Sunday, March 30, 2014

Without Thinking

I can remember being in kindergarten, and when our teacher, Mrs. Lerner, tells us to sit cross-legged, I whip my right ankle on top of my left thigh, and cross my left ankle on top of my right thigh. Mrs. Lerner tells me to uncross my legs and tuck my feet UNDER my legs, not on top. But it doesn't feel right, and a few minutes later, I put them back in the original configuration.

Fast forward to about fourth grade. I remember going grocery shopping with my father to do our weekly stocking-up-on-groceries thing, and while I'm standing at the end of a long conveyor belt bagging groceries, I stand on one leg. Then after I finish that bag of groceries, I switch to the other leg. Back and forth like that, effortlessly balancing on one leg at a time while I stuff cans and boxes into grocery bags.

Last week, I was chatting with Robin in the yoga studio, just sitting around before class began. I was sitting in Lotus, just the same as I've been doing since I was 5 years old. Without thinking about it, I pushed my hands down into the floor and lifted myself off the floor, still with my legs crossed, into scale pose. I swung there for a second before Robin blurted out, "Oh my God! Look at you!"

And I was so startled, I nearly fell down on the floor.

Then she says to me, "Look at your lotus! Look at that! It's perfect! Can you wiggle your feet at the ankles?"

And I could, indeed, wiggle my feet at the ankles.

These postures, these poses - these are things that my body has naturally been able to do as long as I can remember. There's very little effort for me in some of these poses.

But others - ugh. Forward bends? Forget it. I have hamstrings tighter than Aunt Gladys' ass.

But that morning, Robin said to me, "You were an Ashtangi in a past life. You were. You WERE!"

And that made me think - after being able to do some of these things without much thinking - that maybe there's a reason I feel so comfortable on my yoga mat. Maybe there's a reason that I feel like this is what I've been looking for my whole life.

All my life, I've felt drawn to the esoteric. I've felt a pull towards the mysticism of Eastern beliefs and traditions.

My very first real "report" from grammar school was about India, written when I was in the fourth grade. I don't know why I chose India, maybe it was assigned to me. But I remember drawing a map and dutifully writing several pages about India's imports and exports, it's population, it's history and it's emancipation from British colonial rule.

And that was sort of where it began. That was where the conscious and the unconscious met in me.

Since then, I've always identified myself as something of a philosopher. I've always tried to follow my thoughts to the next logical step, pushed myself to go deeper, to dig beneath the surface.

And, of course, I've always loved the rich jewelry and bright colors of the traditional clothing and self-adornments of India.

Who knows? Maybe Robin is right. Maybe I was an Ashtangi in a past life. Maybe I'm here now to try to find something that I missed out on in my last life.

Maybe - just maybe - I'm here to finally find balance.

Be Kind To Yourself

When we practice yoga, we need to learn how to practice kindness to ourselves in the form of self-compassion and self-love.

One thing I'm becoming painfully aware of as a new yoga teacher is how unbelievably harsh I can be with myself. I'm always comparing myself - comparing the classes I teach with what other teachers are doing, beating myself up for not meeting the expectations of the students...

I've come to realize that I have a really hard time accepting compliments from other yoga teachers and from students in my classes when they tell me that they've enjoyed my class. There's this part of me that thinks that they only say these things because they don't want to hurt my feelings, and that I'm really no good at yoga.

It's popping up in other areas of my life, as well: I'm a terrible mother, and no one wants to tell me. I'm really a lousy bead artist, but no one has the heart to tear apart my work the same way I do when I look at it. I'm a terrible friend, a terrible person, etc.

Part of this stems from some fear of mine that maybe I don't have anything to offer to the world. Maybe all I have to offer is chaos and dysfunction. Maybe I don't really belong up there, leading a class through a yoga practice...

I've been struggling a lot with fear this last week. It's just all been coming up in my yoga practice: a fear of moving too quickly, a fear of hanging upside down in forward bends, a fear of back bends where my head tips back down behind my shoulder blades.

I read somewhere that when things like this suddenly appear in your yoga practice, it means that it's time to let it go. So it's time to let go of the fear:

The fear that I'm not good enough.
The fear that I have nothing to offer.
The fear of failure.
The fear of rejection.
The fear of making mistakes.

I know that part of this fear comes from the feeling that no matter how much I think I know about yoga, it always surprises me. It always has a way of letting me know that there's a lot left for me to learn. The practice has a way of reminding me that this is, indeed, a journey, and not really a destination.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

5 Tips For New Yoga Teachers From a New Yoga Teacher

So, yeah, I'm a new yoga teacher. Like, a very new yoga teacher. A very new yoga teacher who is teaching, but still feels like she needs to find her own voice, her own style, when she gets up there to lead a yoga class.

The other night, I had one of those classes where just one person showed up. Which is fine, because it happens. Even when you have people commit to a series of classes, life gets in the way, sometimes, and it just so happens that you'll have classes with just one person - or you'll have a class where no one shows up.

This person happened to be someone that I know from a long time ago, someone I used to work with, and I'm so inspired by the fact that she's been coming to yoga classes at the little yoga studio in Keene. Since it was just me and her, we chatted for a few minutes, and then I said, "Well, it's your lucky night - you get a private lesson!"

As we started to move through some warm-ups in cat/cow, she asked me a question: "Okay," she said, "When am I supposed to inhale and when I am supposed to exhale in this pose?"

And that was when a little light went off in my head. Suddenly, I felt alive and confident. I had asked the very same question when I first started working through this pose, and I wanted to share with her how I had found the answer.

So then I was talking to Robin about it, and I greatly admire Robin, and I value any feedback I get from her, and she said to me, "You need to find that spark - anyone can teach the classes that you're teaching right now, but you need to find that little something extra to bring to it."

And she's right, of course. And it got me thinking, of course. So here are my 5 tips for new yoga teachers from a new yoga teacher:

1. Value yourself. This is, admittedly, probably the most difficult one for me. The first step to being a good yoga teacher - no, to being a GREAT yoga teacher - is to recognize that you have something of value to offer to others. No, really, you do. Think about what first attracted you to yoga; what you remember about the best classes you've ever taken; the best practices you've ever done on your own. Whatever you love about yoga is what you need to share with others.

2. Make more time for your own yoga practice. And the best way to discover what you have to offer to others is to make sure you have plenty of time for your own yoga practice. Let yourself go deeper, experiment with postures and sequencing and transitions, and don't be afraid to think outside the mat.

3. Learn from your students. Your students have so much to offer you when it comes to learning about yoga! How can you figure out what they need that day? What's the best way to teach this group?

4. Keep a journal, every day. Try journaling before and after each class you lead, and before and after each of your own practices. You can take notes on new thoughts, new ideas, how you feel after a particular sequence, and what thoughts come up before, during, and after your practice. Take these and learn from them - use them to make yourself a better yoga teacher.

5. Fake it 'till ya make it.  Yeah, it's gonna happen to you, too: you'll be up there in front of a class, and even with your carefully written notes stashed under a corner of your mat, or scribbled on your hand, you're gonna draw a complete blank. You're gonna be that rabbit in the headlights. But you know what? Don't sweat it. Put everyone in mountain pose, or child's pose. Give them (and yourself) a few minutes to rest, get back into your flow, and move on.

Don't forget: teaching yoga, just like the practice of yoga, is a journey...not a destination.

Start Where You Are: To Be Continued

So, taking a short break from my Start Where You Are series for a few days, until I can find some designated time to write and actually get some decent photos of myself in the poses to use. Also, if anyone is interested, this series of blogs will be available (as soon as I've finished them) as an instant download eBook, and as a Kindle eBook in the Kindle store! Woot woot!

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Start Where You Are: Day 2, Table Pose, With Cat/Cow Variation

Ready for Day 2 of Start Where You are? Before you begin, if you have any discomfort in your knees or wrists, you will want to have a folded blanket handy to provide a little cushioning while we move through this pose.

Table Pose

After you've done a little grounding in easy pose, swing your hips over to one side, and come on to hands and knees in table pose.

Your alignment: knees should be directly under the hips, wrists under the shoulders, and just scoop your tailbone under a bit so that you don't have a sway back. Imagine a nice, long line of energy running from your tailbone all the way out through the crown of your head. Your neck should be neutral, so your gaze will be down a few inches in front of your finger tips.

Check in with your hands and fingers - spread your fingers wide, really press down through the pads of your fingers.

See if you can feel your weight distributed evenly between all four limbs. Take a peek back between your legs and make sure that you can't see your feet - they should be hidden behind your legs.

Take a few breaths here, and feel grounded.


If your knees are sore or ouchy, you can use a blanket for more cushioning under your knees. If your wrists protest when you plant them on the ground or on your mat, make loose fists with your hands, and rest on those.

When you're ready, you can start warming up the spine by moving through some cat/cow rolls.

Cat/Cow Rolls

Once you're nice and stable and grounded in your table pose, begin to warm up the spine with some gentle movements that are linked to your breath. This is one of my favorite warm-ups, and no yoga practice feels complete to me without a few of these.

On the inhale: let your middle back drop, raise your sit bones to the sky, and draw your heart through your arms. Be careful here not to scrunch your neck too much - allow the movement of your head to come from the movement of the spine.

On the exhale: round your back, pushing down into the floor, allow your head to drop down so that you try to look at your navel.

Move back and forth through these motions, matching the pace of your movements to the flow of your breath.

Remember, if you feel pain (more than just discomfort) in any of these, stop what you're doing and rest. Yoga should not hurt!

When you're finished, you can move on to other poses, or you can simply sit in meditation again for a few minutes before moving on with your day.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Start Where You Are, Day 1: Basic Meditation and Easy Pose

Before you start any yoga practice, it's always a good idea to get grounded, get in tune with your breath, and maybe create a little ritual to get your mind relaxed and prepared.

For me, my personal ritual involves rolling up the oval braided rug in front of the wood stove (the only place in my house large enough to do yoga comfortably during the winter months, which, this year, seem to be lasting for-evah!), lighting a stick of incense, and lighting a series of candles on the mantle above the wood stove. I sweep the floor both before and after I roll out my mat. I put on some gentle music, but you may prefer to practice in silence.

Make sure you are unplugged so that you won't be disturbed - turn off the cell phone, turn off the ringer on your land line, shut down your computer. This is YOUR time, so make sure that it's uninterrupted.

For this first pose, you may want a folded blanket or a small pillow to tuck under your sit bones for comfort.

Easy Pose

The first pose that you learn in any yoga class is easy pose, or as my 6-year-old calls it, criss-cross-applesauce.

Basically, you come to a comfortable seated position with your legs crossed in front of you. You can have your legs stacked on top of each other, or they can be one in front of the other.

If you have tight hips and you find that you're having difficulty getting your knees to drop to the floor, tuck a folded blanket or pillow just under the very edge of your sit bones. You want to feel like you're about to drop off the edge of the blanket or pillow. And if your knees still don't drop all the way down to the floor, as long as you're comfortable without any pain, you're good to go.

You want to sit up straight in this posture, so imagine that you're slowly stacking your vertebrae up your back, one on top of the other. Imagine a string coming out of the top of your head, pulling it up. And finally, slide your head back just slightly so that your ears are over your shoulders.

This is a very grounding pose. Imagine you can feel roots coming out through the base of your spine, going down into the earth. Feel the strength of this seated position before you continue on to the meditation.

Basic Meditation

The basic idea of meditation is to connect the mind with the body through the observation of the breath. So as you sit in your easy pose, just search for your breath. Observe it. Don't feel like you have to control it or change it - just let it be whatever it wants to be.

We begin to calm the mind when we breathe through the nose. Inhale through the nose, exhale gently through the nose. Seal your lips. Let your abdomen and chest relax. Rest your hands, palms down, on your knees, or folded gently in your lap.

I like to remind people in my De-stress Yoga class to relax all the muscles in their faces as they practice. When your face is relaxed, it naturally comes into a gentle smile. And smiling feels good, right? So we want to cultivate that feeling of ease and relaxation that comes with a gentle smile.

As your mind wanders (and it will wander), just bring it back to the sensation of your inhale and your exhale. You can use this technique throughout your yoga practice. As you get into a posture, you may find that your mind starts wandering or coming up with things to add to the grocery list, errands that need to be run, emails that need to be returned... But as these thoughts come up, you can just acknowledge them, and set them aside, always returning to the inhalation and exhalation.

Sit comfortably for about 3-5 minutes to start. You can use your music as sort of a self-timer: pick a song that is around 5 minutes long, and use that as your guide for sitting in meditation.

To bring yourself out of meditation, take one last, long, deep breath, imagining the air traveling down your spine, and down into the earth.

Gently blink your eyes open. Don't forget to smile. See if you can carry that feeling of being relaxed with you for the rest of your day.

Start Where You Are: 14 Days to Create a Yoga Practice From Scratch

Over the weekend, I subbed the community yoga class at Yoga Tree in Keene. When I teach, I like to arrive at least 45 minutes early to give me time to sweep the floors, light some candles, and just generally make sure things are comfortable and calm before students start arriving.

This particular afternoon, a man came up to the door. He asked if there were any schedules around - which there weren't, since Robin was still working on them - and then asked if there was a class this afternoon. He'd never done yoga before. It was 4:30, and I told him that we had a 5 p.m. community yoga class. He asked me what he needed to do yoga - and my honest reply was, "Nothing, really. We have mats here, and all you need to do is just wear some comfortable clothing that you can move in." He thanked me, and said that he'd be back in half an hour.

Sure enough, he came in and joined our little group of 7 students. We did a nice, slow-paced class, a couple of classical sun salutations, and had a good rest in savasana.

After class, he came up to me and thanked me. I asked him if he liked the class, and he replied, "No, I LOVED it. I'll be back later this week for more!"

And it really made me think - here was this guy, who had never done yoga before, who just walks into a class, no fear, no judgement, and participates. I mean, really, can it get any cooler than that?

I get people asking me all the time: what do I need to get started with yoga? And really, the answer is: nothing, except maybe a willingness to just start where you are.

To that end, I've decided to share some "How to Get Started With Yoga" ideas for you. For each of the next 14 days, I'll share a basic yoga asana (pose), along with instructions on how to get in and out of the pose safely. If you want to practice at home, these poses are the perfect foundation for a solid yoga practice.

But before you get started, here are a couple of guidelines:

1. Take it slow. Learning one pose a day is enough. Don't worry about the length of your practice - I unroll my mat every day, but some days, all I do is sit in meditation for 10 minutes. Any time that you spend connecting with your breath is time well spent.

2. You don't need anything to get started. Nope, not even a yoga mat. All you need to do is wear comfortable clothes - sweat pants and pajamas are perfectly acceptable for starting your home practice. As long as you can move without restrictions, you're good to go.

If you really really really want a yoga mat, go to Target and buy one for like $20. You don't need fancy yoga gear, clothing, props, etc.

If you're practicing at home, you can use a firm, non-slip surface. We have an oval braided rug in front of our wood stove in the living room (which is the only space in our house large enough to do yoga in the winter), and it makes a perfect makeshift yoga mat.

You can also practice outside, in the backyard, in a park, on the beach. In fact, practicing outside will help increase that sense of connection with the world around you!

3. Never, ever, ever, EVER force your body into a pose where you feel pain. Ever. Did I say never? Never. The goal of a strong yoga practice is to build ease and stillness. If you're in a pose where your breath is ragged, and you're straining every muscle in your body to hold that posture, back out. Just like any other form of physical activity, there's the potential for injury in yoga, and if you're brand new, it's so, so, so important to learn to listen to your body and don't push past any pain.

Learning to listen to our bodies is probably one of the most difficult part of any yoga practice. We live our fast-paced lives moving from one crazy task to the next at breakneck speed, and we hardly ever give ourselves time to exercise our intuition about what our bodies need at any given moment. But if you follow the guidelines of ease and stillness, and slow down long enough to ask yourself how you really feel in each posture, you'll be doing yourself a huge favor towards preventing injuries.

4. Cultivate kindness towards yourself. Always. Yeah, so, if this is the first time you've ever done yoga, you're not going to look like Kathryn Budig or David Swenson or any of those "rock star" yoga instructors you see all over Facebook and Instagram. Not right away, anyway. But you know what? That's perfectly good. Your yoga practice should be about YOU, and not someone else. Don't judge yourself based on what you see around you. I know, easier said than done, and it's another tough part of the practice for a lot of us.

If you do decide to hit up a local yoga studio for some classes, my best advice would be to park your mat right up at the front of the room. Not because you wanna suck up to the teacher or scream out for attention, but this way, you might not be as tempted to look around the room and size up what everyone else is doing. Plus, it's another way for you to exercise the "I don't care what anyone thinks of me and my practice" muscles in your brain. 

Case in point: I can barely get through the full Ashtanga primary series without dropping down into child's pose about a million times. But you know what? That's okay. When I honor my body and what it needs, I am honoring the practice of yoga.

5. The best time to practice is right now. If you have 10 minutes at the start of your day, that's a great time to get started. Or if you feel like you would rather wait until the end of the day when it's easier to set things aside, that's fine, too. But the key to a good, strong practice is to make time every day, when you feel it's best for you. 

So, are you ready to get started? We'll start with learning a simple meditation to get us grounded.

Thursday, March 13, 2014


Last weekend was it. My last weekend of yoga teacher training.


On Saturday, instead of taking the Community Yoga class, I taught it as my final teach. And who was in my group but an 8 year old girl who was there with her grandmother! My friend Margaret pointed out to me that the kids seem to be flocking to me in this yoga stuff... I take the appearance of this girl in my final teach as a good sign.

We had two more yoga classes to get through that afternoon, and I felt terrible, but I had to bag one of them and spend most of it in child's pose, cuddled over a bolster. I got through the first 30 minutes of the 75-minute practice, but since I had been awake with Colden most of the night prior, there was no way I could get through what was undoubtedly a yummy power yoga class.

Saturday night, Colden was awake most of the night. He was incredibly uncomfortable - SOMETHING was bothering him, but we had no idea what it was. (We finally figured it out yesterday, in the middle of a blizzard that dumped 2 feet of snow on us: he had ANOTHER double ear infection.)

Around 5 a.m. Sunday morning, I just dissolved into tears and decided to give up on trying to sleep. I texted Debbie to let her know that I wasn't going to make it in time for the 8:30 gentle yoga class, but that I would be there for the 10 a.m. Hatha class, where I was scheduled to assist one last time.

Before lunch, we circled up for one last time. On Sundays, after the two yoga classes, we would sit in a circle and just share what was going through our heads and going on in our lives. Margaret was first, but she asked if we could skip her initially, and come back to her last.

I shared that that day, March 9, would have been my mother's 70th birthday. With no sleep and all this going on, I felt like I was on a bit of a roller coaster.

Then we got back to Margaret. And we all started to cry as she so beautifully summed up what we were all feeling about the last six months we had spent together, practicing yoga and learning together.

She got up and came back with a small brown paper bag. Inside the bag, she had a little sack with gemstones wrapped up. She told us to each pick the one that we felt called to us, without seeing what they were.

It turns out that they were the same gemstones that we had used during her gemstone guided meditation back in January. 3 out of 5 of us chose the same gemstones at random that we had chosen for the meditation - with the exception of me and someone else. (I had chosen carnelian during the meditation, but this time around, I chose Azurite.)

Then she handed out little wrapped packages that contained gemstones that she had chosen specifically for us. My little gemstone was Merlinite - the little card that came with it told me that the metaphysical properties of Merlinite provided access to the Akashic records, to draw upon the powers of the elements, to enhance Shamanic practices, and to bring magic into one's life.

We went back to the little meditation room where we stashed our gear, and I thanked Margaret again for everything. I embraced her - really, really embraced her - and just couldn't help but start crying again. Of all the total randomness in the universe, I still can't get over what meeting Margaret and getting to know her and learn from her has brought into my life.

Very briefly, Margaret worked at the creamery where we got our raw milk and raw dairy products all summer long when we were picking up our veggies from the CSA. We enjoyed chatting with her, and meeting her dog, Arnold, who had 3 legs and was a little skitchy with us, and who Tom nicknamed "Tripod" because we could never remember his name. I mentioned to her that I was about to start a yoga teacher training one day in September, and gave her the information. Sure enough on that first day, there she was, ready to go through training with me!

Margaret stayed with us for a while when she was going through some transitions and needed a place to crash, and Colden instantly fell in love with her. We went to the Wild Center with her, and she and Colden acted like a couple of kids together. I loved talking with her, finding out that we are both on the same wavelength about so many things. We looked after Arnold when she went to Montreal, and Colden decided that he didn't want to give Arnold back.

Arnold the dog, AKA Tripod, assisting me with work

So, back to graduation...

After lunch, we settled in to watch the rest of a fascinating video about anatomy and yoga. Really, I loved this video, and I'll write more on it later, but Sunday afternoon, it gave me a chance to rest my head and close my eyes for a few minutes as I listened.

Then we had our two last yoga classes, led by two of the ladies in class. And that was it. We were done.

Debbie handed out our certificates, and we posed for pictures. She had planned on taking us all out for dinner afterwards, and I thought I was going to beg off because I was just so tired. Exhausted, I didn't think I could keep my head up!

But I walked up the road to the restaurant with everyone else, and found myself drawn into a conversation with a few of the past graduates of the teacher training. It was such a great time, I wound up staying for the entire evening.

Finally, when I was getting too tired and too dizzy to hold my head up, I called it a night, said goodbye to everyone, and went home.

I cried most of the way home. It was such an overwhelming, gratifying, beautiful experience.

All we had done for the last six months was practice yoga together. We read books together. We exchanged ideas with each other. And finally, at long last, I felt as if I had stumbled into my tribe. This was where I belonged - with these amazing, incredible, thoughtful, brilliant women.

What's next? I have absolutely no idea. I've started teaching a Tuesday evening De-stress Yoga class, and I love it. I want to add more classes, as soon as I can figure out what I'm going to do about my increasingly stressful day job. I'm teaching workshops about how to make your own Mala beads, and Yoga for Stress Reduction. I'm teaching yoga to the kids at Colden's old preschool every Monday morning. I want to take teacher trainings in Yoga For Round Bodies.

For now, though, it's 10:27 p.m., even though my body still thinks it's only 9:30 p.m., and that means I need to get to sleep early so I can get Colden to school on time tomorrow...

I leave you with one of my favorite contemporary songs for my yoga practice, Everyone I Know by singer/songwriter Mat Kearny. Namaste.