Thursday, July 24, 2014

5 Steps to a Simple Home Practice Space

My mat during Prenatal Yoga Teacher Training

We are currently converting the yoga room in our house to a nursery in anticipation of Baby Carr's arrival. When we first made the decision I thought, "where will I practice now?" Our office is sort of cramped and the basement ceiling is low enough that even at 5'4" my fingertips graze the ceiling when doing sun salutations. Additionally, I have few a props or two, including my much beloved harmonium and a bookcase dedicated solely to yoga books and study.

Clearly, making space for baby is much more important at this time, and I'm having tons of fun planning out the nursery, but as I seek to find balance in what is sure to be a new-crazy-amazing-time in my life, I had to stop wonder, what will my new practice space look like?

My beloved harmonium

Let's stop right there. If I took away all the yoga accouterments, what would I be left with? My mat? Okay, I'll give you that, but then, why am I letting my mat define my yoga practice space? The answer-I shouldn't. I've had plenty of amazing practices sans yoga mat, what's different now? My goal with practice is beyond the rectangular mat space as I aim to incorporate the basic yogic principles, or ethical rules of yama and niyama, in my day-to-day and live the life of a yogi to best of my ability. Who needs a mat for that?

Since I do need a place to store said accumulated yoga paraphernalia, I decided that my new practice space will be shared with my office. I'm always inspired there--it's where I do my best writing and thinking. When I'm feeling like I need more space, I'll find some!

Here are my top five tips for creating a simple home practice space.


1) Size doesn't matter. Can you sit, breathe and move comfortably?  You do not need an entire studio space for your personal practice. That being said, you want to be able to move around without injuring yourself and without being distracted by the stack of books or pile of papers on your desk. Find a space that fits your needs without taking over the whole house.

2) Keep it simple. At the very least, have enough space for your mat or meditation pillow and a small altar, if you so desire. Unless you are planning to do a yummy restorative practice, you probably don't need all the extra props. If you desire props, then find clever ways to store them. I used to use my yoga blocks to sit on while watching T.V. or eating at a low table.

By the way, you don't always need fancy yoga props. Try using items you already have like pillows, couch cushions, scarfs, belts, blankets and towels, before adding more to your inventory.

3) Keep it clean. Practice the niyama saucha, cleanliness or purity, by keeping your space as neat and organized as possible. As mentioned in step 1, you want to stay focused on your practice, not the mess you left behind last night.

4) Remember, practice is more than just asana (poses). Which means, maybe your home practice is focused more on meditation and pranayama than it is nailing your next arm balance and inversion? Consider what is you want to get out of your home practice and make that the intention for the space.

5) Keep it fresh. When you start to feel confined by your small space, change it up. Go outside, take a class or share your practice at a friend's house. The options are endless. Changing up your space will give a fresh perspective on your practice and maybe even your personal outlook on life.

What are your favorite ways to practice at home? How do you make use of a small space? There are lots more practical ways to get the most out of your home practice. Share your ideas in the comments below! 

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Compare & Contrast | Intentions Revisited

Remember this post: Comparison is the Thief of Joy. It appeared on my blog in January and was rewritten for the Dharma Yoga Center in early March.

I began 2014 setting the intention to stop comparing myself to others. You may also recall from that post, that I also came to the conclusion that I should stop caring so much what other people think about me.

The funny thing about intentions and well, the Universe really, is that when you put something out there, you have to make sure you mean it. As I reflect on the past half year, I see a common thread among some of the more challenging situations I've had to face--from negative feedback, to a personal health crisis and a pregnancy that is not going the way I envisioned. What keeps coming up in these situations, and happens to keep me afloat, is my intention of not comparing myself to others. It is a constant practice and in a way you could say, my intentions set the stage for the year ahead.

This has not been an easy task by any means. Believe me. I've been pretty challenged lately.

It's really easy to get sucked in to the comparison bubble. When something doesn't go the way you expect, you may ask "why me?" This simple question is one of comparison. Let me ask you this. In that moment of "why me" aren't we really asking ourselves "why not somebody else? why do I have to go through this and they don't."

First, don't believe everything you read, see and hear. For example, I know plenty of people that selectively choose what appears on their Facebook and Instagram feed. Very often it's only part of the truth, in order to support the version of themselves they want to present to the world. This is good marketing, but can lead to a distortion of reality,and mostly on the side of the reader. My advice, don't let their insecurities pull you down. You don't know the whole story, so don't get sucked in to it.

Second, take a break. If you feel put out by what comes across your social media feed then stop browsing. If it's a good friend that's making you feel less than, step back for a bit. I took a nice long break from my Facebook feed while I was dealing with my health this spring and it was hands down one of the best things I've done for my spirit in a long time. Doing so gave me time to reflect and realign my priorities.

Finally, take the higher road. Instead of feeling put out by others successes, rejoice in them. It's one of the four keys to happiness in the Yoga Sutras and it's a great way to practice your yoga. Remember, I am you, you are me....

My teacher Dharma says (and I'm paraphrasing here) if you believe in the rules of karma then you'll never have any worries because when you understand how karma works you are not bothered by "why me and not someone else?" Instead, you realize that the challenges you face are part of your karmic cycle. The only way to it is through it baby!

So say you realize this concept and fully believe it, does it make it any easier? Heck no! You're still human and you're probably going to fight against things that seem to happen to you. But remember, they aren't happening to you, they are just happening. Let go.This is all part of the practice too.

Have you taken time to reflect on your intentions this year? What has come up for you? How have you moved through these situations? Share your thoughts in the comments below!

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

I Really Love My...Pregnancy Essentials Bundle from Earth Mama Angel Baby Organics

With all that's been going on with my health, I decided to treat myself to a little something nice. Upon recommendation from a friend and fellow yoga teacher I just got in some prenatal products from Earth Mama Angel Baby Organics and I am in L-O-V-E!



At first I was only planning to get the Earth Mama Body Butter since this baby is making me feel like scaly monster, but after perusing the inventory, I decided to try the sampler pack and I'm so happy I did! Already the Heartburn Tea has come in handy (of which I will be ordering more of) and I absolutely love the way the Natural Stretch Oil makes my skin feel. I'm pretty sure I'll be using these products once baby arrives and beyond! 

All of Earth Mama's products are made from safe, zero toxin, hospital recommended 100% organic herbal products and it shows. If you or someone you know is expecting and/or baby has already arrived, then I highly recommend picking up some of these amazing products. They also have products for postpartum, breastfeeding, baby and more. 

By the way, no one from Earth Mama contacted me to say all these things in exchange for anything. I am genuinely enjoying their products!

Know of any other great pregnancy or baby products? Share them in the comments below! 

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Release & Surrender: Journey through the Depths of a Health Crisis

from Doreen Virtue deck of Angel Cards
For the past month, I've been trying to put in to words the experience of moving through a recent personal health crisis related to my ulcerative colitis. I'm sure this singular post will not do it justice, more will surely follow.

Of all the things that have come up for me during this time, the one constant has been...release and surrender. 

These words carried me throughout my five day hospital stay in mid-May. The image of this angel (see image) card danced in my mind repeatedly throughout my stay. There was nothing I could do as I lay helpless in bed, hooked to an IV machine, poked and prodded every few hours and getting little rest. During this time my mantra became release and surrender.

Coming out of the hospital I was optimistic that I would quickly return to my normal activities, but that was not the case. It has been a  month since my time at the hospital and I'm now only starting to get small tasks done daily. When all the hard work I had done towards building my professional career seemed to fall out from underneath me, my thoughts went to release and surrender.

When I missed the opportunity to visit my dad, watch my niece graduate from high school, or welcome a new baby niece to the family, I reminded myself to release and surrender. 

I never imagined I'd fall ill so quickly. From what I've researched, some women experience complete remission of their colitis during the pregnancy. Unfortunately I fell in to the other, less-fortunate bucket who experience more severe symptoms. For the past 20 years I've manged my ulcerative colitis without ever having to be hospitalized. This was a first for me and hopefully the last. Coming off the excitement of sharing our baby news, landing myself in the hospital only a week later was not at all in my plans. While the baby has been okay throughout this entire ordeal, not much of my pregnancy has gone the way I thought it would. I'm learning to release and surrender to that too.

I had a feeling my colitis was acting up, but I never thought it would go out of control the way it did. In fact, I thought the disturbances I was feeling was because of the pregnancy and from having to drastically change my daily routine with regards to care because many of the things I was taking are not "cleared" for pregnancy. I saw my GI doctor and we determined a regiment, but it wasn't enough. At the same time, I was experiencing a lot of personal stress and working myself towards exhaustion. It goes without saying that my body finally crapped out of me.

In the course of three weeks, including my hospital stay, I lost about 20 pounds (of which I didn't need to lose nor ever wanted to lose) and was left unable to move around my house without assistance because I was too weak. Bye bye strong toned body. I could barely stand in the shower by myself let alone make myself a meal. I kept myself going by fierce determination to make it through the day with hopes that tomorrow would be better. In my weakest moments, I doubted my ability to stay strong and admit that at times I wanted to give up.

If it wasn't for the constant checking in of my dear friends and family, notes from students and colleagues, I don't know how I would have made it. Their love and support has carried me through, definitely feeling their prayers and sentiments of love throughout the days.

It's hard to explain to people that don't know anything about ulcerative colitis just how debilitating it can be. Partially this is because its embarrassing to talk about and partially because it's a private matter. I've never really been embarrassed to talk about it before, but trying to educate people about what was happening--that going to the bathroom all day and night every hour on the hour coupled with total loss of control of my bowels and not being able to keep food in, left me so physically and mentally exhausted from all the pain and discomfort that even thinking was challenging for me. I couldn't even form words without putting forth some major effort. I was completely humbled.

I thought a lot about my mom during this time. She battled her way through cancer for 11 years and very hardly complained, at least not to me. I don't know how she did it. My teacher Dharma would say "She did it because it needed to be done."

I'm finally at a place of recovery and upswing many thanks in part to my aunt who took me in to nurse me back to health. Though I'm still not 100%, I am on the other side of what seemed like a never ending decline. I don't know how long it will be before I'm back to my normal pace, but that's not really the focus right now. As a friend and fellow yoga teacher reminded me "health first." Gaining strength and recovering is my top priority. What I do, I do because it needs to be done. The mantra keeps playing in my ears. I sometimes don't have the energy to walk the dog, but I do it because it needs to be done. My legs feel like jello after and I want to lay down, but I keep on moving mindfully from task to task.

My yoga practice is this now one day at a time, one breath at a time. I am also practicing a health dose of Ahimsa for myself and for my baby. I have no other choice. The asana I do includes Child's Pose , gentle stretching and heart openers. Mostly, I focus on breathing. As I get stronger, I've started to add in some gentle strength training. For now, I listen to what my body and baby need and go from there.

Ironically enough, I came home from the hospital and the first card I pulled from my Angel Card deck was Release & Surrender. I haven't touched those cards in a long time and I usually only do on a whim. I was curious since the image of that card kept coming up for me during my stay. I guess you could say I was getting the message loud and clear.

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Life of a Yogi and New Mom-to-Be

I found out I was pregnant at the start of one of the busiest months of my yoga career to date. Not only was I working my way through my already full class schedule, but I had just added two new classes per week to help me fulfill the requirements of my 500 hour LOAY Teacher Training with Sri Dharma Mittra. March was also the month were I was teaching every weekend in two different teacher trainings. Talk about busy! And now with this new pumpkin on the way, and the morning sickness that accompanied it, it became increasingly more difficult to muster enough energy to walk my dog, let alone teach a heavy schedule of classes.

Despite all the craziness that was swirling around us, my husband and I were thrilled with the news. It took a few good days for it to sink in, as life changes normally do, but we are very happy nonetheless.

Every pregnancy is different and for me changes started to happen almost immediately. Most notably my concentration and energy levels went out the window. My emotions surged because PREGNANCY HORMONES ARE VERY REAL. And finally, my devoted yoga practice had to change.

Coming off of my LOAY training, I had developed a pretty rigorous daily practice of pranayama, meditation and asana. The tools I had learned gave me the foundation for a practice that grounded and balanced me. But now, that needed to shift. Some of the pranayama and poses were contraindicated for pregnancy and my exhaustion, along with the physical changes rapidly taking place made it hard to find time to do anything other than sleep. My practice shifted to listening to my body, rather than pushing through, because what my body needs to do now more than ever is make a happy home for this new spirit to grow and develop.

Although we are only now making the pregnancy public knowledge, I did reach out to close friends for support. I let my employers know so they were aware of changes happening and that my flakiness was for a good reason. In the end, it's the support that helped me get through those first weeks.

Now heading in to my second trimester I'm excited about what is to come and I look forward to the changes that will occur. I believe this is an immense time of learning and growth for myself and I am ready for the challenge. I know it will not be easy, and I'm sure I will make mistakes along the way (nobody's perfect, remember?), but ultimately I will do the best I can to stay connected with my practice and even more importantly, connected to baby and our growing family.

Monday, April 28, 2014

9th Annual DC Yoga Week | April 28-May 3, 2014

DC Yoga Week is underway!



DC Community Yoga (DCCY) is hosting the 9th Annual DC Yoga Week and Yoga on the Mall Monday, April 28 thru Saturday, May 3. This year, over 30 studios in the DC metro area, including Virginia and Maryland, have signed up to participate by offering free and reduced-cost classes daily all week long.

Throughout the week, DCCY will provide many opportunities to bring our community together and highlight member studios and partner offerings to the greater DC area. The week will culminate with Yoga on the Mallgathering of over 2,000 yoga practitioners and enthusiasts that features a free all-level outdoor community classes on Saturday, May 3 at the Constitution Gardens by the Vietnam Memorial, (Metro Stop Foggy Bottom) with special guest teacher Shiva Rea
Yoga on the Mall this year will consist of a series of yoga classes and demonstrations:
Ø  At 10:00 a.m., the event will kick off with a 20-minute children’s class led by Budding Yogis and a class for beginners led by Arlet Kosein of Extend Yoga and Annie Moyer of Sun & Moon Yoga Studio.
Ø  At 10:30 a.m., DC-area teachers will lead yoga demonstrations. They will be followed by a one-hour all levels class with Shiva Rea, a leading teacher of transformational Prana Flow Yoga and Yoga Trance Dance. Rea is known for bringing the roots of yoga alive for modern practitioners in creative, dynamic and life-transforming ways and for offering the synthesis form of vinyasa flow out in the world.
For more information about DC Yoga Week and DC Community Yoga Association, including a list of participating studios, please visit www.dccy.org.

DC Community Yoga (DCCY) is a tax exempt non-profit bringing the DC yoga community together to support the practice and growth of yoga in the DC metropolitan area. Fore more information visit:  http://dccy.org/dc-yoga-week

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Put the Phones Away | My Thoughts on Phones in the Classroom



I can't believe I have to say this, but please leave your phones out of the yoga studio. I haven't written about studio etiquette since 2010, but it seems I need to revisit it again, especially in regards to the phone issue. I know a lot of other blogging yoga teachers have shared their thoughts on this so maybe it's old news, but I'm taking time here on my corner of the interwebs to say my piece. Otherwise, I think I might explode.

Here's why. I was quite surprised last night when a cell phone appeared and mad texting began. I gave the students a few minutes at the end of class to take a few final postures they needed before heading to savasana. It was a challenging class, so most everyone was taking it easy and doing their own thing, some opting to go straight for relaxation. One student however, got up off his mat, walked over to his belongings, pulled out his phone and started texting. I was surprised and made comment to (paraphrasing here) "try and leave anything outside of the classroom, outside of the classroom for the time being." I thought he would get the message, but rather than put the phone away, he walked back to his space and put the phone near his mat.

What? Really? There's ten more minutes of class. Do you really have to have your phone near your mat?

Giving him the benefit of the doubt, maybe some emergency may have come up and so he was concerned he might be needed. But all during class he never made a move for his phone. And most students who are in this position let me know before class that something might come up. If something comes up they quietly leave the room to take care of it.

Okay, maybe I'm bitter. A few weeks ago I was leading a discussion in a teacher training program and it was all I could do not to walk out of the room by the blatant texting that was going on while I was teaching. By blatant, I mean the secret but obvious "hiding your cell phone in your bag and digging through it every two minutes to look for something, pausing to punch in a few words and then putting the bag away, wait a few minutes and do it again" to name one instance. Sadly, there were others.

And maybe I'm wrong. Maybe that student had an undying urge to rummage through her bag every two minutes read something and then put it away that only seemed like texting. But I don't know, it sure smelled like texting to me. Nevertheless, it was distracting and infuriating all at the same time. I was surprised by the disrespect of the soon-to-be yoga teachers. A few students came up after and apologized for the other students in the class. Apparently I was not the only who noticed.

I've spent a lot of time reflecting on this situation. What occurred, how I handled it, becoming the observer, how to let it go, etc. In hindsight, I should have said something then and there, but at this stage in the game I didn't think I had to. I would never be so disrespectful to my teachers and the other students. But not everyone operates that way I suppose.

What made me most upset about the whole phone usage thing was that here I have been giving and giving and giving to these students and instead of paying attention, they decided that being on their phones was more important than the teachings. Maybe that's a little dramatic, but that's the way it felt. I suppose I shouldn't take it personally, but this particular issue is personal to me. I've sacrificed so much time with family, friends and myself and poured my heart and soul in to the teachings and to have students casually popping away on their phones really hit a nerve. So bitter I may seem yes, but I think it's only natural.

I don't know what to say about the incessant cell phone usage I'm seeing. I certainly ask all students to put them away when class is underway. If you want to use your phone before or after class, that's fine, but during...let's not. Instead, let's focus on what you came here to do. Slow down the mind chatter, stay present and let go of these attachments that only lead to more suffering. As Alice Van Ness says, the  FB Yoga Teacher famous for getting fired for asking a student to turn off her phone says "turn off your phone and turn on your life." Otherwise I ask, why are you showing up on your mat?