Tip Tuesday: A Simple Way to Take Your Yoga Off the Mat

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.

Image credit: Only In Philadelphia

Maybe you’ve had it happen. You leave yoga feeling serene, centered, and calm. Next thing you know you’re in your car uttering four-letter words at the car in front of you or grumbling at your partner at home. You wonder how that post-yoga calm left so quickly.

The challenge lies in keeping the serenity that yoga can bring into daily life, especially the parts of life that are not so serene. I’ve found a tool that helps me tremendously with keeping up the calm I’ve cultivated on the mat as well as with being a less frustrated human being overall. It’s a technique I learned from yoga and meditation teacher, Erich Schiffmann, where you treat everyone you meet as a brother or sister.

The practice itself is very simple. When you encounter another person, you think, “Brother” or “Sister”, as the case may be.  It’s especially effective when this is a person that is irritating you for one reason or another. The guy that cuts in front of the grocery line? Think, “Brother”. The woman talking loudly at a restaurant? “Sister.”

For me, the effect is three-fold. It allows me to catch myself when I’m about to call the person in question something very different in my head. Yes, I usually silently curse them in my head first, but I am becoming aware of when I do more quickly and then re-addressing them as my brother or sister. I also notice it helps me separate the person from their actions. Instead of labeling, “That guy is a jerk”, I think, “Brother”, and he becomes not a jerk, but instead a fellow human that did something that bothered me.

Finally, this practice helps me be more compassionate. Rather than get enraged at the guy who cut me off, I feel empathy for him. “Wow, he must feel really stressed and in a hurry to feel the need to dangerously whizz in front of people.” When someone is yelling and ranting on, I feel sorry for the person. “Wow, he/she must feel very angry. Being that person right now can’t possibly feel very good.” I feel more like an observer watching someone make a scene but not having to go to that emotional place with them. I can keep a distant calm and respond from that place of serenity instead of reaction.

Brothers and sisters, I hope this tip helps you too. Now I must be off to brave the highway with other brothers and sisters who I may need to mentally address along the way.


Top 10 Ways to Ruin Your Yoga Practice

10. Try to do it perfectly

9. Compare yourself to everyone else in class

8. Put it on your to-do list as yet another thing to get through or feel bad about not getting to

7. Beat yourself up over not getting the full expression of the pose yet because “you should’ve gotten it already.”

6. Push yourself to the point of pain

5. Berate yourself for not getting as far in a pose as you did the other day

4. Insist that your practice be hardcore every time

3. Crank your neck to move through the poses

2. Decide that if you can’t practice for at least an hour than it’s not worth it.

1. Don’t breathe

Now pretend you were watching a small child doing yoga. Would you be criticizing how they did each pose? Would you berate them anytime they fell down from a balancing pose? Probably not.

What if you did criticize this child every time they didn’t get a pose right? Do you think that child would ever want to do yoga?

The same is true for adults. Why on earth would we be motivated to do something that we spend the whole time criticizing ourselves when we’re doing it?

So try this advanced move out the next time you’re on your mat. When you notice your self-criticism coming up, can you recognize it? Congratulate yourself–you caught yourself moving into your pattern of self-judgement. Then try saying to yourself what you would say to that child: “Great job!” “You are trying so hard.” “Good for you for doing something challenging.” Note: this cannot be followed by sarcastic comments to yourself or it won’t work. You may feel ridiculous at first. But when you can approach the practice with compassion, it is more likely to fuel your action of rolling out your mat and practicing.

For more suggestions, check out Top 10 Ways to Get Yourself Back On the Yoga Mat.

Windy Wind Horse Conference: Saturday Recap

Sometimes Ana makes these general comments to the class in workshops where it feels like she’s looking right into my brain. “How does she know?”, I wonder, when there’s a comment that feels directly exactly towards me.

Ana set the intention for the practice to have us select an area of the body to focus on for the morning practice. “Easy”, I thought. My right hip has been a bit tweaky lately. There’s my spot. Then Ana said, “If your hip is tight, but there’s an ache in your heart, your hip is not the thing you need to focus on.” So much for easy.

Breathing into my upper back and heart is an ongoing challenge for me. As we moved through the practice, Ana cued us to, “breathe into the spot where you self-deprecate and limit yourself.” Again, I wondered if she might be reading my mind.

The practice hit an apex head to ankle pose with an up-level to move into weather vane. I worked pretty deeply into the pose, so a few poses later when we went into savasana, my hip and lower back did not feel right. I took a laying down spinal twist and shifted around to try to ease it. Just then my mentor teacher and guardian, Colleen, gently eased me to stay still and she breathed with me. I focused on my area and sending the breath there and exhaling it down to my hip. Colleen stayed with me and I felt my back and hip easing. Flooded with gratitude, I left the practice with a new understanding about how that tight spot in my hip has some other origins.

Colleen in Twisted Weather Vane pose

My first afternoon workshop was some juicy arm balances with Catherine (Cat) Allen and Ann Hyde. I was expecting a sweat-fest of killer arm balances, but instead Cat and Ann really broke it down to the basics and we did a number of poses to help us engage the chest and arm muscles and the abs to work into arm balances versus just using momentum to muscle up into the full pose. We spotted each other in forearm balance and handstand. The point wasn’t to balance, which many people could do. Rather it was to sharpen our partnering skills. We practiced using a partner and a block under the foot to pike (not jump) up with one leg.

The block came into play again when we practiced eka pada bakasana by placing the block under the toes of the bent front knee and worked on hiking the hips up to lift the back leg. Cat and Ann also did a terrific job of explaining transitioning from eka pada bakasana into astavakrasana and turn signal into astavakrasana. For the first time, I feel like I really got the right form of turn signal. I came away with all kinds of information and tips for how to guide my students in many of the preparatory poses as well as the arm balances.

Cat Allen in Turn Signal

Heidi Sormaz’s workshop on sparking the desire to practice was my last workshop of the day. Heidi started with a loving-kindness meditation where we called up an image in our minds of something that fills you up with love and compassion. She gave an example of picturing a box of puppies with a, “take me home” sign, but invited us to use any imagery that worked for us (or change imagery if an image stopped working for us). “You are more likely to show up to the mat when you can work in away of self-caring. If you’re beating yourself up the whole time, you’re not going to want to be on the mat. The practice is about longevity: showing up on the mat and being okay with how you show up that day and trusting that you’ll continue to progress over time.”

We moved into a backbend practice loaded with poses that are likely to trigger you to mentally move into a place of suffering. Just as we were moving into the practice, nature intervened with an added challenge. It began raining, lightly at first, then pouring down all the while with the wind howling in the background. We were in an outdoor tent with astroturf on the floor so while we weren’t getting wet, it was very cold and a mic was brought in so Heidi’s voice didn’t have to compete with the wind.
I think this nature was having a good laugh at us because this could not fit in more perfectly with the theme. What do you do when circumstances are making you shy away from the mat? How do you not let yourself off the hook from practicing, yet still keep it from being a miserable experience? Can you say to yourself, “You poor thing, you’re cold. frustrated. How can this pose care for you”?

I was incredibly cold. I kicked myself for not having my fleece in my yoga bag and debated whether it was worth venturing out in the rain to grab it from my room. Arrow lunge felt agonizing. But I stayed. I kept breathing. Midway through the class, the rain stopped, the wind died down, and the tent began to warm up. Just as sadness, frustration, or whatever emotion it is can pass, so to can the rain. And we can breathe through it.

Ana Forrest Intenstives Day 2: Take Issue With It

I made the decision on Day 2 to skip the morning meditation and just come for the practice. I showed up feeling guilty, even though I knew I’d made a healthy decision for myself. Sleep was more crucial for fighting my cold and there wasn’t enough of my voice for chanting. However, I underestimated the travel time and showed up slightly late, creeping in during the beginning wrist stretches. As Ana started to set the intention for the day, I almost started crying. I hate being late and I felt so bad about it. “Here I am a Forrest Yoga teacher–and a certified one at that, yet here I am showing up late. I should know better. Who am I to think that I can be a good Forrest Yoga teacher when I can’t get it together?”

The intention for the day was working with an emotional issue. Gee, from the above paragraph, can you tell that there might be some ongoing emotions and self-deprecation that need addressing? Ana reminded us that when we’re working with an issue, it’s usually one we have to continue working with. Part of working with it is becoming aware of that self-loathing, critical voice that arises about how we should’ve gotten over it by now, etc., etc. “When that crap that you tell yourselves arises [notice, she didn’t say if],” said Ana, “Tell yourself, “Yeah, I’m not doing this today.”

Still wanting to cry, I was not happy with this intention. Sure that’s fine for other people to stop that self-degredation, but in my case, I deserve it and if I let go of feeling bad, then I’d really not have it together. For those beginning moments of the class, I truly felt like it was impossible for me to do.

But Ana has a way of getting you to do what you don’t want to do. So I started small. I figured I’d work with an intention of staying out of self-deprecation and feel for getting a more balanced and accurate perception of what I was experiencing in my emotional and physical body, but only for the duration of the practice. Sometimes I had to make it even smaller than that, “Okay, I’ll work this intention, but only for this pose.” One pose at a time, I continually tried to bring myself back to breath and out of the ongoing loop of self-criticism. At best, being in that spot is just not at all helpful with moving towards change. Or as Ana might put it, “That’s worse than useless.”

Backbends were the word of the day. We made use of a lot of props to get there, working a lot of boats and cobras while squeezing a block between the feet to keep length in the low back. Ana also combined the rolled-up mat with the block and us place the roll right between the ribcage and pelvis and lay over it for cobras, boats, and bow pose. “This gets you into your shit,” Ana said. “Literally.” From there we progressed to bow with a strap and wheel, playing with wheel walks (walking forward and back, in a circle while in wheel pose). I had fun with a group of us on the floor guiding an upside-down woman beside us trying to maneuver her wheel in a circle. Forget logic problems; wheel walks are the ultimate brain teasers.

Some tears came for me at the end of class and it was wonderful to have a fellow Forrest Yoga teacher there to give me the compassion I was struggling to give myself. I mopped my face, blew my nose, and set off for taking my intention into that next breath off the mat.