Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Four Ways Yoga is Not Just About Flexibility

Sometimes you hear that yoga is only for the really flexible or for people who are already in great shape. Of course this isn't true but the media and advertisements do a great job of mostly showing people in really great shape bending themselves into poses that the average person may never achieve. That can lead you to feel that yoga is not for normal people and certainly not for you. I am here to tell you that yoga can be for anyone.

Most people probably hear yoga and think of a fast moving vinyasa or a sweaty hot yoga class filled with Sanskrit words and bendy bodies. The beautiful thing about yoga, that I love, is the fact you can modify a class and participate seated in a chair, lying down in bed, or even slow it down to a pace that is manageable for you. Here are some other types of practice that could be used in creating a balanced practice or practiced on their own.

Restorative Practice: If you're like me and work, have kids, and are stressed all the time you might hear the words restorative and think, sign me up! I love a restorative practice because it can help relieve the effects of chronic stress, fill your energy reservoirs, and it can be practiced by most people very easily. A restorative practice uses props to help make the poses easier and help align your body without being stressful. The practice is very slow allowing for 5-10 minutes per pose so that your body can truly relax into each pose and receive the full benefits.

Vinyasa/Asana Practice: Vinyasa means "putting together or connecting". I can be considered a moving meditation that connects the poses through the breath. Ideally your vinyasa practice wouldn't be striking individual poses but would be laced together through transitions that make sense and work with your body. A balanced asana practice could include seated breath postures, vinyasa to warm the body, an asana practice (including standing postures, forward folds, twists, and backbends), and Savasana. The practice can flow at a slower rate or move at a fast pace. If you're interested in a full practice that integrates these different pieces I recommend looking into different studios and teachers to find options that match your personality and needs.

Pranayama Practice: Prana means "life force" and Yama means "to control". Pranayama is one of the most ancient and authentic forms of yoga and works to control the breath. A regular Pranayama practice can help oxygenate the tissues of the body and balance hormonal levels and brain chemistry. A daily breath practice can help energize or calm the body and mind. It would be advised to try a breath practice in a safe space where you can experience its effects on your body and mind. If adverse reactions are experienced you would want to back off and re-approach at a later date. Adverse reactions could include things like headaches, increased stress or irritability, (sometimes triggered by the surfacing of suppressed emotions), or other physical discomfort. Most side effects will likely not last long but if they do you would want to consult with your physician and work with a yoga teacher that has a strong knowledge of Pranayama.

Meditation Practice: Meditation means "to focus one's thoughts on, reflect on, or ponder over as to deepen understanding. The aim of most meditation is to come to a clearer truth of self. Meditation can be done in a seated position, by using words/phrases that are repeated to focus the mind, or through chanting. Some people better relax through guided imagery or through a prayer practice. Even as a busy person I have made a minimum five minutes of practice a part of my evening routine and I would recommend anyone give that a try. There are great apps but my favorite is Calm because it's an app but also available online if you don't have a smartphone.

Have you participated in any of these types of practice? Do the classes you participate in include some of these elements? What is your favorite part of your yoga practice? Is it the movement, meditation, or Savasana?

Think Yoga Teacher Training might be for you? There are so many different trainings available but the one I chose is at Bodhi Yoga in Provo, UT. Check out the details and let me know if you have any questions. I'm happy to discuss my experience and why I chose Bodhi over other trainings that were much closer to home.

Monday, November 28, 2016

The Bodhi Flow

As I've been going through Yoga Teacher Training I have gone back and forth between wanting to practice either following along in a class or video or wanting to just free flow and do whatever felt right for my body at the time. As a parent and full time professional, I can say that some days if I didn't just free flow a few poses before dropping into my evening meditation, I would go days or weeks without practicing yoga. So, for me at this point in my life I do find some value in having the knowledge to tackle the things I need most at that time.

When I have the time and space to participate in a full practice I can tell you it's night and day different. A full practice can provide you with the structure you need to find balance. A well structured practice often has seated poses, standing poses, backbends, and maybe even some inversions. It will ensure you're working both the left and right sides of your body equally and will provide you the adequate time to process your practice in Savasana.

One of the practices we learned during our training is called the Bodhi Flow. It's a series of poses that flow together with the focus of opening and strengthening the entire body from the inside out. The movements are slow and steady and work with the breath unlike some practices force you to shorten your breath because they move so quickly. The Bodhi Flow is appropriate for most people who are in good health whether they are beginners to yoga or more advanced students. There are four tiers (or series of poses) to the Bodhi Flow which means as a beginner you could just go through tier one and end your practice or if you were an advanced student you could go through all four tiers. You can also modify the individual poses to support your specific needs and abilities.

Tier one is used to warm the body, tier two increases flexibility, tier three increases strength and vigor, and tier four allows you to release tension and relax the mind. When put together the Bodhi Flow creates a well balanced practice that can be a great foundation for any student.

Do you prefer to follow a structured practice or do you tend to do a few poses to address specific needs? Do you have any favorite videos or instructors you practice with regularly? Do you have a favorite yoga style?

Sunday, November 27, 2016

Let's Get Physical

If you're the type who's considering yoga for the what it can do for your body here are ten things a regular yoga practice can do for you.
  1. Yoga gives skin a healthy glow by detoxing through sweating, balancing hormones, and boosting the flow of oxygen rich blood to the skin.
  2. Yoga strengthens the bones and keeps optimal range of motion through the joints.
  3. Yoga strengthens, tones, and lengthens the muscles through movement.
  4. Yoga acts as a cleanser of the circulatory system and tones the entire cardiovascular system.
  5. Yoga increases overall lung capacity.
  6. Yoga stimulates digestion and healthy eliminative function.
  7. Yoga can be used to cleanse the GI tract.
  8. Yoga is a balancing tonic for glandular flow and stimulates Thyroid function and the Pituitary.
  9. Yoga increases nerve energy pathways throughout the body, balances the cerebral-spinal fluids, and releases impingement pressure on nerves.
  10. Yoga balances the right and left-brain thinking capacity, increases conscious awareness, and concentration.
In addition to these amazing physical benefits, yoga can also increase the flow of energy through your body. In yoga we call this energy, Prana, but you might have also heard of this energy referred to as life force or Qi (Ch'i).

There are so many layers to what yoga can provide. It just depends on how deep you want to go.
For me, when I first discovered yoga I enjoyed practicing for the physical benefits. I loved gaining flexibility and strength and often could get a really great workout through a faster paced practice. As I've gotten older I have found a connection to the side of yoga that supports my mental health and energy. I love that no matter why I practice yoga I still receive both the mental and physical benefits when I commit to a regular practice. Yoga Teacher Training has allowed me to grow my practice and I know I'll continue to learn more about myself as I go.

Do you practice yoga for the physical benefits it provides? Do you feel there is a place for the spiritual side of yoga in your practice? What are your favorite poses that support you feeling strong or flexible?

Friday, November 25, 2016

Great Gunas!

If you just saw the title of this post you might have thought to yourself, what in the world does gunas mean? Lucky for you I'm going to share a little about the gunas today!

Always keep calm and do yoga!
In yoga terms the gunas are "the three ways that Prakriti (Shakti) manifests herself into the physical." In simple terms as it relates to yoga you can consider the gunas as a way to describe the energy of the poses or series of poses. I really liked this description in my yoga teacher training, YTT, manual "the gunas relate to lines of energy, edges of practice, as well as the struggle and intention in each particular pose."

First up is the guna rajas. Rajas is the forward/backward motion you would experience in a lunge or downward dog. Rajasic movement is dynamic, insistent, and passionate. In yoga it's typically the movement in and out of the poses. Rajasic emotions are anger, willfulness, and manipulation and can include participating in something excessively, often to the point of burnout.

From my YTT manual © Bodhi Yoga LLC
Next is the guna tamas. Tamas is the upward/downward motion experienced in mountain pose or many seated poses. Tamasic movement is an intrinsic lengthening; strong, deep, and internally focused. Tamasic emotions are slothfulness, inattentiveness, or lethargy.

From my YTT manual © Bodhi Yoga LLC
Finally we have the guna sattva. Sattvic movements are side to side experienced in warrior II or many balancing poses. Sattvic movements are light, delicate, and clear; the centering point of your practice. Sattvic emotions are balanced, pragmatic, and harmoznied.

From my YTT manual © Bodhi Yoga LLC
This is just a brief overview of the gunas that is, hopefully, described in a way that makes sense no matter where you are in your yoga journey. One of the things I have enjoyed most about YTT is the ability to deepen my knowledge of yoga. Over the years I have learned the Sanskrit names of many yoga poses and have experienced different things on my own but YTT has helped me learn the more subtle aspects of yoga that I wouldn't have otherwise known about. You can definitely practice yoga without knowing things like this but for me it was deepening my knowledge of yoga that has made this journey so rewarding.

Now that you know what the gunas are do you find you prefer poses in one particular guna? Do you feel knowing more about the energy of yoga poses is something that would help you in your practice? What doesn't make sense about the gunas? I will try to respond with additional information if it's helpful to anyone.

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Three Tips for Beginning a Yoga Practice

What do you think of when you hear the word yoga? Does it bring to mind pictures of hipster types in tight yoga pants drinking kale smoothies while bending their bodies in ways that make no sense? Or do you have visions of sweaty hot yoga classes where you're told to chaturanga and you don't even know what that means? Hopefully you hear yoga and think peace, reflection, healing, or another positive description because it can be all those things and more.

I always thought of yoga as a something fun to do because I was pretty flexible and for me it was enjoyable. As I've gotten older I've realized that yoga isn't the most welcoming type of exercise for some people for a variety of reasons so I wanted to share my thoughts on starting a yoga practice. I personally  have taken classes in gym/studio settings, at peoples homes, done videos and online practices, and even taken part in school based community courses. I'm not the expert on all things yoga but these are my tips for getting started if you're new to yoga.

You don't have to be great to start, but you have to start to be great. - Zig Ziglar
1. Decide why you want to do yoga. Is it for the mental health benefits? Are you trying to manage a chronic illness? Are you recovering from an injury or pregnancy? Do you want to work up a sweat and get in shape? The reasons you want to yoga may impact what types of yoga and the teachers you want to seek out. If you're already fit and healthy and looking for a great workout a hot yoga practice might be great for you but if you're not in great shape a more gentle practice might be a better fit. Evaluating why you want to try yoga may help you eliminate some styles of yoga before you even get started. That's not to say you might not want to try other types of yoga as you advance in your practice but if you start in the wrong place you may never build enough of a practice to try something new.

2. Determine what resources you have. If you already own a yoga mat, great. If you don't, it's fine. Seriously there are SO many yoga things you can buy from clothes to expensive mats and tools to help you modify your practice. Really all you need to get started is yourself, some clothes you can move in (a t-shirt and workout pants/shorts will likely work just fine), and an open mind. Don't spend a ton of money on yoga stuff until you know you're willing to commit to a regular practice. See if you can borrow a mat from a friend or use things you have around the house to help modify your practice. A belt can work just like a more expensive yoga strap. Blankets or towels can be folded up and used like bolsters. Get creative and if you find you enjoy yoga, then go out and purchase the things you need to feel confident in your practice.

3. Find a class. This might be the hardest thing because every studio and teacher is different. What works for your BFF might not work for you. If you know what you're looking for you can listen for key words or phrases that could let you know a recommendation is worth checking out. I have found that many studios offer the opportunity to try a class free so you can get a feel for the studio before you commit to anything long term. Sometimes you can get special new student pricing or a discount on a pass as a new student so if you enjoyed a free class ask about what deals are available so you don't miss out. (Sometimes studios only offer new student deals if you purchase them right after your first class. Walk away and you sometimes won't qualify for that specific pricing.)

Another option is to look into workshops or class series where you can learn and build on specific skills so you're not just jumping into a class with no frame of reference. There are many great free videos and tutorials online. I loved the yoga classes put together by Bad Yogi, Erin Motz, that will allow you to try yoga in the privacy of your own home! Check your local library too because some may have yoga DVD's you can borrow and try.

The AM/PM Yoga DVD by Rodney Yee is one of my favorites. Power Yoga was something I picked up after I had been practicing yoga for a while.
Overall I recommend keeping an open mind as developing a yoga practice can be very personal. Be willing to try different things and see what works for you.

What other tips would you give to someone just starting a yoga practice? Do you have favorite videos or resources that were helpful to you when you started practicing yoga? What do you wish someone had told you when you first started yoga?

Monday, November 21, 2016

Why Yoga?

Why yoga? Some might say it's the type of thing only tree-hugging, vegan, hipster types do. Others might say it's only for the really fit and flexible. It's even possible some may think yoga is a spiritual practice that conflicts with religion. I want to tell you it could be all of these things but for me it's not.

Yoga for me creates the space where I can accept myself for everything I am. The mistakes. The good times. The bad times. The fit times. The fat times. The smart decisions. The learning opportunities. Everything.

After I had my first baby, Russell, I didn't realize it but I was surrounded by the cloud of postpartum depression. I told myself I was just tired, sleep deprived, and that things would be fine. I had a job. I was making things work. I felt like eventually things would get better. I went so long that I never realized something was wrong until I rediscovered yoga and found things could feel different.

The funny thing is growing up I was always the happy one. The positive one. Quick to offer the silver lining in any situation. I could always see the good in things.

This is one of my favorite yoga poses. The photo is from my calendar by
I rediscovered yoga when a dear friend of mine who I hadn't seen in years told me she was working on her yoga teacher training and needed people to practice yoga with her and fill out an evaluation. I figured I liked her enough that I'd get out and give it a shot. I have loved yoga since middle school and figured if it helped her and I got a workout in it would be great.

What happened after I started practicing with her was that I'd go home feeling amazing. I'd felt like I used to before I had a baby and plunged into the dark hole that was postpartum depression. After a number of weeks sometimes going alone and other times bringing friends I realized I really hadn't been doing well and needed to continue my practice so I could avoid slipping back into depression.

If you've followed my blog for a while, or if you go back into the archives, you'll know that I was blessed to have a significant contribution from my aunt that made it possible for me to pay for yoga teacher training for myself. I knew I'd love it because I love to learn. What I didn't know was that I would end up pregnant with our second baby, Kira, and that it would change the course of my ambitions.

As I mentioned in my post, A New Story, my interests with yoga have changed. I thought I wanted to just teach regular classes and eventually make enough money to quit and teach yoga full time. What I really want to do is continue to learn more about the brain and the body and use yoga to help people who are managing illness, injury, or mental health issues.

For those that are dog people, I love this pose too. Photo from my calendar by
For me, yoga is something I want to make a permanent part of my lifestyle. For the last 60 days I have been meditating using the Calm app (you can also practice online if you don't have a smartphone). Mostly just 5-10 minutes at night but I've committed to making sure I meditate before I go to bed. At first it was hard but as the days have gone on I have come to enjoy that time. It's my space to reflect on the day, relax, and tune-in to what my body and mind need.

Between now and the end of the year you'll be able to follow my thoughts about yoga, my yoga teacher training journey, and hopefully you'll learn some useful information that you can integrate into your life and yoga practice. Don't worry, most of the posts won't be this long so if you made it this far, thanks for sticking with me.

Do you practice yoga? Have you ever tried meditation? If so, do you have a favorite type of practice? I personally enjoy kundalini style and restorative yoga as well as guided meditation. Share with me your favorite types of practice! I love to learn more about what's out there and what other people enjoy.

Saturday, November 19, 2016

A New Story

WOW! Again, it's been quite a while since I last posted but there will be a fun flurry of activity in the next few weeks as I work to finish up my yoga teacher training. I went into my training really thinking I would knock it out right away and start teaching yoga on the side. I felt I'd work hard and eventually quit working to teach yoga and take care of our kids. Then I got pregnant with Kira and because of a whole lot of change in our lives it felt like that path was no longer the path that was going to serve me and our family.

I've been meditating for 60 days in a row now and this quote came up a couple days ago. It sums up how I feel about how things are changing. On some fronts I feel I was holding on to an ideal from when I first started my yoga teacher training but now I feel the Universe has been taking me on another path.

I've been studying my beautiful yoga manual and remembering all the wonderful things we learned in person and through the videos Syl offers online. One of the reasons I chose to take my training at Bodhi Yoga was the fact I had a huge manual of information I could reference and videos that walked through everything I was going to learn in person. I knew I'd want to be able to refer back and refresh my memory and that's what I've been doing.

This past week I was able to attend the Utah Philanthropy Day celebration as a representative of United Way of Salt Lake. We had nominated Dick Bollard who has been a long time supporter and a part of our Day of Caring Committee. I have learned so much from him through the years of planning and executing the biggest volunteer event of our year and I was so happy he was able to be honored for his service. He truly serves to help others and would never have asked to be recognized in any way and I know that made it even better that he truly felt honored to be there.

While we were talking during lunch he asked me if I was planning to stick with the work I do or if I had anything else in mind. He knows I have two young kids and live a ways from work so he was curious what I had in mind. I absolutely love what I do and don't see myself leaving anytime soon (part of why my vision of teaching yoga full time changed) but I told him I was finishing up my yoga teacher training and that lately I have felt pulled towards yoga therapy. Yoga changed my life in so many ways and the underlying reason I wanted to go through the training was to learn how to help others through yoga.

It will be interesting to see where life takes me as I work to finish my teacher training. I don't anticipate any huge changes right away but I feel when I sit quietly (60 days of meditation has helped) sometimes I find the clarity I'm looking for.