zombie-yoga-355x550
(Photo Courtesy of http://www.themarysue.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/04/zombie-yoga-355×550.jpg)

It’s no secret to those of you who know me that I absolutely LOVE zombie movies. I am a HUGE fan of “The Walking Dead” TV show, and all the latest zombie movies that have come out the last few years ( “28 Days”, “28 Days Later”, “Legend”, “World War Z”…to name a few). I’ve even read the first 9 years of “The Walking Dead” comics. Yeah, I am a zombie geek, I’ll admit it.

Right about now, you’re probably wondering why in the world I am talking about zombies. This is a yoga blog, right?

Well, yes. This IS a yoga blog. But this last season of “The Walking Dead” has had me pondering the meaning of life, and I realized something. Something quite monumental, in fact. Are you ready? You might want to sit down for this…this is gonna get deep! Here we go:

YOGA CAN PREPARE US FOR THE ZOMBIE APOCALYPSE.

Yes! You read that correctly. Hear me out, as I promise I haven’t lost my mind.

OK. OK. I’m choosing to focus on the Zombie Apocalypse because I wanted to grab your attention a bit, and it’s fresh on my mind from all the zombie things I’ve been watching and reading. But really, what I am about to share is applicable to any tough situation we’re faced with. Maybe it’s an illness, a divorce, losing a loved one…anything you’re faced with that seems insurmountable, yoga can help. I promise.

So, without further ado, here is my top 5 list of how yoga can prepare us for the Zombie Apocalypse (or any other tough situation you’re faced with):

1. Learn to Breathe Properly

In yoga, we learn about how important breathing is in each and every class. As a teacher, I mention it over and over again throughout each class because it’s THAT important! We don’t realize how shallowly we typically breathe, and when we breathe in this way, it causes more stress. Learn to breathe deeply, and you’ll notice you are more focused, energetic and calm. On the mat, this is especially helpful when we’re working on challenging poses and sequences.

In the Zombie Apocalypse (or any other tough situation you’re faced with), this is also super important, wouldn’t you say? With focus, you’ll be able to face all the obstacles in your way more successfully. With energy, you’ll be able to push through until the danger has passed. And with calmness, you’ll be able to deal with things more rationally and realistically. And let’s face it…if you’re breathing shallowly, gasping for air, the zombies will hear you and come running. We don’t want that, do we?

2. Know Thyself

In yoga, you might be on the mat next to little Miss Gumby, who can get into every single pose without even trying. But if you’re not also a little Miss Gumby, then you’re going to get frustrated or hurt yourself if you try to do the same thing on your own mat. You need to do what’s right for YOUR body, and try to learn and grow in the ways that are best for YOU.

In the Zombie Apocalypse (or any other tough situation you’re faced with), you need to know where you excel and where you don’t. After all, if you can’t hit a target to save your life, then you’re PROBABLY not the right person to have on guard duty, right? Maybe you’d be better off looking for food, tending to the wounded, or something like that. The point is this: figure out who you are and what you’re good at. Then do the things you need to in order to grow in those areas.

3. Find Your Edge, Find Your Strength

In yoga, I’ve had many teachers over the years say that in order to get stronger in our practice, we need to find the “edge” in our poses…that point where we go just beyond our comfort zone but not the point of pain. Usually, this is said when attempting the particularly challenging poses. When we can feel the muscles burning, we know we’re getting stronger and making progress.

In the Zombie Apocalypse (or any other tough situation you’re faced with), this concept also holds true. I mean, let’s face it. If there is a herd of zombies running after me, I’d say that is a bit outside of my comfort zone. Wouldn’t you agree?

Seriously, though. There are many things that will happen in our lives that will throw us for a loop. No matter how hard we try to keep things drama-free and “safe”, there will always be something unexpected. It’s the nature of life. But if we can tap into our inner strength when we are challenged with something big, the lessons we will learn can be life-changing.

4. Let Go of Things That Don’t Serve You

In yoga, I usually talk about letting go of stress, negative thoughts, competition and expectations at the beginning and/or end of class. It’s important to let go of these things because they can hold you back on the mat. How can you expect to get to the next level of a particularly challenging pose if you keep telling yourself that you can’t do it? Make the choice to let go of the things that hold you back, and you’ll be amazed at how your practice will evolve.

In the Zombie Apocalypse (or any other tough situation you’re faced with), you’ll make better decisions if you can let go of these negative things because you’ll have more clarity. You’ll be able to look at the bright side of things (like the fact that you’re here for one more day). And when you can do that, it’s easier to find viable solutions to the problems you’re faced with.

5. Focus on the Present Moment

In yoga, I’m always telling my students to let go of whatever they came into the room with and not to worry about what’s waiting for them after class. There is only the present, the RIGHT NOW. On the mat, if you keep thinking about what you used to be able to do, or if you’re focusing too much on where you WANT to end up in a pose, you’re less likely to achieve anything at all. Why? Because you’re not focused at all on what your body, mind and breath are doing in the moment. When I’m not focused on what I’m doing, that’s when I usually end up losing my balance and toppling over.

In the Zombie Apocalypse (or any other tough situation we’re faced with), it’s even more important to focus on the RIGHT NOW. Why bother focusing on the past or the future? We can’t change what’s already happened or get back the things we’ve lost, so there’s no point in dwelling on it and wondering what might’ve been. We can’t control the future either, because anything can change at a moment’s notice. I mean, look at the zombies themselves. Do you see them strategizing their next move? No! They’re just moving from one thing to the next, as it meets their fancy, without a care in the world of what’s gonna happen next. Now there’s a lesson for us, right there!

So there you have it! My top 5 list of how yoga can prepare us for the Zombie Apocalypse (or any other tough situation you’re faced with). Now you can rest easy that when the Zombie Apocalypse (or any other tough situation you’re faced with) arrives, you’ll be prepared. You’ll be able to handle it. And you WILL survive.

See you in class!

Namaste,

Melanie

“Every April, God rewrites the Book of Genesis.” ~~Author Unknown

They say that Spring is the time for cleansing the body from winter’s slumber, as winter tends to make us more sluggish. That has certainly been true for me this year, it seems! Many people take advantage of the Spring as a time to not just spring clean their homes, but to also do the same for their bodies. How many of you have been noticing all the ads everywhere for various detox and cleanse programs? I don’t think I’ve gone a day in the last month without seeing at least one ad for some type of program like that.

It seems like so many cleanses have you basically starve yourself, or eat just one thing for an ungodly number of days. I can’t do that. I’ve tried some of these things in the past, and it was torture for me. In every instance, I ended up sabotaging it within a matter of hours (yes, I have NO willpower, I’ll admit it). So now I steer clear of that kind of thing.

But since attending the Ayurvedic training at the Asheville Yoga Center a few weeks ago, I’ve been fascinated with all things to do with Ayurveda. The doctor who ran our training mentioned that his practice was kicking off a 10-day Spring Cleanse (which started yesterday), and I was interested, but not sure if I could do it based on my past history. All I could think of was everything I’d have to give up. My friend and fellow yoga teacher, Ashley (who went to the training in Asheville with me), said she was interested in it as well, and that we should sign up and participate together.

Again, like other things in my life lately, I took this as a sign that the Universe was trying to tell me I couldn’t ignore this, so I decided to sign up and give it a go.

This cleanse is not just about the food part. It incorporates healthy, vegetarian meals for 10 days, all of which are specific to my particular needs/issues (based on a survey I filled out prior to the start). It also encourages a variety of Ayurvedic practices which lead to a healthy routine, and it was cool to see that I am already doing a couple of these things pretty regular (dry skin brushing and tongue scraping, for example). And finally, it incorporates a yoga practice suitable for this time of year. There’s a great Facebook page for participants, so we can communicate with each other and share our experience, and there will be a total of 4 live calls throughout the 10 days, the first of which was yesterday. If you are interested in learning more about this cleanse, go to Dr. Scott Blossom’s Web site, and click the “Spring Community Cleanse” link in the top list of scrolling pictures.

As I reviewed all the recipes, the suggested routines, and the suggested yoga style, I became super excited. I had to wait until today to officially start, as I didn’t have the final recipes until late Saturday night. I completed my grocery shopping yesterday, and I spent several hours last night getting as much prep work done as I could so that I have no excuse not to do what I need to do. I am the QUEEN of excuses, so I needed to ensure I sabotaged my attempts to sabotage.  :)

010(Check out my Colorful Grain Bowl, which was my lunch today…I topped it with Black Sesame Seeds and Alfalfa Sprouts…yum!)

I had no trouble completing my morning routine today, and I feel amazing already! Of course, I think it helped that I did some prepping through last week, because I knew I was going to be caffeine-free during this time. So I spent last week weaning off the morning coffee, drinking less and less each day. I am a TAD bit tired today, but I can’t expect EVERYTHING to be roses, now can I? That’s OK…my yummy dinner of homemade Asparagus soup made up for my it. Check it out…doesn’t it look delicious???

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I’m only teaching one yoga class this week, my Chillax Yoga Flow, and we’ll be doing a practice that is suitable for this time of year. In the Spring, it’s important to have an invigorating and stimulating practice, which will help improve sluggish digestion, aid in the detox process, encourage the lymph to move, and prevent congestion.

If you can’t make it to class, try it out at home. Here’s what I plan on doing…I’m happy to answer any questions you may have about the poses.

Warm-Up

  • Warm up with a few poses that move the spine in all 6 directions
  • Add some poses that loosen up the ankles, wrists, neck, shoulders and hips. Simple “joint rolls” work awesome!
  • Make sure to incorporate Knees-to-Chest Pose, which will help to stimulate the large intestine…this aids in detoxification.
  • Sun Salutations (These help pump prana through the body, which brings in more oxygen and encourages sweating…sweating helps with the detox process.)

Vinyasa Portion (continue moving through this portion keeping your sweat going…try holding each pose for 3-5 breaths)

  • Chair
  • Twisting Chair (twisting helps to detoxify the organs and strengthen metabolic fire)
  • Revolved Crescent Lunge (another twist…let’s get that detox going!)
  • Crescent Lunge
  • Warrior 2
  • Peaceful Warrior
  • Extended Side Angle
  • Revolved Side Angle (yet another twist…get the idea now?)
  • Grounded Airplane
  • Standing Splits
  • Vinyasa
  • Repeat entire sequence with the opposite leg leading

Transition Between Vinyasa and Yin (stay in these poses for 45-60 seconds)

  • Camel Pose (Backbends are energizing and revitalizing…critical for when we may be a bit more sluggish)
  • Rabbit Pose (This pose will help to tone the kidneys and the bladder, which regulate water and emotions in the body.)
  • Child’s Pose (Try making two fists and placing them in the soft part of your abdomen before folding all the way into the pose…this will help to improve digestion.)

Yin Portion (Spend 3 minutes in each of the following poses)

  • Sphinx (This is another nice backbend to bring some energy and vitality)
  • Caterpillar (This is very much like Seated Forward Fold, but there is no muscle energy happening here. This pose will help to tone the kidneys and the bladder, which regulate water and emotions in the body.)
  • Half Butterfly (In Yin, this looks like Janu Sirsasana…but again, there is no muscle energy in the Yin version. If you choose, you can twist in this pose, which gives you yet another detox opportunity.)
  • Square Pose (This is like Firelog Pose, but again, there is no muscle energy in the Yin version. If this is uncomfortable for your knees, you can do a simple cross-legged seated pose…the idea here is to loosen the hips and the back).
  • Savasana (Spend at least 5 minutes in this pose, taking the opportunity to notice how rejuvenated you now feel.)

“Whatever you decide to do, make sure it makes you happy.” ~~ Author Unknown

How many of you remember “The Ren & Stimpy Show”, a cartoon that aired from the early to mid-1990s? I was 19 years old when it first aired, and though I didn’t watch it regularly (it just wasn’t my sort of thing to watch), my friends and I got a kick out of the “Happy, Happy, Joy, Joy!”song. Ren & Stimpy sang this song and did a little happy dance whenever something good happened, and my friends would sing the chorus of it and do our own version of the happy dance whenever we felt something was “joy worthy”.

ren-n-stimpy(Photo Courtesy of http://www.bitstorm.org/happyjoy/)

Happy, happy, joy, joy
Happy, happy, joy, joy
Happy, happy, joy, joy
Happy, happy, joy, joy
Happy, happy, joy, joy
Happy, happy, joy, joy
Happy, happy, joy, joy, joy

I can’t speak for my friends, but whenever I would sing it, I’d feel a little silly. But then after, I always felt great. I always felt happy and had a big, goofy smile on my face.

Fast forward a few years, to the time when all of sudden I had responsibility – you know, things like a job, a husband, a house, kids, pets – and I let those carefree moments go.

I didn’t realize I’d even done it until years later. Like, lots of years later. Like, just last year!

During this past year, many of the podcasts I listen to have been focusing heavily on happiness, and how it’s pretty darn hard to find good health when you’re not happy. Lately, even the yoga classes I have been able to make it to have been focusing on this very same thing. And then the Ayurveda workshop I went to last weekend spent quite a bit of time on this topic as well.

OK Universe! I get it…it’s finally sinking in!

So it got me to thinking about what makes people happy. And of course, I came to the realization that it’s different for everyone. What makes ME happy isn’t necessarily going to be what will make YOU happy. But as I got to thinking about it, listening to my podcasts and talking with people, I also came to the realization that so many of us don’t even know what will make us happy, and that made me extremely sad. We are SO caught up in the minutiae of every day life, the busyness, the “go, go, GO!” mentality, that we don’t take the time to think about what makes us tick. What makes us feel fulfilled. What gives us peace and good health.

When I really thought about it, though, there are some general things we ALL can do to bring happiness into our lives. While I am no scientist, here are the top 5 things that I truly feel will make us happy if we do them regularly:

  1. Spend some time in nature every single day. Research has shown over and over again that spending some time in nature benefits your health. According to Dr. Susanne Preston, a Clinical Mental Health Counseling instructor at South University, Virginia Beach, being outside and spending time in nature is good not just our mental health, but also our physical health (see http://source.southuniversity.edu/spending-time-in-nature-for-your-health-how-outdoor-activities-improve-wellbeing-102984.aspx for the full article). Preston says, “…with increased exposure to natural sunlight, incidents of seasonal affective disorder decrease. When individuals are exposed to natural sunlight, the vitamin D in their skin helps to elevate their moods…Spending time outdoors is also linked to positive effects on physical health, most notably obesity.”

    Personally, I can attest to these statements. Whenever I go for a walk or a bike ride outside, rather than keeping it indoors, I always feel so peaceful. When I am at peace, I am happy! When I first started running outside, I always had my iPod hooked to me, with my favorite playlist going. But one day, I forgot it and was stuck running to no music. I thought, “Oh no! The HORROR! What am I gonna do???” I’ll tell you what, though…that was the BEST run I’d ever had up to that point. I loved listening to the birds, to the wind blowing through the trees, to my breath…even the cars driving by was a welcome sound. I haven’t used my iPod on any outdoor workout since! Lately, I’ve been doing my running on the trails, and that is even MORE peaceful to me, because I am enjoying all the sounds of the animals who live in the woods, as well as all the wonderful smells from the trees, flowers and creeks.

    To be fair, I know it’s not always possible to get outside. Sometimes weather gets in the way, or we’re simply not available during the optimal times. But you can still get your nature fix in other ways. Guided meditations in which you visualize your favorite outdoor setting, or simply listening to a recording of the sounds of nature can be beneficial.

  2. Do something for someone else with no expectations. When was the last time you did something for someone else “just because”? Just because you wanted to show them you care, or just because you wanted to bring a smile to their face, or just because you wanted to make their day a little bit better? It doesn’t have to be anything monumental, or even anything that costs you money. Sometimes, all it takes is saying something nice. And when you do this, doesn’t it make you happy? It sure makes ME happy when I see I’ve made someone’s day. Not to mention, you’ve probably made that person pretty darn happy…2 for 1! Woot woot!
  3. Breathe. Sounds simple, doesn’t it? My post from last week focused on breathing well for better health. And of course, when we’re healthy, we’re more likely to be happy – because we feel good! Lately when I wake up every morning, my first thought as I stretch out and take a deep breath is, “Wow! I am breathing! I am here for one more day, so let’s make it a good one!” When you start your day with thoughts like this, it’s hard not to find the joy in even the littlest of things.
  4. Do yoga every single day. So I know that not all of you out there would say you practice yoga, much less say that you practice every single day. Some of you read my blog just because you know me and want to support me. But I would venture to challenge that every single one of you has practiced yoga. See, yoga is not just the poses you do on a mat. Yoga is all about finding harmony and balance between the body, breath and mind (spirit). Some people find that on their mat, by doing a physical practice of yoga poses. Some people find that by praying or meditating. Some people find it by practicing karma yoga, which is the discipline of selfless action. If you can do something every single day that feels good to your body, allows you to breathe well, and brings peace to your mind (spirit), then you’re good. That’s your yoga!
  5. Sleep well. Let’s face it…when you wake up after having too little sleep, or interrupted sleep, are you happy? Are you in a good mood? Probably not. According to an article by the American Psychology Association (http://www.apa.org/research/action/sleep-deprivation.aspx), most Americans are chronically sleep deprived. Too little sleep has been linked to several health conditions, and it’s also been shown to directly affect our mood and our relationships.

    Again, I can speak personally to this one. In 2006 or 2007, I started dealing with severe insomnia. Almost every night, I’d wake up for at least an hour, and many times I was never really able to get back to sleep. And boy, did it make me GRUMPY!!! I was snappy with everyone, particularly those I loved the most. Was I happy? NO! Most of the time, all I could think about was how I was going to stay awake and do all the things I needed to get done at work and at home. In 2012, I briefly tried sleeping pills because I was so desperate, but I didn’t like having to depend on those. That’s when I started meditating regularly, and doing more restorative forms of yoga. Then last August, we found out that I have sleep apnea, so I now use a CPAP machine every night. Wow! What a difference! I am finally getting good sleep, and I think I am a much happier person because of it.

OK. So who’s ready to get happy? All the reasons I’ve listed here in this post are things I feel are important for happiness, but I think the most important thing to remember is: Do something that makes YOU happy. At the end of the day, it all boils down to doing the things I mentioned above in ways that work for YOU. If you don’t enjoy running, for example, then spending time running, even if it IS outside in nature, is going to make you miserable. You can get your “nature time” by doing other things you find enjoyable…maybe you’d rather spend time in a garden, or even just sitting on the grass with a good book. Whatever it is you do, only do it if it makes you happy.

This is your opportunity to purge…get rid of the “junk”, of the stuff that doesn’t serve you in a positive way. When you can do that, you’ll be left with the things that bring you joy. And when you find that joy, that HAPPINESS, maybe you’ll just come up with your own version of the “Happy, Happy, Joy, Joy!” dance.

Namaste,

Melanie

“When you own your breath, nobody can steal your peace.”  ~Author Unknown

This weekend I had the opportunity to attend an Ayurveda workshop at the Asheville Yoga Center. It’s required for my 500-hour RYT training, but this is one particular module I’ve been waiting for, for almost two years now. It seems like every time it’s been offered in the past two years, I’ve always had something else scheduled during that same time, and I’d begrudgingly wait, hoping the next time I’d be able to attend. This weekend, all the stars were aligned and I was able to go. It was simply amazing!

Dr. Scott Blossom led the training throughout the entire weekend, assisted by Jenya Grant.  Dr. Blossom is trained in Traditional Chinese Medicine, is an ayurvedic practitioner, and also a yoga teacher. Jenya is also an ayurvedic practitioner and yoga teacher. Both of them had some amazing insights to share, and I wish I’d had more time to talk with them, but the workshop was full and it was jam-packed with information…there simply wasn’t enough time to ask everything I wanted to. But I now have a good start on several areas I want to explore further, and I can’t wait to get started. I am a researcher to the core, and I am simply giddy about what I’m about to embark on in my journey.

My biggest take-away? Breathe well. If you can find a good and full breath, you’re more able to stimulate your circulation. And circulation is where it’s at…it’s what directs all the fluids through your body. If your circulation is “stuck”, then it’s unable to efficiently direct the fluids where they need to go. And if you’re not breathing properly, your circulation won’t be doing what it should be doing.

So why was this such a big take-away for me? After all, I always talk about breathing in the yoga classes that I teach, right? But in this workshop, Dr. Blossom kept emphasizing the breath, cuing us to check it often and make sure it was full, reaching all the necessary parts of our bodies, and rhythmic. He said that if we felt the breath losing its rhythmic quality, or if we didn’t feel it reaching into all the parts it needed to get to, that means we’re in the particular pose in a way that is not serving us…in a way that is unhealthy. In essence, it’s weakening and destroying the circulation.

When I forced myself to focus on my breath in such an intent way, I realized that I am very much guilty of “muscling through” certain poses, and by doing so, I am losing touch with proper breathing. No wonder I sometimes feel so out of sorts after a practice sometimes! My biggest nemesis this weekend was Chaturanga. Normally, I can do a full Chaturanga with no issues, and I can do quite a few in each practice. Not this weekend. Yesterday, I think I made it through three of them before I had to start modifying. Today I couldn’t do one without modifying.

I could blame it on being tired. After all, I got up at 4:00 a.m. on Friday morning so that I could pick up my friend (it was SO nice having some buddies with me at this workshop, by the way…another friend met us there) and get to Asheville by 9:00 a.m. Then we were in the workshop all day on Friday, and there was homework to get done before Saturday morning. So yeah, I was tired, but that’s not why I had to modify. When I was forced to pay such close attention, I noticed that after a few rounds, I would hold my breath on the way down so as not to jeopardize my form. But though my physical form probably looked impeccable, my demeanor was far from it. I could tell I was getting frustrated, then I noticed my chest was constricted and so was my back…and it was all because I wasn’t allowing the breath to fill up all the spaces in my torso it was meant to. Once I modified the pose, my breath took the shape it was meant to, and my practice got back on track.

Let’s just say I came away from this weekend not just with a wealth of information to further explore, but also very humbled. Going back to the basics in order to master my breathing is definitely something I will be working on in my personal practice. For quite some time now, yoga has been more for me that just a workout. It’s been so helpful in improving and maintaining my physical and emotional health. However, what I learned this weekend was a proverbial smack in the face to step it up and truly PRACTICE. I’ve always known how important the breath is…it’s been hammered into me over the years. But for some reason, this weekend, the message finally reached my stubborn brain and let me know that it’s more harmful to my health and well-being to keep muscling through certain poses with my breathing being secondary.

My breath should be first. Find the breath…find the full and rhythmic breath…and you’ll know you’re in the pose you’re meant to be in. Let go of the ego so you can make your way to this point. And when you can reach this point, your circulation will reach its maximum potential. And when that happens, you’re on your way, baby!

So breathe. Just breathe. Breathe and be well.

Namaste,

Melanie

“To be yourself in a world that is constantly trying to make you something else is the greatest accomplishment.” ~~ Ralph Waldo Emerson

Warrior-1
(Photo Courtesy of The River Tree)

Last week, I challenged you (as well as myself) to work on using your voice for good, both with others and with yourself. How did you do? I did pretty good when it came to other people, but not so good with myself. I didn’t realize how much I constantly put myself down until I started to pay attention…and I didn’t like that one bit!

So, this week, my focus is to work on establishing and building self-confidence. After all, how can we expect to be nice to ourselves and keep the positive attitude if we have zero self-confidence? The trick is to have the right amount of self-confidence, because if we have too much, then that is perceived as having  too much ego. We don’t want to suppress the ego, as it’s important to have a strong sense of who we are and to have confidence in our abilities. Finding the balance is where the challenge is…we want “just enough” ego, and that’s not always easy to achieve.

In yoga, we can work on developing that balance by working on poses that ground us and help build self-esteem. Some poses that are good for grounding are most standing poses, such as Mountain Pose and Warrior 1. Practicing them in a dynamic and fluid manner can help build your confidence. A nice vinyasa to try is what I call “Flowing Chair”, which works as follows:

  1. Start from Mountain Pose
  2. Inhale and raise arms overhead
  3. Exhale into Chair Pose
  4. Inhale and straighten legs, raising arms overhead
  5. Exhale Mountain Pose
  6. Repeat steps 1-5 as many times as you wish.

Balancing Half Moon, Triangle Pose and Camel Pose are great poses as well, as they help to not only ground you, but they open the chest and improve breathing. Breathing well helps to improve the energy moving through the entire body, which is helpful for building confidence and self-esteem. So work in these poses on breathing fully, finding spaciousness and relaxation.

Most of all, just be yourself. God made you who you are for a reason. Reconnect with yourself this week, really listening to what you have to say. When we can do that, we will be better able to find the things we need to help us feel grounded, rooted, and balanced.

Namaste,

Melanie

“Whatever words we utter should be chosen with care, for people
will hear them and be influenced by them for good or ill
.” ~~ Buddha

words(Photo Courtesy of http://michealspencer.wordpress.com/tag/negativity/)

I think it’s amazing how, every time there is a message God intends for me to hear, He always puts me in the right place at just the right time. This past weekend was no exception.

The last couple of weeks at my full-time job have been extremely stressful, for a variety of reasons. Without going into the gory details, I’ll just say that I left work on many days over the past couple of weeks feeling completely stupid, incompetent, awkward, and several other adjectives I’ll spare you from having to read.

On Friday after work, I told my husband that I really needed to get to a real, live yoga class….a Podcast just wasn’t going to cut it. I needed human interaction, for Goodness’ sake! On Saturday morning, I woke up exhausted. Completely worn out from a REALLY bad day on Friday. I wanted to go back to bed, but my husband said, “Oh no you don’t! You said you needed to do this for yourself, and you’ve got nothing else you have to get done today, so you’re going to yoga. If you’re still tired after, then take a nap, but you’re not missing class.”

So I went to this class, which was a Hot Slow Flow class. I love Hot Yoga, but I can’t stand moving at too quick a pace, because it just makes me more agitated, for some reason. The Slow Flow pace is just right for me, and I truly feel God put me there on Saturday for a reason.

This yoga teacher is a full-time Kindergarten teacher, and she started class by sharing a sweet story about a little girl who attends her school but isn’t one of her students. See, the teacher had morning duty a few weeks ago, so she made a point to tell each student that crossed her path to have a great day. You’ve probably said this yourself to people whose paths you’ve crossed on any given day, and you probably didn’t even give it much thought. It’s a standard thing many of say in passing, right?

“Have a nice day.”

“Have a good one.”

“Have a great day.”

But this little girl took it to heart, apparently. The next day, she went directly to the teacher’s classroom before going to her own classroom. When the teacher asked her if anything was wrong, the little girl said, “No. I just wanted to make sure that YOU have a great day today, since you went to so much trouble yesterday to make sure that I had a great day.” The little girl has been coming to her classroom every morning since, just to tell this teacher to have a great day.

Oh my Gosh! I must say that hearing that story was SO SWEET, I teared up a bit. I mean, think about the impact of this story. How many of us ever stop to think about the words we utter, and how the person we’re saying them to will take them? I know I don’t always think before I speak, that’s for sure!

With our words, every single one of us has the capability of creating a positive transformation, or a sharp sword capable of causing destruction and chaos.  With our words, we can make someone’s day absolutely beautiful, or we can shatter it to pieces.  Our words have the capacity to make the world a better place – or not.

In yoga, the 5th chakra is the Throat chakra (called Vishuddha). This chakra is responsible for how we communicate, how we ask for what we need, for speaking our truth, and for truly listening to and hearing what others have to say. It is considered to be responsible for bringing our personal essence into the world, whether it be positive or negative. Over the summer, I did a series of blog posts on the chakras, covering a new one each week. The throat chakra is always one of my favorites to work on, probably because it’s one I’ve always struggled with. I’ve become MUCH more balanced in this chakra over the past year, but I still have a lot of work to do.

Hearing the story about the little girl in class on Saturday made me stop and really think about how I want to be perceived. How I want to make a difference in people’s lives. I want to do my best to make sure those I come into contact with are happy, whether they are personally close to me or just strangers passing by.

When you’re depleted in the 5th chakra, you’re more likely to be unhappy, and you’ll speak without any care at all for how your words are taken. But when you’re balanced in this chakra, you are peaceful, content and grounded. Find balance in this chakra, and your voice will be used for creating more good in this world. And that good will come back to you, over and over again. Just like it did for my teacher.

This week, I ask that you take the time to work a little (or a lot) on the 5th chakra. Take the time to notice how you interact with the people whose paths you cross. Maybe it’s your fellow yogis or the staff at the yoga studio. It could be anyone, not just someone you encounter in a yoga setting. Commit to using your voice for good. What can you say to someone that could help them have a great day? Avoid criticizing, complaining, gossiping, and speaking disrespectfully. Make an effort to compliment others, expressing gratitude, and using kind words — not just with others, but with yourself.

Do this just once, and I promise you’ll feel the positive impact. In fact, I bet you’ll feel so good that you won’t be able to stop.

Namaste,

Melanie

“Live as if you were to die tomorrow. Learn as if you were to live forever.” ~~ Mahatma Gandhi

learn
(Photo courtesy of infed)

This past week has been one of the busiest weeks I’ve had in quite some time, for one simple reason…I said “Yes” to way too many things for one week. It was a great week, don’t get me wrong…I had a lot of great stuff happen. But it was GO, GO, GO all week long, and I was a bit overwhelmed.

The old me would’ve had a full-blown panic attack, complete with heart palpitations and everything. I would have been yelling at the people I love most, and angry. I’ve gotta admit that when I realized everything I’d committed to this past week, I really thought that’s how I’d react. I steeled myself for the typical behavior I exhibit when I’m under pressure.

But as the week went on, though I WAS stressed and tired, and maybe even a little bit anxious, I handled it. And as I reflect on it today, I am in a good mood…so NOT the typical me.

I credit my yoga practice, for this past year, as you know if you’ve read my blog for awhile, I’ve really worked hard to bring all of the tenets of yoga into my life. And reflecting back on this past week, I think it’s working. There are so many lessons yoga has to teach us, if we just open ourselves up to listen. Here’s what I’ve learned:

Breathe. 

It seems so simple, but it’s amazing how much it really helps when things get tough! When we’re stressed, our breathing is shallow. But when we take deep and slow breaths, it changes our bodies on a cellular level. Take some deep breaths whenever you think of it and notice how much focus, energy and calmness you’ll receive.

Do what’s best for YOU.

I say this all the time to my yoga students…don’t worry about what others are doing on their mats, or what their goals are…what is it that has brought YOU to your mat?  Do what’s right for you and try to learn and grow.  Be okay with where you are in the present moment, but have goals about where you want to go.

Find your edge, and you’ll find your strength.

I always tell my students to find their edge, especially when working on a really challenging pose. When the muscles are burning, it means you’re getting stronger. Isn’t this same thing true in life? We all face situations outside of our comfort zone now and then, and those seem to be the situations that we learn the most from, and gain inner strength from, when challenged.

Let go of what does not serve you.

When you can let go of stress that you’ve been holding on to, when you can clear negative thoughts running through your mind, when you can clear out the “junk” in your mind and body — that’s when everything makes sense. It’s amazing the clarity you’ll have when you can let go of all the negativity.

Listen to your body.

I always tell my students to pay attention to the signs their body is giving them in a practice…if you aren’t breathing well, or if something hurts, that’s usually a sign that you’re not in the right place. You have to listen to your body and respect how you feel. Same in life…try to listen to your instincts, that gut feeling. If something feels wrong, listen to your inner voice…it’s usually right.

So what about you? What lessons have you learned from yoga? There are so many other things I’ve learned, but the above are the ones that I come back to the most. I’d love to know your thoughts.

Namaste,

Melanie

Hi everyone! I just wanted to put a quick post up to let you all know about some new classes I’ll be teaching, starting in March, that I am very excited about. I would LOVE to see you at some or all of these!

I’ll be offering a “Deep Stretch” class at the Fort Mill YMCA (the one in Baxter Village) twice a month. For March, classes will be on 3/6/2014 & 3/20/2014 from 6:30 – 7:30 p.m. in the yoga room. With this class, you will improve joint flexibility and help re-lubricate joints through a quiet, meditative practice of deeply held postures. This is a perfect complement to your active, yang practice or athletic endeavors to give you greater flexibility and help prevent injuries. Go to http://www.upymca.org for more information.

Starting on Friday, 3/7/2014, I’ll be teaching a brand-new class at the Synergy Yoga & Wellness studio (the Rock Hill, SC location). The class is called “Chillax Yoga Flow” and will be held every Friday from 6:00 – 7:00 p.m. This class combines the best of Vinyasa and Yin, and is the perfect way to decompress and kick off your weekend right! The first portion of this class will focus on a dynamic vinyasa flow sequence, and the last part focuses on longer held poses that focus on releasing stress and increasing flexibility throughout your entire body. Find the balance your body craves! Room temperature is warmly heated between 75-80 degrees. Go to http://www.ncyogacharlotte.com for more information.

Also, on Sundays, I’ll be rotating the “Mixed Level Vinyasa” class with a few other teachers at the Synergy Yoga & Wellness studio (the Rock Hill, SC location). I’m actually starting this Sunday (2/23/2014), and the class is from 4:15 – 5:30 p.m. This is a yoga class that is sure to challenge! It combines stretching, breathing, centering, strength and resistance training, cardiovascular conditioning and flexibility work in warm room. If you are looking for a class to address flexibility, muscle-building, fat-burning and overall toning, this is it!

Namaste,

Melanie

h_yoga_healthy_spine(Photo Courtesy of http://www.tathaastumag.com/index.php?hid=1819)

Over the years, I’ve had many students tell me they came to yoga because of back issues. Some were told by their doctors to give yoga a try, and some read about it in their own research and decided to come check it out. Whatever the reason, yoga can most definitely be a huge help to those who are suffering from back pain.

In general, yoga is safe for everyone. However, certain medical conditions (i.e., certain forms of scoliosis, advanced spinal stenosis, cervical spine disease) may mean that you need to modify or avoid certain poses. Make sure that if you’ve got any sort of spinal injury or disease, you speak with your yoga teacher about it to make sure the class is appropriate for you, and so that the teacher can provide the appropriate modifications you may need.

When I began practicing yoga, I didn’t know I had mild scoliosis. I’d been practicing for about 8 years when I started noticing that poses I’d been able to do suddenly started causing me pain along my mid and lower back. Then my hips eventually started hurting in certain poses as well. It was my massage therapist who called it…on my first visit with him, after I told him about all my pain, he took a look and said, “I’m not a doctor, but it looks to me like you’ve got scoliosis, and it’s thrown not just your back, but your hips out of whack.” He was able to do a lot for me with his deep tissue techniques, but it wasn’t until I started seeing a chiropractor last February that the serious work began. It’s been just over a year that I’ve been working with him, and I’ve made a lot of progress…my scoliosis is almost 100% gone at this point. And over this past year, I had to make some serious adjustments to my yoga practice in order to get to where I am now.

Much of the training I’ve taken since I began teaching yoga has covered spinal issues and modifications. But I must admit that going through my own journey with spinal issues has been the best teacher of all. Through my own journey, I’ve learned the following:

  • For me, it is extremely important that before I really get in to my yoga practice, I’ve got to warm my spine up in each of the 6 directions it moves (laterally right and left, twisting right and left, extension and flexion). Especially if I’m practicing first thing in the morning, because that’s when I am usually the stiffest.
  • When I am warming up my spine, I make sure to hold each pose for several breaths at first, so I can figure out if I’m tighter on one side or in one direction more than another. Wherever I notice more tightness, I stay on that side or in that direction a little longer, to bring more balance into my spine.
  • I practice the style of yoga that suits my spine best. On some days, my spine feels amazing and I can get in a more vigorous Power or Vinyasa practice. But on other days, my body tells me I need to take it easy. When that happens, I gravitate towards a more restorative or Yin practice. Listening to the body’s messages is critical…if I were to engage in a vigorous practice on a day when my back is not ready for it, I could really set myself back in a big way. My ability to practice yoga in any way is too important to me, so I don’t take any chances. I listen to my body ALWAYS. That wasn’t always the case in my yoga journey, but it is now.
  • I use props ALL THE TIME. They are my best friend when my back or hips start acting up.
  • When I attend another teacher’s yoga class, I let him or her know what’s going on with me, especially if I am experiencing any kind of tweaks or pain. Yoga teachers, no matter how enlightened we may think they are, are NOT mind readers. Many of us love to adjust students or provide assists that help deepen the pose for the student. But if you’re working through an injury or are in some kind of pain, an assist or adjustment may be the worst thing for you, especially if the teacher is not even aware there is an issue at all. So let them know, and give them as much information as you can. A good teacher will let you know about any modifications you’ll need. A good teacher will also let you know what they DON’T know…there are SO many issues that can crop up with the spine, and some require very specific modifications. Teachers can’t possibly know every modification for every condition, after all, so don’t be surprised if they tell you they have no idea how to work with your condition.

So how many of you out there in blog land are dealing with spine issues? I’d love to know how you deal with them in your yoga practice. I am always looking for new tips and tricks, so share your favorites with me by adding a comment to to this post.

Namaste,

Melanie

Every single day we must digest, in our memory, something of the reading of that day; we must assimilate it into our beings and then, recalling it, set about redigesting it with even more care. This is something appropriate to our way of life, which brings us closer to God, and harnesses the soul to keep it from wasting itself on irrelevant thoughts.” ~~ William of Saint-Thierry

meditation

Have you ever noticed how, when it’s something that really matters to your life, you seem to be in the right place at just the right moment? You have that sort of “A-Ha!” moment, where everything suddenly makes sense. Call it an act of God, or the Universe (or whatever it is that you believe in), but it’s true, right?

It seems like these types of moments are happening more frequently for me. In reality, they’ve probably always been there, waiting for me to see and pick up on them, and I just didn’t. But as I come to know myself better and understand what it is that matters to me, it’s amazing the clarity I am starting to gain in terms of where I’m headed in this earthly life.

The pastor at my church on Sunday happened to wrap up his series on how to be Triumphant by talking about the role of meditation in our lives. And he brought up something that I found extremely interesting, because I never learned how to meditate until I started practicing yoga.

I’ve always been taught to empty my mind of all distractions in order to meditate. If you’ve been a student of yoga, or have a background in Eastern philosophy or religion, this may be the way you were taught as well…let everything go so you can have the opportunity to become enlightened. And when you become enlightened, you will know your life’s purpose.

My pastor acknowledged this way of meditation, and then countered by saying that what we really need to do when we’re meditating is not to empty our minds but instead, “fill up our minds with the word of God”; then keep chewing on it and digesting it until we find the message meant for each of us. Only when we do that will we be able to figure out our own unique purpose in life.

So that got me to thinking. Which way is the right way to meditate? Personally, I think both are right. I think you have to empty your mind of distractions before beginning your study of the word of God, so that you can then fill up your entire being with the word of God.

Think about it. If you’re coming to the table with the weight of the world on your shoulders – worrying about what’s going on at work, school, or home (or any of the other many things we stress about day in and day out) – then how in the world are you going to be able to devote your attention to the word of God you’re about to read? Right?

I love the quote above from William of Saint-Thierry. I believe what he said is exactly what my pastor was saying in his sermon, and I wholeheartedly agree. We need to digest the word of God and assimilate it into our being, and then redigest it as we begin to make sense of it. Only then will we be able to figure out how it relates to each of us in terms of our own unique lives.

Now, most of the time when I see you all, we’re on our yoga mats together. So you’re probably wondering why in the world I’m focusing on this topic for a yoga blog. Well, it’s pertinent, and there are a few reasons why I think so.

  1. Meditation is part of the practice of yoga. Some yogis devote an entire practice to meditation alone, with no physical postures being performed. I know many yogis who actually meditate over a spiritual text. For some, it’s the Bible, but it really doesn’t matter what religion you are. Any text you’re using, you’re probably looking to it for some inspiration, right? You need to clear your mind of distractions so that when you open that text, you can give it your full attention and figure out what it means to YOU and YOUR LIFE.
  2. Sometimes, we only get to do our meditation in yoga on the mat. This usually means we don’t have a text to refer to. The teacher may have some quote or theme for you to focus on, but that may not be something that resonates with you on that day. In this case, I still think it’s important to clear the mind first of all distractions. Then, you can focus on what your body is telling you, perhaps. Meditation doesn’t always have to be some amazing spiritual awakening, in my opinion – I believe it can be a physical awakening as well. Focusing on the messages our bodies are passing to us can be eye-opening. For example, if you notice pain or uncomfortableness anywhere in your body, that’s your body telling you that you may have gone too far in a pose or two, that you weren’t practicing in your body’s best interest. Internalize those sensations and see if you can figure out where you can refine your practice the next time you get on your mat.

So what do you think? Am I totally off base, or am I on the right track? I’d love to know your thoughts.

Namaste,

Melanie

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