From Oprah’s mouth…

The June 2012 issue of O, The Oprah Magazine features a piece on How Yin Yoga Can Help with achy joints. There’s not a lot to the article – a couple of quotes from yin yoga teachers, one endorsement from a doctor, and three suggested poses – but it might be enough to bring yin yoga to the masses.

Just think of the influence Oprah had on book clubs!

Yin yoga is a fantastic counter-point to the swirl of activity most of us have going on in our lives. It’s a timeout for body and mind, where students get to hang out in postures (like supported fish pictured at right) for several minutes, allowing stillness to take over.

There are lots of yin yoga classes offered at studios in North Vancouver. I teach four regular yin classes a week and friends and fellow teachers I admire teach a bunch more!

 

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Trifling aesthetics

Stubbly armpits, mis-matched socks, chipped toenail polish, discordant top & bottoms, scaly heels, unshaven legs… all things that as a yoga student make me self-conscious; all things that as a yoga teacher I don’t notice about students.

It hardly even registers if the leg I’m adjusting is in-between waxes or if there’s a blinding clash between pieces of clothing – and I certainly don’t think that anyone takes their practice less seriously or is less committed when I do notice these supposed faux pas! (Side note… is there a plural to ‘faux pas?’)

I suspect most yoga teachers are the same and care more that students are practicing, than whether they look like they stepped out of a Lululemon ad. Good teachers will be checking if students are engaging the right muscles and not endangering their joints, rather than critiquing personal grooming or clothing choice.

As long as a student’s basic hygiene is okay and their clothing isn’t insanely revealing (even teachers can get distracted by nip slips) or constricting, anything goes. Don’t feel bad about coming to a yoga class wearing hole-y sweatpants or with Julia-Roberts-inspired armpits … just get to practice!

And don’t let a sweat-marked shirt make you feel awkward stretching your arms above your head. Odd are good that the teacher won’t even notice and other students are likely more too focused on their own practice (or their own sweaty armpits) to notice what’s going on with you.

These things are just trifling aesthetics… although that doesn’t mean I haven’t allowed my own less-than-smooth armpits to keep me from fully coming into a pose. I’m still a student after all 🙂

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Balancing

Despite the change in weather and return of the rain, I’m no longer feeling the unsettledness of Spring. My plea to bring the balance worked!

Somehow, the warmer nights and a string of dry sunny days have brought me a sense of equilibrium. I’m feeling less drawn to twisting and side bending poses in my yoga practice and while planning the classes I teach. Balancing postures (including tree, pictured at right) have taken the place of those side bends and twists.

I’ve been battling a low-grade cold that’s taken up residence in my head, so it’s a bit strange that I’m inclined to do balancing postures when my sense of balance is compromised by blocked ears. But something about balancing postures is calling to me loud and clear right now.

Tree (vrksasana), warrior III (virabhadrasana III), eagle (garudasana), standing splits (urdhva prasarita eka padasana), half moon (ardha chandrasana), dancer (natarajasana)… these are the poses I keep finding myself holding in my personal practice and the ones I’m being drawn to as I plan my classes.

Starting next week, Autumn is taking over the Wednesday night hatha and core flow class at Body Harmony. I’ll miss teaching that class, but will be back teaching with a core-centric focus on June 21 when I take over Rachel’s 4:30pm class at Body Harmony.

If you’re also feeling a sense of equilibrium – or if you’re looking to find it! – check out my schedule and come join me for a balanced (and balancing!) class.

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Stop being unhappy with yourself

Randi from Samana Wellness posted the image below (originally from Just Smileology on Tumblr) yesterday and it resonated with that perpetual need to overcome self-doubt. On a beautiful sunny day, when the weather feels supremely confident, it feels very appropriate.

I’ve added capital letters and more punctuation because I couldn’t stand typing it out otherwise. That’s one of those quirks I love about myself 😉

Hey you.

Yes, you.

Stop being unhappy with yourself. You are perfect.

Stop wishing you looked like someone else or wishing people liked you as much as they like someone else.

Stop trying to get attention from those who hurt you.

Stop hating your body, your face, your personality, your quirks. Love them. Without those things you wouldn’t be you. And why would you want to be anyone else?

Be confident with who you are.

Smile. It’ll draw people in.

If anyone hates on you because you are happy with yourself, then you stick your middle finger in the air and say “Screw it.”

My happiness will not depend on others anymore.

I’m happy because I love who I am. I love my flaws. I love my imperfections. They make me ‘me.’ And ‘me’ is pretty amazing.

Here’s hoping that everyone finds that amazing confidence to love themselves just the way they are!

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Savasana is where the magic happens

Rich Roll, ultra-marathoner and triathlete, recently wrote an article on Why Every Athlete Should Do Yoga for wellness site Mind Body Green. I’m not convinced that yoga is a cure-all or would provide everyone with an athletic edge, but I wholeheartedly agree with Rich’s position on the importance of savasana – the relaxation part at the close of class.

Rich writes that savasana allows us

to clean mental house, center focus and promote serenity by silencing the endless and seemingly unmanageable mental chatter that invades our daily experience and undermines the expression of our “best self” within.

Savasana gives students the power to settle in to their bodies, quiet their minds, and commit to a few moments of deliberate relaxation. It’s rare that we give our brains permission to fully relax. My usual “relaxation” is watching TV, reading, or surfing online, often while having a glass of wine. While these activities may feel calming and my body can rest, my brain is still engaged and often flitting between thoughts.

Savasana is quite different from relaxing in front of the TV. The mindful relaxation at the end of a yoga practice is focused on allowing the mind to go blank – thinking of nothing and disengaging with any thoughts. It truly enables the brain and body to relax and students often slip into a deep meditative state.

Join me at Bound Lotus Meditation & Yoga Centre tonight at 6:30pm for yin yoga and an extra-long savasana with a guided relaxation – known as yoga nidra. Guiding students through yoga nidra helps me tap into my own meditative state – and I’m lucky enough to lead an extra-long savasana during the last Friday night yin class of every month!

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Nothing but the beat

I have a not-so-secret love for Top 40s high-energy music. Kanye, Rihanna, Beyonce, Pitbull… and even J-Lo and Britney get heavy rotation in my playlists. Despite the simplistic (sometimes down right ridiculous) lyrics, over-produced vocals, and lack of originality, these songs with their catchy hooks and repetitive beats get stuck in my head, make me want to dance, and put a smile on my face.

This Top 40s-happiness spilled over into my yoga practice when I wasn’t paying attention and left my iPod on shuffle… on came David Guetta in the middle of a sun salutation. The energy of the song ramped up my energy and I started timing my movements and breathing to the beat.

The next time I did an energetic practice, I intentionally played Nothing But the Beat by David Guetta. Talk about a fun way to practice! Without even trying, the poses flowed into each other and yoga started to feel like dancing. No yawning during that practice 😉

For more typical yoga music, I’ve updated my listen and meditate song lists with some new songs and albums:

  • Eternal Om by Yogi Hari Eternal Om - Yogi Hari
  • Flores by Mirabai Ceiba Flores - Mirabai Ceiba
  • Har Hare Haree by Gurudass Har Hare Haree - Longing to Belong
  • Ma by Guru Ganesha Singh Ma - Yoga Living Series - Meditative Moon
  • Yoga: 8 Limbs to Bliss by Maggie Diaz Del Castillo Yoga: 8 Limbs to Bliss - Maggie Diaz Del Castillo

Ma is a wonderfully relaxing song – perfect for savasana – although it may induce yawning!

There’s lots of great mellow music to have on while doing yoga, but sometimes being entirely unmellow is just what a practice needs!

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Tell me what you want…

Laura with fellow yoga teacher Holly

I’ve had the privilege of teaching a few private yoga classes recently and I’m amazed how different it is teaching group and individual yoga sessions. A private yoga session is all about that student and their unique needs, which means I shape my teaching style much more to their preferences.

At first, I had a strong desire to fill the space with words and interact with the solo student all the time… but then it hit me that teaching that way is not going to work for everyone on every day. In fact, I wouldn’t respond well to constant attention from a teacher – I’d start to feel anxious and worried that my every move was being watched and possibly judged. I also sometimes want a really calm, chilled out practice and other times want something more energetic and invigorating.

So I thought about the questions I’d want a yoga teacher to ask me in a one-on-one session:

  • What kind of practice are you looking for?
    • Do you want to do more poses with shorter holds? Or fewer poses with longer holds?
    • Is the purpose to energize you? Or relax you? Or both!
  • Are there any particular areas you want to focus on? Or postures that really resonate with you?
    • Any areas that are particularly sensitive or need a different kind of attention?
  • What level of hands-on are you comfortable with?
    • Can I gently adjust you and apply a bit of pressure to settle you in poses? Or is verbal guidance better?
    • Are there any joints or areas you’re nurturing that shouldn’t be adjusted?
  • How much or how little instruction/guidance do you want?
    • Should I be quiet as much as possible? Or do you prefer reminders about breathing, relaxing, etc. and suggestions for deepening the pose or lessening the intensity?
    • Do you prefer a guided relaxation or quiet savasana at the end of the practice?

Now I ask private students for input on how they want to be taught. That’s one of the most amazing parts of solo yoga sessions – students can get precisely what they want and need!

If you’re lucky enough to get one-on-one yoga instruction, think about what you want to get out of that practice beforehand and odds are good that the teacher will be able to deliver.

In the immortal words of the Spice Girls, “Tell me what you want; what you really, really, want!”

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Anti-negativity muffins

Yesterday afternoon I was feeling a bit low and struggling to combat negative thoughts. Needing to raise my spirits before teaching yin yoga at Bound Lotus in the evening, I decided to bake a batch of muffins.

Baking generally distracts me from whatever’s swirling around my brain, but I needed a little something extra to clear those negative thoughts. Cue the Gobinday Mukunday mantra, perfect for overcoming negativity. With SatKirin Kaur Khalsa chanting in the background I stirred my way to more positive thoughts and a dozen muffins.

Listening to meditative music while baking, cooking, or doing dishes is wonderful. I can’t help but start chanting along and it turns into a quasi-meditation as my mind starts to clear.

Combining baking and quasi-meditation was perfect! The muffins are yummy, my negativity cleared, and I had a really lovely time teaching 🙂

Here’s the recipe for my anti-negativity (aka applesauce pecan) muffins.

Applesauce pecan muffins

Ingredients

  • 1 cup whole wheat flour
  • 1 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp ground cardamom
  • 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/4 tsp sea salt
  • 1 cup unsweetened applesauce
  • 1/2 cup unsweetened almond milk
  • 1/3 cup maple syrup
  • 2 tbsp vegetable oil
  • 1 tbsp apple cider vinegar
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 3/4 cup pecans, chopped

Method

  • Preheat oven to 375°F and prepare a 12 cup muffin tin
    • Prepare muffin tin by lining with paper wrappers, inserting silicon muffin cups, or greasing with vegetable oil.
  • Stir together dry ingredients.
  • Combine applesauce, almond milk, maple syrup, oil, vinegar, and vanilla.
  • Stir wet ingredients and pecans into dry ingredients until just mixed.
  • Spoon batter into muffin tins and bake for 15-20 minutes; muffins are done when a toothpick inserted into the centre comes out clean.
  • Cool on wire racks.
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A quiet power

Statue in Memphis "shhh-ing"I had the pleasure of teaching a really incredible yin yoga class on Tuesday at Bound Lotus. The amazing part of it was getting out of the students’ way and enabling them to sink deeply into their own practice.

I was comfortable with all of the students and knew that they would be okay with minimal guidance. Other than getting them into the poses, marking the halfway point of the hold, and signaling the transition to the next pose, I did my best to stay quiet.

There was an awesome power in that quiet.

It was a deep practice and I felt a profound change in the energy of the studio as the students sank into each long-held pose and turned their focus inwards. I’m so honoured to have led that class and I look forward to more quietly powerful classes.

Join me on Friday at 6:30pm for yin yoga – and a little slice of quiet – at Bound Lotus. It’s the last Friday class of the month, which means a short (35 minutes or so) asana (posture) practice followed by a long yoga nidra (guided relaxation). Who couldn’t use 40 minutes of savasana (deep relaxation)!

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Bring the balance

Maybe it’s because it’s the start of Spring or maybe it’s because the weather has been franticly changing (sun, hail, wind, rain, and back to sun within an hour)… whatever the cause, I’m feeling unbalanced.

I’ve noticed that I’m sub-consciously trying to bring myself into balance by doing lots of side bends and twists in my yoga practice. Stretching my rib cage, spiraling my spine, sinking into the sometimes forgotten muscles along my side body… and, of course, the poses I lean towards in my personal yoga practice generally spill over into the classes I teach.

So look forward to more of a side-body focus in my classes until the weather settles down and things come back into balance again. Take a look at my teaching schedule to see when you can join me for a twisting, side bending class.

Coincidentally, the title of this post is the name of my friend Tim’s company. Bring the Balance is the home of Tim’s adventures teaching and practicing yoga, meditation, reflexology, and reiki. I’ve had the honour of doing two yoga teacher trainings with Tim and he’s a truly amazing person. Check out his website (including his ever-interesting blog!) and learn more about his integrated healing practices.

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