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?

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!