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Part 2 on Building a Home Practice.  There are many ways to practice; here are just a few suggestions on figuring out “what” to practice:

  • Pick 2-3 poses to work on (your favorites, or ones that you’d benefit from, or my favorite: some combination of the two)
  • Write down a handful of poses after class, practice them at home for that week or that month
  • Online sequences on yoga journal, http://www.yogajournal.com/practice/home_practice
    https://yogainternational.com/topic/practice
  • Videos: library; online: myyogaonline.com, yogaglo.com, youtube videos, others
  • Books: Light on Yoga by BKS Iyengar, many others
  • Or simply add yoga to other exercise – sun salutations as a warmup works great for many exercises.  And/or do a couple yoga poses for post-exercise stretching/cooldown (or practice afterward just to benefit from having your muscles warmed up already)

It’s OK to try poses you’ve never done before in a class, but pay close attention to how you feel – especially if you experience pain that’s ‘sharp,’ or any feeling in a joint such as knee or shoulder, then come out.  If you have questions about a pose, ask your teacher. Some poses are better to learn with a teacher: any inversions or ‘upside down’ poses, any poses where you are weight bearing on shoulders, neck or head – please try these with an experienced teacher first.

Consider adding a moment of closed eyes and deep breath to the start and end of your practice (even if that’s just 2 poses) – this simple gesture can create a little space for your practice and allow you to mentally arrive on your mat.

There are many many ways to practice, so try one for a bit, then mix it up.  And feel free to ask your teacher, s/he is very likely willing to work with you on questions and to have suggestions on how to build your home practice.

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Like every year, I am setting a few New Year’s resolutions.  In 2012, I actually did pretty well with keeping my resolutions.  I had set just a handful, including to take vitamins and to listen better.

What I’ve learned about making good resolutions that I’ll actually achieve:

1. Choose few enough that I can remember them all, and work on them relatively simultaneously.  Too many or too hard and I have to focus on one at a time, or it takes too much concentration to be sustainable.  I made exactly three resolutions last year, and I chose three this year too.

2. Get an early win.  With my 2012 resolutions, I had one early success, which motivated me (a lot) to stay on track with the others.

3. Design an approach to success.  For example, with my resolution to take vitamins, I got over myself enough to get gummy vitamins (yes, they sell gummy vitamins for adults too).  They taste really good, so I actually eat them every day.  They don’t have quite the level of nutritional value that other vitamins do, but I’d already failed at taking those every day, and these I actually take.

4.  Choose the right level for where I am right now.  Just like in yoga asana, choosing the right level is one of the most important pieces to making resolutions you’ll succeed with.  For me, if I aim too high, the smallest things can set me off course.  Less commonly (for me personally), I could set the bar too low and and hold myself back.  My 2012 resolutions were flexible enough that an occasional screw-up didn’t throw me majorly off course.  And there were easy opportunities to work on my resolutions in my daily life, as it is right now.  For example, listening better – I have opportunities all day every day to listen better, so if I notice I’m not listening well, I can just recommit and try again.

I’ve set my three 2013 resolutions, and am excited about how this year will turn out.  Unlike in the past few years, I have no major life events anticipated this year.  As my beloved said yesterday, 2013 is about continuing and expanding on our path; just cultivating more of the good stuff we have now.

One of the things I like best about New Year’s is that it’s a very unifying holiday; it’s celebrated around the world.  Few other holidays or events are shared by so many people at the same time.  New Year’s serves an important role: it provides an opportunity for reflection and re-set, renewal.  We look back on the opportunities and challenges of the year before and reflect on how we wish the year ahead to be.

Years ago, my teacher Suzie Hurley opened the first class of the new year by asking us to think about some limitation we think we have, and to imagine our lives without that limitation, to envision what would be different, how we would feel differently.  At the time, I took her suggestion at quite a literal level – for me, my limitation in my yoga practice was that I couldn’t do handstand by myself, just too scared to really kick up.  What would my life be like if I could in fact do handstand?  For me, I saw it as a gateway pose for me to go to the next level of class, for me to feel like I could do yoga well enough to start along the path of teaching.  Later that year, I did manage (after a lot of hard work and daily practice) to kick up into handstand, and it’s now one of my favorite poses.

But her suggestion really goes a whole lot deeper – what if we released our self-image of limitation?  What if instead of overcoming our perceived shortcoming like I did with handstands, we shift our view?  If I could do this, shift my view, then I can overcome any limitation.  For example, maybe I see my age as a limitation; obviously there’s nothing I can do about my age, it just is what it is.  So instead, softening my view and asking myself why I perceive age as a limitation, then I can address those underlying issues, or realize that I don’t actually believe that they are issues.

So this year, I repeat Suzie’s invitation – imagine yourself without one of what you consider limitations, envision yourself living that way, and then manifest it!

Meditation offering:

Start with 3 minutes of sama vritti pranayama (balancing the length and quality of your inhalations and exhalations).  Then return to a natural breath, releasing the breath count.  Softly envision yourself without your perceived limitation, and envision how things might be different.  Literally see this in your mind; for example, if your limitation is getting angry in difficult conversations with a family member, then see yourself sitting down with this person at the kitchen table and having this conversation.  Imagine how your voice will sound, how their face will look, when you have this conversation without your getting angry.  Imagine how you feel after the conversation ends, and imagine how future interactions will be different.  Sit for a few moments in the feeling of this new behavior.  When you’re ready, slowly deepen your breath, bring more awareness to your body, and then softly open your eyes to the new day, the new year.

I read a beautiful article today by yogi Julia Lee.  About explaining what yoga is:

“People come together in class not only to practice physical poses, but also to acknowledge the divine in all of us. When we move and breathe together, we are moving and breathing not only in service of our selves, but also in service of something greater: humanity. We recognize that we share more commonalities than we do differences; that really, despite our age, gender, sexual orientation, belief system, or economic status, it’s all about just being good, kind, happy people.

Yes, Julia, that is it.  I practice and then I feel better.  By feeling better I can be kinder to others and more upbeat.  And hopefully this generates ripples, helping someone else out, and onward.

Have you ever recalled a story from childhood only to find out from your family that it didn’t really happen that way?  I have plenty: for example, thinking my parents had taken me to the Nutcracker ballet every year when in fact I just watched it a million times on the VCR (yes, I said VCR) when I was really sick with the flu one winter?  Or the one about testifying at the courthouse trial for the neighborhood dog that had killed my cat (it was actually a zoning meeting about a dog kennel nearby and I certainly didn’t speak at it, I was five or six years old).

Or the story I told myself for years that I was just too tall for handstands, that I just had too much legs to get up.  Maybe you’ve told yourself even scarier stories, that that awful thing that happened was your fault, that you somehow deserved it.  Or that you’re not smart enough to do X, or whatever.  We all tell ourselves these stories.

One of the things yoga has taught me is that these are just stories.  Think of the stories from childhood, and how your mind innocently remembered things differently than they really were.  As it turns out, I’m not too tall to do handstands.  I do them quite well, thank you, once I got over my fears and actually kicked instead of half-kicking while mentally freaking out about falling on my face.

The trick is to see these as what they are: stories.  Everything we observe and recall is a product of our own filters, biases and views.  That doesn’t make them true.  Sadly, failing to recognize them as just stories versus “truth” is what affects our lives: these stories become self-fulfilling, where we hold ourselves back from our full potential.

My invitation to you this week: challenge something you think of as “true” – what makes it true, versus a story you told yourself?  Can you become aware of the filters you use, and identify and release a story you no longer have to hold yourself to?

What do you do for the love of it?  Do you get up early on weekends to bike or run?  Do you stay up all hours of the night working on a personal project of some kind?  What keeps your favorite activities fresh and engaging?

Last weekend, I ran a race.  I’ve run that race before, and others of the same distance.  The day before I was anxious, nervous and was really asking myself why I was doing this, why I was putting myself through this.  It certainly dictated most of my weekend plans, I had to go to bed early Saturday night, and made no plans Sunday other than the race.

In a race of 35,000 people, including invited athletes from around the world, I was certainly not going to win.  So what did I have to be nervous about?  I recommitted to having fun over anything else.  I run because I enjoy it, and it just took me a while that weekend to remember that.  I did run the race, and had the most fun I’ve had over the five or so races I’ve done.  Whether related to my revised mindset or not, I beat my time goal too.

This week in class I’ve been offering yoga for the love of it.  Practice because it’s enjoyable, whether or not you get your legs straighter in your forward folds or hold bakasana for two more seconds, but because it’s fun, and hopefully you feel better afterward.  That’s why I run and is a lot of why I practice yoga.  Really focusing on your breath and developing your skill at feeling your body is a way to deepen your enjoyment even more, by tuning in more deeply.

Yoga hacks: our fun hacker dojo community in action today.  We meet weekly for yoga fun, geek jokes and tech talk afterward.

Yoga offers me the ability to use asana to create my own balance.  On a physical level, asana balances us by adding strength and/or flexibility where we need it.  The same pose for you may be building your flexibility, while for me, it builds stamina.  Asana is great cross-training for athletes of all stripes, runners, bikers, lifters, etc.   On an energetic level, the right asanas can energize or calm you, as needed.  Specifically, I recommend sun salutations and arm balances to energize yourself when you’re tired or feeling weighty, and hip openers and forward folds to calm down when you’re feeling anxious or overactive.

Asana can and should encourage the development of attributes we’re seeking, such as patience, steadiness, or courage, by challenging us in the way we need it most.  (We’ll not even get started today on how yoga philosophy challenges our thoughts and beliefs, asks us to consider more deeply how we see the world and why, and asks us to understand how we interact with each other and why.)

I believe it is best to consistently practice in a way that cultivates what you want/need, not necessarily what you enjoy the most or what you’re first drawn to.  For example, if you are a fiery, driven person, maybe you don’t need to take a two hour heated power flow class four times a week (even though I’ll bet you want to).  As a fiery person myself, I can attest that powerful, fast moving classes are some of my favorites and were a large part of what drew me to yoga initially.  But they can also be irritating, agitating, and can encourage excesses I already have (such as powering through something because my ego wants to, for example).  These classes don’t bring balance into my life.  Instead, practicing in a more quiet, internal, philosophical way, moving in a steady, even pace, and approaching difficult poses with patience brings me balance.

I will never forget an exercise we did in teacher training, in which we partnered up, journaled about what we were working to cultivate in our lives, then observed the other’s practice.  I had journaled privately about how I sought more steadiness.  After my partner observed my practice, the first thing he’d said was how steady and even I’d looked as I practiced, and afterward.  After I got over my surprise and suspicion that my friend had read my journal entry, I felt deeply satisfied and appreciative of what the practice had given me.

As a teacher, how do I encourage yogis to find what balances each of us?  In a class with many students, all unique, that seems a bit perplexing.  I’ll keep pondering; for now, I can certainly share the benefits I’ve received in choosing asana that complements my nature, and invite everyone to set their individual intentions for what they seek.  And I will continue to offer a range of poses and approaches, as broad an experience and as many varied poses as my beginner students can handle; to offer even a taste of how deep and rich the well is.

Lately, it’s seemed as if inspiration is around every corner, that everything around me offers a new and exciting discovery.  I find a lot of inspiration in science, in learning how and why things work.  For example, I’m amazed how slow-motion cameras are showing us the crazy way cats drink water (http://www.nytimes.com/2010/11/12/science/12cats.html).  I find inspiration in the kindness and creativity of people around me, in seeing people doing what they love, even when it’s tough.  For me, inspiration is in the beauty of trees and seeing how waves crash into the rocky shore.

What inspires you?  What brings out your inner creativity, and makes everything seem fresh?    Maybe for you it’s stretching your wings to try something different, something new.  Or maybe it’s reading about leaders like Gandhi or Martin Luther King and the incredible passion that carried them through such extraordinary challenges.

How do you stay connected to what lights you up?

The invitation this week is to meditate upon these questions, to invite yourself to connect more deeply with what inspires you, and to weave more inspiration into your life.  Focus: sama vritti pranayama, twists and balancing poses such as ardha chandra chapasana, vrksasana, adho mukha vrksasana.

Sometimes we all need a little help…