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“There are some things in this world you rely on, like a sure bet. And when they let you down, shifting from where you’ve carefully placed them, it shakes your faith, right where you stand.” ~~ Sarah Dessen

vasistasana

Vasisthasana Variation (Photo Courtesy of YogaAnatomy.net)

How many of you know of the great Sage, Vasistha, for whom the pose Vasisthasana (Side Plank) was named? There are many stories in the yoga world of his great teachings, but the one that struck a chord with me this week was that of his work with King Ram.

King Ram, who appeared on earth to restore the path of righteousness after being corrupted by negative influences, had fallen into a great depression. He’d become so disillusioned with the state of the world that he felt utterly hopeless in his mission, hitting his rock bottom and unable to do what he was sent here for. He felt let down, utterly let down, and his faith was shaken to the core. Vasistha, in his great wisdom, explained to Ram that one must first see the cracks in the ceiling before being able to see the light shining through. Sometimes, it’s necessary to hit rock bottom before you can begin the journey back to the light. But if you can let go of that which does not serve you, you can then use your energy for the things where you can truly make things better in the world and bring more contentment to your own life.

Reading this story reminded me that I need to focus my attention on where I can actually make a difference. When I stop and look at all the things I do, there are SO many things that really don’t matter because they don’t bring contentment to my life — they actually complicate things for me and stress me out more. And then I looked at the vision board I recently made and noticed I had pasted a quote on there which said, “Don’t give where it can’t help.” I believe this is exactly the lesson Vasistha was trying to teach to King Ram. And I feel that me stumbling across this story, and connecting the dots with the quote on my vision board, was no coincidence. My friends have even been trying to get this same message across to me the past few weeks. This is clearly a sign that I need to listen, don’t you think?

So this week in class, we’ll be working on Vasisthasana, and many of its variations. From a physical standpoint, this pose strengthens all the major muscle groups of the body, along with improving our balance. The version most people know (shown above) is suitable for most students. The full version of the pose, not pictured here, involves raising the top leg perpendicular to the floor. Beginners to yoga, or those with wrist, shoulder or elbow issues may be able to perform the modified version below.

SidePlankVariation

Beginner Variation of Vasisthasana (Photo Courtesy of MarkStephensYoga.com)

There are, of course, a plethora of other variations that can be done, so feel free to explore to your heart’s content this week. But wherever your body ends up with this pose, don’t ignore this one wonderful story behind the sage it was named for. If you want to know more about Vasistha and his teachings, check out the Yoga Vasistha, which is one of the foremost texts in yoga philosophy and mythology. It’s funny…my post on Common Courtesy earlier this week is related to what Vasistha stressed frequently in his teachings, which is that we never know when a random comment of kindness will touch a friend’s heart, and it’s important to our spiritual progress to never give up hope that our actions will change the world.

Namaste,

Melanie

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“Courtesies of a small and trivial character are the ones which strike deepest in the grateful and appreciating heart.” ~~ Henry Clay

courtesy_-_please_thankyou

 

How many of you out there are too busy? No, this is not a rhetorical question. Really stop and think about what you’ve got going on, and ask yourself if you’re SO busy that you can’t take a moment to show at least one person around you some courtesy. Simple things like telling someone they look nice, holding a door open, making eye contact, greeting someone.

Lately, I’ve been so consumed with everyone going on in my own life. But this past weekend, one of my students, who knows about the health issues I’ve been going through, took the time to let me know that her brother-in-law is going through the same thing as me and that there is a support group here in the area, which I had no idea about. She offered to put me in touch with the coordinator of the group, which she did, and for which I am extremely and forever grateful.

What she did for me probably only took her a few minutes. All she had to do was e-mail me the contact information and she was done. What she may not know is what that simple action did for ME. To know that she cared about what I am going through, that she was willing to make the effort to help me in any way she could, meant so much to me. I am so thankful to her for that action that took only a few moments of her time, because now I have local people I can talk with, meet with in person, and share my struggles without having to burden my family so much.

Many of us, myself included, may feel we don’t have the time to extend ourselves to others in any way, even if they are simple and quick. We simply feel so rushed to get our own “stuff” done that we don’t bother to take a moment and look around at what others may need.

I can honestly say that since this past weekend, I’ve been walking around with a much more positive outlook on things, and it made me realize that I need to do for others what my student did for me.

Think about it. Think about the last time you did something for someone else, even if it was something as simple as smiling at them or saying hello. Chances are, the person you did this for smiled, maybe even in a surprised way if they aren’t used to people taking the time to do these kinds of things. And I would be willing to bet that the positive reaction you got made YOU happy. Am I right? Didn’t you smile, at least just a little?

Of course, the person you did something for may not have even acknowledged that you did anything, and that’s OK. We shouldn’t expect that our actions will give us anything in return. Just knowing that your actions are helping to create the kind of world you want to live in should be enough.

So try to take some time, today, to look outside yourself. Look around for that person who may need some help, or some acknowledgement of some sort. Don’t expect anything in return, but instead, be satisfied in knowing you are doing what you were meant to do in the world.

“Don’t quack like a duck. Soar like an eagle.” ~~ Ken Blanchard

EaglePose
Eagle Pose (Photo Courtesy of Yoga Journal)

How many of you out there have shoulders that seem to be constantly sore and tight? If you work at a job that has you sitting at a desk for many hours a day, carry around a baby or toddler frequently, or drive a lot, I’d be willing to bet you do. Maybe you’ve suffered an injury. Whatever the reason, tight shoulders can cause us to “round forward”, affecting our posture, our breathing, and our health. Think about it. The phrase, “to carry the weight of the world on your shoulders” didn’t come from nowhere.

If you do suffer from tight and sore shoulders, first examine what the cause could be. Is it from an injury? Is it from your everyday lifestyle (driving, computer work, etc.)? Or maybe it’s coming from a more emotional place (i.e., relationship issues, loss of a job, grief), as a blocked heart chakra tends to manifest itself in the shoulders and upper back.

Yoga can help alleviate pain in the shoulders, while also helping you to achieve better alignment even when you’re not on your mat. This week in class, we’ll continue to focus on shoulders, with a particular emphasis on the arm portion of Eagle Pose.

Eagle Pose is not only an excellent pose for helping us open up our hips and improve our balance, but the arm portion of it is amazing for opening and stabilizing the shoulder joints, and creating space between the shoulder blades. Creating this space opens up the back, helping with such things as asthma and overall improvement to breathing efficiency. You can even incorporate Eagle Arms into a variety of other yoga poses (like Warrior 1 and Warrior 3) to add a bit of variety to your practice.

If you’re not able to make it to class, you can get detailed instructions about how to get into the pose by clicking here. Since the focus is on the shoulders this week, don’t worry if you can’t get the legs just right. Just focus on trying to get the arm part of the pose, making sure that you keep the shoulders from hunching up towards your ears, and making sure your elbows stay raised.

You’ll be amazed at how open you feel after even just a couple of rounds of Eagle Arms. With the weight of the world off your shoulders, you may just feel your spirit soar.

Namaste,

Melanie

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“Believe in yourself! Have faith in your abilities! Without a  humble but reasonable confidence in your own powers you cannot be successful or  happy.” ~~ Norman Vincent Peale

HumbleWarrior

Photo Courtesy of FitSugar

Humble Warrior (Baddha Virabhadrasana), also referred to sometimes as Bound Warrior Pose, is one of my favorite poses to do on my mat, and it’s the one pose I’ll be including in every class I teach this week. From a physical perspective, it opens the hips, stretches and strengthens the shoulders, stretches the chest, and strengthens the legs. All of these are things my body desperately needs, as I am forever tight in my shoulders and hips! From what my students have shared with me, I am not alone, so I wanted to make this our focus pose this week and really break it down in class.

This pose can also help one to focus on their own practice, rather than looking around at what everyone else in the room is doing on their mats, as it tends to be a more low-key and submissive posture.

Physical benefits aside, look at the posture in the picture above closely. To me, it simulates bowing down, as if in reverence, to the Divine. Bowing down, surrending all that I cannot control to the One who can. Surrendering and accepting exactly where we are at this moment.

Seen in this light, the pose suddenly takes on a more holistic meaning, truly encompassing the aspect that yoga unites mind, body and spirit. So as we come to our mats this week, wherever you are, try to include this pose a few times. As your muscles surrender into the stretch, also surrender your troubles. Let them go, and let the moment wash over you.

“When we acknowledge that all of life is sacred and that each act is an act of choice and therefore sacred, then life is a sacred dance lived consciously each moment. When we live at this level, we participate in the creation of a better world.” ~~ Scout Cloud Lee

a-better-world-logoPhoto Courtesy of Inside the Junk Drawer

Ever since I started teaching yoga, I’ve always loved the variety of people who come to my classes. Some of you have been on your yoga journey for quite some time, while some are just beginning. Some are working through injuries or illnesses, while others are extremely athletic and are just coming for a good workout.

One of the things I love best is when students let me know where they are with their practice. It makes my day to hear how yoga is helping, as knowing your experiences helps me to provide you with the classes that will serve you best.

Take a moment to ask yourself where you are in your practice right now. Where are you on your journey? The wonderful thing about yoga is that it is a JOURNEY, not a DESTINATION. I think that’s why I’ve stuck with it myself for so long…every time I reach one goal, I always have another to work towards. It keeps me coming back to my mat time and time again, and it’s so amazing to be able to look back at my practice over the years and see how I’ve evolved. And it’s also amazing to see how my “on the mat” practice has spilled into my life “off the mat.”

Don’t worry if you ask yourself where you are and you don’t know how to answer. Don’t freak out. It’s normal. Many times, we fill our lives with so much STUFF that we sort of function on auto-pilot and just go through the motions of whatever we’re doing. We may show up to class, and do all the things the instructor tells us to do, but we do it with no thought to the journey we’re on because we don’t even know where we want to go. Have you ever come home from a yoga class and your body feels tired and relaxed, but you can’t remember what you did to feel that way?

I love the quote by Scout Cloud Lee above, because I’ve rediscovered myself lately that life truly is a sacred dance lived consciously each moment. If we stay on auto-pilot for too long, life just passes us by. Gosh, I’ve been on auto-pilot for so long now, it’s ridiculous! Always thinking about things from my past and wishing I could change them, or worrying about what’s going to happen with my health or my family or my finances. When we focus too much on the past, that’s a recipe for depression to set in. When we focus too much on the future, that’s when anxiety takes over. Both of which are HORRIBLE for our physical and mental health. And really, when it comes down to it, we can’t get the past back, and we can’t control the future, no matter how much we think we can.

But we CAN live in the present moment. I saw a great post on Manduka’s Facebook page today about practicing participation, and it’s what inspired this particular blog post. Basically, we can choose to show up, fully. We can choose to be in it, deeply. We can choose not to just follow the path, but to shape it, and take diligent field notes along the way. When we can live consciously in each moment in this way, THEN we have a wonderful story to share with others. One that is meaningful and that will touch everyone around us. And THAT is how we can be part of making the world a better place.

Be patient with yourself if it doesn’t happen immediately. But make that choice. Make that choice to fully participate in your life NOW. Not your PAST life. Not your FUTURE life. You won’t regret it.

Namaste,

Melanie

Yoga is ever popular in western culture, so it’s no surprise that many people create a New Year’s resolution to begin practicing yoga. What many people don’t know is that there are a variety of yoga styles out there, and you need to know what you’re looking for so that you can choose the style that resonates with you and will allow you to stick to your resolution.

The first question you need to ask yourself is, “Why do I want to start practicing yoga?” Is it to:

  • Manage stress?
  • Lose weight and/or tone up?
  • Overcome an injury or health issue?
  • Become more spiritual?
  • All of the above?

The answer is important, as it will be what helps guide you to the right style for you. The below image in this article is a great resource for helping you to find the right style. For example, if your main goal is to lose weight, then the styles showing in the Vigorous Flow section would be good ones to start with (i.e., Power Yoga, Vinyasa, Ashtanga). If you’re looking for a style of yoga that will help you heal from an injury or health issue, then the styles in the Healing Yoga section would be great to check out (i.e., Vini Yoga, Integrative Yoga Therapy, Phoenix Rising Yoga Therapy). You get the idea.

yoga-style-infographic

Photo Courtesy of http://charmedyoga.com/2012/04/19/9-awesome-yoga-infographics/

Once you’ve decided on a style or two to try out, start looking for a teacher or studio in your area that offers these classes. A great place to start looking for a teacher is the Yoga Alliance Web site. Just go to http://www.yogaalliance.org/ya/d/ya/d/Directory.aspx to search their directory for a teacher or school. The great thing about this site is that you can search not only by location, but also by the style of yoga you’re looking for. Keep in mind that many teachers blend several styles together, and when they do, they generally label their style as “hatha”. Hatha simply means a physical yoga practice, so it’s important that you check with the teacher to find out how physical the practice they teach actually is.

If you live in an area that doesn’t have a dedicated yoga studio, then check out your local fitness or recreation center. Many now offer yoga classes, but generally don’t label them as anything other than “yoga”. So if you’re thinking of joining a gym just for the yoga class, make sure to find out what style is actually taught.

If you’re just not able to attend a class with a “live” teacher for whatever reason (not enough money, not comfortable exercising with others, etc.), then you may need some other options:

  • A great Web site to get DVDs for cheap is http://www.half.com. You may want to Google first, to make sure you’ve got an idea about what videos are out there for the style you’re looking for.
  • If you are interested in variety, a great Web site is http://www.YogaGlo.com. For a small monthly fee of $18, you will have unlimited access to all their videos, and you can search for videos by style, by teacher, by length of time, and by level (i.e., beginner, intermediate, advanced).
  • Once you’re comfortable with the basics, there are also a variety of Podcasts available for free. Most podcasts are audio only, however, so you definitely need to be comfortable with the names of the poses, so you know what to do.

Once you’ve decided on a style and begin your yoga journey, to be successful and stick with it, remember the following:

  • Check with your doctor, especially if you’re recovering from an injury or illness, for any contraindications. It’s important to know what types of movements you are restricted from doing.
  • If your initial choice leaves you unsatisfied, don’t give up. It could be that the teacher is not the right fit for you, the class is too advanced for your current level of fitness, or some other reason.
  • Check in with yourself on a regular basis and ask yourself again why you’re practicing yoga. As time goes by and your practice progresses, you may find your initial reasons for beginning a practice and what you’re now looking for are very different. That is part of the journey, so go with it…try something new, if that’s what your mind and body are craving.

There truly is a style of yoga for every body, so enjoy the journey in finding the style meant for you. You won’t regret the choice, as the rewards you will reap are many.

Namaste,

Melanie

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