’t so great for my skin so I should probably wait until I can go get some non-dairy treats with a friend this Spring. Not such a profound example, but hopefully that helps to convey the concept? These characteristics aren’t static and are expressed at various moments throughout each day and for our entire lives. 

This theory of the Five Wisdom Energies is illustrated using a mandala, much like the one created in House of Cards. Each section of the mandala is referred to as a family. 

The Buddha family, located at the center of the mandala, represents spaciousness — primarily in mind, but also in actions, routines, and physical spaces. Clear light is the color for this family which symbolizes the inherent basic goodness within everyone. The wisdom energy is expressed as the ability to let things be as they are — being accommodating to not only personal thoughts and feelings, but of those in the environment. When out of balance, the neurotic energy is expressed as being spaced out, having apathy, and an “ignorance is bliss” attitude. 

In the East is the indestructible Vajra family, which is represented with the element of water, the color blue, and the winter season. Wisdom is expressed in clarity of thought and those embodying this family favor systematic thinking, ethical codes, and structured frameworks of thought. When a situation does not fit into a pattern or is a gray area, the energy becomes aggressive and angry as the experience challenges the foundation for which a Vajra person has established their life. 

The Ratna family is symbolized by a jewel, the color gold, and the autumn season. It is in the southern direction in the mandala and is associated with the element of earth. This family seeks equanimity and wisdom behaviors are expressed with a strong presence for generosity, richness, and elaborate activities. When confused, the energy of Ratna becomes insecure, in need of praise, and with an arrogant sense of pride. 

The most commonly expressed energy in humans is that of Padma, the lotus family, which represents passion. Located in the west, this family associated with the color red, the element of fire, and the full-of-potential spring season. The basic energy is that of desire which can be expressed positively as longing for connection with others and in a way that is discerning and without attachment. The opposition is that of obsessive grasping for a person, thing, or idea leading to a small-minded perspective. Padma people favor storytelling based study and investigation of concepts, are charming, and value communication. 

Karma means action, and this family is based on the energy of ambition. The element of wind/air represents constant movement and the summer season indicates growth and completion. In the mandala it is in the north and is the color green. Those with Karma family tendencies are able to cut through obstacles — less talk, more doing — and they value data and direct experience over theories. When out of balance, the energy becomes jealous and anxious as the mind begins to compare itself to others and the focus on the journey is lost to an attachment to a goal. 

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Related reading! The Five Wisdom Energies by Irini Rockwell and shorter article in Lion’s Roar and this nondescript PDF summary

Yoga Studies and The Three Prajnas

In my most recent class series at The Interdependence Project, we discussed learning frameworks and the qualities of being a good student — and you can’t teach without first/always being a student. The three stages of learning are called the prajnas — the methods for internalizing knowledge. The stages form a cycle because as students of yoga and Buddhism, we are always learning, always questioning, and always examining our behaviors and actions. 


Listening 
Listening (includes all media) is the intake of facts and information that leads to conceptual understanding. I can learn about yoga poses by listening to a teacher describe the alignment, by watching a YouTube video, and by reading books. 


Contemplation
Contemplating is the act of testing out the concepts and theories in your own life in order to internalize the knowledge and form a unique point of view on the topic as it relates to your direct experience. The way a book describes a yoga pose will be different from how it feels in my body, which is also different from how it feels to you. 


Meditation
After knowledge is understood from a personal perspective, the teachings can seamlessly be put into the natural actions of everyday life. By practicing asanas (physical poses) and breathing techniques (pranayama) I know how these actions benefit myself (and others) and they are now part of my daily routine. 

three_prajnas

In the context of yoga and buddhist studies, a spiritual bypass is a defense mechanism to avoid direct experience, the rawness of vulnerability, and fear of change instead of accepting the insights, emotions, and growth potential. By hiding in the world of study — only reading, listening, consuming information — we avoid the Contemplation and Mediation phase because there is hard work involved and there is also a fear of challenging personal beliefs, habits, and world views. 


In my non-yoga life, the design practice of prototyping is something that my team uses daily and I also teach the concept in design thinking workshops. Instead of talking about what might work, it’s better to conduct experiments to gather feedback, stress test ideas, poke holes in theories, and quickly move validated concepts into the next phase of development. By rapidly testing teachings on a small scale, the Contemplation and Meditation phases become less daunting. 


I am approaching my Contemplation phase of learning with this same framework. By breaking concepts down into smaller pieces I can begin to incorporate them into my life in a manageable way that will help me to form my own point of view. One of the many things I love about yoga is that there is a foundational framework of physical postures and philosophy, but it’s really up to the practitioner, student, and teacher to interpret and apply them based on unique individual perspectives. I am working on setting up more teaching opportunities  hire me! ;)  so that I can continue to experiment with class formats, sequences, themes, and to observe myself and others in the process. 


So where is all this going? This Svadhyaya Sessions blog is just one outlet for me to contemplate what I’ve learned in teacher training, my Buddhist studies, and my own practice. I invite you to share your questions and feedback in return to further the learning cycle. 

Obstacles to Practice

I am currently learning about the four primary obstacles to practice as part of my Secular Buddhist Studies Program. The current class series that I’m taking is called Finding Your Path and is taught by Ethan Nichtern

Practice for this class refers to daily sitting meditation, a habit that I’m actively trying to build and strengthen. My goal for this six week class is to sit for 20 minutes every day — and to not beat myself up when I miss a day. There are many reasons, excuses, and attitudes that lead to skipping practice. In the context of the Buddhist path, there are four primary obstacles to practicing. 

1. Speedy-busyness

I had never heard the specific phrase of speedy-busyness prior to this class, but its meaning is not new to me. This first obstacle — and most common in my (non)practice — is when a person has too many things to do, too many distractions, and too much activity. I used to think about this concept as life getting in the way of my practice, but I now realize that my life is not different than my practice whether it be yoga, mediation, or study. Everything is interconnected and it’s just one life and it’s up to me on what to prioritize, cultivate, and let go. 

The idea to contemplate with speedy-busyness is the priority and value that is given to daily practice. Sitting on your ass doing nothing for 20 minutes a day isn’t a use of time that is valued by our current modern society. Whether you are practicing for five minutes or five hours, creating the space for this in your life can be challenging and while it’s common to talk about how busy we are, the topic of how much space we’re creating doesn’t come up because commitments and responsibilities trump

So the questions we must ask our (Type A) selves are: What value does my practice have? What am I accountable to? What are my intentions?  


2. Common laziness

Laziness is often a result of a speedy-busy life, but it can also be from an “I just don’t want to” attitude. 

My personality is very karma energy based and I’m more likely to be doing something than nothing — in fact trying to do less is more of a challenge for me. This can and probably will change, and when it does, the solution to common laziness is less theoretic and contemplative and more action based — you just need to do the thing. 

Get out of bed. Go to the gym. Eat the salad. Call your mom. File your taxes. Clean the bathroom. Put on pants (ok that one is totally optional). Renew your passport. Do the thing. Sit and meditate. 

There are a few strategies to help combat common laziness. Keeping your meditation gear (blanket / cushion / chair / whatever) out and visible means you can’t hide from it. I keep a blanket and two yoga blocks out in my room. Another way is to assemble an altar. This was — and mostly still is — a little uncomfortable for me as I still associate it with dogmatic religious contexts, but when viewed as a symbol or message for the behavior and mindset that you want to cultivate, it makes a lot more practical sense in my mind. If the only things in your space are electronics, food/booze, and material possessions then that’s what you’ll continue to invest in. But if there is even a little reminder placed in your room or home that encourages you to sit down, then you’ll be more likely to do so. 



3. Disheartenment

Are we there yet?

The practice of meditation is centered around living the the present moment, but there are also positive outcomes that can manifest and focusing too much on the end goals or lack of attaining them leads to disheartenment with the practice and giving up temporarily or all together. The path is long and it’s up to you to maintain it, which is a lot of work and the rewards aren’t instant or even clear over time. Reminding yourself how far you’ve come (I practiced more days than not this week!) and celebrating the positive changes (I didn’t get angry at the length of the Whole Foods line today!) will help to reinforce the good parts of practice.

I chose “practice makes practice” as my theme because it’s a constant reminder to myself that the benefits of practicing will only surface if I’m focused and dedicated to the practice itself. By shifting your attitude towards practice the obstacle of disheartenment can be overcome more often than not.


4. Attachment to harmful activities (addiction)

Addiction in this context could mean harmful substances and physical behaviors, but it also means attachment to activities, emotional behaviors, and thought patterns that distract us from the path and take away our awareness. They are our escapes and we should try to limit being around that activity or thing. 

My iPhone. The Netflix auto-play next episode feature. Texting my ex. Being hungover. 

While these activities and behaviors might not directly impact my ability to sit daily and try to focus on my breath, they are distracting to my medium and long term positive development and growth. I have much work to do in this area and will report back if I figure out how to break my habits for good.

Practicing Aparigraha

The theme of the month at my home studio, Sacred Sounds Yoga, is Aparigraha. I’ve been thinking quite a bit about this concept and how we can apply its meaning(s) to our lives. 

Aparigraha, which translates to non-possessiveness / non-grasping / non-greed (an a-word is the “non” version of the word), is the fifth Yama in Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras. The Yamas are codes of (suggested) social conduct and comprise the first of eight limbs. 

On a materialistic level, Aparigraha means that we shouldn’t greedy with Stuff and Things. This is highly relevant as we approach the holiday season. Be grateful for what you already have. Another way to practice Aparigraha in this context is to be generous to the extent that you’re able to. 

On an emotional level, we can work on letting go of past experiences or feelings that aren’t serving us in a positive (or at least neutral) way. Our expectations and desires for positive experiences are examples of grasping — we can get caught up in what we want to have happen instead of being in the experience for what it is. I’m not yet hanging out in the present moment at all times (or any times, really), but I have found it very helpful to retroactively examine my expectations and notice my reactions when they are not met. Acknowledging what experiences and emotional states we’re holding on to is the foundational step to being able to move forward.  

On an ideological level, holding on to what we believe in makes us feel safe, but by being open to new ideas, opinions, and world views we begin to expand our knowledge and build empathy for those around us. Becoming more fluid with experiences and how they can shape a moment is also a form of Aparigraha. 

On a spiritual level, each of us will hopefully one day experience some type of transcendent joy, bliss, or stillness (pretty sure I’m still waiting). Not clinging to this as an outcome of practice and focusing on the process instead is a way to practice Aparigraha when working with higher states of consciousness. [See also: Spiritual Materialism. More on that later.]

While there were a lot of Should Nots mentioned here, the goal isn’t to focus on perfection for Aparigraha or anything in yoga land. It’s about how each of us interpret these concepts into our lives, the ways in which we become aware of these situations, and the attitude that we take when contemplating our actions. 

Students of Teaching

Some thoughts on yoga teacher training: Weekend Three, Day Two — History and Philosophy

Jill began our session today with a call and response of the Om Sahana Vavatu mantra, a Vedic chant traditionally recited in schools at the beginning of class. As I learn more about the history and specific translations of these chants I am slowly becoming more comfortable with them, though my pipes are really best used for karaoke than for ancient melodic verses.

Om Sahana Vavatu (audio on YouTube)

ॐ सहना ववतु। सहनौ भुनक्तु  // Om sahana vavatu sahano bhunaktu
सह वीर्यं करवावहै // Saha viryam karavavahai
तेजस्वि नावधीतमस्तु  // Tejasvi navaditamastu
मा विद्विषावहै॥  // Ma vidvishavahai
ॐ शान्तिः शान्तिः शान्तिः॥  // Om shantih shantih shantih

Om
May we all be protected together
May we all be nourished
May we work together with great energy
May our intellect be sharpened 
Let there be no animosity amongst us
Om, Peace (in me), Peace (in nature), Peace (in the infinite)

As I listened to Jill share the translation I got all the feels! The timing of this verse was perfect as we are no longer 16 strangers in a room with a fake skeleton — we are students, friends, and inspirations to each other and we’re creating an incredible shared experience. We are committed to studying this practice because we love it and I felt that love very intensely this morning. I’m grateful and honored to be spending 200 hours (and more later in life) with these teachers, students, and community members. 

Weekend One of Teacher Training

Some thoughts for myself and my fellow trainees after the first 18 hours of our 200 hour yoga teacher training program

Fear and vulnerability. My anxiety levels hover around 80% on a good day so the morning of our first TT session with the mix of fear, excitement, and the unknown…well, my body wasn’t anywhere near a state of sthira (stability) and sukha (sense of ease) as yoga poses should be — but that’s OK. I’m here to push myself outside of my comfort zone, learn new things, meet new people, and experience (and observe) personal growth which is a sign of strength. 

Do the thing. We’re doing this to learn how to teach, so why would it be such a surprise that the first thing we did after introducing ourselves was teach the class? Our teacher led us through two rounds of Surya Namaskar A (sun salutations) and then said “ok, now you guys are up.” Jenna earned like 30984 beer points in my book for going first and owning it like a champ. By the end of the first weekend we had all led three rounds of Surya A and some of us also led Surya B. 

Group dynamics. We all know that we’re about to spend 200 hours together over the course of five months and at the end we’ll probably know more about each other than we could even begin to understand right now. The vibe at first is anxious. Most of us arrived early and were sitting pretty much in silence in the room waiting in anticipation. We then laughed and acknowledged the awkward tension and I took my first full inhale since arriving at the studio. We’re feeling each other out (also literally when we have to palpate each other for bones and muscles — thanks Callie for being my butt touch buddy and not being weird about it) for who we’re naturally drawn to, who might push us to think differently, who we might find challenges us to be more open. I’m already proud of this group of people and we’ve only just begun. 

Don’t forget to breathe. No but seriously, a 200 hour training program is A LOT of time, energy, stress (mostly for putting the rest of your life on hold), and excitement. Getting caught up in the story and expectations is not helpful. Focusing on the breath is what we’re learning to teach others, but coming back to the breath to stay present in — and enjoy —  each moment is something that is always be there for us, too.

Remember your intention. We’re all here for different reasons. Right now I just want to learn ALL THE THINGS, but I do eventually want to teach. I’m not certain yet which style or for which populations (other than my friends who I will force to be my students so I can practice), but there are some trainees who are looking for a career change, or to deepen their skills in their current profession. Whatever the reason, it’s important to continue to reflect on that intention and let it guide us each through the low points and be a foundation for celebrating the good times. 

Shiva and the God Particle

Some friends and I went to see Particle Fever this evening at the Film Forum. After the the opening credits and before the narrative began, there was a 3-4 second still shot on a statue of Shiva (turns out the statue is actually in front of a CERN building). The film returned to the same shot prior to one of the climax scenes. I still wasn’t sure why, but it was definitely foreshadowing. At the end of the film, the scientists described the Higgs particle as both the potential creator and destroyer of the universe — thus the Shiva connection. 

I’ve never followed a religion and have only recently begun to explore the philosophy of yoga. I’m also accepting my gradual softening to the term spirituality and what it means to me — something that I’m exploring more actively and openly. Right now I’m spending some time with the Yoga Sutras, specifically the Chapters on Contemplation and Practice. In the translation that I’m working with, in the commentary about 1.17 (Samprajnata Samadhi is accompanied by reasoning, reflecting, rejoicing, and pure I-am-ness), the author notes that “yoga says god is just the pure consciousness”. I’m not entirely sure what that even means yet, but for the first time it’s a phrase with the word god in it that doesn’t make me want to close the book and throw in the trash. 

To coincide with studying the Sutras on Practice, I’m trying to take note of how the Yamas (contracts with others) and Niyamas (contracts with the self) are currently shaping my life by keeping + and ∆ list for each of the ten contracts. I’ve never had a formal set of ethical codes by which I lead my life, and these are appealing to me because they are principles that, if followed, lead to happier lives for everyone. Ishvara Pranidhara, one of the Niyamas, is surrender to [insert god and/or god-like meaning here]. But before I can surrender, I need to figure out what I’m surrendering to. I think this Frank Lloyd Wright quote sums up where I’m currently at — “I believe in God, only I spell it Nature.” — and I think that’s an OK place to be right now.