Harmony Yoga Retreat | Yelapa, Mexico

This was my first time out of the country and my first yoga retreat, so it was an amazing adventure, to say the least.

Yoga Journal Conference Midwest

Dharma Mittra, Seane Corn, Aadil Pakhilivala, Maty Ezraty, Jim Bennitt... Need I say more?

Thursday, December 22

Invoke | Indianapolis, IN

Whaaaaaaaat? A studio review? Well, it's about time, right?! With a sick kitten at home, I'm not traveling at all for some time. But I can manage a sleepover here and there, and this was to Indianapolis to see a friend for her birthday. And not just any birthday—my friend is the oldest in a set of triplets. I got to check out a yoga class with two of the birthday siblings. I am one lucky girl! 

LOCATION: This is at the satellite location for Invoke, in Indianapolis. Easy to find because I was with a local. The space was in a business district sort of setting—read: lines of one level brick buildings with entrances side-by-side. The sign for the building was at the entrance of the parking lot, like most business district signs, but a sign on the road is always welcomed when searching for a studio. 
COST: $12 for the drop-in fee, that I charged. They have a special for $55/mo for unlimited yoga right now—that's an amazing deal. 
STUDIO:  It was a small room in the back of what seemed to be other business offices, not quite sure. The lights were dimmed low. Mirrors along the entire front of the room. The room temperature was warm, but not as hot as a bikram style. Props were provided. Room was full with maybe 15 people in there. 
CLASS DESCRIPTION: Heated Vinyasa Yoga—the same amazing flow style yoga class with the added detoxifying and calorie burning benefits of a heated studio. Please be prepared to sweat and remember to hydrate before and after class. 
INSTRUCTOR: Marjan Akhavan began her yoga practice as a time-out from a hectic career in wedding planning. After a couple of years of casually attending local yoga classes while looking for some relaxation and self-enrichment, Marjan found she not only loved the physical challenges that could be found in yoga, but the mental focus, peace and happiness that came with learning to be mindful and present. Carrying these lessons off the mat, yoga became not only an in-class practice but a lifestyle for Marjan. Graduating in 2009, she has her 200-hr certification from Internationally recognized Yogaworks—studying under Carmen Fitzgibbon, where she was trained in a broad range of style with a particularly strong emphasis on alignment. She approaches her classes as an opportunity to help others grow their personal practice by offering classes grounded in form/alignment, breathwork and developing a personal sense of self-awareness on and off the mat. Marjan tries to maintain a clss that encompasses both challenges and relaxation leaving you feeling refreshed and hopefully a little more grounded in your day-to-day life. 

It was great to be in a new class again, I haven't had the opportunity (for an actual yoga class) since Chicago at I.D. gym. I should preface everything with—I'm exhausted, I've been working non-stop since the launch of NEOI. This is all for the greater good, but I was worried I'd fall asleep the second we laid flat on our mats. My attention to detail was definitely lacking, so I will keep that in mind while I review. My cohorts weren't overally impressed, one preferred hot yoga (at the same studio I reviewed in Broad Ripple) and the other one thought things were moving along too quickly. This was a great reminder that we all experience classes differently, and I can never really tell you classes you will like or not like. I can only tell you my experience and some hard facts that will make finding the location less intimidating and have you better prepared for what will come (as far as cost, payment, locating).

I actually enjoyed the fact that Marjan did challenge different muscles than my home instructors do. We did a lot of holding plank halfway down, and pushing back up again. This is actually the location on my arms I've been focusing on because I've learned that my muscles only work in one direction, which is really funny to me... because it never occurred to me that would even happen. She did mention hip location here and there, and foot placement. But overall, there wasn't much attention to how to get into a pose, I'd say this was leaning more on the side of a flow pace. I also did enjoy the temperature being set a little warmer—the extra sweat feels good. I don't like the lights being dimmed so low. It makes balancing poses too challenging (for me) because it's harder to focus on your drishti. Another personal preference is to not have mirrors in the studio. Instead of looking at my alignment, I end up seeing my ass. I know, this is a distraction I should welcome as a lesson in focus and being secure in my body image. But, I was pooped, and not wanting to notice my imperfections (meaning insecurities, not my ass itself). So, there you have it. 

Overall, if you're near this location, I'm guessing it would make a great filler class in the week. Something tells me their main location would be better—I'll have to return to review it! 

Thanks for sharing this review with me —and being patient with my lack of posting lately (my cat, Qi, thanks you too). Namaste. *heart*

Wednesday, November 9

find. me.

I've been debating on whether or not I should share my first practice back after taking an unexpected three week hiatus from yoga. Is it a review of a studio? No. But can't we all relate to this topic? Yes. Maybe sharing my perspective on the whole month would be helpful to you... or helpful for me to reflect upon. So, obviously, I've decided to share it with you.

The sanskrit word yoga means, literally, to join or unite. In class, when this is referenced, I always hear it as more of a greater joining of community. We forget, or I forget definitely, that there's a community going on inside of each of us that we need to bring together. The mind and the body argue, the ego and the heart/soul are in constant battle. The outside world is challenging the inside world, and I need all those pieces (mind, body, ego, soul) to come together, right? And I wouldn't encourage anyone to take three weeks off from your practice (whether it be running, healthy food choices, or in this case, for me... yoga), but when it happens (and it's bound to happen—it has to me numerous times over the course of this yogic journey) it's a humbling reminder that I am nowhere where I think I am on my spiritual path. If my whole world is falling apart around me, and I'm still choosing to fall apart with it—then maybe I need those three weeks off to fall apart and come back to yoga. Have it be fresh and new and miraculous, all over again, because it does bring all those parts of me together. Sometimes we forget that when we're doing our weekly schedule of yoga practice. That really was the experience going back on Monday (and continued today, also). Rediscovering my love of yoga.

I found it interesting that the other weird perk of going back to yoga is you may have physically improved. Which doesn't make any sense to me what-so-ever, so I came to this conclusion that when you take one week... two weeks... three weeks... six months off, and you come back to it—sure some things are going to be lacking—but at that point when I say to myself, "It's time, you need to take care of yourself. You need to go back to yoga," my mind is exhausted, it's defeated, it's done—the white flag is flapping in the wind. So I go in and do my yoga, and my mind isn't getting in the way. It's reaffirming physically—inspiring even—but mentally it's another reminder of how much control our mind has over our body, how connected they really are, and how so very important it is to appease all these parts of ourselves. Yoke them together. Yoga. 

When I walked into class today, I sat down and tried to clear my mind while everyone was setting up. Looking for my intention in my practice for the next hour and a half... The past three weeks have been spent screaming inside (to others for awhile, and then to myself), "Hey! I'm right here! Can't you see me? Look at all this stuff I'm doing to try and help! Why don't you value me? Why can't you find me?" And those last two words landed in my intentions this morning with a thud. Find. Me. That's all I have to do—in all this noise—in my head—in the room—outside the studio—let it go. Find. Me. 

Mary likes to start and end her classes by reading poems by Danna Faulds—today's first reading is still echoing, so I'll end with it here. 
Walk Slowly
Danna Faulds
from Go In and In 
It only takes a reminder to breathe,
a moment to be still, and just like that,
something in me settles, softens,
makes space for imperfection.
The harsh voice of judgment drops to a whisper
and I remember again that life isn't a relay race;
that we will all cross the finish line;
that waking up to life is what we are born for.
As many times as I forget,
I catch myself charging forward
without even knowing where I am going,
that many times I can make the choice
to stop, to breathe, and
walk slowly into the mystery.
Thank you for spending your time with me—namaste! 

Thursday, November 3

Heartland Spa | Gilman, IL

LOCATION: Heartland Spa, Gilman, IL 
COST: We had a groupon deal, which I think is pretty regular for them. But here are their rates.
SPACE: The countryside location was absolutely beautiful this time of year... with trees changing colors (which there are plenty of trees, you're not surrounded by corn fields). There was a pond outside the door you could take a relaxing walk around. The rooms were set up nicely and kept clean. The space was sufficient for classes, meal time, and lounging. There was an obstacle course set up in the front where you enter, though we never used that. One barn was three levels: level one was space services, sauna, steam room, hot tub, and indoor pool. Level two was the tech space (exercise equipment), and level three was an open room for classes. 
SPA DESCRIPTION: The Heartland Spa's team of experts help you to make positive lifestyle changes in the areas of nutrition and weight loss, stress management, fitness, massage therapy, and skincare. 
CONTACT: Heartland Spa

Quick story? Way too overpriced for what they offered. The classes were lead by great instructors, but not really challenging. The services (massage, reflexology, and LOTS more) were amazing. What really cast a huge shadow over this weekend was the food and food service. The food I could eat wasn't that good (re: nothing was organic, and you could taste it), and they definitely don't know how to accommodate people with food requests. My partner in crime for the weekend has a garlic allergy and I don't eat meat or dairy... not only did we have to make sure our food needs were met (which they regularly weren't), we were treated like nuisances when we had to correct them. Mind you, we actually spoke with their chef before we arrived for the weekend, so it's not like it was shocking we were asking these things. Basically, if you say you don't eat meat they say "What about fish?" and if you say you don't eat dairy they say, "So no cheese? How about milk?" What?!? Not to mention, rumor has it, their nutritionist smokes a pack of cigarettes a day. Old school thinking of nutrition to say the least. So disappointing.

But there are definitely highlights to my weekend—obviously I got to hang out with my amazing friend for over 15 years now. I adore her. Each morning we woke up for a 7:15am walk. The second day I was beckoned over by the neighbor's horse for attention—the sweetest horse I've ever met. We met some great people—shout out to Jen Smith and her aloe vera line of cosmetics (L'Bri). The first day all the guests were sitting through orientation and asked to introduce themselves. Jen mentioned her business (I was excited to ask her about it) and the woman she came with said that they have been friends for 37 years (she was her mom)... so sweet. Then we had dinner with them one evening and found them to be even more charming and hilarious. Another person we were lucky enough to meet was Renee Marie—the reflexologist they have on staff every other weekend. We went to her discussion and were just blown away by her.... sign us up for a session with her! Both of us had AMAZING interactions with Renee Marie, and I plan to make her a part of my healthcare regiment. I'll review more below.

So, I can't say this weekend was a waste, but it definitely wasn't worth the money spent (and that was at a buy one get one free deal). I do have 4 gift certificates to give away, so if you want to take part in my next giveaway (see below) and see what you think for yourself, I'd love to hear about your experience.

OK—my schedule in review:

7am wake up call
7:15 am 2 mile walk: beautiful countryside walk during the fall. It was brisk, but what an amazing way to start the day
8am breakfast: i could eat the oatmeal, and that's about it
9am Zumba (latin-based dancing for a workout) class: The only other time I did Zumba I really didn't like the instructor, so I wasn't too excited about this. But our instructor Becky, was great, and I was able to not only get into it a little bit... but laugh at myself a couple times too.
10:10am snack: a cookie, I couldn't eat it. They do have a small bowl of fruit and veggies sitting out to eat whenever you want, but like I said earlier. You can tell they weren't organic and just sorta gross.
10:30am Sculpting with Xertubes & Dynabands: With Becky again! This was actually much more challenging than I expected, muscle work with bands around your ankles and also work with your arms with bands that had handles on the end. This was the only time all weekend that I felt there was instruction on how to do this when you get home. And honestly, if you're preaching you're a place to kick-start your healthy lifestyle... shouldn't you be giving more instruction all weekend long?
11:30am I opted for my 40 minute massage that was included in the package. You could easily upgrade these massages, but I didn't want to spend even more money. Deby was my massage therapist and she was great. It felt like a long 40 minutes, she definitely worked the muscle more—which I need. The room was relaxing, she put heated pillows under your back and neck. It was definitely one of the highlights of the weekend.
12:30pm lunch: I can't remember what we had, but I can guarantee, for me, it was with a boca burger... Heartland Spa really strives to make everyone's meal look the same. I guess they don't want those with special food requests to stick out. It's a nice gesture. They also spend a lot of time telling you the calories of everything you're eating. So when the person next to be has a 175 calorie chicken entree I was irritated... because I didn't get extra food even though the boca burgers are like 40 calories or something. Needless to say, I was hungry the entire weekend.
1:15pm Discussion with Renee Marie: This is when we met Renee (the reflexologist). She walked into the room saying Namaste!, and I knew I was finally around one of my own. She talked about how she got into her line of work and then described what all she does (reflexology, lymphatic drainage, and energy healing). She was a breath of fresh air, and I was immediately excited that I signed up for an hour session with her. It was the first time (in a looooooooong time) I felt like I was around a similar attitude as my dad (he was an acupuncturist). This weekend was definitely meant for me to meet Renee.
2:15pm Aqua Motion with Raelene: Pool time! This class was a little silly—one part silly fun and one part silly not a challenge. But I love being in water, so that made it great. We learned a few exercises we could take away with us (if we had a pool). I definitely felt like I was sweating at one point. What made it ridiculous was that I kept being put in the back of the group... in a more shallow area, and I'm taller than a lot of ladies. So the workout wasn't as useful for me, and the woman in front of me kept backing up into my space with legs kicking. It made for a good giggle between my girlfriend and me, but still... more play time, less work out—still active though, so that's good.
3:15pm snack: Fruit smoothie—at this point I'm learning not to ask if there's dairy in things—they'll just say no and I'll ask—what about yogurt? and they'll say, yeah. Like I'm the idiot.
3:30pm Yoga Stretch & Relax with Raelene: Definitely the most basic intro to yoga I've ever had. And I don't think this is because of the instructor, she definitely knew more. We didn't do a single salutation, we barely got off the mat. I did learn that the twists are what are hurting my sacrum (I know, obvious, but I needed the reminder), so I'm going to get back into my yoga routine and skip the twists. To be honest, as I'm writing this, I haven't been to yoga in 2.5 weeks (minus this weekend). Between my sacrum, launching the new site, and some personal stuff... Really distracted. Why is it we choose to abandon the stuff that is needed most during the hard times? This class reminded me—it's hard to sit with yourself for an hour and face you. It usually ends in tears for me—when life is challenging me. But after, my mind is so much clearer, and really, how can I expect myself to face these obstacles with out a clear mind and open heart? I can't. So I'm going back to yoga on Friday (with my main instructor, Hayli). Don't want to go and can't wait, all in one fell swoop.
6pm dinner: boca burger with an orange sauce. Orange sauce is good—nothing but sugar, but good. Barley with veggies was ok—give me some indian seasonings please! I wish I could provide them with vegan food menu options.

7am wake up call
7:15am morning walk: On the mile out we watched a horse playing in his field—jumping and running, so beautiful. One the mile back in—this will sound odd—but that horse and I made eye contact and he started walking straight for me. So I told the gals I'd catch up, I had to meet this horse. We met up, ears facing me so attentively and he turned his right side to me to show me his eye (he had what I assumed was cataracts), and he did his ears went back—almost ashamed. I told him to show me his good eye—he turned his face—ears facing me again. I pet his nose—we leaned in forehead to forehead—and then as playful as ever he tried to knock me over. It was hilarious. I told him I needed to get back to my walk—which I don't think he was too happy about, I'm guessing he's used to getting apples or something from the walkers in the morning. But, honestly, if I don't want to eat that apple, why would I give it to that sweet, sweet horse.
8am breakfast: Yes, eggs! Oh wait, egg beaters. Barf. Oatmeal it is.
9:15am Session with Renee Marie: She hugs you immediately, welcoming you into her room. I laid down on the bed and she gauged my energy to see if she should start with my head or feet. Head it was. The night before I had this crazy dream (the kind of dream that feels real) that she kept working on my right shoulder with one hand under and one hand on top. I wondered if that would happen—but kept telling myself to not make it happen... like if she brushed up against my shoulder, I couldn't be floored. What did happen, the first spot she worked on was that shoulder and she kept coming back to it—I had to share my dream with her. What I loved most, and this happens when you see a good acupuncturist too, she told me what was wrong. She would ask me questions about health or diet or injuries—but she already knew what was acting up. Western medicine would benefit so much from working Eastern medicine into their practice—more importantly, patients would benefit from it. Anyway... at one point, after touching points on my head, she focused in on my jaw. The heat coming off her hands was insane. Slowly I felt my jaw relax—which I could have been doing myself—but then a bunch of spit released in my mouth and it tasted gross. When I'm stressed (which there's always an underlying layer of stress for a lot of us, right?), my jaw clinches. I knew right then, she opened up that tension and all the toxins I've been holding in those muscles released. It was disgusting and cool. She did some foot reflexology, but I didn't really have any reactions to it that I could notice. I do know by the end I felt amazing—from jaw to sacrum to hips to stomach aches to hamstrings. I will be visiting Renee again—without a doubt.
10:10am snack—my session with Renee ran late, so I missed the snack (which was a cookie I couldn't eat anyway) and we missed the BOSU training we were going to try. But honestly, my friend just had her 40 minute massage, so we really wanted to keep swimming in our relaxation mode. At this point we decided to call the weekend short—I was going to stick around for another yoga class to review, but neither of us could find much sense in staying for a lunch we didn't want.
11:30am Yoga Stretch & Relax with Crystal: The day before Raelene told the ladies that Crystal was teaching today's class and she really knew her stuff. So I knew I had to stick around and review this class. And though she really did know her stuff (she could name every pose in sanskrit beautifully)—we did even less work than the day before. This was perfect after a reflexology session with Renee Marie, I really wanted to get a genuine yoga class this weekend. It's unfortunate. I feel like all these instructors/therapists are being held back by Heartland Spa (and overcharging for it), and that's just not what I'm looking for.

With that not-so-lovely review, I offer up my next giveaway (woo-hoo!): I have four $100 gift certificates to be used towards anything at Heartland Spa & Fitness Resort during your overnight visit (one per person, for first time guests only).

What I'm going to do is leave it up to the contestants to decide what they want... if you request all four certificates for you and three friends and are the winner—you win all four. If you request two certificates for you and a friend—two people have a chance to win. Hopefully that makes sense. I didn't want to restrict it to only one option for people.

What do you have to do?
• If you're not a fan of my facebook page—fan. it. up.
• Share my facebook page on your page (please tag me in the share—so I know you followed through)
• Visit my new site—I'm offering free marketing to 11 NFP organizations (deadline Nov 27)
• Leave a comment below telling me how many certificates you would like

Ends Friday, November 11th at 10pm CDT

Thanks so much for sharing your time with me!

Wednesday, October 26

Tasty Bite Giveaway!

It's my birthday week, let's do a giveaway!!!!

So... as I was rushing to sit down and enjoy some lunch last week, it occurred to me that I depend on Tasty Bite for my need-something-fast, non-dairy, vegetarian, all-natural, insanely yummy moments (which is a daily thing these days). If you haven't had one of their sauces, rices, entrees, or meal packets... maybe now is the time. And if you have... hello, sign me up! Oh wait, I can't. But YOU can!!

Here's what the very kind folks at Tasty Bite are offering up for you (all vegan, btw):
Good Korma
Satay Partay
Thai Lime
Garlic Brown
Bombay Potatoes
Punjab Eggplant
Channa Masala
Bangkok Beans
Meal Inspirations:
Barley Medley
Zesty Lentils and Peas
Chunky Chickpeas 
And they'll include some recipe cards, a t-shirt (we'll get the correct size from you when you win... S-XL), a Tasty Bite hat, and bangle bracelets. TOO FUN! 

Here's how you can win!
1. Visit Tasty Bite's site and check out all they have to offer 
2. 'Like' Tasty Bite's facebook page
3. 'Like' No Expectation, Only Intention's facebook page
4. Leave a comment below telling us what you're most excited to try

That's it! Then check back next week to see who the winner is!
Giveaway open until Monday, October 31st at 10pm CDT
[don't worry—I'm opting for treat over trick this Halloween]

Friday, October 21

Jim Bennitt Workshops | Living Yoga Center | Urbana, IL

LOCATION: Living Yoga Center — my "home studio," as in where I love love love to practice when I'm not traveling. 
COST: $45/workshop or both for $80
STUDIO: See my original review  
Stilling the Waking Mind, 10:30a-1p
We all know that meditation is good for us. If you're looking to connect to spirit, find inner peace, or just trying to deal with the stress of modern life... meditation can work wonders. Why then do we still struggle with starting or continuing a meditation practice? The answer may surprise you. It could actually be your yoga practice holding you back! When yoga is practiced inappropriately, it could make it more difficult to find the inner stillness necessary for meditation. In this 2.5 hour class, Jim will draw on ancient teachings and parables to help you better understand "the lake of the mind." Afterward, he will lead you through a specially designed sequence of postures and breathwork that will make it effortless to be still and reap the benfits of deep meditation. This class is suitable for all levels. 
Vinyasa from a Tantric Perspective, 2-4:30p
The word vinyasa stems from the Sanskrit word "nyasa," which means "to place." The prefix "vi," in this case, means "in a special way." Thus vinyasa would mean "to place something in a special way." The word tantra translates "to weave" and refers to weaving together the material and spirtual worlds. A tantric vinyasa class is a practice consisting of postures, movemembts, gestures, breathwork, and meditation weaved together in a special way to reach a specific desired result. In this class we will first decide what our desired result will be and then practice in ana intelligent way to get there. This class will be on the more vigorous side and is appropriate for students in good health and strong physical practice.
INSTRUCTOR: Jim Bennitt began his studies in Yoga, Tantra, and Aurveda in 1997. For the next three years, he bounced around from one yoga studio to the next, until he met Paul Weitz, a teacher at Moksha Yoga Center in Chicago. Two classes a week turned into five classes a week and Jim decided he wanted to teach. He completed Moksha's teacher training with Daren Friesen, studied with master teacher Andrey Lappa, and assisted Gabriel Halpern in his therapeutic classes at The Yoga Circle. In 2002, Jim met his teacher, Rod Stryker. Rod's teaching included mantra, meditation, and elements of Ayrveda. Since then, he completed and now assists in severl teacher trainings in Rod's Para Yoga lineage. Jim is also a popular presenter at conferences, workshops, and retreats in the US and abroad and is a co-owner of Tejas Yoga in Chicago.

I'm going to go on a little bit of a frustration rant here... which has nothing to do with Jim Bennitt's workshop, except that it reminded me how discouraging injuries can be. I've mentioned before that I twisted my sacrum in March 2011. After a week-long yoga retreat I came home, got in my car at the airport, twisted to reverse not realizing how much I had loosened up that spine of mine, and crunched my sacrum. Those of you who have/had sacrum issues, you know how painful this can be. Since March, I've been visiting my chiropractor weekly, getting up to walk around at work so I'm not sitting on my twisted sacrum all day, and continue to go to yoga. But my sacrum is getting worse... as is my yoga practice as a result. Last week my chiro decided to do a lower back x-ray to get a closer look at what is going on, and we discovered L4 & L5 are jetting to my right (if you're looking at me) causing my spine to curve that way and my pelvis & sacrum are twisted enough to slightly make my left leg shorter than my right leg. 

After five hours of yoga my sacrum felt so much better, but honestly... there were some poses that were so painful (I obviously stopped going into them), I just found myself at one point in tears from wondering not only when will this be healed, but just when will I start to see improvements. I love my chiropractor, and I plan to continue visits because he does help and I consider him my primary doctor, but if any of you yogis out there have suggestions—I'm all ears. One of my instructors recommended bio-something (I've lost the pamphlet, I'm so unorganized these days, I apologize), which involved moving you further into the injury so the body corrects itself. She's had sacral issues and said it does wonders... but it also costs $70/hr and when I called that therapist she said we'd need to do about 3-4 sessions before I'd see a difference. Don't get me wrong, I completely respect the cost of natural/eastern/non-traditional health care, my dad was an acupuncturist, but I can't afford that. Seriously, when will my health insurance cover the doctors I actually see?!? OK, I need to move on, step off this soap box, kick it to the curb, and apologize for barfing this internal muck on you... but maybe one of you will have ideas. 

OK... Jim Bennitt's workshops. Hooray! I was so excited to be attending a yoga workshop in my home town. We don't get them here that often... or I'm horrible at getting information on these events. Anyway, I immediately signed up for both classes when I heard he was coming here. I really enjoyed the class I took from him at the Yoga Journal Conference—which was on Shodhana: Yogic Purification (see the link to watch a video of Jim demonstrating his practice, it's absolutely beautiful). 
STILLING THE WAKING MIND: This class started off with my 15-20 minutes of talking and taking notes. Here's what I gathered note-wise from it...
It is believed we suffer because we identify with the mind—there are four functions of the mind: 
The arrows on this differ from my notes,
but you get the visual
And the goal is to 
• Calm the Manas (senses) through donating our time to others, meditation on inner light and sound, and/or spend time in nature. 
• Dissolve the Ahamkara (ego) through seva (selfless service), Bhakti Yoga (chanting), and sacred gatherings (the Sanskrit word I wrote down for this isn't popping up in google, I apologize for my inability to hear or write sanskrit properly)—like this workshop I just so happen to be in.
• Empty Chitta (memory) by noticing samskaras (mental patterns) through mantra, pranayama (breathwork), concentration techniques, and meditation. This was talked about a lot in class, because we all cherish our memories so so dearly, right? But it's not about forgetting them, it's about not letting them define you or spending time judging them. What's done is done, today is a new day. 
• Sharpen Buddhi (intellect) through concentration techniques, self study, tapas (self-discipline—an internal heat that burns away impurities, often thought of as only a physical heat created in practice but much more). 
• And all of this to connect to the "fifth quadrant" (as my awesome sister-in-law once joked in reference to something else), called Atman (your inner light/soul).

Random not written down... Patañjali says "Yoga is when the mind stops" 

After our discussion we returned to our mats. Jim chanted a blessing before we started with some sun salutations and eventually held some poses for a longer amount of time... self-discipline to create tapas (sharpen that buddhi of ours). I loved that we were asked to do a headstand, as if it were nothing. It's not common to do a headstand in my daily classes—we do them, but there's just not enough time to include an inversion at the end of every class, let alone with the instruction of doing it in the middle of the room. I opted for the wall still, but I liked the experience of being surrounded by so many talented yogis. So inspiring! After savasana we did, I believe, fifteen minutes of meditation. A practice that I would like to start incorporating into my daily routine, but I've never once done this at home. My friend later recommended, just taking 10 minutes in the middle of the work day to go somewhere quiet and meditate. Which is a great idea, and probably when I need it most. But I would ultimately like to begin and end my day with yoga and some meditation. Goals are good.

Again, whenever I write about these workshops (like I noted for the Yoga Journal Conference), it seems a bit empty. Explaining the poses we did or the techniques we learned is useful, but the best part of the class is experiencing the feeling of yoga. The mental cleansing that comes after a couple of hours of yoga with a large group (yes, you can do this alone, but there's a vibe in a group... hence the importance of sacred gatherings). I can't put it into words gracefully (or even in a fumbling sort of way), but I just want to be sure to note that while the poses are necessary, they're not important. Great lesson to be reminded of. 

VINYASA FROM A TANTRIC PERSPECTIVE: This class had very little talking at the beginning, in fact I didn't take any notes as most of what Jim responded to students' questions with was taught in the first workshop. He did talk about how when people hear the word Tantric they equate it to sex, but quickly pointed out that sex is only a small part in the large world of Tantric yoga. I also liked the fact that Tantric yoga recognizes people living in a material world (I know, I hear Madonna singing now too), and instead of us all isolating ourselves in caves somewhere with out possessions and ultimately distractions—this path of yoga teaches us to appreciate the material objects, but to not become attached to or define ourselves by them. 

This basically was a lot of salutation work, which is why I think my sacrum is feeling better... there is no better way to wake up the entire body than doing a number of sun salutations. I mentioned before that twists were my nemesis for the day, but I had an amazing accomplishment today too. I did my first Wheel Pose (Urdhva Dhanurasana) in my adult years, anyway—held comfortably, arms correct, feet flat on the ground (I do have to thank my friend, Hollis, who I met during this class. She's doing her teacher training currently—while writing her thesis for school, both major accomplishments at the same time is impressive—and she talked me through it some... "arms looks good—work your feet in more pigeon toe—point the knees forward". Thank you Hollis!). It felt amazing!!! It's funny how a pose that is so intimidating or challenging your strength or brain function, when accomplished becomes your new favorite pose and you want to do it all the time. Yep, can't wait to do my next Wheel Pose. 

The last 1/3 of the poses was really a moment for me to sit and watch much more advanced yogis work into arm balances I can't yet do. Hayli has been prepping us in class for Eight-Angle Pose (Astavakrasana), which requires a lot of arm strength because you're basically holding yourself in the position by squeezing the legs to the arm. 
I love watching people go into Eka Pada Koundiyanasana II, it's so amazing to see the body hold these positions—for the flexibility and the strength. It completely inspires me to continue nurturing my body because as Aadil Plkhivala would say, "The body is the home to your soul!" 

Book List: 

Wednesday, October 5

nicobella | vegan dark chocolate truffles

COMPANY: nicobella
COST: $13.50 for a 6-pack of each flavor or an assortment of all flavors, or opt for 3 boxes at $36 
DESCRIPTION: Wrapped in an elegant box that hints at their decadence, you may find it hard to share this 6-piece sampler. Each 6-piece assortment box contains: Blueberry Almond, Ginger Green Tea, Pumpkin Chai, Pure Cocoa Bliss, Sunflower Banana Butter, and Walnut Flaxseed. Made with organic and fair trade organic 70% dark chocolate. Feel good by knowing a portion of this purchase will be donated to our favorite  animal organizations [nicobella]. 

It's a good day in bloggerland when I come home to find a nicobella truffle sample box in my mail. Through the wonderful world of Facebook I found nicobella, and immediately I emailed and asked if I could review their vegan chocolates. The graphic designer in me love love loves their identity/design campaign/marketing. The no-meat/no-dairy gal in me swoons to the fact that they're vegan. The yogi in me absolutely adores the decision I made to review products that fulfill the yoga lifestyle on and off the mat. And all of those ladies find that a bite of chocolate goes a long, long way on a stressful day (or a relaxing day or a mediocre day or Thursdays... you see where I'm going with this). 

The presentation alone is amazing (I posted a picture immediately on my facebook page, I was so excited). I mean, if they put that much effort into their design... you know what they put into their product is even better. And I have to admit, it took me almost a week to sample these. It's that damn pretty in the box. Silly? Yes. But, welcome to the mind of Anni Poppen (and many graphic designers or marketing fans). But, alas, here I am today... finally biting into my nicobella vegan truffles (only half bites... so I have more for later). I know, you feel terrible for me, don't you. 

With all my gushing, you surely can tell that I love these treats, but I broke it down by each flavor for you, so you could possibly choose your own favorite to get... although I'd recommend an assortment box, because they're all melt-in-your-mouth-holy-spoiling-myself-this-is-fantastic amazing. Truth. 

Blueberry Almond: Perfect hint of blueberry with a sliver of almond on top for added crunch. I'm not a fan of blueberry (no matter how often I force blueberries on myself), but this mixture is quite perfect. 

Ginger Green Tea: I couldn't taste the green tea so much, but the ginger was refreshing (of the zesty-sweet variety, not so spicy) and not overpowering. Although I like ginger, so I may be bias. 

Pumpkin Chai: Starts with the pumpkin flavor (like a bite of pumpkin pie) and then halfway through evolves into the chai flavor. A good option for an (read: every) October day. 

Pure Cocoa Bliss: Simple and almost too plain after trying the others, but in no way does it taste bad. Still decadent and truffle-licious. 

Walnut Flaxseed Crunch: The walnut is buttery while the flaxseed may be the culprit bringing the salt into this truffle... I'm not sure, but salty sweet is always a win with me. I should add, I don't like when I can taste flaxseed (especially the last loaf of bread I had, bleck!)... no flaxseed overpowering the taste buds here.

Sunflower Banana Butter: Another salty sweet winner. I taste more sunflower seed than banana, but the banana does sneak in there to soften the sunflower. 

Favorite? Um.. er.... I, uh... Today, I'd say that Pumpkin Chai was a nice choice, but I may have to go with the Walnut Flaxseed for giving me sweet and savory in one little bite. 

Thank you SO much Nichole, for pampering me with the opportunity to review your chocolate. I will be requesting our local shops start carrying you as quickly as possible, but until then I know I have your website (nicobella). 


Sunday, October 2

I.D. Gym | Chicago, IL

LOCATION: This was an easy drive into Chicago, and I found myself in Lincoln Park again. There was a parking lot next to the gym (which the gym had excellent signage), but it was reserved parking for surrounding apartments, I'm guessing. There was open parking along the street right in front though, so no biggie. I got there early, so I ended up paying $3.50 for parking (about 2.5 hours I think).
COST: $24 for the drop-in fee, that I charged.
STUDIO:  This isn't specifically a yoga studio, but a gym. You walk in to check in at the front desk. They offer you free towels, which was great. Once you're checked in, the yoga space is upstairs, so I walked pass the bikes and treadmills and an area for weights. They managed to fit a lot of equipment into a smaller space, and it was well-organized and clean. Upstairs has it's own bathrooms and two classrooms. The bathroom offered up showers (with free shampoo, conditioner, and soap), lockers, toilets, a couple full-length mirrors, sinks with free lotion, and a bench. Pretty great set up we don't normally get in the yoga studios. The actual yoga space you can see in the picture has fresh colors, one wall of mirrors, a wall of cubbies (which was good, since I didn't have a lock for the lockers in the bathroom), a wall of windows that let in great light, and a ceiling full of silk hammocks (so excited!). 
CLASS DESCRIPTION: I.D. Gym is the only place in Chicago you'll find this innovative class, which is a combination of traditional yoga techniques, acrobatics, gymnastics, and dance. Using our silk hammocks you can move deeper into yoga postures, improve your balance and strength, and practice advanced inversions and circus-style tricks. 
INSTRUCTOR: Brent Holten Before 20 years in fitness, other careers were in acting, dance, and culinary arts. He began teaching in the I.D. gym building when it was Jamnastics in 1992 and hasn't left since. We actually had two instructors, but I'm not remembering the second teacher's name, I'm soooo sorry—and we had such a great conversation, I'm a jerk, please connect if you think I'm less of a jerk, lol. 

I have to say, I'm not too excited about taking yoga classes in gyms. Which isn't fair—if I didn't take yoga classes at my gym originally I wouldn't be where I am today, but, from my experience... Yoga at gyms is strictly for fitness reasons and less about the way of life. There's music thumping from the other class over. It's just a different perspective on yoga, which isn't bad... but it isn't me. I.D. Gym actually does a nice job of combining the best of both worlds. It also helped that I was completely distracted by playing in the silk hammocks. Before we started, both instructors walked around and made sure the hammocks were the proper length for our heights (they're all adjustable by the placement of a carabiner).

There wasn't another class going on in the room over, so no music was bleeding into our room, just the sound of the serene yoga music heard in most classes. Brent had us start by lying on our backs with our feet up  in the hammocks, hands on our bellies, just focusing on our breath. Once we were all settled in, we started warming the body up by doing Setu Bandha Sarvangasana (bridge pose), but instead of pushing up from your feet on the floor, you raised your hips up with your feet still in the hammock. We coordinated our breathing with the movement in and out of bridge pose.

I'm honestly not going to remember the entire sequence of the class, I'm sorry... but I do remember a lot of poses that I can hopefully explain. We learned how to wrap our arms into the hammock and jump up to hold ourselves. This was actually a great demonstration on seeing just how fit those Cirque du Soleil and other aerial artists are... holy crap, I have no core muscles (not to self: you're using your back too much). If you could master just holding your self up in "simple" crunch position, you could then take it another step... jumping up (arms wrapped in the silk hammocks to hold you up) and instead of folding your knees into your chest, you'd pull them up in a V position. Yeah, not me, but those who did it, did it beautifully. If you could master that... then they would pull up into the V and flip themselves over to hang. I SO wanted to do this, but I just didn't have the arm strength or core for it... which I think is exciting, because it's an easy starting point to watch yourself improve the more you do this class.

Mastering the upside down V in the turquoise shirt. Crunching in the pink shirt. 
We did some great hamstring stretches with one foot in the hammock and leaning over to touch the toe. Imagine your propped your foot up on a ballet bar... side bend to your toes, forward bend to your toes, and then twist towards your toes. All while holding your balance, which was easier than I expected, but you know you're working some muscles to keep yourself there. I should also point out, since I twisted my sacrum in March, my left hamstring has tightened up (don't worry mom, I'm working with my chiropractor and instructors to fix it up). My point is, I never felt like I was setting myself up to over stretch something by default of the hammock. As long as I respected how far I could go into a pose (like any other yoga class) I could control what I was doing. In fact, playing with gravity and not having to hold your own leg up for these poses, it helped. Especially in Virabhadrasana III (warrior pose 3 or airplane pose), I could rest my back foot in the hammock and depend on it to help with my balance. At the same time I can now focus on my hip alignment more, play with balance by moving my arms... and that leg can still swing in the hammock so there's balance happening there. But by being able to push into the hammock you could find stability. What a great way to illustrate how activating both legs and both arms helps in keeping your pose.

We did some work with both feet in the hammock while we were in plank or the upper position of a push up. This reminded me of working with a balance ball. You would normally roll the ball towards your chest using your feet (either by folding your knees into the chest again or coming into a pike position). But instead of the ball, which is rolling all over the place if you lack grace as much as I do... your feet are in the hammock, still requiring some grace but focusing more on the strength.

But the fun stuff was definitely the hanging upside down. We learned two ways to get into the hammock. The first way required a forward summersault jump into the hammock... I couldn't do it with out assistance. Surprisingly I wasn't scared, I had my three year old nephew's mantra in my head ("There are no monsters here!")—so I was ready to tackle some forward summersault in the air butt. But it does require that core strength to crunch into a ball and heave my whole body (my ghetto bootie included) over my head. Success—another starting point! The other way to get into the hammock had you jumping backwards as if you were hopping yourself up onto a taller table to sit down. This I could master. But that's not the fun part, from there you learn to place the hammock (now more like a rope) at your hips and hang up side down. Holy ecstasy, batman! Your spine can just let gravity take over and straighten it's way out with out any of your strength to hold you there (think inversion table). I could hang out there all day, I think. And let's not forget all the benefits of being upside down... moving that blood around and aiding in digestion. 

We ended in a cocoon, completely wrapped up inside in our blue hammocks suspended in air for savasana. I felt a little cramped, but once I just relaxed and enjoyed the feeling of floating in the air... I didn't want to leave. 

Here's a video I found showing a lot of poses we did... the vampire sequence I did up to mosquito (Halasana—plow pose). The monkey pose is where we're upside down most of the time, but we took both legs out into a V (toes in front of us). 

I can't thank both of my instructors and i.d. gym enough. Does this replace traditional yoga? No, but I wish I could work this into my weekly practice... Maybe I can convince my boyfriend to set one up for us at home. I think his back pain would benefit from hanging upside down, if that's all he did. Oh! I should add, that if you're worried about it holding you... these set ups hold up to 1000 lbs. You're safe, so enjoy and play! 

If you're in the Chicago area... go. to. ID Gym. Seriously, you won't regret it! 


Sunday, September 25

Yoga at Lincoln Park Zoo | Chicago, IL

LOCATION: Who knew finding a zoo in the middle of a city would be so difficult. I mean, it's an ENTIRE zoo... but I couldn't find a single sign on where it was, let alone parking for it. So... I left it to the directional gods, so to speak. I went off course of the written directions (seriously, I need a new GPS), and what do you know? I found Lincoln Park Zoo, but then I had nowhere to park. Ugh! I left at 6am to give myself plenty of time to get to this class at 9am (two hour drive), and all I could think was, "I just drove two hours to turn around and go home, didn't I." OK, fine, parking gods, have at it! And wouldn't you know it, I found a spot where I could see the entrance to Lincoln Park Zoo from my car (which was free, by the way). It's amazing how things work out if you just... let... go... 
COST: $20 for the drop-in fee in cash, but you can pre-pay online.   
STUDIO:  A summer series outside in Lincoln Park Zoo with the view of the city skyline behind the instructor, covered by a cocoon/sci-fi like piece of artwork, surrounded by nature and water and sounds of wildlife. While we had class it went from sunshine to downpour to sunshine all over the course of an hour. Challenging to focus? Yes. But what a wonderful way to challenge yourself. 
CLASS DESCRIPTION: Adult Yoga Breath in... Breath out... OMMMMMMMM. Take in the views of the city skyline as you connect with nature at Lincoln Park Zoo. Learn or perfect the basics of yoga in this class targeted to beginner and intermediate yoga practitioners. Participants are encouraged to bring their own yoga mat and bottled water. 
INSTRUCTOR: Julie Snyder completed teacher training in 2008, and hopes to pass on her love of yoga to others while teaching outdoors at Lincoln Park Zoo. Her classes are taught to inspire self-awareness, relaxation, and an appreciation for the body. 

After the debacle of finding the zoo and parking... I then had to navigate my way (by foot, very adventurous) through the park to find the class. Once I arrived, I was happy to see people still setting up and that I wasn't late. Woo hoo! We started out in seated position, rolling the head to stretch the neck and start out slowly. The class was very basic, which was great for the variety of students in the class. It offered just the right amount of challenge to warm up the body on this cool morning. I would say it's a slowed down flow. Actually, thinking back, there wasn't much discussion of alignment and positioning. Julie didn't adjust anyone. It really was a basic class to wake up the body on this Saturday morning. Which I find is a nice introduction to yoga. 

I do have to say, I was completely distracted by being able to walk through the zoo and check out some of the animals after class. It's a nice added perk to a yoga class. As I walked through the empty zoo, there were a few performers playing guitar and singing or playing violin. The violinist was playing Amazing Grace, which was my dad's favorite song. And this is the zoo he took me to have some daddy/daughter moments after my parents got divorced. I'm finding, on these excursions to discover yoga classes, something else serendipitous happens. A moment of kindness and love. Whether it's a couple of puppies or beautiful memory of my father heightened by music. These gentle reminders are welcomed as they encourage me to keep doing what I'm doing. I hope you're enjoying the journey with me!