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?

Monday, December 3

Truth + Life Energy | Qi

 Qi: (also chi or ch'i) is an active principle forming part of any living thing. Qi is frequently translated as life energy, life force, or energy flow. The literal translation of "qi" is breath or air.

I have never understood how people aren't "animal people." Allergic, sure. Scared by an incident, ok. But for no reason what-so-ever... how? For one simple word alone, should at least spark your interest: Truth. Animals at all times—in all states—in all personalities are showing you truth. Raw truth. It's incredibly beautiful, and if you just sit quietly with any animal long enough you'll experience it.

This weekend I lost my own life force, my own energy flow, my own truth. His name is Qi (I pronounce it Chee). I spent half my life with him... just a few months shy of 18 years.  We've lived together longer than anyone else in my life—mom and dad included. Qi was a gift from my dad for my first apartment. When we went to pick out the kitten, one of them jumped immediately into my arms. I said, "Dad, this is the one!" And he double-checked, "Are you sure?" Just then I looked at the other kitten, standing on his hind legs on top of a box, leaning over to see what was going on... he leaned over so far... he fell on his head. "Uh, no, that is definitely my cat."

A little bit about siamese cats from ole wiki (which I agree, on every detail):
Siamese are usually very affectionate and intelligent cats, renowned for their social nature. Many enjoy being with people and are sometimes described as "extroverts." Often they bond strongly to a single person. Some Siamese are extremely vocal, with a loud, low-pitched voice, that has been compared to the cries of a human baby, and persistent in demanding attention. These cats are typically active and playful, even as adults, and are often described as more dog-like in behavior than other cats.
I'll also add, they are nurturing and protective. Qi spent his 18 years taking care of me, not me taking care of him. He knew I was home before I opened the door (even when I parked a block away from my 2nd story apartment, I could hear him crying for me to get inside). When I was home, all his time was spent with me until his last month of being sick. And even then we'd cuddle 2-3 times a day for hours before he went back to his comfort space he created under my bed, directly atop the heat vent. I always referred to him as the Grand Poobah—for his silent fatherly moments with Tate (the youngest cat and his bestfriend), his gentlemanly moments for Mariah (the independent lady of the house), his buddha-esque ways of patience, kindness, and love for all of us. We all just knew he was in charge, and we really didn't want it any other way because he was the old soul who knew better than all of us put together. As a result, the three of us are a little bit lost right now.

On Qi's last night I went up to give him his last set of pills—he had been fighting liver and kidney failure for over five years and was now up to seven different pills daily and an IV every other day. I crawled under the bed, where he'd made his little home. He was sleeping. It actually scared me at first, but then he opened his eyes and I let out a sigh of relief. See, a week ago the vet had given me the ok to put him to sleep whenever I thought it was time. What a horrible thing for any person to take on—deciding some other soul's "time." Even though Qi had taken to my bedroom 24/7, he was still getting up to go to the bathroom, eat his food, and purr through our cuddling sessions. To me, that was still independence, and I couldn't take that away from him. So I just waited for his sign—hoping he'd tell me.

When I pulled him out from under the bed, I quickly went to give him his pills. He spit them out. Drool everywhere. I didn't understand. I picked him up and put him on the bed. He wanted down. I won't go through the next half hour in detail, but I am grateful that it ended with him in my arms... in our home, curled up together under our bed, naturally, thanking him, telling him how much I love him, and making sure he knew just how much I would miss him. I cried so much. I am still crying. So much.

When my father passed away I avoided people for a couple weeks and then had to go back to work. I remember the ridiculous things people would say to me. I learned then, there are no words of comfort, there are no gestures of relief... there are only those around you that you know went through similar loss that make you feel ok for any response you have at any given time. Those who love you greatly, but haven't lost, you wish you had the energy to comfort them. Because the look in their eyes—searching for ways to make you feel better, to take the pain away—is hard to respond to. Less than a month later, the rest of the world has moved on. Six months later, people honestly don't know the reason when they ask you "What's wrong?" The American way of life has stripped away our right to grieve and mourn. So you can imagine my concern with facing the world over the loss of "just a cat." That phrase alone makes my stomach turn.

Before I took Qi to the vet to be cremated we did a few things. He laid on my belly one last time as I read us to sleep. I made sure Tate and Mariah had as much time as they wanted sleeping next to their friend, their brother, their grand poobah. I trimmed some of Tate's hair and some of Mariah's—which I tucked under the braid of of my own hair I tied around his sweet little paw (the same paw he regularly stretched out over me to pull me in closer). The mala I had tied under the bed to bring Qi stability, strength, and peace I removed and draped over him. I wanted it to soak up every last bit of him, so I could carry his wisdom with me wherever I go.

I miss my friend, so very much. My life will never be the same—he changed me from the second we met and it all was so very clear just how much he changed me the second he left. There will never be a bond like ours—it was just that special. Until we meet again, my friend, I will miss you and be grateful for the lessons and memories you left with me.

namaste, Qi, namaste
February 1995 - November 2012

Wednesday, October 31

Mala Imports | Amythest Mala

COMPANY: Mala Imports
PRODUCT LINK: Amythest Mala
COST: This necklace is $65, others vary (currently) at $41.50 to $154 
DESCRIPTION: They named the vibrant Amethyst jewelry after the lovely lavender flower. Lavender has long been associated with providing a calming and soothing effect. Which is perfect, as the purple Amethyst stone is believed to bring one a true sense of peace. A match made in heaven.  

Happy Halloween! I am so very grateful for the current giveaway running—it ends today at 10pm CST if you want to enter (you should, it's an amazing package including one of these gorgeous + socially responsible malas). You wouldn't believe my surprise when Mala Imports said they'd send me a mala (see this link to understand what a mala is) of my very own to review. Thank you Ashley, at Mala Imports! 

I have to start with their story—serendipity at its finest: 
We had our dream jobs but weren’t feeling fulfilled. We were busy for the sake of being busy. And our work-life balance was way off. We could feel that something was missing. So we took a leap of faith — we packed our bags and travelled as far as possible with as little as possible. A few months later we ended up on the lush and serene island of Bali. Matt surfed, I did yoga, and we both practised Tai Chi. We also fell in love with a yoga studio — the Yoga Barn in Ubud — where we found the unique rudraksha bead jewelry. The texture was different. The gemstones were mouthwatering, and their healing qualities were so inspiring. 
During our stay we couldn’t stop picking up the pieces and turning them over in our hands. One purchase turned into another, and then another. (And yes, then another!) Mid-flight from Bali to Thailand, a tall woman with dark hair sat down next to us. Her name was Soma. She was drawn to our aura and simply wanted to chat, she said. After a few minutes, she noticed Matt’s bracelet — rudraksha beads and lava for strength and clarity. Soma happened to be the maker of the jewelry. (“We love it!” we said.) We listened as she shared her story — how she is on a journey to spread the love of rudraksha jewelry as the beads are believed to bring peace. 
Now, we’re feeling more fulfilled then ever, helping Soma on her journey, and creating our own in the process. We agree with Soma: The rudraksha beads are a symbol of compassion for humanity — a reminder of a higher consciousness within. We know you’ll love them as much as we do. 
Ashley & Matt, owners of Mala Imports
You love them already, right? And emailing back + forth with Ashley, she couldn't stop emphasizing the importance of the message the jewelry conveys. It shows just how much this business of theirs means to improving the world. And before I get into the actual jewelry, I'd be remissed if I didn't share with you how Mala Imports gives back:
We love making people feel great. And there’s nothing better than the feeling of helping others. It’s engrained in our every step — from the Malas being handmade in Bali, to you purchasing the rudraksha bead jewelry from your favourite store. The creation process in Bali provides numerous jobs for locals — from the planting of the rudraksha trees, to the harvesting stage. And the best part is that it’s all fair trade. Even better — all the employees are benefit from profit sharing of world wide sales! In addition, support is given to the high priests in Bali, Indonesia who often perform their ceremonies for free. 
We’re also very proud to donate a portion of our profits to a non-profit birthing and wellness center in Bali called Bemi Sehat. The center is run by Robin Lim — the recent winner of the 2011 CNN Hero of the Year award
Mala Imports is also conscious in donating to and attending events where we can give back. We donate to organizations like Karma Teachers, who offer free yoga to those on Vancouver’s Downtown East Side to promote the act of selfless giving, and the Big Brothers and Big Sisters organization, which offers mentoring to youth. 
We also love sharing sharing the goals of inspiring organizations like Girlvana – which is working to promote female empowerment and consciousness in young women through yoga, meditation and a healthy lifestyle. 
It makes us feel pretty great. And we think you should experience the love, too!
I know! With that much good mojo in their efforts you know the mala is oozing in it too. So, let's talk about this mala I have hanging from my neck. I'm not sure if Ashley was intentional in choosing Amythest for me—but it sure does seem appropriate for my current state:
Gives one stability, strength, inspiration, and a true sense of peace. Enhances immune system and is a blood purifier—good for stomach and liver. Strengthens spiritual power. 
Presentation: A+
The mala comes in a little silk organza pull-string bag  with the logo printed on the front. Inside is your mala with a card explaining Rudraksha beads and which gemstone you have. Also included is a card describing the healing aspects of the gemstones.

The necklace itself is strung by cotton string (purple for mine, to match the amethyst)—which is strong, my other mala I'm always worried I'm going to break. Along with the Rudraksha beads and amythest stones is a tiny, tiny charm with the Om symbol on one side and Soma's signature on the other. Oddly enough, that little charm may be my favorite part.

What are Rudraksha beads?
Rudraksha. Say it with us: “Rud-ruck-sha” 
Often referred to as beads, rudrakshas are actually seeds that grow inside of what looks like a blueberry.
Ours beads are sustainably harvested, fairly traded, and ethically produced. 
The name rudraksha stems from Hindu mythology and means “the eyes of Shiva.” It’s believed that the god meditated on the welfare of mankind and that he emerged crying tears of compassion. The tears, upon hitting the Earth, crystallized to form the trees that grow rudrakshas. 
The beads vary in size, from 3 mm to 40 mm, with the smaller beads being the rarest. The beads have a very long life and are sometimes known to last up to eight generations. Each bead has a number of facets or serration’s on the face, which are called mukhis and or mukhas. The rudraksha bead we mainly use is five mukhis, which is the bead that represents lord Shiva, and is the most commonly sought after bead. 
Rudraksha beads contain carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen and oxygen. Medicinally, they are known to heal the mind and body ailments, reduce heart disease and lower blood pressure. They are also believed to increase clarity and general awareness, calm the central nervous system, help quiet the mind, and free negative thought. In addition, they are known to be cooling when worn against the skin, and increase energy and stamina while providing rejuvenating qualities. 
We believe that anyone can benefit from wearing them.
So... are you thinking, "Is that just a rosary?" Or is it ok for me to wear that even though I'm [insert religious belief here]?
The English word "rosary" may have come from the Sanskrit japa mala. When Roman explorers came into India and encountered the mala, they heard jap mala, and jap for the Romans meant "rose." Thus when the mala was carried back to the Roman Empire as rosarium, and into English as "rosary." [source]
To me, honestly, prayer beads are prayer beads—and as I continue to not identify my spirituality and question my own issues, I've found that praying to myself—encouraging, promising, questioning, seeking, loving, fearing—is where I find peace. I don't know what happens after I die, but I do know that my actions now mean something, and to honor myself so I can be the best person available to others is reason enough to chant a couple or hundred mantras to my soul.

OK, now off you go, enter that contest, you only have about nine hours left—and there are over 10 ways to enter! Thank you for walking through this review with me, if you have any questions for Mala Imports or me—don't hesitate to ask!


Saturday, October 27

Living Yoga Center | Urbana, IL

What an amazing yoga moment for me! My mom came to visit for my birthday weekend and asked if we could go to a yoga class. Could we?!?! Of course! You all know my home studio, Living Yoga Center, by now, but to see it through the eyes of someone who has never done yoga, ever, is great! I'm going to let mom do the rest of the review, if I have to pipe in (because we all know I can't keep my mouth shut) it will be in italics from this point on.   
LOCATION: I obviously know where I'm going, but I imagine the first time it's a bit confusing. There isn't a large street sign to get in, and it's on the 2nd level. The easiest way to enter the studio is actually to park on the upper level of the parking garage and enter the door to the building up there. It takes you into a stairwell that you can either go upstairs or downstairs, but the door right there takes you into the studio. If you do enter from street level you walk into a foyer area where you can take an elevator up one level that, with the staircase next to the elevator also, spits you out into Green Yoga Spa's side of level two (which is shared and open with Living Yoga Center). 
STUDIO: I like it, it was nice and open. The space was self-explanatory as far as where to put stuff, where to change, where to get props or put them back. The studio was clean (I liked the shiny floors) and decorated nicely (the curtain rods made from tree branches was fun). The space was noisier than I expected, lots of footsteps outside of the room and clunking around. But that is the wood floors, I'm guessing (Living Yoga had the gas company in checking for leaks, so they were making some noise outside of the room—not a normal occurrence).   
CLASS DESCRIPTION: Gentle This gentle class eases you into yoga at your own pace.  Poses are modified to meet the needs of the participants.  Compassion is our guiding principle as we focus on increasing one’s range of motion, flexibility, and strength, while developing inner peacefulness and acceptance of ourselves. 
INSTRUCTOR: Jodi Adams, RYT, has been practicing yoga since 1991.  Jodi believes in the restorative benefits of yoga.  No matter one’s age or flexibility, she offers a practice to awaken strength, balance, and a mind/body connection. Yoga has served Jodi well through adversity and times of stress, and she is ultimately inspired to empower others to tap into their own inner strength, to find their voice, their breath, and their true Self.

My daughter brought me up to Champaign to celebrate her birthday. She is a girl of many passions, but yoga was one I knew very little about and she was loving it.  It became a part of life... So thought it would be fun to learn a little of this passion with her. Off we went to my first yoga experience. This was an easy comfortable place to enter, Anni knew her way around the studio and had me all set up on the floor with the mat, cushion (bolster), and few other things that could or would make it all easier for me (two blocks, a strap, two bolsters, and a couple sand bags—the props Jodi set us up with was fun—we did one pose, Upavistha Konasana, where we used the sand bags on our upper thighs and folded over two bolsters to relax. More along the lines of yin yoga, where you hold the pose longer to get into the connective tissue, specifically ligaments and tendons in the joints and spine). Everyone at the studio was super nice and welcoming.

The class was small (which I really liked for a first time) and Jodi started us with simple sitting and breathing (guided meditation) and went into alignment and stretching (a lot of soothing neck openers) and then up on the knees (cats & cows—Chakravakasana) and all the way up to butt in the air (not the real name. Lol, that should be the name! But it was downward facing dog or Adho Mukha Svanasana). I thought the class was great, it was fun to do the first with my daughter, it was relaxing and at the same time I felt the stretch in the muscles and really loved the deeper breathing and concentration. I was concentrating so much that I didn't even notice the people around me, although I did sneak in a couple peeks at the instructor to make sure I was going into a pose correctly.  

I loved the experience with my daughter and would not be afraid to join a beginners class in my home area. Thanks to everyone who welcomed and taught me, and to Anni for sharing her passion.

Thank you, Mom, for trying something out that was out of your comfort zone—which is sometimes the best part about yoga, learning more about yourself, both in humbling and encouraging ways. But most of all, thank you for taking that little adventure with me—it means the world to me and was an excellent birthday present. Love you mom! 

Monday, October 22

Grand Finale Giveaway with Mala Imports!!

In celebration of all things October (Vegetarian Awareness Month, Halloween, my birthday, and the anniversary to my dream biz at www.onlyintention.com) I'm doing a giveaway each week—SOOOO EXCITING! This week is the big ole finale to October—so we're going all out!

  • One year free of Earth Balance (12 coupons good at any of your local shops): I don't know about you, but this is amazing... short of the buttery spread I depend on daily, I would get the new culinary spreads or try the nut butters I've been meaning to pick up.
  • A copy of Vegucated on DVD: Part sociological experiment and part adventure comedy, the award-winning documentary Vegucated follows three meat- and cheese-loving New Yorkers from different backgrounds who, for six weeks, adopt a vegan diet and a whole new way of thinking about food. 
  • A CD of Awakening by interpranaThe title is appropriate, as this (mostly) instrumental CD opens you up via a beautiful soundtrack for your yoga practice. Sounds of nature play with electronica on multiple tracks, like Om Waves orAjna. While Space Dream and Higher Self connect you on a different level.
  • And the cherry on top? A beautiful mala from Mala Imports and a candle from SoyVeda!!!
From Mala Imports
We love wearing our rudraksha bead jewelry for so many reasons. 
We love that it's for those seeking a calmer mind, body, and spirit. 
And that it promotes peace and well being.
We enjoy the connection we have with the gemstones, and watching others find their perfect match. 
Whether it's a need for strength (lava) or a desire to open your heart to love (rose quartz). 
We appreciate that they are handmade by professional mala makers in Bali. 
And that they drill the beads in the same direction in which they grow on the trees, which is also how they're strung. 
It's an important aspect as it's believed to keep the prana—the energy—in each bead. 
And we respect the century-long history of rudraksha malas being worn by Hindus and Buddhists in religious practices. 
One of the best parts—we feel great knowing our jewelry is sustainably harvested, fairly traded, and ethically produced. And that buying a Mala helps those in need

From SoyVeda
100% soy wax candles made from the finest organic and naturally derived ingredients—our candles are hand-poured in the USA, in a certified eco-friendly facility. The ayurvedic candles are available in 6 different fragrances based on ayurvedic healing recipes. Products are sold in beautiful reusable storage tins. Go to their site to find out your dosha and read about their shared love of yoga

How do you not love their descriptions? Be sure to stay tuned, as I'm excited to review Mala Imports' jewelry & a SoyVeda Candle from my own personal experience in my next posts. I'll post about it on facebook and twitter too. 

Now, here's how you can win! For every step taken below, you get one entry into this giveaway: 
1. 'Like' Mala Imports on Facebook 
2. Follow Mala Imports on Twitter
3. Follow Mala Imports on Pinterest
4. 'Like' SoyVeda on Facebook
5. Follow SoyVeda on Twitter
6. 'Like' No Expectation, Only Intention's Facebook page
7. Follow No Expectation, Only Intention on Twitter
8. Share the giveaway on your personal Facebook or Twitter (be sure to tag us, so we know)
9. And if you didn't follow the last giveaways—one each for liking Earth Balance and Vegucated on Facebook
10. One each for following Earth Balance and Vegucated on Twitter
11. Writing a review for Awakening on iTunes

What the?! Yep, you could totally win this!! 
To help me out, please leave a comment below telling me which steps you took (and thank you!). 

Then check back next week to see who the winner is!
Giveaway open until Wednesday, October 31 (all treat, no trick) at 10pm CDT

Monday, October 15

InterPrana's Awakening CD Giveaway!

In celebration of all things October (Vegetarian Awareness Month, Halloween, my birthday, and the anniversary to my dream biz at www.onlyintention.com) I'm doing a giveaway each week—SOOOO EXCITING! This week? TWO PEOPLE CAN WIN! 

Follow the instructions below to enter to win a copy of the CD Awakening by interprana!!!  The title is appropriate, as this (mostly) instrumental CD opens you up via a beautiful soundtrack for your yoga practice. Sounds of nature play with electronica on multiple tracks, like Om Waves or Ajna. While Space Dream and Higher Self connect you on a different level. 
Here's how two of you can win!
1. Rate this CD on iTunes
2. 'Like' No Expectation, Only Intention's facebook page & follow on Twitter (if you haven't already)
3. Copy & paste your iTunes review in the comments below
4. Get an extra entry for sharing this on your facebook page (be sure to tag us so we know you did it)

Then check back next week to see who the winner is!
Giveaway open until Monday, October 22nd at 10pm CDT

Tuesday, October 9

Vegucated Giveaway

In celebration of all things October (Vegetarian Awareness Month, halloween, my birthday, and the anniversary to my dream biz at www.onlyintention.com) I'm doing a giveaway each week—SOOOO EXCITING! This week? TWO PEOPLE CAN WIN! 

Follow the instructions below to enter to win a copy of the DVD Vegucated!!!  Part sociological experiment and part adventure comedy, the award-winning documentary Vegucated follows three meat- and cheese-loving New Yorkers from different backgrounds who, for six weeks, adopt a vegan diet and a whole new way of thinking about food.

With reviews from famous vegans like:
Vegucated is one of the most effective films I’ve seen about the myriad reasons everyone should consider a vegan diet. – Moby 
Vegucated is a funny, entertaining and informative film — a must see.” – Russell Simmons
Here's how two of you can win!
1. 'Like' Vegucated facebook page & follow them on Twitter
2. 'Like' No Expectation, Only Intention's facebook page & follow on Twitter
3. Leave a comment below telling us why you entered 
4. Get an extra entry for sharing this on your facebook page (be sure to tag us so we know you did it)

Then check back next week to see who the winner is!
Giveaway open until Monday, October 15th at 10pm CDT

Monday, October 1

Earth Balance Giveaway!

Happy October! Today is the kick off to Vegetarian Awareness Month, it's fall, it's halloween scary movies, it's soup and sammies, it's the month I started my business dreams just a year ago (www.onlyintention.com), and it's my birthday month. I heart October! So let's celebrate in a very exciting way—enter to win a year's worth of Earth Balance. What?! 

Yep, if you win this drawing you'll get 12 FREE product coupons that you can redeem at your local retailer!! I don't know about you, but this is amazing... short of the buttery spread I depend on daily, I would get the new culinary spreads or try the nut butters I've been meaning to pick up. I'm so excited to share this awesome giveaway (thank you Earth Balance!!!). 

Here's how you can win!
1. 'Like' Earth Balance facebook page & follow them on Twitter
2. 'Like' No Expectation, Only Intention's facebook page & follow on Twitter
3. Leave a comment below telling us what you're most excited to try
4. Get an extra entry for sharing this on your facebook page (be sure to tag us so we know you did it)

Then check back next week to see who the winner is!
Giveaway open until Monday, October 8th at 10pm CDT

Monday, September 17

Four Elements Meditation | Living Yoga Center

It wasn't until Sunday morning that it sunk in—I signed up for six hours of meditation. Six hours! But as my partner kindly reminded me as he pushed me out the door, "This will make you much more happy than sitting on the couch and watching TV." He, as usual, was right.  
LOCATION & STUDIO: Hosted at my home studio in Urbana, IL, Living Yoga Center
CLASS DESCRIPTION: An introduction to meditation and the four elements: achieve greater focus and concentration, enhance your creativity and presence, experience reduced stress and anziety, improve your health and well-being, see the elments present in yourself, others, and the world around you.
INSTRUCTOR: Robert Johnson's years of meditation, coupled with his engaging sense of humor, high level of integrity and heart-centered manner, have made him a much sought after meditation teacher, guide, and presenter in the greater Chicago area through Windy City Meditation. He is a representative of the Sufi Order, appointed by Pir Zia Inaya Khan and is affiliated with the Light-Hearted Center of SOI in Forest Park, IL. Robert has studied and practiced meditation for over 20 years and also has extensive training in energy medicine. He is a healing conductor and active member of the Sufi Healing Order.
CONTACT: Windy City Meditation

OK, a bit of an exaggeration at the beginning, it wasn't six hours straight of meditation. The truth is, I've tried doing just 2-3 minutes of meditation every morning off and on for the past year. It's horrible. Which is exactly why I signed up for this seminar and at the same time feared it like I fear snakes (which is a lot).

I walked in to see the regular practice space set up with folding chairs in a semi-circle. Once we were all settled there were 12 of us, plus Robert, our guide. Lucky 13! Robert chatted about himself and then we went around the room talking about ourselves. I usually hate this group activity, but today was more personal. I learned one thing quickly—we're all in transition. Some are avoiding it, some are forcing it (that may be me), and some aren't even aware of it. But, the science of life alone tells you we're always in transition. What was beautiful about the group was learning the unique ways everyone was transitioning—and recognizing how we could all benefit from some meditation.

Robert was a delightful guide in his calm demeanor, his quick sense of humor, and his open heart. He chatted a little bit about how he came to sufism and about sufism in general. And then quickly took us into practicing meditation. I would say we did possibly five phases of meditation practice, each time practicing 2-3 times: the first time was just to focus on the basics (connection to the ground, posture, breath), then we added in counting breath work and recognizing our patterns, followed by counting the breath with our heartbeat, then we talked about balancing the elements inside of us with different types of breath in your meditation, and lastly he left us with an easy 2-3 minute meditation practice.

I found with each level of meditation I was always frustrated—my inhales are shorter than my exhales, I can't find my pulse, what do I want to make for dinner? crap! let it go!, my butt hurts, breathe into the tension, relax, wait, am i still breathing?—but the more I focused on the technique the less I had the overwhelming thoughts in my head. After we introduced the pulse into our counting was the break through for me. Robert brought us out of meditation, and even though I was frustrated during the whole process when I came out of meditation it was like waking up. I was confused as to why I was at Living Yoga Center and the people sitting around me. And just like waking up from a dream, it's a quick transition but you're aware of a difference. That was when I realized I could forgive my shortcomings because you can still meditate through it—and with that I could believe I could improve along the way. Hooray! We're not even at the lunch break and I've learned more than I, well, expected.

After lunch, Robert talked more about the four elements: air, fire, water, earth. We contain all four in our personality, but one is usually stronger. And knowing this information about yourself can help you balance it better with different breath work, and it opened my eyes to some of my closer relationships too. I, oh so quickly, learned I'm fire. Which has lovely qualities: powerful, goal-oriented, intense, courageous. But we all know too much fire is scary: abusive, fanatic, frenetic, and self-destructive. I quickly realized the people I consider closest to me—my dear friend is earth: peaceful, disciplined, willful, responsible. I think my boyfriend is water—open, trusting, loyal. Water is the element that can sooth fire—and he definitely knows how to bring me back to balance. The instructor said if fire is a tree, then water is its roots. I, of course, love that. Interestingly, I didn't see a relationship in my life that would fall under air—and that makes sense as far as what I feel like I'm lacking in my life. I don't know—it was nothing ground-shaking to learn, but it definitely helped me recognize the importance of the people you surround yourself with and honoring the balance within.

At the beginning of class we wrote down a distortion we wanted to let go of (mine was fear of loss), were asked to fold up the piece of paper, and put it in a bowl Robert provided. At the end of class we went outside and set those lil papers on fire. It was a wonderful way to end the class, and am very grateful for the group I bonded with after a day of discovery. Thank you, Robert, for bringing us all together and taking us each steps closer to awakening. Namaste.

Saturday, August 18

Amara Yoga & Arts | Urbana, IL

Today I went to a class with one of my favorite, favorite people in the whole wide world! And to make it new for both of us—this was her first studio class—we checked out a different studio than my home studio in Urbana, IL. 
LOCATION: Easy for us, because we're from here, but also easy if you're not. Amara Yoga & Arts is located in Lincoln Square Mall (one of the first enclosed malls in the nation, ooooo), just opposite the main entrance of the mall is Common Ground Food Co-op—and on Saturday mornings, the same corner of the Farmer's Market (I know, the perfect morning... a little yoga, a little shopping at the farmer's market. Bliss!) Parking is free.  
STUDIO: Although it's inside the mall, the entrance is from the outside, so there is less fear of leaving stuff around and people being able to casually walk by and grab it (see last review's worries). The space  is pretty big, with a wall full of windows, so lots of natural, wonderful light flooding in. When you walk in, there are all the props you can use for class (no rental fee), to the left is the classroom, to the right is check-in. Check-in offers a nice community space to sip tea and catch up with others before class or browse the plethora of merch available. Between the practice space and check-in (on the back wall) is a hallway with 2-3 changing rooms. I never did find the bathroom, sorry. 
CLASS DESCRIPTION: Yoga Fundamentals: This class is designed to introduce new and continuing students to the fundamentals of yoga and prepare students for mixed level group classes. The class will provide instruction in the basic understanding of breathing (pranayama), sun salutations and poses (asanas), alignment, standing and seated postures, with a different emphasis each session. The teacher will assist students with alignment and suggest variations allowing each student to practice at a suitable level. 
INSTRUCTOR: Linda Lehovec has been practicing yoga since 2000. A dance and choreographer, Linda has been teaching yoga since 2005 at the University of Illinois where she is currently on faculty in the Department of Dance. In 2011, Linda completely her 200-hour Hatha Yoga teacher training and received her certification through the Kriya Temple of Yoga in Chicago. She is a registered yoga teacher in Yoga Alliance (RYT-200). Through her teaching Linda works to cultivate and deepen each students' self-awareness as well as their understanding of the body in general, and more specifically their understanding of the body in the yoga asanas. She brings her knowledge of the body, and the body in movement, into the yoga studio, using basic anatomy as a guide to developing a safe and purposeful yoga practice. Focus on her yoga class is on developing an understanding of useful alignment, cultivating an inward sense of awareness, and deepening the awareness of the subtle musculature in each pose. Linda teaches yoga anatomy workshops, and group and private yoga classes at Amara. 

*Written by Bridget, Anni's comments in italic*

This class was a present to myself. I've been meaning to get to a yoga class, really meaning to, but somehow I keep not getting to one. My yoga experience is limited to DVDs (including the crazy-eyed prenatal instructor one) and a few classes at my gym here and there over the years. I found yoga very centering while pregnant with my now three-year old daughter and relied heavily on yoga breathing (pranayama!) to achieve my natural birthing experience. Even with this positive connection though, it was something negative that finally pushed me to just go. It was the combination of health woes, overwhelming stress, and not being able to run (my fitness staple) that made me stop and say, "I need something more!" I walked into this class two days before having surgery for two suspicious, possibly cancerous (not cancerous, whew! whew is right!!) lumps removed. I almost skipped out, but my dear friend Anni reminded me that sometimes when we least think we have the energy to do something, that's when we actually need it most. She was right. (I should take my own advice, lol.) 

I was vaguely familiar with Amara and found the space very welcoming with charming, handmade flags greeting us outdoors (Amara is also considered an art studio and they regularly hold Kids Arts + Crafts Programs—which is where the flags came from) and a bright, sunny space within. The props were easy to find and based on the shoes already by the door, I gathered that I was to leave my shoes there also. The staff was helpful and I was glad to see a familiar face in the instructor who I know professionally (B and I work at a performing arts center—our instructor also teaches dance. It was great to see Linda from the perspective of a student!). The space in the studio felt a little tight to me, but a full class is usually a good sign, right? (That's usual for a Saturday morning class—and actually, although the room was full, that wasn't tight at all—their practice space is quite spacious. But, as I've said in other reviews, I usually avoid Saturday morning classes, because I like a quainter class size). I thought the instructor provided a lot of interesting information and was able to adjust in a very constructive manner, which made me feel at ease and more able to stay in the moment. It definitely seemed focused on a beginner level that made the practice a bit more practical than spiritual, but still challenging at moments. (I'm gonna guess this was actually the style of teaching—it's true that they don't usually hit you with the chanting in your beginner classes, but I didn't really feel this was a basic beginner class. What made it beginner-friendly was that Linda was incredible at instructing the students into the pose and offering up variations for different skill levels.) And Linda's trick for staying in chaturanga using the strap was amazing! (True dat! Linda had us loop the strap and place it just below the elbows. This provides you with a structure to lean on that distributes the weight in chaturanga dandasana—giving you the opportunity to stay longer to manipulate the body into the pose correctly. It was incredible! It was the first time I could actually imagine my body being able to hold chaturanga with no feet or what really is the floating in between the poses. Imagining your body doing any pose, to me, is really half the battle). 

For me, I think the most important thing about this class was just getting over the hump of going, realizing that I don't need to be perfect to embark on a yoga journey, and recognizing that anything shared with a friend tends to be easier. 

Seriously, a morning of yoga with my lovely friend is so inspiring. If you're new to yoga—grab a buddy and stumble through it together. I went to my first yoga class to support my friend Katie, only to find out it was my calling. You never know what you'll discover! 

Thank you, Bridget, for not only going to a class with me, but sharing your experience with all of us. What you learned is why I like going to different studios. That little bit of awkwardness is a humble reminder that we aren't meant to be perfect. It allows me to be more forgiving to myself—and therefore others. For me, yoga has nothing to do with the physical practice—but it's the physical practice that opens me up to my own personal freedom. Very Karate Kid, wax on, wax off. :) 

They do a lot of kids art workshops, love these mandala flags!
Gotta Love the Welcome Mat
View of the Entrance from the Check-In Desk
View of the Tea Station from the Check-In Desk 
Group Practice Space
Hallway in the Back w/ Dressing Rooms & a Safe Place to Hang Personal Items 

Monday, July 9

Sangha Yoga | Kalamazoo, MI

I'm pretty excited for today's review, because it's with my partner in crime (in this class and in life), Jafe—and his first class too! I'm curious to hear his perspective.

LOCATION: The crazy thing about SW Michigan is every street is named Business 94 or Michigan Ave. For some reason Waze couldn't figure out the location I was looking for, so we went to google maps for directions. We somehow ended up on the wrong street, and didn't realize it til we parked. So we did another google map search and walked our way to class. Once we found ourselves on the right street the signage to get to the studio was great. We were late, but so were 4-5 other people, so we were able to sneak in with everyone after the starting meditation (which I was pretty disappointed Jafe missed, but hopefully there will be another class together). Parking is free in Kalamazoo from Fridays at 5pm thru Mondays at 8am, which is pretty great, in my opinion. 
STUDIO: The studio is inside a mall, and check-in was the store front, so to speak. We could kick off our shoes and leave our belongings there. I did it, but wasn't too comfortable with it as it was open to the mall—even if the woman checking us in stayed there the whole time. Since this was a community class we could pay what we like in cash—their normal drop-in fee is $16 (which is what you had to pay if you used your credit card). Once in the classroom (it was packed!!) we grabbed a mat for Jafe and our props (no rental fee), and were grateful to the two guys up front for making room for us. The walls were chocolate brown with the same fabric on the ceiling as the studio I went to the day before (Flow Yoga). There were windows to the side street and entrance of the mall, but they were covered in white fabric... which created a nice glow in the room. The instructor set up at the front on a circular yoga mat, behind her was a small shelf of candles and a statue, I believe. There was a bathroom, but only one and a line to use it after class, so I didn't get a chance to check it out, sorry. 
CLASS DESCRIPTION: Sangha means community. Community Classes are taught by rotating certified instructors within the Kalamazoo area. Community Classes give students an opportunity to be introduced to new teachers and styles of yoga. Open level, 1-2.
INSTRUCTOR: Ann M. Beattie, RYT discovered yoga at the age of 12 while watching Lilias Folan on TV. When Ann moved to Texas in her 20s, she found her spiritual teacher in Gurubachan Singh Khalsa. She studied Kundalini Yoga for 10 years and taught under his guidance. Upon moving to Kalamazoo in 2000, Ann studied Yoga Fit and began teaching hath a yoga at various gyms and fitness centers. Ann completed her 200 hours RYT training with Karina Ayn Mirsky at Sangha Yoga in 2009. This imbued Ann with new dedication and enthusiasm for her practice and for sharing her knowledge with her students. She continues to study with Karina Ayn and has participated in workshops by Chandra Easton and Gary Kraftsow. Ann believes that with yoga, there is the potential to experience your true self, and she feels honored to be able to help guide her students as they deepen their own self knowledge. 
CONTACT: Sangha Yoga

*Written by Jafe, Anni's comments in italic*

Finally, I made it to my first yoga class ever and it was long overdue. Anni has been telling me to try yoga for a while now to help with some of the aches and pains that come with being me (as did your physical therapist, for the record). Like many people, my lower back tends to give me trouble, but I aggravate other body parts as well. Most of these aches come from playing rugby, where players are never a 100% healthy and a common question asked is, "are you hurt or are you injured?" The answer to this question determines whether you keep playing or go to the sideline/hospital. Thus far (knock on wood), I have only been hurt but have acquired my share of aches. Enough about me and back to the class at hand.

We were in Kalamazoo, MI for a weekend trip and on the night prior to the class indulged in the local nightlife (I shake my fist at you, Old Style). This was not the best preparation for my first yoga experience, but we were on vacation and "when in Rome..." I found the class to be rewarding and well suited for a beginner. Even though Anni has described classes to me many times, I did not give it much thought before we were in the studio—short of being a little worried that I would be unable to participate in some of the poses (I am not often described as limber). However, the movements and poses were not overly complex, and I could do everything instructed, though not as well as anyone else. We spent a fair amount of time warming up the body at the beginning of class with stretches similar to those from other sports I have played. We did some poses, most of which Anni had shown me before (mostly it was back work & table top work—to keep us cool. Once in standing positions we stuck to Warrior I, eagle arms, and a wide-leg forward fold. There were a few twists throughout, it was pretty low-key), and ended with the cool down (sivasana for me, nap for Jafe). This class may not have been as rewarding for someone with experience or looking for a serious practice (it's always good, for me, to slow down and go back to basics—so I wouldn't complain), but for a beginner who had a late night, it was just right.

The instructor created a soothing atmosphere. Everyone in the class was focused on their own practice which allowed a certain anonymity that made it easy to maintain focus (you did say, you liked that we were instructed to close our eyes a lot.. made it easier to pay attention to your own work. I totally agree). What I liked the most about the class was the silence. The yoga and the studio itself created a cleansing space where I could relax and clear my head. I cannot help but think of it like a palette cleansing for your day, like eating a piece of ginger after sushi. I know this is not the most romantic analogy, but it is one that I can relate to (um, big fan of that analogy). My only complaint was that the room was crowded and it would have helped if I could spread out more, but I hear Saturday morning classes are popular. Since this was my first class I have nothing to compare it to, but I found the experience rewarding and hope to try again.

Did it help that there were guys in the classroom, or would you have thought nothing of it? 
It did help that there were guys in the class room. It helped at the beginning at least, it wouldn't have mattered after a little while. Plus they scooted over us, so there you go. The girls didn't move at all, they just threw rocks at us. What?! I'm totally putting that in here. 

Was it ok doing yoga next to me? Would you prefer to have gone on your own?
It was alright doing it next to you, I had no beef. I would have preferred if we weren't hitting each other, a little more space would have been good. (I must have made some sort of face) You wouldn't like more space? I don't like it that crowded, it's why I normally don't go on Saturdays—tooooo busy.

We chanted nine OMs to end the class... that's a lot of OMs. What did you think of it?
I didn't mind it. I don't know if I completely understand the OMs, I guess to bring everyone together? Do you know why? Hayli has mentioned briefly the healing effects of vibrations in the body (referencing the gong bath class Living Yoga Center hosted recently), but good question... let's look it up. I'm not sure if this is the best explanation from Daily Om (this link is to the full article if you want to read more)—so please, other yogis, if you want to explain or provide links in the comments, I fully welcome it.     
Within each human being lies the power to affect change through the power of a chant, the spoken words, or even a gentle whisper. The body's chakras or energy centers, so closely intertwined with their corresponding regions of the body, can be represented in sound, which parallels the energy pattern of the chakras and is symbolic of their essences. These unique sounds are the bija, or seed, mantras. The mantras are the one-syllable seed sounds that, when said aloud, activate the energy of the chakras in order to purify and balance the mind and body. When you speak the bija mantras, you resonate with the energy of the associated chakra, helping you focus upon your own instinctive awareness of your body and its needs. OM is the most renowned and expansive of the bija mantras. It is the mantra of assent and the form of creation, causing energy to surge upward and outward. 
What would you tell others (like a rugby player) out there considering their first yoga class?
It's a nice stretch, good core strengthening, and the spiritual part of it you can get what you want out of it... It's mandatory for the US rugby team, as part of their training, so that says something.

Thanks for going to class with me, baby, it was awesome having you there and your perspective is definitely refreshing. I can't wait to check out another studio with you. 

I have to also add, as it's completely in tune with the current NEOI collaboration with Duck Duck Goose—as we were leaving a car drove by and stopped... I assumed the couple was going to ask us directions, but she said, "Because you just left yoga together, here!" and passed a bouquet of flowers (to her boyfriend who then passed them) to us. It was the kindest random act of... um, kindness. And that's the mission of DDG, so I had to include it in this entry. Thank you random couple with a basket of flowers—you totally added to what turned out to be one of the best days in our relationship! 

Afterwards we hopped in the car and drove to St. Joseph for a day of playing in Lake Michigan (which had to be around 85° water) on the beautiful Silver Beach. I think Jafe is on to something... we started off the day with our palette cleanser and continued on to what is still making me one of the happiest girls. So grateful. 


There are two entrances, this is the main street one.

This is the entrance off the side street.
Our First Class!
The Gorgeous Flowers Complete Strangers Gave Us *heart*