Tip Tuesday: What Yoga Videos Do You Recommend?

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.

Occasionally I get questions asking for yoga video recommendations. Some people may scorn videos as not being the same nor as good as being in a live yoga class. While videos aren’t a substitute for a live teacher, I think they are a fantastic alternative when a class might not be an option, time-wise, money-wise, or location-wise. Videos are also a good way to help you develop a home practice. They give you a place to start and once you get familiar with these sequences, you can do these on your own or weave them into your practice. I learned the Ashtanga yoga first series entirely from a video and practice manual before I ever went to an Ashtanga class.

Now there’s even more options available for video viewing. In addition to DVDs, there are a number of podcasts, vidcasts, and downloadable class mp3s and videos. Many are free, many are reasonably priced, considering that for the price of a regular yoga class, you can have a class to keep and practice at will. Netflix is also a great way to try out videos before you buy. I’ve test-driven a number of them this way.

Here’s the videos I usually recommend:

Ana Forrest’s The Pleasure of Strength is a great introduction to Forrest Yoga for beginners and intermediate students and includes a breakdown of the basic moves. Strength and Spirit is a slightly more challenging practice and also has an inspiring video of one of Ana’s yoga demos so you can see where all those abs might take you. Both are an hour so it makes it easier to work into a busy schedule. Ana also has a 5-CD set of advanced classes and class mp3s available. Most of these are much longer (two hours or more) and because you only have the audio and booklet, they can be much harder to follow along. I recommend these only if you’re a more experienced student and have some familiarity with Forrest Yoga. If that’s you, you’re in for some butt-kicking, juicy classes.

Yoga with Deborah Burkman is perfect for a beginning vinyasa practice with plenty of challenge, but also instruction so you’re not lost in the flow.  I also like Seane Corn for a deep, intermediate yoga flow.

Les Leventhal has a bunch of videos available on iTunes. Most cost a small amount, but you can save by buying a bundle of classes. There’s a few classes that are offered free so you can get the flavor of Les’ classes. They range in length, so I will often pull one out that works for the time I have available for practice. Most are all-levels, but offer plenty of advanced (and beginning) options.

Jason Crandell has a number of short helpful videos on Yoga Journal. They are accessible and useful for all levels. He also teaches weekly online classes through YogaGlo, though I have not tried any of these.

If you’ve got any favorites I missed, please share them in the comments.

 

 

 

 

Tip Tuesday: Yoga for the Holiday Season

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.

If the Christmas decorations in stores didn’t tip you off, the holiday season is officially upon us. I’m on pre-holiday holiday with my husband for a few weeks. So it seems like a good time for a round-up of Tip Tuesday tips, especially ones that can help you approach the season with a breath (well, lots of breath) of yoga serenity:

 3 Poses for When You’re Feeling Anxious

A Simple Way to Take Your Yoga Off the Mat

Getting Back to Yoga

Tip Tuesday: Reasons Why You Can’t Do Yoga De-Bunked

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.

A lot of people will ask me about yoga, express interest in trying yoga, but then have a reason for why there is no way they would be able to do it:

“I can’t do yoga because…

…I’m not flexible enough
This is like saying you can’t go to the gym to get into shape because you’re not in good enough shape. Yoga helps build flexibility; flexibility is not a prerequisite for practicing yoga. Props are there to help (and look around, you’ll hardly be the only person using them).

…Everyone will be looking at me
Ok, I know I just said “look around”, but honestly other students aren’t really paying attention to you. They’ll see you, they will see other people in the class, but they are focused on trying to do the poses, remembering to breathe, and maybe worrying how they look to other people. Chances are they won’t remember (or care) whether or not you balanced in crow pose. Unless you’re wearing some skintight booty shorts or other eye-catching attire, the teacher is the only one who’s likely to pay you much notice.

…the teacher will probably be correcting me the whole time
I used to take any kind of correction or adjustment by the instructor as a sign that I was doing the poses poorly and just wasn’t getting it at all. From practicing and teaching, I’ve learned to appreciate (and sometimes even love) adjustments. First off, if you’ve never done yoga before, you’re going to need some correction. You are not expected to get it immediately. There’s a reason people practice the same poses over and over–there is always something to learn and refine about a pose on any given day. Secondly, assists also can help give you resistance or a release that you can’t get by yourself. Finally, touch can be a powerful tool to bring you into your body and connect your breath to different areas of your body.

…I won’t be able to do the poses
There is always a version of a pose for everyone. It may not look like what everyone else is doing, but there is some version of the pose you can do. Even if a pose is out of the question because of an injury, there is always a related option to do that will give you similar benefits. In my advanced teacher training, even though we had a group of experienced teachers, you would often find at least five different variations on any given pose. People were always adapting the pose to accommodate physical ability, injuries, or other limitations so that practice was serving their needs.

…it’s not enough of a workout
There’s a stereotype about yoga class being a place where you just sit in lotus with your eyes closed chanting “Om”. While there are some gentle forms of yoga that don’t involve a lot of movement, let’s just say Forrest Yoga does not fall into that category. If you haven’t tried a Forrest Yoga class, I encourage you experience the sweat pouring out of you during the class and then assess if it’s giving you a workout.

“If you can breath you can do yoga.”
~David Beadle

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.

Tip Tuesday: 5 Ways to Love Forrest Yoga Abs

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.

I’ve found many of my students dread the abs part of class. So you might wonder how love and Forrest Yoga Abs can be in the same sentence that isn’t meant sarcastically. Believe it or not, you can find love in doing abs. ?Here are the top 10 ways to find love in Forrest Yoga Abs:

10. They help big-time with lower back pain
Ana Forrest designed the abs as a way to heal lower back pain. If you’ve ever seen some of the poses she does , you’ll see that they helped her do just that.

9. Abs are guaranteed to bring more aliveness to your body
I’ve yet to find the person who didn’t feel awake after a round or two of abs with a mat.

8. Let’s face it, it’s pretty darn cool to see some muscle definition in your abs

7. You’ll notice it helps you in other yoga poses
You use your abs in other yoga poses, especially inversions and arm balances, but there’s not a lot of traditional poses that specifically target the abs.

6. Stronger abs promote better posture
Abs are a great counter to “slump-asana.”

5. After doing Forrest Yoga for awhile, you’ll find the abs section in other classes to be a piece of cake

4. You’ll feel connections to your back, hips and thighs
When you connect into your center it’s pretty amazing to feel the pathways of connection to other parts of the body that awaken.

3. Abs help with digestion
As Ana would say, you start getting rid of your shit. Literally.

2. You may find peace with this area of the body
For a lot of the population, the belly is not a neutral place, nor a place we typically feel positive feelings about. If you’re uncomfortable with this area, you get to connect into it anyway and the feelings it might harbor.

1.You get connected to your power
The core is also the core of who we are. Cultivating a strong center in the body helps cultivate a strong center in the mind. Doing a few rounds of abs before doing something I’m really nervous about helps me walk into the situation with more confidence.

So much ab love!
Photo credit: Root Yoga Center

 

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.

 

Tip Tuesday: The Agony and the Ecstasy of Agni Sara

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.

I get a lot of questions about agni sara.

Agni sara (agni meaning “fire” and sara meaning “essence”) is a pranayama (breath exercise) that literally stokes your inner fire. Fire is what you might feel in the abs, as this in amazing core strengthener!

What you do: You can do agni sara in other positions, but I find it to be most effective when done in horse stance. Take a wide-legged stance, turn the toes out, and bend the knees over your heels to sit deeply into horse. Brace your hands where the thigh and hip meet and straighten out the arms to provide traction for the back.

Agni sara is done completely on exhale when you’re empty of air. Inhale, then exhale all your air out strongly. Keeping press with the arms, pull the belly in and up, flaring the ribs (but without pulling in air) then push the belly out. Alternate between pulling up and letting go completely. A round is as many back and forth pumpings you can do before you need to take a breath. You can do agni sara slowly or experiment with fast rounds moving the belly in and out as fast as you can.

Questions I frequently get from students:

Am I doing it right? This pose feels ridiculous.
You will likely feel pretty ridiculous flapping your belly back and forth. If you’re feeling inhibited and serious, agni sara will change that really quick. Speaking of inhibitions, try lifting your shirt to show the belly when you’re doing agni sara. You’ll be able to see the movement you are able to create in the abs and start letting go of the self-consciousness you may have about this area.

I feel like I need to breathe almost immediately when I start pushing my belly back and forth.
It will take awhile to build up the length of your rounds of agni sara. Yours might be short when you first begin. How aggressively are you pushing the belly out? If you are too forceful with your pushing out of the belly (and/or the pulling in), you may find yourself gasping for air. Explore how you can move the belly smoothly, yet strongly back and forth.

Should I be bent over or should my torso be upright?
When you first start agni sara, you may be bent over more to get a sense of the pose. Eventually, you want to have the torso more upright, as this will help you lengthen and flare the ribs as you draw the belly up. The press from the arms into the thighs helps telescope your ribs up from the waist to free up the lower back too.

You could feel that agni sara is agony (it certainly could be if you tried to do it after a big meal or see question #2 above) Perhaps you didn’t know that agni sara is also ecstasy? Agni sara is a powerful tool for sexual healing as it
wakes up your orgasm muscles. When we told the teenagers at juvenile hall about these particular benefits of agni sara, specifically that it can help with stamina, they started requesting it every week!

Tip Tuesday: Dealing With Embarrassing Moments in Yoga

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.

It’s never a good sign when you’re beginning to teach a class and realize you have a hole in the crotch of your pants.

It was an early morning yoga class near where my parents live so I’d spent the night at their house. In the morning scramble, I realized I’d forgotten my yoga pants. Luckily my younger sister had a number of her clothes around. I lucked out and found a pair of running pants that I threw on. Unbeknownst to me, these were the pair the dog had chewed a hole in and in a much unfortunate place. Let’s just say it seemed like one of the longest classes I’ve ever taught.

Embarrassing moments definitely happen in yoga and here’s some suggestions on dealing with some common ones:

What do I do if my cell phone goes off in class?
We’ve all been there. The best thing to do is to quietly silence your phone and turn your ringer off. If your text message goes off and it is set to continue to beep periodically afterwards, make sure you clear it. To make sure it doesn’t happen again, make silencing your phone part of your pre-yoga ritual: unroll your mat, fill your water bottle, turn off your phone.

I sweat profusely during class and I’m worried that I smell.
Sweating is great! It means you are releasing a lot of crap from your body. Many yoga classes, including Forrest Yoga, are heated to make it safer to move warm muscles and you will sweat from the movement in a heated room. It’s expected that there will be a certain amount of smelliness involved from everyone, not just you (one of the reasons that yoga teachers will often burn sage or incense). Make sure you are breathing and not pushing yourself past your edge. Put on deodorant before class, bring a towel or two, and don’t worry about it.

What if I don’t understand one of the teacher’s directions?
ASK! I really appreciate it when my students ask questions. In fact, I encourage them to feel comfortable at any time to flag me down and ask. Chances are if you’re unclear someone else is too. It gives the instructor a chance to stop and clarify for you (and sometimes the class as a whole) so everyone understands. Other people will usually be glad you asked too. If you still feel you need further explanation, definitely approach the instructor after class.

What if I fart in class?
For some reason, I have tons of non-yoga practicing friends ask me this questions. The body releases many things in yoga and farts are sometimes among them. If it’s a small toot, it’s probably best to ignore it. However, if you know you’re really stinking up the joint, that’s a good time to take a restroom break or just hang outside to, ah, air things out. As a courtesy to everyone, take precautionary measures like avoiding a burrito before class. The teacher may also take corrective measures (see aforementioned sage and incense).

How do I handle a wardrobe malfunction?
That depends on the nature of the malfunction. In my case, I was teaching so I avoided demonstrating poses with my legs in the air and tried to strategically use my longer yoga top to mask the pant crotch situation (mercifully, I doubt anyone noticed). If you’re a student, it’s a little trickier. See if you have anything handy like a safety pin or another layer of clothing that will help remedy the problem. You can try positioning your existing clothes as best you can. The good news is that unless it’s really egregious people will usually not be aware of it since they’ll be focused on what they’re doing. My teacher Ana always suggests test-driving your clothing before teaching (department of lessons learned!) and the same applies for students. Try out the outfit in a few poses at home and make sure respective parts are staying where they belong. You and everyone else will be far more comfortable.

Lastly, try to keep a sense of humor. I think some of yoga is learning to laugh at yourself and hey, sometimes those moments make for a pretty funny story later on.

Tip Tuesday: Celebrating Success in Your Yoga Practice

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 other day I had my students practicing crow pose. For most of us, this is a pose that comes in stages before we can balance in the full pose. Everyone was trying so hard and I got very excited when many of them began to “get” the pose. But I noticed a pattern. Anytime the students made progress in the pose, they almost immediately would negate their achievement. I congratulated one student who got the hang of the alignment and managed to get both feet off the ground for a second before falling out. She was happy about it, but added, “Yeah, but I still have so far to go.”

How many times have you degraded your progress in your yoga practice? “I’m not good at this pose.” “Well, I got further today, but I doubt I’ll ever get the whole pose.” “I should have gotten it already.” Or when you land the full pose, “Well, it sure took me forever to finally do it.”

When we diminish our progress we also successfully diminish our desire to keep practicing. When you only look at the balancing pose you fell from, your hands not reaching your toes, and all those poses you should’ve been able to do by now if only you were a better yogi, you’ll dread getting on the mat. Without looking at the wins in your practice, it can just seem like a daunting race where you can’t keep up and eventually want to avoid all together.

However, when you start looking for the successes in your practice, the practice inevitably starts to be more enjoyable. Success is motivating. It gives us hope and the energy to keep trying.

Shifting our perspective to focus on our small wins and celebrating our success is a process of breaking our habitual self-negation. There are ways you can start to make the shift:

Begin to look for your wins. Find the successes, however small, however insignificant you think they are. Perhaps you held an arm balance, even if it was only for a second. Maybe your hip opened up another 1/4 inch. Or that pose that’s usually hard for you felt easier. Take a moment and breath that positive feeling of success into your body.

Focus on one instruction at a time. Instead of thinking of the full pose, focus on each smaller component. “Inhale, lift chest. Exhale, draw tailbone down. Relax the neck.” Taking the pose one cue at a time helps you stay present and get curious about what each component in the pose does for you.

When you do make that quantum leap, celebrate! Rather than lamenting how long it took you to get there, take pride in all the conscious efforts you made again and again to get there. And feel how good it feels when you do pick both feet up and fly.

 

Tip Tuesday: Dealing with Your Dreaded Yoga Pose

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 know that yoga pose you love to hate? We all have them.

I hate handstand. It is probably the most challenging yoga pose for me. When I started doing yoga, handstand prep made my wrists sore and I couldn’t yet kick up to a handstand at the wall without help. Eventually I got to kicking up, but I think I’m on the lifetime plan for ever balancing without the wall. I get scared kicking up without a wall nearby. Even though I can do all sorts of advanced arm balances and seemingly harder poses, I still can’t balance more than a few seconds before toppling over. Maddening!

I used to dread having to do handstand in class. I would watch as several students in the class found their way up to handstand in the middle of the room and fume that I wasn’t one of them. Every plop down of my feet falling out of handstand seemed to drive home my defeat.

At a certain point, I realized that I could continue to dread handstand or I could set out to conquer it. Here’s a few steps for dealing with a dreaded pose:

1) Do it every time you practice yoga. Frustratingly, avoiding the pose doesn’t diminish the fear. My teacher Ana Forrest tells a story of being afraid of jumping off a high ledge into the water. The only way to deal with it was to jump off it, get back out, and jump off again. The fear didn’t go away, she relates, but it stopped having control over her. When you practice the pose every day, it loses more and more of its power over you. There’s no worry and dread about if you’re going to do it, because you know you are going to do it every time you’re on the mat. It gradually becomes another pose you do.

I made the commitment to try a handstand anytime I practiced, even if that meant just kicking up to handstand at the beginning or end of class. In my home practice, it’s become an automatic part of what I do. It still frustrates me to no end, but it hasn’t halted my determination

2) Breathe while you’re doing it. Really, not breathing when you’re trying to do anything just makes it infinitely harder.

3) Laugh about it. I now joke that I have mastered the art of flipping over into a backbend from a handstand for all the times my legs have unintentionally flipped over.

4) Congratulate yourselfWhatever the result is, take a moment to congratulate yourself for trying something difficult. Acknowledge that you’re facing up to a challenge. This is a tough thing to do. On the days when I’ve done nothing except fall over endlessly, it’s particularly hard to give myself anything more than disgust. But I try to remind myself that my power comes from continually getting back up and trying again.

5) Let go of the goal. Now that doesn’t mean stop trying. I’m certainly going to keep trying to balance in handstand and practice different techniques to do so. Letting go means that I don’t equate my skills as a yogi with whether or not I can do a handstand. I can admire another student balancing without oozing with envy and self-frustration (ok, most of the time…) When I focus more on what I’ve found to like about handstand (how it brings my energy up), I find I judge myself less when I try the pose. Ironically enough, the times I’ve done handstand while talking to someone or not thinking about it as much have been the times I’ve managed to hold the pose the longest.

I invite you to try these techniques for that dreaded pose of yours. I’ll be right there with you, kicking up. Again. And again.