Gym Yoga or Studio Yoga-What's the Difference?

Many of you who are reading this blog post probably got your start in yoga at a gym, as I did. Most of you probably still practice only at a gym or community center, and perhaps have not experienced a studio class. Nothing wrong with that. Years ago, there were more gyms than yoga studios – and now studios seem to be popping up everywhere. Have you ever wondered why many are gravitating to the studio? What’s the attraction? What’s the difference? Does it really matter where you take a class?

Perhaps sharing from my own yoga journey will give you some insight. I was a late comer to fitness of any kind. (If you’re interested in my background and what brought me to the mat, you can browse the “about” page, and listen to the audio link there.) It was probably close to my 4th decade that I went to a yoga class – at a gym. For me, it was just another form of exercise, and I went infrequently. Eventually, I found a weekend class that I liked which worked with my schedule, and I began to attend regularly.

The class became more than just another form of exercise. Moving through the postures, I made a connection between the way my poses were executed, and how I am in life. Tension, being in my head, forcing an outcome, neglecting feedback from my body, instead of being heart- centered, being with what is in the moment, and feeling my way through the postures. I was struck on many levels. I felt I had uncovered a piece of myself that was clearly there all along, but I had not previously known. Once uncovered, I was hooked-compelled to return each week. After a while, I needed to deepen my knowledge and practice so I could deepen my self-discovery.

That experience led me to my teacher training and certification. My first teaching job was in the gym, where I had discovered yoga. I subsequently taught there for over 5 years. Meanwhile, my personal practice and continued education unfolded at the studio. I found what I was looking for in the yoga studio. Distinct from the gym, at the studio, my practice arose from within me. There, teachers typically guide students verbally through the practice, allowing each person to have their own experience. In the gym, teachers demonstrate to the class, with the pitfall of students trying to be that, at the expense of compromising their personal journey, and often their physical well-being.

Recently, I left teaching at the gym, because I want to provide more value to my students through studio classes. Importantly, when I’m not demonstrating the entire class, I can watch you move, ensuring your safety. If necessary, I alter my cueing, or place my hands to gently guide you in a way that’s just right for your body. I have access to many more props so the poses are more comfortable and accessible. After all, we all have different bodies, strengths and weaknesses, and levels of experience.  And, the essence of a good practice is always honoring our body.

The classes I offer are currently limited to 8 students, to allow for personal attention. Breathwork, pose break down, modifications and direct assists are integral components of my teaching. If you’ve never experienced a studio yoga class, or are currently looking for a more personalized yoga experience, I hope you’ll join me on your yoga journey. Namaste

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Gratitude...Thanksgiving and everyday

Thanksgiving is a time of year I have a heightened sense of gratitude. There’s something in the air that pulls for feeling grateful with family gathering, traditional food, and contributing to others, so they too can share the season’s blessings.

I am grateful to welcome eighteen family members and friends at my home for Thanksgiving this year, and, not one of them will eat until they each share something they’re grateful for.

But why wait till Thanksgiving to count your blessings? Gratitude is a small practice that reaps massive rewards in our health, happiness, and yoga practice. Gratitude is a mindfulness practice that opens our hearts and frees us from attachment to our circumstances, enhancing our joy, and our connection to the world outside ourselves.

Another gift of gratitude is our grounding in the present moment. A gift of the Here and Now, much like our yoga practice. On the mat, offer up a moment of gratitude for the ability to be in the space, breathe and move. Notice the poses that seem effortless, where gratitude flows. And what about those moments where you resist and struggle on your mat, temporarily losing the grace that comes with gratitude.

Research has shown that being grateful leads to improved relationships, reduced inflammation (a major cause of chronic degenerative disease), better sleep, and reduced fatigue and depression.

Here are a few simple recommendations to incorporate gratitude into your everyday life. In the morning, before your feet hit the floor, take a moment to find at least one thing to be thankful for, and take a few moments to dwell in that space. In the evening, before your head touches your pillow, think of at least one thing that happened during your day that you are grateful for. Perhaps keep a small journal at your bedside to record your thoughts. It’s especially comforting to look back at your gratitude list during trying times in your life. Finding something to be thankful for during sad or challenging times will go a long way in lifting your spirit, and affecting a state change.

As I sit on my patio on this gorgeous Florida November day, writing these words, I feel immense appreciation for my surroundings, and, for each of you, with whom I am blessed to share my love of yoga.

Namaste,

Janet

What are you most grateful for? What are your gratitude practices? I’d be grateful if you’d share in the comments below.

 

What This Teacher Learned From Her Students

I experienced something unexpected recently in a yoga class I taught, and I want to share my insights and the lessons I learned with you.

I was at my first class in a new location, fully prepared, I thought, to teach chair yoga. I figured I knew what to expect, as I teach several chair yoga classes. However, the 2 students who showed up for this class were different from other students I ever had in any of my classes.

One person (I’ll call her Annie) appeared to be only in her 30s, but in addition to walking with a cane, she was clearly mentally handicapped. Her friend, Susie (fabricated name), appeared to be in her late 30s, with no apparent physical disability, but oddly over-communicative, asking too many questions that had, to me, obvious answers. My assessment of her was that she too had some cognitive deficits. All of this became even more apparent when I asked them to fill out the obligatory first class intake form and liability waiver.

I consider myself to be a compassionate, fairly nonjudgmental person.  So why was I feeling annoyed? I became even more upset with myself because I was annoyed.  “How am I supposed to teach these students?” was the question running through my mind. Quickly, I realized that I was asking the wrong question. The question I began to consider was, “What are these students here to teach me?”.

While these 2 friends spent a considerable amount of time filling out the simple form, I contemplated the “right question”, noticing my annoyance and upset disappeared. And in the open space granted by my inquiry, I observed one of the most beautiful displays of friendship, caring and compassion I remember seeing. Susie was helping her friend Annie answer each question on the form, even though she herself was struggling to complete it. At one point she asked me for a new form for Annie, so she could have a fresh attempt to complete the form as required.

While doing her very best to answer the questions in the paperwork for both of them, Susie told me she suffered the effects of “fetal alcohol syndrome”, and that’s why she talked so much and asked so many questions. “My mom drank when she was pregnant with me. I’ve always been like this.”, she said.

It was at that moment that I realized that Susie saw herself as inherently flawed, and had been apologizing for being “different”, even “defective”, her whole life. My heart sank to hear Susie justify her perceived inadequacies in light of the most beautiful display of love, patience and kindness with her friend Annie.

I realized the lesson that Susie and Annie showed up to teach me in my yoga class that day. I must be the person to reflect Susie’s perfection back to her. I no longer saw her “flaws”, but her beautiful heart. I was moved by her empathy and compassion at a level I rarely experienced, and I was inspired to exemplify and become those qualities for Susie, Annie, and hopefully, all my students.

The 3 of us enjoyed our remaining time when we did the “yoga” (movement) part of the class. Really, the whole experience embodied the teachings of yoga. Awareness, Be with what IS, and Unity - of self and with another.

My powerful lessons from these 2 beautiful students:  The teacher is always a student; Continuously be in the inquiry of my thoughts and feelings –  if I am unsettled, unhappy, annoyed - there is something for me to get; and most importantly, strive to be as heart-centered, compassionate, and yes even perfect, as Susie.

I am reminded of the quote by the late Maya Angelou: “People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”

I’d love to hear your comments, and also your stories of situations and people that were initially challenging, but ultimately taught you a valuable lesson. Please share them on the blog.

The Case Against Toughing It Out In Your Yoga Class

There is a common thread I notice in many of the yoga classes I teach, and, I assert it's a commonality of yoga practiced in Western cultures. I see so many students pushing themselves in yoga class - to the point of susceptibility to injury.

I often talk about finding your edge - the perfect place, that only you can know, between effort and ease. Effort includes focusing on the breath, minding your alignment, and accepting modifications when needed. Toughing it out is not that.

Toughing it out means abandoning the breath, and forcing the body to go where it shouldn't in order to fulfill the unreasonable expectation we've set for ourselves for the practice. It's as if our worthiness is determined by the level of difficulty we achieve, and the corresponding amount of sweat generated in the process. We attack our practice with a "no pain no gain" attitude.

We seem to think there's somewhere to get to, versus locating our self on the path of a mindful and forgiving journey. The Yoga Sutras actually prescribe yoga postures to be "steady and comfortable".

In her book "Living Your Yoga", Judith Lasater laments that we do not practice to find the comfortable, but to overcome ourselves and conquer the pose - clearly not meeting our body where we're at in the moment.

In your next class, notice where your mind takes you. Steady and comfortable? Stay present with the breath, and allow movement to follow in a way that honors the vessel that houses your spirit.

Beginning Yoga as a Boomer, Not a "Bendy"

As a baby boomer yoga teacher who is passionate about introducing yoga to those who think they are too old to begin a yoga practice, I often reflect on what to tell my peers, who think they can’t do yoga because they’re not a young “bendy” (my term for the typical yogi or yogini in a studio class).

The most common excuses I hear are:  I’m not flexible, I don’t have good balance, I can’t get down on the floor or up from the floor like I used to. I get it. But here’s my question for you: Is your unwillingness to consider beginning a yoga practice part of an overall attitude toward aging? In what other ways does this resistance show up? This is worth examining, because we now know that our outlook on aging greatly determines the quality of our life as we get older.

What if you knew you could tailor your yoga practice to fit your life today, and modify it to suit your current physical capability? What if that became your starting point, and you gradually discovered yourself becoming stronger, more flexible, had fewer ailments, and in general felt more peaceful and uplifted?

We boomers have a huge advantage over the “bendys”, in my opinion, because what we may lack in physical strength and agility, we make up for in knowing ourselves – something only possible because of greater life experience. We are more introspective, and less influenced by the external world than we were in our youth. This parallels the yoga teaching of Pratyahara – turning our senses inward, withdrawing our mind from external objects and experiences. We are more ready and willing to listen to our body, which is a perfect place to start. As I tell my students, if you’re forcing your body into a pose, vs modifying the pose to fit your body, you’re not practicing yoga. Yoga is about honoring our body in this moment. It is the practice of Ahimsa – causing no harm, and being compassionate with ourselves, and others.

“Today is the youngest I will ever be. I am pure potential.” These words of Don Miguel Ruiz Jr. energize and inspire me. I am timeless and age is irrelevant. Yoga is ageless and timeless. I invite you to take your first step on the journey that is yoga.

If you’re currently a baby boomer practicing yoga, please leave a comment and share your experience about beginning your yoga practice, and, the difference yoga has made for you. If you have a friend or relative who you would like to introduce to yoga, please share this post with them.

Namaste

Valentine's Day, Yoga and Your Heart

I'm a sap for Valentine's Day. I just love that there's a special day set aside when we can do both the silly and the sincere to demonstrate our love to the special person or people in our life. It's the collective expression of love that makes this day fun. It seems that on a small level, we are raising the vibration of our surroundings.

It's a fact that our thoughts affect our body, especially our cardiovascular and immune systems. Negative thoughts and feelings have a deleterious impact, and love and happiness have a beneficial impact. The practice of yoga and meditation are like Valentine's Day for our health and happiness.

Despite advances in both prevention and treatment, heart disease remains the number one killer of both men and women in the US. Stress causes the coronary arteries to constrict, reducing blood flow to the heart. It makes the platelets stickier and more likely to form blood clots that may induce a heart attack. Dr. Dean Ornish, MD, global authority on heart disease and its reversal, touts yoga as perhaps the most effective stress-reduction method ever invented. Reduced blood pressure, cholesterol, blood sugar, and heart arrhythmias, as well as decreased anxiety and depression, all make yoga a good choice for heart health.

Asana, the physical practice of yoga, gets our heart pumping faster. The benefits continue off the mat in the form of a generally lower heart rate, due to more oxygen circulating in the blood. Mindfulness of the breath and the body are essential on our mat. Over time, we naturally carry this mindfulness into our lives off the mat. That’s the lasting effect of our yoga practice. Mindfulness - being less reactive, feeling more in control of our emotions and circumstances.

One of my favorite poses for the heart is Anjali Mudra, a hand placement used in an easy seated pose, Sukasana, or a standing pose such as mountain, Tadasana. Achieved by gently touching thumbs into sternum (the bony plate at the center of the rib cage), palms touching, broadening the shoulder blades to spread the chest open from the inside, and creating space under the armpits bringing elbows into alignment with the wrists. 

Anjali Mudra is synonymous with returning to one’s heart. As we bring our hands together at our center, we are literally connecting the right and left hemispheres of our brain, and creating an energetic circle between the hands and the heart.

And back to Valentine’s Day – break out the dark chocolate (70% or above). Research shows it is heart healthy, decreasing blood sugar and bad LDL cholesterol, and raising good HDL cholesterol.

I invite you to share a comment about your favorite heart opening yoga poses, or, to share ways in which yoga has made your heart healthier or happier.

Namaste,

Janet

 

 

Self-Love

I’m not usually one to make New Year’s resolutions. I don’t need a special date to begin a new habit or project, or, to stop doing something I know isn’t good. But this year is different. I’m declaring 2016 the year of “Self-Love”.

So what is self-love? In some way, it’s easier to say what it is not. It’s not denying my body’s clues that I need to slow down and perhaps rest. It’s not dishonoring my body by feeding it empty calories. It’s not the insidious habit I have of looking for what’s wrong or what’s lacking, instead of appreciating what is. And it’s certainly not being selfish, or, feeling guilty.

So then, what is self-love? For me, it’s a conscious choice, and a declaration. I love myself – unconditionally. It makes me happy, it raises my vibration. It’s a way for me to operate in the world that creates ease and positive outcomes. It makes decision making simpler: I’ll do this (consistent with self-love), but I won’t do that (inconsistent with self-love). I’ll be kinder and gentler with myself, as I already am with others. I matter. I’ll take care of my body – the vessel that houses my Being.

What does Self-Love look like? It’s asking myself a new question: “What would a person who loves herself do?” I’ve never asked this question before. I typically ask: “What would an efficient, smart or a successful person do?” I would check in before impulsive actions, but especially before reaching for sweets (my weakness).

Self-love is taking my measurements and knowing my body fat percentage, not to judge how bad I am, but as a measure of where I’m at in my commitment to a better self. It’s wearing my better under garments every day, and not saving them for a special occasion. It’s placing my hand over my heart as a physical gesture and reminder when I’m questioning myself.

It’s said if you don’t love yourself, you can’t truly love another. Put your oxygen mask on first. It just works better that way. Here’s the magic: self-love doesn’t detract from anything else – it enhances it!  I anticipate a delightful upgrade in all my relationships!

You may be wondering, what self-love has to do with yoga? Everything. It’s showing up for class when you don’t feel like it, or when you have a million other things to do. It’s letting go while you’re there, because you showed up. It’s honoring your body and practicing in a way that is safe and beneficial, instead of forcing your body into a pose. It’s leaving class with a smile on your face and a lift in your heart, because you just practiced self-love.

So, here’s a question for you, my community. Did you all know this already, and I’m just late to the party, or, does this resonate with you? What acts of self-love do you practice, or would you like to incorporate? Please share your comments here, so we can all benefit.

Namaste

Janet