Join me in a simple and cozy 30 minute practice to help you settle in for a cozy winter’s evening. Grab a cup of tea and join me to embrace yin energy and draw open the hips.
Early the other morning here at the farm in Stoystown, I met a lovely woman named Dawn who was walking her dog nearby. We chatted for a few moments and shared our stories, learning that we are both living in someone else’s cozy basement trying to figure our lives out. “The world is our oyster!” she said. “It’s a great place to be!” I agreed.
But some days I feel lost in a sea of possibilities. I have a long term vision lately for where I want to end up, but I really don’t know what I’m doing right now. What am I really here for? How will my choices today effect my future? How long must I wait before I am presented with the ideas, opportunities or connections I’m seeking?
With so many recent big changes in my life, I am feeling an equally big need to dial it back, draw inward and slow things down. Especially as we enter into winter, it’s naturally a time for me to share less, digest more. I usually take a break from teaching group yoga classes as well as evening classes, so that I can be tucked in with a good book by dark. Living so far out from my usual studios in Greensburg and Irwin, not having a place to teach private sessions, and the impending weather in the mountains of the Laurel Highlands are all great reasons for me to take a breather.
Winter can provide all of us with a much-needed opportunity to draw in yin energy, if we allow it.
When I find myself feeling lost or confused, it usually means that in some part of my life, there is an incongruity or a resistance. When I’m disconnected from my purpose (dharma), it’s always due to a lack of connection with my spirit. I realized that I had been fighting and resisting this obvious opportunity to rest because I was placing my self-worth in my work.
I am now happily taking a break from teaching yoga so that I can devote more of myself more wholeheartedly to my practice. I have already started a sadhana practice and have been including lots of extra meditation as well as fasting into my practice so that I can LISTEN. I will use this time to develop clarity within my own heart and mind. When I am ready to teach yoga again, the endless possibilities will still be there for me, but I will be reinvented.
Mary Oliver says that, “One must reinvent oneself, then reimagine the world.” May we never outgrow the desire to reinvent.
I first began offering Skype yoga sessions during a particularly snowy winter. The weather was causing so many cancellations for me and my students that I decided to try to find another way to connect.
I actually didn’t anticipate that online yoga would work quite as well as it did. I was afraid that my students would feel as if they were just watching a yoga video, or that we would miss out on the soul-to-soul quality that I love. I was surprised to find that the sessions still allowed a deep connection, as well as the customized practice that my students expect.
In an age where technology can often seem overbearing, I’m so grateful to have the opportunity to utilize it for healing!
I think it’s important to make yoga accessible for everyone. Time, location and life-circumstances often mean that studio yoga classes just don’t work.
I am continually met with amazing people and interesting circumstances that make Skype yoga the only option. Many of my clients are fellow entrepreneurs or yoga instructors looking for deep self-connection to facilitate change and growth. Students usually find me because they’re stuck or feeling trapped (how I once was), and I apply every creative tool that I know of to help move energy and stagnation physically, mentally and emotionally.
If you’ve been thinking about Skype yoga sessions, but aren’t quite sure if it’s for you, here are some of the common questions and hurdles my students and I have answered together:
What type of special equipment or set up do I need for Skype yoga?
If you’re not tech-savvy or have never used Skype before, don’t worry! You’re not alone and I will happily help to walk you through it. All you need is a computer, phone or iPad with a microphone and camera (most computers have them built in) as well as internet access.
I usually suggest setting up your computer in such as way that I can view your whole body. (You will not need to watch me) This usually means that you are positioned a few feet back from your computer screen. Simply launch Skype before your schedule session time and I will call you and help you make any adjustments from there.
How will I know what to do if I’ve never done yoga before?
If you’ve never practiced yoga before, your first few sessions may include a bit of demonstrating from me. But as long as I can see your body, I will guide you safely in the same way as I would in-person. Many of my students are brand-new to the practice, so just make sure you can hear my voice to listen and follow along.
What if my connection drops out?
Skype has worked very well for me over the years, even in rural areas. Though we sometimes experience connection issues due to storms or high winds on either end, I am always willing to work with your to utilize our time best.
If for any reason you have not received enough out of your session, we simply exchange a message to reschedule for lost time. Or if technology lets us down with only 10 minutes or so before the end of the session, I’ll most likely use that time to record a personalized meditation for you and email some extra notes or suggestions for you to complete on your own.
What happens after or in between sessions?
If you’ve booked a package of sessions with me, we are most likely working toward a specific theme or energy for you. Your sessions will be tailored toward that goal for you, and you will be receiving tips, suggestions and followup emails between sessions to support your journey. I am always available for questions or a quick chat between sessions.
If you have any questions I haven’t answered, please feel free to comment here or email me directly. I love being able to make Skype an accessible option for wellness and healing. If you’d like to set up a session, please fill out this intake form and I will contact you shortly!
Lately, I've been thinking a lot about the difference between mindless habits, healthy repetition, ritual, chaos and addictions. What parts of my life feel mindless? Do I prefer routine or irregularity? And why? Where does boredom come from?
Yoga teaches that we all have various addictions and attachments (check back to the kleshas blog for more info) that can cause suffering. We ALL deal with addictions all the time. But there's definitely still value to repetition and routine. Where and how do we draw the line between the two?
Obviously the answer is different for everyone. Even day to day, our need for the security of routine or the creativity of chaos differs.
It's our job as spiritual beings to determine: is our "need" for stability or messiness legitimate or are we simply clinging to our comfort zones?
I recently listened to a beautiful podcast on embracing chaos with Tim Harford (Hidden Brain by NPR). Tim gave some amazing examples of how those unexpected 'problems' that arise in our lives are often the push we need to get out of a mindless rut. Though we're often challenged by the unexpected, embracing it offers us the opportunity to find a new way, explore our creativity and stretch our problem-solving capabilities.
I find it easier to stay creative when I allow flexibility into my schedule. Over the past few years, I've become more comfortable with flux than I am with routine. As an entrepreneur, my schedule is mine to control however I want. So I often enjoy how it differs day to day or week to week. But I experienced the opposite end of the spectrum first. I worked 9-5 and essentially did the same tasks and had the same predictable schedule every week. I had to work very hard, mentally, to stay present, to find value and interest within the monotony, but it was an important part of my journey.
What type of energy creates the most balance for you? How can you learn to find the value in routine AND chaos? What types of things make you feel restless or uncomfortable?
A few months ago, I took a private lesson with one of my good friends and teachers, Lianna. I was in the midst of the worst of my dysautonomia, struggling with my body that felt completely out of control. She reminded me to question the perceived value of control. We often think we have control when things are going well, but we do not. And if the opposite of control is freedom, does repetition and control create more bondage? It all depends on your perception.
Rumi reminds us that there is value within repetition. (Patanjali reminds us of this as well in Sutra 1.13) But the real value in the 'steady and continuous' comes from discovering something new each time. We can learn how to do the same thing or move the same way 1,000 times, but never experience the exact same thing. By truly remaining present, feeling and embracing the nuances of repetition, we actually can become more comfortable with change as well because we start to see change in everything.
Our lives and our bodies are never static. We are always moving and changing. So even when things feel steady, in control, safe, monotonous...they're not. When we experience boredom, our perception has become dull.
We stay sharp by developing SELF-control. Having patience through repetition and grace through change comes from paying attention to everything in between. Be mindful for the moments that cause you to feel safe, bored, flexible or free. Feel your way into appreciating what's really behind each moment. One at a time.
Wholehearter Yoga has been a beautiful labor of love over the past 7 years. I began an important part of my yoga journey within this space and maybe you have as well. I think there's something to be said for the intimacy of sharing yoga together within a home and I loved being able to welcome you all into this cozy old house.
But it is time for change. My husband and I have felt drawn toward a quieter, simpler way of life for a long time. We are now ready to pursue our dream of building a log cabin in the woods of the Laurel Highlands and working toward establishing a more retreat-like haven for ourselves and our clients. Within 48 hours of listing our house, it sold!
So now, the fun/crazy part...in the interim, we are selling our belongings and moving to an amazing Airbnb at Summer Smiles Honey Farm in Stoystown! We will live there for around a year while we build. This is an absolutely AMAZING opportunity for us to live on a farm and learn about the lifestyle skills we want to have such as beekeeping, foraging, soap-making, blacksmithing, gardening and keeping farm animals.
(*If you're interested in glamping, please check out their other adorable Airbnb units on the farm. Come visit for some yoga and farm-to-table meals, then stay the night!)
Lots of things are uncertain right now, but there are a few things I AM sure of:
- I will continue to share yoga within the Ligonier/Greensburg/Irwin area! There are plans in the works for me to teach at Moonglow, The Green Berry, possibly Ligonier as well as in the barn on the farm. If you have a need or a location, please reach out!
- As of now, all in-person private sessions will be switching to paying per session and mid-September will bring this space to a close. If you have any extra sessions to use up, please schedule ASAP.
- Watch for pop-up hikes, group classes and workshops + Skype sessions to stay in touch, no matter where I am!
- Though the route may be a bit circuitous, I am moving toward something even better. I hope you'll join me on this next adventure. :)
Thank you all so much for your continued support.
Are you willing to entertain the thought that tick bites aren't all bad? I would like to contribute some positivity to the conversation about ticks and stop all the fear mongering.
For some people, ticks are now almost synonymous with woods, nature, and the great outdoors. Have we forgotten that there are methods of prevention? I’ve read recent articles suggesting to “simply stay away from the woods.” How sad to encourage such fear!
We are not an indoor species and avoiding nature is not a solution.
We can take precautions without completely avoiding. Dress wisely, use essential oils or other repellent, and check afterwards. Make a choice to enjoy the outdoors without anxiety and accept each experience as a way to learn something about yourself.
Whether we encounter an obstacle, an opportunity, or a tick bite, we have a choice: stay the same or learn something.
Sometimes the learning is heavy, and difficult to walk through. When our life or our body is out of balance in any direction, yoga and other philosophies suggest that the pendulum will eventually swing to that exact same opposite extreme in an effort to create balance. So a common example would be if your schedule is totally out of control and you are in a constant state of overdrive and stress and busyness, eventually, the universe will offer you an opportunity to heal. It might be a car accident, a job loss, or an illness, that gives your body a chance to shut things down for long enough to recoup and the lesson would be to (hopefully) reevaluate your priorities and slow down. Take it or leave it, and possibly re-learn the same lessons over and over again.
Learning lessons through the vehicle of the physical body is uncomfortable. But in order to actually grow, we must be brave enough to observe with objectivity. At the time, you may see the experience as negative, but had you avoided it in some way, you would not be who you are today. We will not grow on our spiritual path if we avoid life's lessons or live from a place of fear. Faith and fear are antonyms.
So what can we learn from receiving a tick bite? Lots of things, actually.
SpiritAnimals.com says, “The tick symbolizes the danger of inflating fears way out of proportion compared to risk. Like a tick, fear is also a parasite in a human life which sucks the entire life out and makes one feel empty.”
Ironic, right? Whether you end up sick or not, the very tick bite you fear so much offers a wake-up call.
Living from a place of fear affects every...single...aspect of our life.
Fear affects how deeply you allow yourself to feel. If you are afraid to feel fear itself, the act of avoiding that which scares you draws you further away from any sort of healing that might occur. Living from a place of faith doesn’t mean taking unnecessary risks; it just means choosing to fully live your life and embrace all that comes.
We must all learn how to not only accept what comes, but to be curious about it's usefulness for our spiritual journey. When we recognize every single occurrence as though it's happening FOR our spiritual development (rather than something bad happening TO us), we eventually develop profound appreciation for even things such as tick bites.
Is this an attitude you are willing to commit to? Can you help to spread THIS type of message instead of more negativity and fear? What challenges are you experiencing that might actually be your medicine? Share your thoughts with me.
(Guest blog post by Meera Watts)
When you work on yourself every day, you pay less attention to the outcome of the workout and more about how it makes you feel. Scientifically, exercise does some incredible things to you at a cellular level that makes you feel great after a work out. A study in an Israel University found that there are more moments of positive body image thoughts when you exercise. Daily activity is going to help you in many ways and a positive body image is one of them. You become stronger, more confident, and you will probably shed a few pounds. The most important part is how you end up feeling about yourself. Adding a daily exercise regime into your life that includes high impact workouts along with a complimentary yoga program can make a big difference in how you see yourself.
The Brain is an Active Part in How You Feel
You build more muscles and stamina when you work out daily. Climbing stairs gets easier and you also change your mood. When you work out, you release endorphins. The process is quite fascinating, when you work out, the brain sees it as a moment of stress (the fight or flight response). Your heart pressure starts to increase and the brain thinks you’re fighting something or trying to run from it. The body will then release a protein to protect the brain from stress. The protein is called Brain-Derived Neurotrophic Factor (BNDF). It not only repairs your memory but also acts as a reset. This explains why you’re so relaxed and blissed out after a workout.
Endorphins fight against stress and your brain releases them when you work out. Endorphins are said to reduce the discomfort of your workout and block the feeling of pain you might be feeling from pushing yourself. These endorphins are why you might end up feeling euphoric even thought you’ve been exerting yourself.
It’s Not Just About the Size or Shape
No matter what size or shape you are, there is another aspect to physical attributes and this includes how fit you are. When you start working out every day, whether it starts with just walking, gentle yoga or a high intensity workout, you look at yourself in a different way. As your body begins to get healthier in every way, you’ll be more at ease in your body.
Knowing that you’re strong changes something in your brain so you don’t beat yourself up as you might have done before. You’re taking the steps, you’re honoring your body and you are making changes within yourself. The weight will eventually come off but there’s something much deeper that will be taking place where your shape and size won’t matter nearly as much.
Exercise is a Form of Self-Care
When you work out, you are showing yourself that you care about your health. This will be just the beginning of your journey to changing your lifestyle completely. When you’re not happy with your body and you do nothing about it, you may take your anger out on your physical appearance which isn’t all that fair. However, when you get started on a work out regime that you are committed to, you are putting self-care into your every day.
That part of you that once looked in the mirror with distain will start to fall in love with the body you have. As your body may amaze you daily, meeting the physical challenges you give to it, you’ll feel the strength that is in you.
Exercise Reduces Stress
High intensity workouts will ease stress almost immediately and help you prevent stress for the long-term. Stress usually hits all the parts of your life when it hits you so you may feel more upset about your body when you’re stressed. Being totally relaxed allows you to stop sweating the small stuff in life. Exercise makes the brain believe that there’s something to feel stressed about in a life and death kind of way. This allows it to adapt to stressful situations in life so your reaction is much less dramatic.
Feeling terrible about how you look can make you feel low about yourself. It can affect everything in your life. As you begin to regularly exercise, you will like the way you look because your body will change. You become stronger and able to take on things you maybe never have. Then you’ll understand the separation of health and dress size.
Self image problems come from the inside so even if you end up wearing a size 4, there may still need to be some inside work done. This is where a practice like yoga can be helpful in many ways as it’s not competitive and yoga communities accept all people. Part of the philosophy is to never discriminate because we’re all equal. Also, you’ll find that yoga allows you to tap into a deeper part of yourself where you might find some of the answers you’ve been seeking.
Bio: Meera Watts is a yoga teacher, entrepreneur and mom. Her writing on yoga and holistic health has appeared in Elephant Journal, CureJoy, FunTimesGuide, OMtimes and others. She’s also the founder and owner of SiddhiYoga.com, a yoga teacher training school based in Singapore. Siddhi Yoga runs intensive, residential trainings in India (Rishikesh, Goa and Dharamshala), Indonesia (Bali)
I feel like I blog a lot about stress, stress reduction and stress management. My intention is not to focus on the negative, but to simply call attention to the types of dysfunction that we can alter. Iyengar touches on why spiritual philosophies often tend to harp on the negative (grasping desires, weaknesses, faults, and imbalances). They are trying to find, examine, and eradicate the things that cause us suffering. It's so that we can understand what can go wrong, and why, and how to stop it.
Your body sends healthy or "good" stress signals when you are hungry, when you stub your big toe or when something is amiss in your body. For many people though, we also experience stress when we are in a conversation, waiting for something, or managing our to-do lists.
Stress is meant to be an informative red flag, but for many of us, it tends to be a constant subconscious state of arousal.
I like to think about the way that animals within nature live their lives. We can learn a lot from studying and observing the natural world around us. Here are a few lessons we might take from nature:
1) Animals do not exert any excess effort for survival. If an animal can function at 75% effort, they will not push any extra. As humans, we tend to over-exert and cause extra stress because we like to show off, people-please, or strive for perfection. Ultimately, this ego-driven lifestyle only causes us suffering.
2) Animals do not worry about the future. The gift of our developed mind has plagued us with habits of worrying, anticipating, excitement, and looking ahead. Although we do need to plan for the future, animals live moment to moment in the present, addressing one thing at a time.
3) Animals automatically shut off their stress signals. Observe the way that animals move and exist in their natural environment. When not in immediate danger, animals simply do not remain stressed. Our fight or flight response is meant to be useful, not habitual.
In addition to the lessons we can learn from animals, simply being within nature is therapeutic for many reasons. I was recently reading some of the diaries of Anne Frank and I loved that one of her favorite ways to de-stress was to spend time in nature.
“The best remedy for those who are afraid, lonely or unhappy is to go outside, somewhere where they can be quite alone with the heavens, nature and God. Because only then does one feel that all is as it should be and that God wishes to see people happy, amidst the simple beauty of nature. As long as this exists, and it certainly always will, I know that then there will always be comfort for every sorrow, whatever the circumstances may be. And I firmly believe that nature brings solace in all troubles.” ― Anne Frank, The Diary of a Young Girl
Sometimes, reading simple reflections like this really helps me to put my stress in perspective, so that's why I'm sharing it. If Anne Frank can cultivate peace through the beauty of nature, then it can certainly be of help to me.
Have you tried seeking out a quiet spot in nature to clear your head? It doesn't have to be a completely private and silent spot to have an effect, but you can observe any small microcosm. Whether it's sitting inside, looking at your backyard, heading to a park to sit in the woods or practicing yoga outside, natural beauty has a way of showing us it's intricate perfection and making us and our troubles feel smaller by comparison. And spring is a perfect time to try it! :)
Jonathan Finegold is a guest blogger today for Wholehearter Yoga! Check out his personal experience and favorite postures for a pain-free back.
Bio: Jonathan was born into yoga. In 1975, his grandfather founded Radiance Yoga, a studio in San Diego. Unsurprisingly, yoga and meditation have always been central to Jonathan’s and his family’s lives, and it continues to be a vital part of his routine. He was formerly the marketing analyst at Robbins Research International and is now the marketing director at Now Media Group, which hosts a weekly yoga class for all employees.
I suffer from mild kyphosis — my shoulders are rounded and my spine doesn’t curve the way it’s supposed to. I don’t know whether I was born with the condition, whether it was the result of a childhood of bad posture, or whether it’s a little bit of both.
My spine has caused me problems. Or, rather, I’ve caused problems for my spine.
The medically prescribed solution was to take 800 mg ibuprofens four times a day. I don’t know whether a different doctor would recommend a different approach, but it was what was recommended to me at the time.
I knew that consuming four 800 mg ibuprofens per day was not a healthy, sustainable lifestyle.
I needed an alternative. Luckily, yoga lives in my family.
My grandfather and aunt operate their own yoga studio, and my dad has used yoga to help relieve his own back pain, and they were able to teach me techniques for dealing with back pain in an alternative way. I want to share with you what my family has taught me because I know I’m not the only one who suffers from back pain. I’m not the only one who’s experienced, and is tired of, “traditional” pain relief.
There are so many factors that can cause back pain. Most people suffer from problems with their nerves or from spinal injuries that they have accrued one way or another. If you fit in this group, the yoga poses I’m about to share will help you too.
I’m no yoga guru, mind you. Believe me, all of these poses are easy to do and perfect for entry level yoga students.
Remember, if you suffer from structural spine issues, like a fused disc, it’s important to be careful with all of these poses. If you feel pain during the exercise, then the stretch needs to be modified or you may need to find a more suitable pose. Consult with a yoga instructor, such as Rosslyn, to help find an exercise that’s right for you.
Downward-Facing Dog (Sanskrit: Adho Mukha Svanasana)
To complete this pose, start on on your hands and knees. Your knees should be right under your hips and your hands slightly forward of your shoulders. Your toes should be tucked under and spread your palms.
Take a breath and lift your knees. Your knees should be slightly bent at first and your heels off the floor.
You want to pull your abdominal muscles toward your spine, straightening out and lengthening your back. Your body should be bending at the hip, so that your butt is sloping down with your legs. If your butt is the uppermost part of your body, it probably means that you need to broaden your chest and pull your stomach toward your back.
Keep your knees bent and focus on the spine, straightening your knees by bringing your thighs back only if you are able to maintain the position of your spine. Remember to keep your hands pointed forward and position your head so that your ears are touching your upper arms.
Hold this position for one or two minutes. To release, exhale and gradually come back to your knees.
This pose stretches several of the areas that cause back pain, including the spine, shoulders, and hamstrings. When your hamstrings are tight, this can be the cause of a lot of discomfort in your lower back, and oftentimes just stretching them can do absolute wonders.
Note that the pain relief is more than physical. Because you are mildly inverted, meaning that your heart is higher than your head in the pose, the exercise will help re-energize your body. This reduces fatigue, relieves headaches, and can even help with your confidence. This allows for a more comprehensive, holistic approach to resolving pain.
If you suffer from physical damage to your back, shoulders, or arms, please be careful. Work within your limits, and if you have any concerns speak to a medical professional first.
Cow Face (Sanskrit: Gomukhasana)
No, you’re a cow face! Just kidding. This is an actual pose, I promise.
It was suggested to me by Dr. Del Kovacevic, a dentist in nearby Greensburg. As it turns out, dentistry is one of the most at-risk professions for back problems because of how they tend to sit and hunch over the patient.
See an instructor before doing this pose if you suffer from serious neck or shoulder injuries.
To do cow face pose, start in staff pose, sitting on the floor with your legs extended straight out in front of you. Then, bend your knees and slide your left foot under your right leg to rest on the floor on the outside of the right hip. Cross your right leg over your left, and, keeping your knees stacked slide your right foot to the outside of your left hip. Ideally, each foot should sit an equal distance from your hips.
Next, you'll add the arm position. Start by stretching your right arm out to the right and rotate your hand so the thumb faces the ground. Next, bend at the elbow and sweep your arm behind your back, resting your forearm against the hollow of your lower back. Roll your right shoulder back and down as you work your right hand up toward your upper back, between your shoulder blades.
Inhale and reach your left arm forward with the palm facing up. Then, reach your arm up toward the sky and bend your elbow. Reach to grasp the fingers or your right hand.
Pro-tip: If your fingers don't meet, which is very typical, you may want to use a strap or belt.
Lift your chest, bring your right elbow toward the floor — remember to keep it tight against your torso —, and keep your left elbow next to your head.
Hold it for a minute, then release your arms, then uncross your legs. Repeat the exercise with your arms and legs reversed.
Just by reading the description I’m sure you can see how it pulls your shoulders back, straightens your spine, and helps stretch the muscles that we often contract and cramp. The benefits are comprehensive because it also helps open your hips, ankles, thighs, armpits, and triceps, and it helps with restoring balance between the left and right halves of the body.
Shoulder Stretch and Lat Pull Down
Bad posture can create rounded shoulders. Our shoulders also tend to round over time, in large part because we don’t sustain our skeletal strength. I'm going to explain an easy exercise you can do to counteract this rounding of the shoulders.
Grab the nearest strap or belt, take a seat with crossed legs, and straighten your back.
Keeping your hands a bit wider than shoulder distance. Extend your arms straight out in front of you, parallel to the floor.
Inhale and bring your arms over your head. On your next exhale, bend your elbows and bring the strap behind your head. Inhale again and raise your arms, then bring them down again as you exhale. The movement is very similar to a lat pulldown at the gym.
You will feel your shoulder blades being pulled down toward your spine. This will help bring them back, stretch, and open them, relieving the stress and tension we build into our bodies.
What I like about this exercise is that it’s easy. Downward Dog and Cow Face are excellent poses and I highly recommend them, but if you’re new to yoga or would like to make sure your form is good, I highly encourage you to visit Rosslyn at the Wholehearter studio. This shoulder stretch exercise is a bit more basic and something you can pick up right away.
Bonus Pose: Thread the Needle (Sanskrit: Parsva Balasana)
I personally love this pose because, I usually feel very comfortable while holding the position. This can have to do with my own flexibility limitations and injuries. Regardless, it’s a good example of how different poses may appeal because of the unique range of capabilities of your own body.
You’ll start on your hands and knees, with your wrists directly under your shoulders and your knees below your hips. Your fingertips should point forward and keep your knees hip-width apart. Keep your head centered and your back flat, looking straight down at the floor.
Walk your left hand out an inch or two and exhale. Release your shoulder to the floor until your right ear and cheek are touching the mat. You should be looking toward your left now.
With your hips raised, your left arm will be stretching forward. Roll your left elbow upwards and keep it up. Make sure you are not placing weight on your head. Give your back freedom, broadening your upper back and relaxing your lower back. You should feel the tension in your muscles drain.
I cannot recommend Thread the Needle enough. Ask Rosslyn at Wholehearter to help you with your form next time you come in for your class!
I am grateful for this opportunity to share my experiences with all of you. Rosslyn is a very talented instructor with an amazing website and studio, and to have the chance to contribute is amazing. She truly cares about our world and wants to make it a better, healthier place; she is a rare, and the best, kind of hero.
Over the years, my physical yoga practice has developed a much deeper sense of ease. This is not to say that all of the postures I practice are "easy," but that each one is most valuable if it is steady and filled with ease. It has taken me many years to appreciate this ease and create more balance within my life and asana (posture) practice. I've come to understand that yoga asana is a way to help us peel back the layers and fully experience what's going on inside.
I was surprised to learn that Patanjali describes asana only once in the ancient yoga sutras. He doesn't talk about alignment, loose hamstrings, or achieving headstand. Sutra 2.46 simply says, "Sthira Sukham Asanam."
sthira = strong; steady; stable; effort; motionless
sukham = comfortable; ease-filled; happy; light; relaxed
āsanam = asana; posture; physical practice
To put it simply: yoga asana is a balance between effort and ease. The yoga postures teach us how to make wise choices that will help us to move toward homeostasis. We will often find that balance requires us to move toward the opposite of our usual habits and comfort zones. For many of us, this means learning how to YIELD.
When I began yoga practice, I liked to move quickly from one posture to the next because my comfort with exerting effort outweighed my comfort to surrender. If I was in a long-held posture, I would often (subconsciously) compensate my boredom or discomfort by trying harder, unnecessarily and to my detriment. Though I didn't think it at the time, my breath was effortful and strained, my mind always reaching ahead toward the next movement, and my body was often left feeling depleted.
My patterns in life were to push and achieve all things better, faster, more efficiently (macrocosm)....so all of these patterns were present in my asana (microcosm) as well.
It's difficult to admit this to myself, even now. But I practiced with excess effort for SO long that it understandably took me a long time to even realize it. Samskara (ingrained habits) are often subconscious and they run deep throughout every layer of our being. This realization was a huge part of my journey and it's why I'm SO big on teaching and practicing self-care now.
So the question for many of us becomes: how can we incorporate more ease (sukham) into our practice? Both on and off the mat, we're often used to pushing toward success, multitasking, or perfecting. Let's move toward making minute adjustments, refining, and quieting from the inside out. Finding sukham takes LESS effort, but more awareness...so let's pay attention today.