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But I’m back to blogging! There’s been a lot of changes for me in the past few months.

To back up a bit, a little over a year ago, I left a full-time job as an online community manager. I wanted to focus on teaching yoga, but was fairly sure yoga teaching wasn’t the only thing I wanted to do career-wise.

It’s been a great experience as far as deepening my teaching and growing a base of amazing students. Still, I also missed doing the online community work that I used to do and quickly discovered that I like having the structure and regularity that comes with a full-time, salaried job.

I was in the middle of the interviewing for a couple of non-yoga jobs when my husband and I left on Thanksgiving for a two-week cruise through the Panama Canal. There’s much more to be said about this fabulous vacation, but one wonderful part about it was that we were offline for the most part, with no cell access nor internet access (well, except for 75-cents-a-minute for what access might be there in the middle of the ocean). Unplugging is important to do from time to time.  But I digress.

I had an second interview mid-trip on one of the days we were in port. When our boat docked in Floria early on a Friday morning and I had internet access again, I came online to a job offer and was on a plane to Portland for training the next week. So it was quite the whirlwind. The universe can have a wonderful sense of humor when it comes to bringing you change.

Thus far, I am loving the work. I work for a nonprofit organization I’ve long admired and respected. I’m back working with a similar group of constituents and have been blown away by the warm welcome I’ve had from many people I know in this network. Best of all, I get to work remotely and have some flexibility with my hours which means I’m able to keep teaching away.

Right now, I’m still teaching a lot with a number of privates and group classes a week, so it’s busy and I’m juggling a bit to get into a routine with it all. That said, I’m loving it. Perhaps what I love most of all is teaching. I’ve re-discovered the joy teaching brings me. Now that it’s not the only thing I’m doing, I find myself excited again about coming up with juicy sequencing and exploring new assists. It feels like the best of both careers.

It took me a long time to get to writing this blog post. To be honest, I’ve been scared to talk about my new job and situation because I’m afraid: “What if it doesn’t work out? What if I blog about being happy about things are coming together so well and it all goes to hell?”

Ironically enough, as much as my fear makes me want to hide and not make a big deal out of things, I have two careers that are very public and require that I put myself out there, be it online or in front of a class of people. I can’t be hiding behind a curtain waiting for the other shoe to drop. What is a blog for if I can’t also be honest and put my truth out in words?

There’s a lot of stories out there about yoga teachers finding their path to teaching from another job. It may seem odd to find one’s path by taking a step back away from teaching, but that’s the way I’m finding my way and weaving my two careers together.

AND…I’m happy to be back to blogging and bringing in the beauty reports to come in 2013!

Tip Tuesday: Breaking Habits

Tip Tuesday is a weekly feature where I offer a few yoga tips that have worked for me in the hopes that they can help you too.

The process of changing habits sucks. Just ask anyone who’s quit smoking. Although the end result is positive, it’s an uncomfortable re-patterning curve to get there. It never fails to amaze me how much our habits on the yoga mat often reflect our habits off the mat. For example, if you slump in front of the computer, you’ll frequently find yourself unconsciously slumping in poses.

When you’re faced with the often daunting task of breaking a habit, the mat can be a good place to start. You can consciously make small changes that are easier and not as emotionally hard to do. By practicing less dramatic changes, it gets you in the “habit”, if you will, of riding through the discomfort of change to prepare you for the next leap off the mat.

A few ways you can do so:

Clasp your hands in your non-habitual way Interlace your fingers, then move your fingers over one. It will feel weird because you’re in the habit of doing the other way. But like breaking other habits, it’s going to feel weird for awhile as you start a new behavior.

Mix up what foot you start on If you usually start off on the right on one-sided poses, do your left side first or vice versa. If you are doing sun salutations, switch off what foot you begin with. Kicking up to handstand or forearm balance? Make sure you also do it with your non-dominant leg.

Take the down-level That goes for advanced students too. Purposely do the more basic version of the pose. Re-connect to the basic mechanics of the pose. Observe if your mind goes crazy because you’re “not doing it hard enough.”

Change your focus For example, in triangle pose, instead of aiming to get your fingers to the floor, prioritize getting length in both sides of the waist. Or pick an area of your body to work with and find how you can connect with your chosen spot through every pose.

Know that it will feel awkward and wrong and you won’t want to do it. But if you can break a habit successfully on the mat, you know you can take a small step towards busting those larger bad habits.

Struggle Free In Yoga and Life

I’ve been at two yoga classes in less than a week where the theme was: “moving in a way that is struggle-free.”

Clearly the universe thinks this is something I need to work on. At one class the teacher, Marisha, asked us to connect with what struggle feels like in the body. Normally I picture struggle and I see fidgeting and fighting with a pose and getting frustrated. But what I connected to this time was a feeling of defeat. Struggle by giving up. Holding on for dear life, wondering when the pose will be over. Oh sure, I’ll still be breathing and doing the pose, but I mentally vacate or go into suffering mode of me against the world. The yoga pose becomes just another way life isn’t working.

Growing up, our family dog, Cassidy, hated taking baths. At first, Cassidy would fight us by trying to hide in a corner or wiggling under the couch at first sense of an impending bath. Once we caught her, she’d try to make herself as heavy as possible to lift into the slop sink and when that failed, try to wiggle out of it. Then Cassidy would reach a place of resignation. These owner people were bigger and any further resistance would be futile. So she succumbed to misery. Drooping her head, pained look on her face, she miserably resigned herself to the bath waiting for this injustice to finally be over. (Then she made it a point to purposefully shake herself off all over us, but that’s another different story).

When it comes to struggle, I’m not unlike Cassidy in the tub. Cowering and deciding that I have no choice but to be miserable and plod through the day.

I know, I know, just like the Buddha said, “Pain is inevitable. Suffering is optional.” Still sometimes I’m determined to wallow in it. I don’t want to get out of it. “Bring it on,” I think. “I’ll hang on through it.”

Luckily my pity party soon (usually) gets pretty pathetic even to me. It becomes time to “Bring it on.” Not, “Bring it on, I will suffer through it”, but rather, “Bring it on. How can I not suffer through it?” I can still hate every second of it. But I don’t have to bask in my discomfort.

What might be a new approach on the yoga mat? For me, I find it helps when I focus on paying attention to other aspects of the experience. I can be aware that my hip feels tight, but I can focus on finding my feet and drawing up energy from my foundation on the earth to support me. I direct my breath into different parts of my body where I’m experiencing the pose. I notice when I stay attentive, yet not indulgent of my discomfort, I’m also more aware of when there are subtle shifts: maybe my hip releases a little more or my mental chatter has subsided somewhat in my pose. I’m just there. It’s not good. But it’s not struggle either.

What might a new approach off the mat look like? Acceptance comes to mind. A huge trigger for me comes from sitting in massive traffic. Once I’ve exhausted the immediate problem-solving (“Is there an alternate route I could take? Is there a way I can get off the road and do something else till traffic dies down), I’m left with bearing with it. If my audio book isn’t compelling enough, I’ll put on music, the louder, the thumpier, and/or the singable the better. Occasionally it helps me to scream at the top of my lungs. Yes, I’ve done this, though I don’t recommend doing so with the windows down and/or passengers in your car (unless you all are feeling like a group scream).

My other idea is to get a good comedy CD in my car. While not a comedian, David Sedaris reading his audiobook, “Me Talk Pretty One Day” never fails to have me laughing no matter how many times I’ve heard it. Sometimes I make top 10 lists in my head (which you might tell from this blog I like to do). Do I hate every second of being stuck in traffic? Yes. Does it have to ruin my day? No, even though I’ve certainly allowed it to sometimes.

So message received, universe. I don’t have to have my head slogged down while bath water pours over me. Who knows, after the discomfort, there may be a treat waiting for me.

Tip Tuesday: Don’t Be a Yoga Robot

Image credit: Watercolor painting by RandomHappenstance on etsy

Tip Tuesday is a weekly feature where I offer a few yoga tips that have worked for me in the hopes that they can help you too.

You might be a yoga robot if…

…Your body is on the mat, but your mind is floating elsewhere
…You aren’t at all aware of your breath during the practice
…You don’t ever consider taking a variation, modification, or deviation of any pose
…You do the poses just to do them without looking at how they feel in your body.
…Yoga is an item you cross off on your to-do list

Robots are not all bad. They are usually good at doing what they are told and getting automated tasks done. But a robot can’t go beyond their programmed behavior. Yoga robots will get their practice done, but miss out on the chance to experiment, fall, challenge, and sometimes having that juicy breakthrough on the mat.

Ways to de-program your robot:

Breathe. When you find your mind wandering, focus your breath into where you feel the pose in your body. If it’s a hip-opener pose, direct your breath into your hip. Feel for how much space you can create with your breath.

Find your feet. Press into the balls of your feet and lift and spread your toes. This little action will help ground you and re-focus your attention back to your body.

Take a variation. If you’re in downward dog, try a 1-legged dog, shift your hips, pedal the feet, send the leg out to the side. Play with different movement and see what it feels like. Don’t worry if it’s not the traditional “right” pose. You could stumble upon a creative new variation you’ll want to repeat.

Try a mantra. A short chant or phrase can help keep your mind focused and calm. It can be as simple as “inhale” and “exhale”. Even humming along to music during your practice can have have a centering effect as you experience the vibrational effect of the notes. Who knows, it could even be this song:

Tip Tuesday: 5 Ways to Avoid Yoga Auto-Pilot

Tip Tuesday is a weekly feature where I offer a few yoga tips that have worked for me in the hopes that they can help you too.

Once you’ve been doing yoga awhile and you’re familiar with the poses, it’s very easy to go on auto-pilot in yoga. You body has some muscle memory and you no longer have to think as much about how to do each pose. Consequently, while you stop thinking about the poses, the mind starts to wander and think about other things. While your body might be in the pose, your breath, mind, and spirit have vacated.

When you practice yoga on auto-pilot, yes, you’ve technically done the physical practice, but how much benefit are you getting out of just going through the motions? It’s a bit like saying you read a book when all you did was turn the pages.

Auto-pilot is, well, very automatic. To stay out of it, I find that I have to trick my brain into getting back into my body. Here are a few ways that help me stay mindful and present in the practice:

1. Change the cross of your hands Clasp your hands, then move your fingers over one. It will feel very strange because you are not habituated to interlacing your hands this way. You can do this in any hand-clasping pose such as elbow to knee, ostrich, and wide-legged forward bend.

2. Start off on a different side If you usually start with your right side, start with the left. If you generally start with the left, begin with the left. Or mix it up. If you’re doing sun salutations, alternate starting with the right or left foot and/or alternate between classical and B series sun salutations.

3. Find a point of focus Pick an area of the body to be your focus as you come into the pose

4. Try a variation Play with different variations on classical poses. You might try dolphin or downward dog with one leg up. Or try reverse warrior with the back arm wrapped around the waist.  Get fascinated by what movements feel good to you and what variations help you experience the pose in a new way.

5. Take it up a notch Bring yourself out of your comfort zone and try out the next step in advancing the pose. If your balance is steady in tree, try bringing your arms overhead. Try turbo dog every time you come into downward dog. See if you can hold an intense pose for longer. If you’re feeling steady in forearm balance or handstand, explore leg variations with the legs in badha konasana, splits, or lotus. There’s always a place to find the next challenge in a pose.

Got a tip that helps you stay out of auto-pilot mode? Please share about it in the comments.


Total Eclipse of the Heart

Last weekend my husband, Nevin, and I were driving back over the Bay Bridge towards San Francisco in the early evening when he asked me, “Want to watch the eclipse?” If you know my husband, you wouldn’t be at all surprised to hear that he had MacGyver’d together a viewer using a small welding lens, cardboard mailing box, and packing tape (and remembered to put it in the trunk). We stopped off at Treasure Island and settled in to watch.

Our makeshift viewing device worked splendidly. There is something amazingly peaceful about watching the sun as, little by little, it is obscured by the moon. It helped that it was one of those perfect weather days where you wish you could paint the colors of the sky and preserve them forever. Gazing out at the water, it reminds you of why you put up with the cost of living, parking, and fog to live in San Francisco.

Yet I almost the experience. I thought about the laundry at home that needed folding, the emails I needed to return, and all the other seemingly pressing to-dos on my list. Did I really want to spend an hour watching the sun?

I thought about how easy it is that I can fall into my own eclipse.

There are times where I feel a bright blaze of warmth in my heart. I’ll be out in nature or curled up with a purring cat on my lap and it occurs to me how lucky I am. Sometimes after teaching or just being around close family or friends where I genuinely feel bursting with love.

Yet how quickly I can let darkness start to creep in. Uncertainty, criticism, and self-doubt come up and I let these seep in, effectively dimming my brightness. Eventually, everything from traffic to the aforementioned parking to the dishes Nevin left on the table, turns into a negativity that blocks me off from my spirit.

In an eclipse, the sun doesn’t disappear or go away forever. It merely slips away from our view. Similarly, my spirit isn’t gone for good, but I can let a cloud of negativity block it off into darkness. Unlike an annular eclipse that will not return for another eleven years, my own eclipse can recur in mere days–if I let it.

It would have been so easy to listen to that nagging voice. Instead by ignoring it, I got to share watching the eclipse with Nevin. As we drove off and the darkness started to unfold across the sky and the predictable San Francisco fog started to roll in, neither could block off the re-kindled sun inside me.

Ana Forrest Intensives Day 3: Choosing Differently

Today was the third day of morning intensives with Ana. I’m happy to say this is the first day my cold has been significantly better, minus a few hacking fits and pile ‘o Kleenex beside my mat. I was relieved to be early today and was able to settle in a more relaxed state.

I loved that it worked out that by chance I was practicing alongside the other two teachers who teach yoga with me as part of the Lemonade program over at SF Juvenile Hall: Nora Dwyer and Sandy Till. We wished  we’d had a camera there to take a picture to show the boys our epic practice today.

Today’s theme was selecting an area in the body in need of attention to focus on for the duration of the practice. Ana related a teaching story about how in the practice she’d had some old feelings of hurt and . “So I let myself wallow in it for a good five minutes or so, she said. “Then I decided I needed to choose differently and consciously started breathing the feelings of love that I have in my life into my area.” While we all have our areas, be they emotional and/or physical, but Ana relayed the story to remind us that we always have the opportunity to choose another path. This is one of the key ways I find Forrest Yoga to be empowering: you really can choose to change your energy. It’s also heartening to know that I’m not alone in throwing myself a big pity party sometimes. Even someone as accomplished as Ana has her moments. The key difference I took away from this story is not that you’ll never get caught up in old baggage, but rather how fast you decide to get out of it and do something different.

The practice included a lot of fun arm balances including scissors, twisting scissors, twisting crow to twisting scissors, and titibhasana. Ana did an awe-inspiring demonstration of transitioning from titibhasana into astavakrakasana on both sides and back.

As the sweat poured and we began to move into the more advanced peak poses of the practice, I overheard Ana say to another student, “Yeah, you know you can flex right into that pose and balance, but can you breathe in the pose and really move some lines of energy out through the body?” Now Ana is known for having eyes in the back of her head in the way that she can see energy in a room, but I wonder if she knew that she could have just as easily been addressing that comment to me. Boy did this hit home for me. I’m naturally quite bendy and years of yoga practice and a propensity for arm balances has left me with some arm strength and ability to do a number of advanced poses. However, this was a new challenge. I started to approach the arm balances not as something to muscle into and glide out of perfectly just so I could have that mental satisfaction that I did it and could cross it off the mental checklist of Poses That I Should Always Be Able To Do Without Error. Instead, I concentrated a lot on set-up and getting into a pose, taking my time to get there (it helped that I had to stop periodically to blow my nose). Once I was there, I tried to focus on just breathing and staying there, reaching out through my legs, but not feeling like I “had” to do anything other than that.

And wouldn’t you know it. I held some balances today longer than I ever have. I even rocked some of that aforementioned gravity surfing from titibhasana to astavakrakasana and back on one side before falling and laughing as I attempted the other. Even though I’m sure I’ve done more hardcore arm balancing in a class before, this felt different. I wasn’t gripping my way through it mentally determined to hold it for a precise amount of time. Instead, I felt like a ray of energy, immersed in my breath and moving my body. For a few brief minutes, I was completely present in the flow of the practice.

Of course, choosing differently most of the time is a lot of work and often you’re having to out-shout the part of you that wants to just stay in the old ways of thinking and acting. Yet today I got a taste of the exhilaration that is also part of taking that other road.