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, February 26

Dunedin Health & Wellness Center | Dunedin, FL

LOCATION: The location was easy to get to, but by following directions the parking isn't completely obvious on the first round. I drove pass the location, knowing it was it from pictures online, but unsure where to park. Once I turned back around I pulled into what seemed to be an alley, which took me to the other side of the building and there was free parking on that side (much more obvious if you're coming from the East, I'm guessing).  
$15 drop-in, cash or cards 
STUDIO: Although the website will tell you the studio is located upstairs (which may imply a different entrance), you walk in through the main entrance and check-in before you go upstairs. Kick off your shoes at the elevator which takes you to the second level and opens up into the practice space. The practice space is crisp with bright curtains over windows and a doorway that opens up onto a little balcony. It's a smaller space, with six of us and the instructor we filled it out comfortably (although we didn't stagger our mats at all). Props, mats, and even space for two on an Iyengar rope wall are available.   
CLASS DESCRIPTION: Hatha Level 1 is for beginner's and those who want to practice the foundations of Hatha Yoga to develop awareness.
INSTRUCTOR: Wade, I believe, has just started teaching classes but has been with the Dunedin Health & Wellness Center as a massage therapist for some time. I've included links to Wade's massage history and the Center's yoga page here, but I can't provide more info on Wade and yoga specifically, sorry.
CONTACT: Ani Yoga Studio (though this is the name, I didn't see it anywhere, which is why it's titled as Dunedin Health & Wellness Center in the title)

Walking into the Center was relaxing from the get go because our instructor, Wade, was at check-in answering questions. My mom laughed at me when I said, "This is the first time I realized Morgan Freeman would make an excellent yoga instructor voice." Though Wade's voice didn't sound like Morgan Freeman, it has that same soothing rhythm to it. He was humble and kind and in his approach to answering questions, and I immediately felt welcomed (in a nurturing way, some yoga studios welcome you in a more physically energizing way—this was more mentally energizing).

I turned around to find an elevator decorated with prayer flags and a stand with shoes already in place, so off went my flip flops + barefoot into the elevator I went. Which felt weird. The elevator opened up directly into the studio where a few students chatted and I quietly sat up my space in the furthest back corner. One of the students played with the rope wall, which I didn't realize I was in a Iyengar-based studio, so I was curious how this class would unfold. Once Wade entered in it was immediately meditative as he went directly into practice with no opening chit-chat. He gave us three requirements for the class:
  1. Relax the body for the entire class
  2. Allow the mind to let go 
  3. Let the breath move through your body like wind through a hollow bamboo reed
To focus in on our breathing he asked to silently repeat so hum to ourselves. So on the inhale. Hum on the exhale. He quoted Iyengar with his translation of, "I am that." I found myself returning to it regularly during this practice, it reminded me of the same sensation out of doing this with sat nam, I learned in my first class here in the Tampa area.

We started by warming up the body on our back. His instruction was very detailed, like I often find in Iyengar-based classes. Some people don't like this, it works well my mind-body connection. We did possibly a million hip opening positions from our back (ok, not a million, but Wade was thorough). We alternated bending one knee into the chest, eventually that led to straightening the leg, a reclined pigeon pose, to a straight-leg hip opener (reclined pigeon with a straight leg).

reclined pigeon via
The next sequence was a first for me, where we would go into reclined crow pose (bakasana), to reclined side angle pose (parsva bakasana) on both sides. This was an interesting way to activate the core and maybe rethink how you hold the arm balance when upright.Which went into a happy baby (ananda balasana) sequence including new version of reclined baddha konasana.
reclined (sleepy) crow via
baddha konasana via
We eventually stood up and went into a couple lunge sequences (after a week of my yoga classes focusing deeply on hips, I didn't even need blocks—which felt really encouraging for sticking with this many classes regularly). A warrior one (virabhadrasana 1) sequence. And then back to the mat, this time on our bellies for a low cobra (bhujangasana) sequence that included bent knee rotations (I can't find a picture for this one, so bear with me... You are on your belly, head resting on your crossed arms so the spine is straight. Kick your feet up in the air so you legs are now at a 90° angle. Make circles with your feet, so both legs are rotating together).

Then came some seated twists that eventually worked our way to savasana. What a nurturing experience, and a beautiful way to end my yoga practice in Florida. Though I did build up some heat in some of the standing poses and holding downward dog longer than usual, I would say overall this was a gentle class and an excellent introduction to hatha yoga for beginners. I'm not sure how long the class was suppose to go, but we were in there for just over an hour and a half. Wade did comment that he always goes over time, and if the students would let him he wouldn't stop. With that kind of class, I'd question what student would stop you Wade!

Thank you for such a kind class.

studio is above where you see the flags, but you enter between the plants on the main level
check in
elevator to the studio upstairs
the statue wishing you well on the way out

Monday, February 24

Swing 101: Foundations for Flight | Yoga Downtown Tampa | Tampa, FL

LOCATION: This time it was extra easy to get to, as my mom just dropped me off. But, from my last visit to the studio, I know it's an easy drive close to the exit. There is free parking on the street over the weekends, but also there's parking behind the building that is free all the time (be sure to grab a business card off the check-in desk and put it on your dash). 
$20 each or $35 for two (which will get you a discount for 102 if you're in the area or returning). You have to sign up on line because they only have nine spots available, and I would be sure to do it a couple weeks ahead of time. 
STUDIO:  The studio is small and it was fun to see how it has changed since my last visit—the greenery has grown out front and the decor in the front section has changed. But the mural, swings, and bathroom/prop area are still the same. 
CLASS DESCRIPTION: Swing 101 + 102 are required before being able to take our regularly scheduled swing classes so you'll be prepared to fly in our regularly scheduled classes (this is obviously new since my last visit—or they were kind enough to let me into the last class. Regardless, I think it's a smart idea). This is the space to bring out your inner child, inner Cirque du Soleil performer, or just have some fun! Learn to work with the fabric and experience your practice in new and creative ways in this fun and supportive environment. We'll lay the foundation for aerial practice, starting from the ground and guiding you into flight! Release tension, build flexibility, and challenge your body and mind in new ways. You'll finish with an extended savasana as you float on air to leave you feeling deep bliss!
INSTRUCTOR: Monica completed her 200-hour Vinyasa Flow training with Frog Lotus Yoga International and my 500-hour advanced training with Asheville Yoga Center. She will always be a student of the practice and is deeply grateful for the wisdom her teachers have shared with her. In classes, Monica loves to combine fun music, creative sequencing, and a dose of inspiration to help you deepen your practice. She seeks to help others thrive in life by nurturing body, mind, and soul with yoga, and hopes you step off the mat feeling refreshed, nourished, and balanced.

Since I've put in an aerial swing into my garage I've been craving swing classes for some time. Then second I get home I suddenly only remember two poses from start to finish. Knowing I was returning to Tampa I immediately looked up YDT's schedule and was ecstatic to find they were hosting a 101 workshop!

Monica was such a kind instructor from start to finish—and start was online when I screwed up my reservation and she patiently walked me through that process (maybe this was a sign of my inability to follow directions for yoga in Florida? See A Yoga Village review or Green Locus review). She started us off my everyone introducing themselves and if they had done swing yoga before. Everyone was brand new to the experience and their stories were so interesting. One student had recently  conquered ovarian cancer and she was younger than me. One student was from Danville, just outside of where I currently live. Two ladies came in together and cracked me up during the class, as friends always have great side comments to one another when they're trying something new... or in general, for that matter. It was a fun vibe in the room.

We warmed up our bodies for some swing work, focusing on hands, wrists and forearms because of how often you use your upper body. Then we immediately got in the swings. She had us sitting sideways in a folded leg pose, pulling ourselves up to adjust our ability to straighten our spines. Just like a sitting meditation used to open most yoga classes, but this time hanging in the air in your own little cocoon.

Then we went to hanging upside down immediately. This was smart, because the first few times you do this you're scared of trusting yourself and the fabric holding you there. Monica showed us a couple ways to get into the swing upside down which moved the fabric in different ways around your body. We learned to let go and arch our body into a few poses:
Then we took our leg stretches to the swing with a little balance work too. By placing your leg in the swing (like propping it up on ballet barre for forward folds and twists) you work more with gravity not only for the balance but also by leaning forward and having gravity take over on your body (or controlling that by activating your core, which is equally great). We did forward folds, twists, pigeon pose, and the beginning of splits:
Then we went into some poses that really break or make the experience based on your toleration, really. Folding forward over the swing and doing downward dogs or core work by hovering in the air can really dig into your hip crease. Monica supplied us with blankets—which makes a difference, so if you feel the least bit of uncomfortable, grab one. You'll thank me the next day—I'm currently speaking from my own experience.

We did a little actual swinging—which I like the least, park swings always make me nauseous. And we would also dismount by leaning back from the swinging position until we were reclined parallel to the ground and were instructed to let go of our hands and hover. I didn't think this was possible for my body, but I caught air for a split second and that was enough for me. Just the act of getting my brain to believe it can happen is half the battle, right?!

Our finale pose was a shoulder stand—which this one I knew and I unfortunately got carried away (sorry Monica) and went into a couple other poses  that Monica then demonstrated to everyone else. I felt bad about this, I honestly didn't think anyone was paying attention to me and I could just sneak them in... I felt like a jerk student. But shoulder stand is awesome—the fabric is holding you by the shoulders and you work the core to stay straight upside down.

Monica lead us into savasana, a reeeeeeeeally long one, it was glorious. We're all tucked into our cocoons hovering into pure relaxation. So amazing, thank you for doing that Monica!

It's a bit Invasion of the Body Snatchers to see it from this angle—
but glorious from the inside (which the aliens would say too, uh oh!)
I definitely recommend this—no matter what level of yoga you're at. It's playful, it's a new perspective on traditional poses, and it does some great upper body + core work. I adore it and am impatiently waiting for some fly yoga to come to Champaign, IL!

Thank you for an excellent class, Monica, I look forward to 102 with you!

Sunday, February 23

Green Locus | Tampa, FL

It's been well over a year since I've taken a flow class, and I thought it was about time to get my lazy arse back to it.  

LOCATION: Today I learned there was an upstairs to those charming strip malls set up to look like village squares. Getting to the area was easy, but understanding where the studio was located was a bit more of a challenge. I knew the address number, but couldn't find it anywhere and then I caught glimpse a little sign that stated the studio was upstairs. Parking was free, but limited. I did happen to find parking behind the buildings too. There is an elevator that takes you up stairs and then you follow signs to a long hallway of nothing, but keep an eye on the doors and you'll find Green Locus at the end just fine.    
STUDIO: This small studio is clean, simple, and organized with an entrance for check-in and dropping off your belongings. Then another door takes you into the classroom that has props and mats, a wall of windows, and a bright + airy feeling. $15 drop-in, cash or card.  
CLASS DESCRIPTION: Flow classes focus on a smooth transition of yoga poses connecting the movement with the breath. There is constant movement in these classes for individual looking for more fluid asanas.
INSTRUCTOR: Kerry is a 200-hour registered yoga teacher (RYT-200) certified in Hatha, Vinyasa, and Ayurveda Therapy through the Yoga Energy Studio in St. Petersburg, FL. I am also certified to teach the Barkan Method Advanced Hot Vinyasa series as well as Missy White's Hot 108 series.
CONTACT: Green Locus

This will be my second occurrence of trying to "break in" to a yoga studio...Your graceful yoga reviewer, here for your entertainment. So, as you read above, I had some difficulty realizing the studio was upstairs, but once I parked in the back I saw a stairwell and set off to getting to the second level. At this point I'm already running late, so I was glad I parked so close to a stairwell. Until I got to the top, where there was a keypad to get in. What? Ok, I go running back down the stairs looking for another entrance. What's with me not being able to find entrances?! I'm calling it "breaking in" so it's a bit more dramatic and less idiotic—but let's call a spade a spade. Maybe this is why I enjoy doing environmental design so much—because if I create the signage for others, everyone will be able to see it!

Walking back to the store front area I looked around for another stairwell, but no luck. Then I realized I walked pass some mailboxes so I went back that direction when an elevator caught my attention (in my defense, it was hidden by a huge brick pillar—seriously, I'm not as flakey as I'm making myself out to be, am I?). I'm supplying pictures of my trek to the space below so you have visuals, but I'm guessing that will be unnecessary as you probably are capable of finding entrances and reading signs :) 

Once I walked down the bare hallway to the studio space, there was no one at the front desk (note: complete access to everyone's belongings hanging out there, so take your stuff with you into the classroom). I stood there not sure what to do and quickly getting disappointed that I was going to miss this class. I could hear instructor in the other room, but for some reason I just couldn't walk in—not on my first visit to the studio. I snapped a couple pics to sadly share with you all and quietly shut the door behind me—but a regular was showing up late (hooray!). I asked her if it was okay to just walk in, since I was new... she kindly fumbled through some response I took to be as yes. Then I couldn't find a yoga mat, and she let me know they were inside (thank you, kind lady!). So, just like my first class in Florida, I sheepishly followed her into the class room. I'm a dork. 

No idea how Kerry started the class, but I got there during some cat/cow stretches. We followed that up with a few seated twists and then immediately went into flow sequences. I have a love-hate relationship with flow because you just move from pose to pose with little time to sink into each posture properly (for me at least, I'm slow in aligning myself into the pose). At the same time, my heat kicks in fast and I'm sweating like crazy. In fact, it appears some instructors get concerned around me, but I think I just have years of toxins in me from my pre-vegan lifestyle. That shit has to come out! And I'm so grateful it does. 

The room was on the warm side, and I wondered if I found myself in another heated yoga studio (which I don't enjoy), but after talking to Kerry after class she said she didn't think we'd need the AC until we were halfway through class. Apparently we got the room up to 85°F on our own. Go us! I do think if I start to work flow back into my regular schedule I will invest in a yoga towel mat to layer over my current mat, because I sweat so much it drips and I start to slip all over the place. It's dangerous. 

Kerry didn't walk around adjusting us—oh! I almost forgot, at the check-in desk they have cards out for students to place near their mats. I thought this was genius. They simply said "no adjusting," which is such a respectful way to handle this for all parties. The student doesn't have to feel awkward requesting to not be touched mid-adjustment, the teacher won't find him/herself in the middle of making a situation tense instead of the intention of nurturing, and the studio makes everyone happy. I love it. I will never need it, as I adore being adjusted... but I love the way of making everyone feeling safe in their own preferred spaces. Anyway! Kerry didn't walk around adjusting us—which may not happen much during flow classes, now that I think of it, because we're moving so much. She did, however, give excellent verbal cues every second of the way. Kerry also offered up lots of variations for the vast levels in the classroom (and that was just with five students). It was cool to see a couple students going into some great arm balances why I happily held my triangle pose (trikonasana). 

We ended in savasana, came back to sitting and chanting a single om, and went on our way. I think this would be a great introduction to flow for all levels—I do still encourage beginners taking a first class ever to go to a beginner's class or gentle class to spend a little more time in the poses, but if you're a sweat junkie who can't wait... this would be the instructor for you! 

Thank you for a lovely intro back into flow, Kerry!

Here's a little visual walk through of how to get to the studio—for us sign-reading impaired ;)  

see, the elevator is tucked back + blocked by a beam. I didn't have a chance!
This is the door that is a little confusing... do you go in? Yes!
And if you need a bathroom, it's to the left once you walk in.
Loooooong hallway of mystery :)
check-in (those "no adjusting cards" are on the left with a green circle)

Beach Yoga Pinellas | Madeira, FL

We spent a couple days at the beach, so you bet I was going to look up some yoga classes. When I found a location that offered paddleboard yoga, I was so excited... but quickly realized it was on a day I wouldn't be there. But they did offer up yin yoga on the beach. I love yin yoga—so I was happy to sign up.  

LOCATION: Is there anything I can really say about a location like on the beach?! Of course! Where on the beach is always the biggest question when you're going to one of these classes. Beach Yoga Pinellas does a great job of telling you where to park so you know you'll be nearby. Once you park (which these are metered parking lots for the tourists, but there are pay stations so you don't have to have change)... look for other students, they're pretty obvious on the beach just by clothing and towels/bags set up a little differently. Then set yourself up and enjoy the view while you wait for class to start! 
STUDIO: Soft sand, calming waves of the gulf, blue skies, sunshine, a little breeze. Oh yeah. $15 drop-in—exact cash only if you don't pay online before class. 
CLASS DESCRIPTION: Yin yoga works deeply into the connective tissues (ligaments, tendons, cartilage and fascia), in order to heal joints and increase flexibility through slow, gentle and sustained traction. Yin yoga focuses on slowly stretching the connective tissues around joints, which in turn also helps to strengthen them.
INSTRUCTOR: Lucy doesn't have a bio + no matter how much I google stalk, I can't find any info on her, sorry.

This was my third beach yoga practice and my second Yin Yoga class I believe, and beach yoga always seems to present challenges that you almost enjoy just by default of location. For my first class it was the experience of balancing on a moving ground for the first time. The second class was learning bug spray was essential for lil buggers and sunglasses for seeing your instructor. This class was being grateful for sunglasses for the sand blowing and constantly telling myself that it was a spa day exfoliation while I lay back and feel sand going across my face. 

The other huge challenge was my focus... it was horrible. Not because of the view or the sound of rolling waves, my thoughts weren't on that beach at all. No matter how much I tried to wrangle them back in, away they went running naked through the streets. I did the best I could, and for that I'll just have to be grateful. Now, back to the practice at hand... I was aware enough to share some of it with you :) 

Lucy had us go into poses, holding them all for at least five minutes. She had different names for poses than I'm use to—so it was like taking a class for the first time just for not understanding what she was requesting. She did, like all instructors do, explain the pose or show the pose herself. The first request was banana pose. Banana pose? Yep. We laid flat on our beach towels and scooted our butts to one side, then you'd shape yourself like a banana by moving your feet + head in the opposite direction. This made my sacrum pretty unhappy, but after the tension released a bit, all calmed down. 

The whole class focused in on our hips—which mine tend to be pretty open, but I definitely felt it the next morning. Lunges, laying swan (or, as I know it, pigeon pose), and forward fold and reclining half hero pose or virasana (which my knees didn't like very much and I could have used a couple props for this (although Lucy does bring blocks + straps with her, so all was not lost. This was the one pose she came by to adjust me on the best she could) were a few poses—below you can see examples of half hero pose: 

I will say, that this may not be the way I would recommend a first yoga class, as luxurious as yoga on the beach sounds. Mostly because you can't hear the instructor very well (Lucy was losing her voice by the end of the practice, how she does it weekly is beyond me) and poses on a solid ground is really a better place to start. Extra props are always nice to have around, and because the wind was picking up, Lucy avoided walking around a kicking up sand to "exfoliate" our skin. This kept her from adjusting us more, unfortunately.

But for those who have taken a few classes, even, I think you'd find a beach yoga class a great experience. Here's what I recommend to bring with you (links are to my favorite brands): 
Bug Spray
A beach towel or two (or your yoga mat, if you don't mind it in the sand)
Something to weigh down your towel in case it's breezy (I use my sandals usually)
And, a couple more pictures of the beach, of course :) 
our instructor Lucy

couldn't resist a pic of a kiddo running into a flock of seagulls sunbathing

A Yoga Village | Clearwater, FL

First class of vacation—flew into Tampa this morning and I'm already getting on my yoga mat <pats on the back>. This is also my first time taking a kundalini class—I had no idea what I was getting myself into! 

LOCATION: A Yoga Village has four locations—two in Clearwater and two in St. Pete. I'm referring to the Daniel St. location in Clearwater, which is very easy to get to with it's huge name on the side of a yellow building that faces N. McMullen Booth Rd. There's a free parking lot right when you pull in with extra spaces just across Daniel St. too. This place was packed probably 10 minutes before class started, so I would recommend showing up earlier than your average yoga class.
STUDIO: There was good energy the second you pull into the lot. The brightness of the building, greenery everywhere, prayer flags at the entrance, everyone's shoes hanging out before you even enter the building. Once inside there is a check-in desk and then I believe two class rooms to the left and two class rooms to the right. I was to the right. Separating the two class rooms was a great sitting area with cushy furniture, tea, and people actually using them. From here you can see the back courtyard that is absolutely stunning + I immediately wished we were having class out there. The classroom I was in was simple—carpeted floors, plenty of props, a slightly raised/staged area for the instructor with pillows, and a huge gong. One wall was doors leading out to the courtyard, two walls had windows that were out of eye shot but brought in more natural light, the last wall was props and the door to get into the room. $15 drop-in cash or card. 
CLASS DESCRIPTION:  Kundalini Yoga is the Yoga of awareness. It teaches posture, breath, mudra (hand postion), movement and mantra (sound current). Each class begins with a tune in, breathing exercises, warm ups, then a Yoga set followed by rest time and meditation. Kundalini Yoga strengthens and balances the glandular and nervous systems while it energizes and revitalizes!
INSTRUCTOR: Gail Dutton (Updesh Kaur) is a 200-hour KRI-certified Kundalini teacher and a member if the International Kundalini Yoga Teachers Association. Since 2008, Gail has interned with the Aquarian Trainer Academy. As she pursues her goal to become a teacher trainer, she has participated in four Level I Trainings. Gail serves on the Professional Development Committee of the Aquarian Trainer Academy where she shares her years of corporate management and training experience. She graduated from Eckerd College with a degree in Business Management.
CONTACT: A Yoga Village

This begins my week of trying to "break in" to yoga studios... The first being the confusion of seeing the arrows meant for drivers to turn right into the lot, not for me to go to the wooden gate into their gorgeous outdoor oasis. The gate was locked, but I'm quite sure it said Entrance on it... thinking back, it may have said Not an Entrance? I immediately assumed I was the idiot who couldn't figure out how to open a door (instead of an idiot who can't read a sign), until someone walking up said, "It's probably locked." Oh yes, that could be a reason. I sheepishly told her it was my first time here and thought it was the entrance. If I would have taken maybe five more steps to the deck with prayer flags and everyone's shoes hanging out and, oh I don't know, the HUGE glass front doors that are obviously the entrance... I would have figured it out. Not an Entrance... I'll scale the shit out of these walls if I have to! But I didn't—thank you kind lady, for showing me how to get in and for not rolling your eyes (to my face, at least). 

When you enter (the huge stupid glass front doors, lol) you immediately are greeted by the front desk. They were incredibly friendly in getting me set up. This is also when I discovered none of my credit/debit cards worked (my bank was being extra cautious, why don't I ever remember to tell them I'm going on vacation before I leave?!?!?)—but they do take them, and cash. While one person was checking me in, the owner was checking someone else in and explaining Kundalini to them. So I sent my attention her direction to hear her speak on breath work mostly, before I had to go back to checking in.

I snapped a few pics and then sat down in the furthest back corner (my favorite place... easy for people to fill in the rest of the room + no one can see my butt, lol). This is when I realized everyone was wearing all white, even white hats, and I was all in black. The Johnny Cash of yoga? Perhaps. As one of the students, who I guess showed up in all-white for the first time, exclaimed to a couple friends, "I drank the kool-aid!"—I thought, oh good, a sense of humor, while at the same time I also feared I joined a cult or something. 

My brain went into puffy cat mode. 
>POOF!<  There's nothing wrong with my Goodwill yoga clothes. 
>POOF!<  Don't you think all white is a little extreme? 
>POOF!<  Crap, will this be all chanting—I don't like chanting. 
>POOF!<  Whatevs, I'm the Johnny Cash of yoga. 

Yep... I know what this is. This is what I end up loving the most about checking out new yoga spaces. I'm uncomfortable! Good, I'm right where I need to be. 

Our instructor, Gail, waited patiently as we tried to fit as many students in the room as a possible (which included other people in non-white clothes... with dyed hair... and covered in tattoos. My Johnny Cash status... immediately revoked). Gail made an effort to acknowledge the new students, letting us know that it was a gentle class and she would be sure to explain things along the way. Which was great! Every pose we went into came with an explanation. And I tell you what, pairing that pose with some form of pranayama (breath work) was incredible. Something as simple as a cat/cow stretch while sitting on your heals was explained as firing up the spine, and if done correctly your spine should actually sweat... Good for energy, digestion, and the heart chakra.
I didn't think much of all this work—as far as feeling any different—until I went into a forward fold. Forward folds are one of my weak poses because I have tight calves + hamstrings. But towards the end of class we were instructed to go into one and hold it—hands linked by thumbs, pointer fingers linked to big toes—and I went right into it, comfortably, and wanted to stay there when Gail instructed us out of it.

I already know breath work is beneficial in yoga, but up until this class I just assumed the goal was a calm and even ujjayi breath (also known as ocean breath—think of it as the sensation you get when you try to fog up a mirror/window with your breath, that narrowing of the throat passage is used when inhaling and exhaling). I know that's not entirely wrong, but it never occurred to me to do some of the more intense breath work while in a pose. For instance, we did breath of fire (
done by pumping the navel point in and out while breathing rapidly through the nose—reminds me of hyperventilating through the nose, which is why it can make beginner's dizzy when they first try it) while holding a pose. From a beginner's perspective, I like it distracted me from the fact I was holding a pose for a long time because I was focused on breathing a certain way, but obviously does much more that that. I wish I could remember all the poses we did, matched with a certain breath work. 

We also worked with mantras. I've only recently started to personally work mantras into my yoga. It's a great mental tool to stop me from judging myself. When I'm feeling horrible because I can't get into a pose or my brain is all over the place—I repeat I am loved to myself. No need to judge at that moment, it will only make things worse. Observe where I am and remember to be kind to myself. When my ego is looking at other mats in envy instead of awe—I repeat this is enough. Keeps my yoga present instead of drooling over where I could be. In class today, we used the term Sat Nam. Sat translates to truth. Nam to name. Or truth is my name/identity. I like this description from the link I provided: 
The vibration of the mantra itself is important. Sat has a vibration that reaches upward through the crown chakra.  It is an etheric vibration, as the meaning of Truth here correspondingly isn't tangible but is more etheric.  If you meditate very carefully upon the vibration of Sat Nam, you can feel the flow of energy moving from the Etheric (Sat) to the Material (Nam).  Nam is name but more importantly it is a vibration.  The word itself carries a vibration that makes the divine manifest into the earth plane.  So Nam is a grounding vibration, a manifesting vibration.
At some point we also did a humming meditation—where I believe we were in a comfortable sitting position. Deep inhale and then hum as long as you can possibly hum—repeat. Everyone has different timing in this practice, so it created a swirling room of sound. Gail said it helps initiate a deeper meditation faster. This works for me like walking meditation, because I like having a stronger focus than sitting quietly. It shuts my brain up a little faster.

Near the end, we also had a gong bath. Cue Angela Shelton saying gooooong! No really, you need to watch this bit from my client's, That's What She Said, first event (it's only 45 seconds):

This was, honestly, pretty great (and not hovering over our vaginas). We just laid in savasana while Gail played continuous sound from the gong for... a really long time? It felt like an über subtle massage... on your inside. I usually like the sounding of a gong or singing bowl at the end of class, I can sense the vibration in my hands, specifically. I wonder what it does physically for our bodies, but have yet to research it any further. I know, from a yin yoga workshop I took, quantum mechanics is constantly working on us... so, of course, gong vibration is doing something. What? I dunno, but it feels good.

I know that Gail couldn't explain everything in full detail (which chakra it worked and the result, areas of the body detoxed, etc.) because there just wasn't enough time for all of it, but I wanted to know more. I wanted to drink the Kool-Aid too... while still wearing my Johnny Cash yoga gear. :)

I'm so glad A Yoga Village is near my mom's place—because I look forward to visiting them on all my future trips to Florida! Highly recommend for beginners—and if kundalini is a little too intimidating for your first studio experience of yoga, they offer all sorts of classes. My mom's neighbor has been here also, and shares the same excitement over this location!

Thank you for an incredible experience on my first day of vacation, Gail!
Sat Nam

See that gate there... and that arrow? Yeah.
Entrance Schmentrance

No wonder I wanted to break in—look at this courtyard!

Friday, February 14

7 Things I Learned On Love From Yoga…

This year will mark five years in my relationship with yoga, or more accurately, my relationship with me. I could tell you all I learned on love from the good/bad/ugly relationships with family, friends, or partners, but let’s be honest… What I learn based on my perception with other people will never be as fruitful as what I learn from turning to me. And... focusing on myself gives strength to how well I play with others. 

So! 7 things I've learned on love from yoga...

1/ Breath

When you focus your breath into a location of the body that is more tense it brings space into that spot. Then, when you exhale, the tension lets go a little more and you melt closer to relaxation. It’s that melting moment that could only have existed with a little space and patience. 

Every time my temper sneaks up, I remember this. I’m a person who has to fix everything immediately. The thought of someone walking away from me with out resolving an issue tears me apart. But, I’ve learned, a little space allows the temps to cool and for people to see things more clearly—and hopefully become closer as a result.

2/ Stretching + Finding Your Edge

The fastest way for me to hurt myself in yoga is usually during a stretching moment when my ego competes to be better. I’ve learned the hard way that not respecting your edge (the push to challenge yourself without hurting yourself) will end in pain and actually move your yoga practice backwards in time.

Know your edge in other parts of your life too. When is that very moment that someone has crossed your line or, equally important, when you have crossed someone else’s line? At the same time, challenge a healthy relationship—if you don’t reach out to someone (or yourself) how will it evolve?

3/ Strength + Weakness

It’s ok to recognize where you want to improve and where you’re strong. A “weakness” is not a bad thing—it’s good to put that ego into check, and it’s an amazing starting point for tracking your progress. I can’t do push-ups. I can’t do even one push-up. Instead of being hard of myself in the yoga studio for weak upper body strength, I celebrate that moment. How exciting to watch myself progress through a challenge. How exciting to recognize potential in myself.

This one is hard for me to take off the mat and into the rest of my life. I’m my worst critic… and instead of immediately celebrating a starting point I’m defeated by my weaknesses. My ego has been checked so many times, I should live permanently in the penalty box. Often I need to stop, visualize myself working through a challenge on the mat, get into that positive mindset, and then return to whatever I'm up against outside of the studio.

4/ Balance

Some times you feel like a nut, some times you don’t. No seriously—some days you will stick it and be as strong as a mountain. Other days you’ll be all over the place like Bambi on ice. Most days… it will be both.

Balance, as we all know already, is so valuable in all parts of life. It’s also really hard to achieve at certain points in the day, or the week, or during a year (or more) of transition! Grow strong, deep roots—so when the wind picks up, you bend and sway, but don’t blow over. And while we're on the tree metaphor—remember there are seasons too. Moments to come to life and burst with energy, but also moments to hibernate and retain energy. Both are times to respect and enjoy.

5/ Being Present

When we do our centering work at the beginning of class, regularly we are told to acknowledge the thoughts of past and future but then let them go. Now is your time, for you, on the mat. What happened has happened—what you have to do after class, you should do after class… not now.

Learning to take each day as that day presents itself is an incredible lesson. Pay attention to what it’s saying—maybe you need detach from the outside world and focus on some personal nurturing. Or maybe you have so much energy today you can use it to help someone else. Maybe, who cares about any of that, and you just enjoy watching a squirrel play in your back yard for the next 20 minutes. Being present you learn to appreciate all that is beautiful around you, all you can be grateful for.

6/ Awareness

Tuning in to yourself is incredible.  Having awareness of pain—you take it easier on yourself. Having awareness of strength—you celebrate yourself. Having awareness of ego—you humble yourself.

I’m pretty sure awareness is half the battle—to retraining the brain out of bad habits, to recognizing unnecessary tension in a moment and letting it go, to allowing yourself to be what you are being at that very moment instead of deflecting, repressing, or judging.  

7/ There’s Always Another Level + This is Enough

I love yoga because it never bores me. There’s always a different variation — a larger pose your mind can’t even process yet. It is always new. It is always exciting. And you welcome it through the eyes of a child on her birthday morning. But you welcome it, when it's time to welcome it. Until then, what you're doing on the mat is enough and really rewarding. 

Oh my gosh—where is this lesson when I'm wishing I had more. I want to live in the country, I want to be married, I want to have kids, I want to make more money, so I can travel more. More, more, more... bleck! When it's time to take life to the next level—you'll do it. Until then, right now is more than enough and, btw,  it's fan-freaking-tastic!

This week in my yoga class with Jodi, she read a poem called Being Home by Danna Faulds—the last line is what brings me to my mat every time:

by Danna Faulds
Where can I soften
in this posture?
Where is the edge
between opening
and force, the line
between stretch and
too much effort?
The mind and body
serve up a feast of
feelings, each breath
another chance to
deepen and release.
The smallest motion,
or even just a quiet
sigh could be all that
I require to shift my
focus from the outer
to the inner realm,
a change from feeling
lost to being home.


In the end... it's not so much that yoga taught me to love myself. No, I've loved myself this whole time. Accepting myself is what I'm really learning, and I will be learning it for the rest of my life as I change and adapt through time.

These past five years of yoga and learning to accept Anni has been a journey of tapping into my ferocity and my kindness. It’s my larger-than-life starting point really, and I’m so grateful to be here… Taking really good care of myself by stepping onto that mat, and attempting to use those lessons through the rest of my day. That is, indeed, everything.