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“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

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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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