Fond Farewells

Today’s yoga class is the last one I’ll ever have the pleasure of seeing one of my favorite regular students. She is an older woman named Carol. I felt a strong connection to her right away and was always pleased to see she would basically only come to the studio on Saturdays for my class. We would always stay and chat for a few minutes after class about our practice or about politics. She was truly a delight. There was a palpable absence when she didn’t come to class.

A few weeks ago I found out that she was moving back to her home state. I was quite sad knowing that soon I’d have to say goodbye to one of my students and a good friend. As I prepared my class for this week, I decided to design it specifically for Carol. At the end of practice she always works on her bakasana (crow pose) and urdhva dhanurasana (upward facing bow pose.) As a special treat for her I made the whole class a build up to get us ready for those exact poses. I was happy to talk with her after class to discover that she noticed and appreciated this gesture of mine. I also gave her a small farewell gift. I had planned to give her one of my many hag stones since they are supposed to be good luck. However, I forgot them when I left this morning. Fortunately, I had a lucky howlite crystal keychain I decided to give to her instead.

If you’ve been reading my blog for awhile, you know that I am not very good with people. I’ve never really understood how to appropriately approach different social situations. So while these kind gestures may seem second nature to a lot of you reading this post, know that for me it took a great deal of consideration and effort. To be honest, I don’t really know if that was “normal” or not when saying goodbye to someone you care about. I often worry that I am being over the top. As I was contemplating what type of small gift I could give her, I even second guessed doing anything special at all. She is just someone I see once a week for an hour or so that I probably won’t ever see again. I’ve certainly parted from people that were more integral in my life with less fanfare, sometimes without as much as a goodbye. I noticed that I was asking myself if it was “worth it.”

Most people seem to interact with others in the way they do simply because it comes naturally. For me, each interaction requires a lot of thought and careful consideration. I spend my mental and emotional energy very sparingly. So when I thought about the fact that I would never see this person again, the cold, logical side of my brain told me it would be a waste to exert any energy making an effort for a relationship that was inevitably ending. Normally I will justify kind gestures by telling myself it will end up being a benefit to me in the future. Even though that may sound heartless and selfish, it’s just the way my brain works even when I do genuinely care about the person involved. It’s usually the only way I can keep myself from avoiding the interaction all together.

I decided to just ignore that icy, calculating side of myself this time though. I felt like I wanted to do something for Carol, so I did. It felt right, and that was enough. Then, as I saw how much my small gestures meant to her, as I saw her teary eyes above her mask as she thanked me for everything, I knew I made the right decision. It doesn’t matter if I don’t see or hear from her again. It doesn’t matter if ten years from now I don’t even remember she exists. Sometimes it’s okay to just be grateful for the fleeting moments in life. Today was about honoring the meaningful connection I made with another human being if only for a brief period in time.

I am always so focused on the future, that sometimes it can be hard for me to find value in the temporary. Yet, nothing lasts forever. Today was a reminder of that. It was a reminder that each moment must be appreciated for what it is, without worrying about what it could be or what it will mean for the future. Isn’t is good enough to be happy just for the sake of being happy? It doesn’t have to last indefinitely for it to mean something. There is truly a lesson in everything if you care to look for it. I am grateful for Carol and the many lessons I’ve learned thanks to having her in my life for the time that I did. I hope she has gained as much from our time together as I have.

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The Value of Virtual Yoga

If you’ve ever done a yoga video on YouTube then you probably know about Yoga with Adriene. She is one of the most famous yoga YouTubers with over 9 million subscribers! I have been doing yoga with this amazing woman since the very beginning of my yoga journey. Even though we have never met or even spoken to one another, I genuinely feel as though she is my guru, my teacher, my yoga guide. It is a strange and beautiful, one-sided bond.

After my class today, another teacher at my studio asked me who my primary teacher was since I don’t live close enough to regularly take classes where I teach. I hesitated, embarrassed, because I don’t ever attend classes in person. I offered Adriene’s name with a nervous laugh. This obviously didn’t really count in the eyes of the person who was asking. None of the other teachers at my studio think very highly of online yoga classes.

I can understand their hesitancy to embrace the idea. They are yogi’s that are much older than myself. Not only that but free YouTube yoga could potentially wipe out the yoga industry all together. Why pay for a class when you can do one for free from the comfort of your own home? So I get their insistence that you are missing out by not attending class in person. There are certainly benefits that you get from a studio that you can’t get at home. At a yoga studio you get to be part of a community. You can speak with your teacher one on one and receive real-time feedback on your practice. Not to mention, you don’t get all those wonderful adjustments from a virtual teacher! There is also a delicious energy that is created in a room full of yogis practicing together that is impossible to experience with a home practice.

So I certainly would still encourage people to join a studio and find a local yoga community. However, I personally prefer my at home practice. I it just a better fit for me and probably a lot of other people around the world as well. Today I wanted to take the time to explain why that is.

Benefits of Yoga Online:

Affordability:

Even though I, myself, am a yoga teacher, to be honest, I don’t think yoga classes are worth what they typically cost. I’ve only paid for a few classes in my entire life, most of them special donation based outdoor ones at that. I deeply respect my fellow teachers and value what they do. However, in my opinion, yoga should never be about money. I never expected to make money from becoming a yoga teacher. I just wanted to deepen my practice and be able to share yoga with others. With YouTubers like Adriene, you don’t have to pay a dime. Yoga studios are great if you can afford it, but online classes allow daily yoga to be accessible to everyone.

Privacy:

When I began my yoga journey, I was even more socially anxious than I am today. The only reason I was even brave enough to take a yoga class in college was because I had to take some time of PE credit to graduate, plus I had a scholarship so it was free. There are many people that may never be brave enough to walk into a yoga studio. It can be very daunting for even an extroverted person to be a beginner surrounded by people with experience. Online classes allow you to experiment with yoga from the comfort and privacy of your own home. Not only is it less intimidating, but it allows you to focus on what really matters. Often in classes with other people I find myself comparing and competing. I feel envious of other people as they easily go into asanas that I struggle with. I push my body farther than I would when no one is watching. An at-home yoga practice eliminates all of that. When I’m at home it is much easier to focus on my breath and on how the pose feels rather than what it looks like. I am able to really let go, let my guard down, and be silly.

Time:

Things are just easier when you don’t have to worry about time. With yoga videos you never have to worry about fitting a 90 minute class into your schedule. You don’t even have to put clothes on! You can do yoga in bed if you want to. This removes yet another obstacle that could potentially keep someone from yoga. A coworker asked my the other day, “Do you have to do yoga for an hour every time to receive the benefits?” I had to restrain myself from bursting out into laughter. “Hell no!” I told her. I hardly ever do a full hour unless I’m teaching. Doing 5 minutes of yoga is always better than not doing any. There are yoga videos on YouTube that are 1 minute, 5 minutes, 15 minutes, any length of time you want. You can find flows to do while you are in bed, driving in your car, or sitting in your office at work. With the internet, there is always time for yoga.

These are just a few of the many reasons that Adriene’s channel means so much to me. She has brought yoga into countless homes and lives that might have never experienced it otherwise. I am so grateful that she and other YouTubers continue to make yoga affordable, accessible, and convenient for everyone. Even if you are a teacher yourself, please still consider recommending online yoga as a supplement to in-person classes. Even if you attend a studio, it is always important to have a personal, at-home practice as well. Besides, yoga is a gift and gifts shouldn’t have to cost you anything.

Healing Through Yoga

As I’ve mentioned before, I began yoga for pretty superficial reasons. For years, my practice was about changing my body, trying to make it fit into a certain mold through simply practicing different shapes. Yet, even with a practice that hasn’t yet scratched the surface of yoga, it is impossible to avoid receiving some of the more spiritual benefits. Even without meaning to, you start to drop into the breath. You start to really become acquainted with it, maybe for the first time. You have moments of perfect peace, of true presence of mind. In the beginning, these were just pleasantly surprising pluses from my practice, not the focus of it.

Throughout the years my practice has grown. At times it almost feels like a completely different activity all together from those first forays, which I would now think of more as simply stretching. Back then yoga was all about the body. Now it is also about the mind and spirit. It is incredible how much this mental shift has changed my practice. On the outside, it may look identical, but now I am able to more fully absorb all the goodness yoga offers me and use it to heal.

I no longer care to push myself into my fullest expression of every pose when I lay out my mat each day. I am not trying to prove something to myself or anyone with my practice anymore. If I learn to do a handstand without a wall to support me, that’s great, but these types of things are no longer the types of goals I set for myself. Now it is more about what I would learn on the way towards such a goal. How do I deal with frustration? How to I react when confronted with limitations? Can I be patient? Can I embrace where I am now? Can I be resilient? Can I persevere in the face of adversity, of failure? Can I trust? Now most of the work is going on inside of me. When you approach your practice (and life itself) in this way, no effort is “wasted.” If after years of working towards a handstand, I never quite make it, that’s perfectly okay. I will still have gained so much through my efforts.

Now it isn’t about how a pose looks. It is more about how a pose feels. How it affects the breath. What thoughts come up? Can I allow them to pass through me without clinging to them or pushing them away? Can I find the perfect balance between effort and ease? Can I notice what my body needs today? This inner work, this is what yoga is truly about. Truthfully, learning how to do impressive physical feats is cool, but ultimately doesn’t matter much in life. What we really learn from yoga is how to live. I am much better off having done all of that inner work and never being able to do a handstand than if I learned how to do a perfect handstand but nothing else.

Yoga allows us to explore what it means to exist in this body, with this mind, through this breath, right now. It teaches us how to cope with life’s struggles, how to more fully savor life’s gifts, how to work through anger and frustration and sorrow, how to be there for ourselves. In my opinion, yoga is therapy. Except you are the therapist and the client. You design and guide yourself through your own healing journey. After all, who is better equipped for this than you? All of the answers that we seek are already within us. Yoga teaches us how to tap into that wisdom, how to listen to the body, to the heart.

I still have a lot to learn, but each moment is a lesson. Not only during my work on the mat, but off it as well. True yoga isn’t left behind when we step out of the studio. We try our best to take it with us into the rest of our life as well. When you stay mindful, every moment can be part of your practice.

All of this, this is the reason I became a yoga teacher. I am overcome with gratitude whenever I think about this gift of yoga that has been passed down through the ages, eventually finding its way to me. I simply had to do whatever I could to share this gift with others. It is my sincere hope that this beautiful practice continues to help the whole world to heal. I will keep doing my part by learning how to heal myself through this ancient art and passing it along to others so that they may begin their own healing.

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The Difference Between Yoga and Other Exercise

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Some of the first things anyone I meet learns about me are that I am a vegan, I workout a lot, and I am a yoga instructor. It seems like everyone always wants to combine the latter two into one. I get asked all the time, “Oh, so you do yoga for your workouts?” No matter how many times I get asked this question, it always surprises me. I forget that for a lot of the western world, yoga is just another workout routine like aerobics or Pilates. But it is so much more than that.

When people hear the word “yoga” all they think about are the asana, the physical poses. In reality that is only one small limb of the yoga practice. It is merely a nice bonus that the physical practice can double as a form of exercise. However, yoga isn’t about the physical body at all. When someone begins a workout routine, there is usually a goal in mind. “I want to lose weight,” or “I want to build muscle.” And while a lot of people may get into yoga with a similar mindset, I’d say most stay for the mental and spiritual benefits instead.

I started yoga primarily to become more flexible, but also hoped it would help my anxiety. Now, even though I am more flexible than I ever dreamed I would be, I couldn’t care less about that part! Yoga has given me so much more than the ability to do the splits. Yoga allows us to use the body as a gateway to our souls, our higher selves.

At the gym, you push yourself so that you can achieve results, run faster, look slimmer, lift heavier weight, etc. But when we push past our comfort zone in yoga it isn’t about that at all. At first we may be fixated on the idea of molding our bodies into perfect poses. Eventually we begin to see our practice through new eyes. In the end it doesn’t matter how close we can get our head towards our toes. It is about seeing how the mind reacts to not being able to do a pose perfectly, or in fact even how it reacts to doing the pose perfectly. What does the ego whisper to us in these moments? Can we learn to accept where we are in our practice, in our lives? Can we breathe through discomfort? Can we honor our limits?

It is these questions and many more than we explore and grapple with on our mats, with the hope we will be able to take what we learn with us into our daily lives. While the asana practice may result in some incredible physical feats, it was never about that. It is about the journey there and what we are able to learn about ourselves along the way. So no, my yoga practice is not my workout. I usually don’t think of it as exercise at all. It is a spiritual practice, a moving meditation, a beautiful celebration of life.

The Mirror of Yoga

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A yoga practice is quite often a reflection of the yogi’s inner life. Yoga has the potential to be a window into our personal struggles, fears, strengths, weaknesses, and much more. Even before I knew about the spiritual side of yoga, I could feel it changing the way I thought about and perceived the world as well as my place within it. Those who have a personal yoga practice as simply exercise or stretching like I once did, still can’t avoid the deeper impact and insight it provides.

It is a rare opportunity to go within, to be alone with ourselves, to notice the patterns of our own minds. Are we easily frustrated? Are we critical of ourselves at every turn? Is it hard to let go? Is it hard to be still? To remain focused on what’s in front of us? Can we learn to settle our minds, to use our breath? Yoga provides us with a chance to learn all of these things about ourselves. When we practice yoga, we are not only training the body. We are also training the mind.

I have noticed my own struggles reflected in my practice lately. It has felt like my safe haven recently, a way to escape from my reality. Yet yoga has a way of showing us things, even things we don’t want to see. Having an “escape” inevitably begs the question, why is one needed? Allowing my practice to be a shield from the rest of my life, has caused it to become rather stagnant. I feel stuck. Just as I do overall right now.

Our daily lives feed our practice just as much as our practice feeds into our lives. That vital loop has been severed for me for awhile now. It is hard to feel passionate, inspired, playful, or courageous in your practice when you aren’t able to feel that way day to day. It is hard to practice self-love, self-care, compassion, and ahimsa in a one hour vacuum. It is hard to teach from the heart, when you have been hiding your heart from even yourself.

Lately my practice, while always an enjoyable time of peace, rest, and rejuvenation, has felt like hypocrisy at the same time. I am isolating myself within my yoga, instead of allowing the nutrients of my practice to sate the gnawing pangs of my real life problems.

My yoga mirror has been showing me the reflection of my fear, my avoidance, my inertia. I am afraid to challenge myself. I am afraid that I won’t be able to rise to those challenges. I am afraid to fail, to fall. I have remained in one place for so long, not progressing in life, nor my asanas. Telling myself I can’t do it before I have even given myself the chance to try.

But I should know better. Because yoga has also taught me that there is no reason to be afraid. There is no reason to fear failure. Because even failure is not final. When you are learning to do a headstand, you are going to fall. A lot. If I had taken that first failure as proof I was incapable, my body would not be able to do any of the incredible things I’ve taught it to do. Yoga teaches us that failure is a necessary part of growth. When you fall, you laugh, get up, and try again. And with each fall, you learn something new. I need to engage my core more. I need to place my hands wider apart. I need to focus. I was holding my breath. Failure is not something to avoid, it is a valuable chance to learn vital information.

I want to use these lessons and the many others yoga has given me. I want to move forward in my practice, in life. I want to try new things. To be playful again, curious, excited. To laugh and learn and love myself despite my missteps along the way. No matter what happens, I know I’ll always have a safe place to rest. On the mat, and within. We all do.

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