Today in Yoga classes I have been talking about the way in which the stratification of society along numerous lines including racial, religious, and socio-economic, and others, leads to friction due to the number of daily interactions with other individuals of differing views. Many of these interactions tend to be passive-aggressive or outright aggressive. These competitive or adversarial encounters, causes us to feel stress, anxiety, and fear.
These feelings, while cognitive in nature, manifest in our physical bodies. There are releases of adrenaline and cortisol that prepare the body for “Fight or Flight”. Many people spent too much time in this physically stressed state. This leads the body to dis – ease.
Ashtanga Vinyasa yoga is often thought of as a practice only for advanced practitioners. Well, that’s just not the case! When taught traditionally, in a Mysore style class, this practice is available to anyone and everyone. I know, call me crazy, but it’s true and I’m going to tell you why. In my opinion, here are three of the many reasons why Ashtanga Vinyasa is for beginners: it is taught incrementally, the practice is tailored to the individual, and by its very nature measuring your progress is easy.
Firstly, Ashtanga Vinyasa is taught incrementally. A Mysore style class means a self led practice and the teacher’s role is to empower the student with this sequence. By teaching a little at a time students are less likely to be overwhelmed and more likely to remember what they’ve been taught. Beginners are often asked to repeat the sequence to their stopping point so as to practice the physical asana and more importantly learn the sequence.
I hated my first yin class, yep I said it! I couldn’t calm my mind down long enough to appreciate the process. I even had an attitude about it, like it wasn’t as good as all the other yoga classes, (Really?). All personality Type As’ . . . this is the class for you to balance out all your other yang activities! (Yin is good for everyone though).
Eventually, I realized that I needed to add yin to my life. Yin has allowed me to have access to postures that I never thought I would be able to do; my practice has become safer and more enjoyable for me. Most of the aches and pains that I thought were inevitable due to age are no longer present in my body, my struggle with lifelong insomnia has almost vanished, and meditation has become much easier, and is now a must for me.This has allowed me to become much more intuned with myself and has positively influenced every aspect of my life.
Imagine you are in kindergarten and your parents have just signed you up for yoga and mindfulness meditation after school. The teacher leads you into a classroom where you are met by a warm smile, the teacher welcomes you, asks your name, and checks you off the attendance list. You put your backpack down, shoes and socks off, and then you find a yoga mat laid out in a circle with a piece of paper depicting multiple faces and crayons. You chose the one that describes your emotions and you color it while waiting for class to begin.
The teacher sits down on a mat beside you, everyone comes into a community circle and joins hands with their papers next to them. The teacher begins by describing how s/he feels and where they feel the emotion in their body and then lightly squeezes a students hand, indicating its their turn.
When completed, the teacher guides the students in 2-3 minutes of deep, slow conscious breathing, expanding their belly with each in breath. You silently start repeating the mantra, “peace begins with me.”
There are so many styles of yoga to love. So why choose Vinyasa? To me, the Vinyasa style is almost like dancing by myself when no one is looking. I love that freeing feeling of moving my body for myself, by myself. Obviously in a yoga class I’m not exactly “by myself” but it doesn’t take long to get into your own flow and realize that no one else is there to watch you…they’re doing their own internal dance as well!
Although every class is a little different, what makes a yoga class a Vinyasa class is the one-breath to one-movement flow. When you are able to focus your mind on your breath, it becomes an active moving meditation.
Before I took my first yoga class in my 20s, I had this preconceived notion that yoga was slow and boring and for old people. The class I walked into was a Vinyasa Power Flow that changed my perception of yoga forever. I kissed my gym membership goodbye when I realized that yoga could be just as physically challenging and more fun. Slowly, my body started changing. I noticed muscle definition in parts of my body that I hadn’t seen before, I didn’t get winded carrying groceries up the stairs to my apartment, and I was finally able to do all of the chatturangas in the 90-minute class! As the physical changes were happening, I also noticed changes in other areas of my life that I wasn’t expecting. I wasn’t as angry when something didn’t go my way, I felt calmer and more patient with myself and with others, and I started appreciating the small things in life. I literally caught myself stopping to smell flowers one day while walking home from class.
Some of you can rest easily into savasana, some of you not quite so much, some of you aren’t even sure where savasana is. Savasana is the final resting point of a practice and tradition teaches that Asana (the physical postures) prepare us for this rest. Many of us are so used to moving, thinking and doing that it is hard to rest but it is in stillness and silence that our bodies are able to switch into a place of natural healing.
So if you’re just here for the savasana, I invite you to attend my Monday evening class of Yoga Nidra. Yoga Nidra, or “yogi sleep” is a guided meditation practice where you rest in savasana for the entire practice, since you’re there longer than the average 5-7 minutes you’ll want to use the bolsters and blankets to tuck yourself into a very cozy position. The practice will have segments of mindful breathing, body awareness, visualization and intention setting. It is quite possible that you’ll fall asleep during practice or you may find yourself drifting in and out of awareness and surprisingly at the end it probably feels like 5 minutes has passed when in reality it’s been nearly a full hour. Yoga Nidra can help increase mental clarity, aid in pain relief, boost your metabolism, balance your hormones, improve sleep, lower your blood pressure and has even helped aid in the treatment of PTS.
So, you made it. 2017 Holiday season is in the books and you’re ready for a new start! Did you make any resolutions? I know for me, one of my main goals is to be more mindful and present with my kids. I have two toddlers, aged 2, 3, and a teenager…yeah, I know. Holy Crap. I made lots of promises to myself this year regarding my parenting and incorporating Yoga daily with my kids, and most days- it just did not happen.
How do you do it? How do you stay “mindful” with your children? What does that mean, exactly? It is well known that the one thing Yoga teaches us for ALL ages is how to remain in the present and be mindful. We do this by focusing on our breath and on what is happening with our body and consciousness right in this exact moment. When we do this there is no room for any other thoughts or plans or reflections in our mind other than right now. Often times after class, we feel great. It was awesome to not have your mind race about the day before or tomorrow or next week. We feel refreshed and calmer. This same benefit is also available to your children. Kids need Yoga. Period. At this point, it’s not even a debate. Our kids are stressed out just as much as we are stressed out. School, Social Media, Socialization, Team Practice, Sports, Hobbies…the list is endless.
I was new to the yoga world when I first stepped foot into an Ashtanga Class. It was a Led primary class. (Led class means, that the teacher calls out the postures and vinyasas in counted movements, that link the postures with the breath.) The group moves and breaths in sync.
I must confess that I didn’t really have feelings either way about this style of yoga. I remember thinking that it was a physically demanding class, that had a ZILLION Chaturanga Dandasana's in it! (What crazy person puts themselves through this?!) The teacher was friendly and made me feel welcome, as did all the students in the room.
It wasn't until I went to an Ashtanga Mysore class that I experienced a true epiphany on what Yoga truly is (or had the potential to be, if I was able to become disciplined like all the practitioners around me.) I was in awe of everybody's beautiful poses, harmonious breathwork and most of all their strict dedication to the practice!
I instantly felt as if I was given a magic love potion and I understood right then and there that this wasn’t just merely a style of Yoga. This was a brilliantly, methodically thought out system that not only could change my body but also my spirit.
Ashtanga Vinyasa was created by Sri K. Pattabhi Jois and Krishnamacharya. Ashtanga literally translates to 8 limbs and is a set series of postures. There is a total of 6 series throughout the entire system. In the traditional practice of Ashtanga, called Mysore (named after the city in India that it originated from), each student practices the set sequence one-on-one within a group setting. The student works at their own pace with the assistance of their teacher in the room.
I have a ton of reasons why I love this practice, here’s my top 5:
Genjo Koan (Suzuki Roshi is commenting in this talk on the relationship of form and emptiness): A Dharma talk given by Shunryu Suzuki on August 20, 1967, at Tassajara. -- People may think Zen is a wonderful teaching.
'If you study Zen, you will acquire complete freedom. If you wear a black robe like this, whatever you do is alright.' This kind of understanding looks like observing the teaching that form is emptiness, but what I mean by 'form is emptiness' is quite different.
Back and forth we practice, we train our mind and our emotions and our body. And after that process, you will acquire the perfect freedom. And perfect freedom will only be acquired under some limitation. When you are in one position, realization of the truth will be there, will happen to you.
It used to be that there was only a slight variation in the way different lineages of yoga were taught. The cues and verbiage may be different, but for the most part the anatomical alignment was very similar. Some movements were discouraged as being detrimental to the safety and alignment of the body.
But over the last few years I am seeing constant changes of thought as to the correct alignment in different postures and the way we move in our practice. I receive articles in my inbox weekly as to new thoughts to age old views on alignment.
As teachers we may have been told to never roll up from a standing forward fold due to the possible compression of the lumbar discs and danger to those suffering from osteoporosis, although I see more and more teachers cuing this movement as being safe.
Encouraging students to stand in alignment, meaning all ten toes facing forward and distributing their weight evenly between the feet, now I receive an article that this may not always be the best alignment cue.
At Ignite Yoga, we believe that yoga is for everyone–For people of all ages and all walks of life.