Little did I know what I was getting myself into when I enrolled in Bodhi Yoga Academy's 200 hour teacher training in Nicaragua. I have gained so much from the incredible experience and I truly miss the beautiful souls that are now my sisters every day. I am confident that we will all meet somewhere on our yogi's paths once again.
During the last week, I was able to capture photos of some of the amazing women I met in my training. The amount of strength and divine beauty in each of them is inspiring to me.
The Yama's and Niyama'sare sort of like commandments that yogis follow. Instead of "do-nots" the yama's and niyama's are more of like guidelines which you should do! Without getting into too much detail about all of them, Ahimsa is the first Yama.
Ahimsa (Sanskrit: अहिंसा; IAST: ahiṃsā, Pāli: avihiṃsā) is a term meaning 'not to injure' and 'compassion'. The word is derived from the Sanskrit root hiṃs – to strike; hiṃsā is injury or harm, a-hiṃsā is the opposite of this, i.e. cause no injury, do no harm.
As human beings, there are many many ways in which we can practice Ahimsa! Physical ahimsa may be more self explanatory to practice (don't go around punching people, right?!) but emotional ahimsa can be a little more complicated. Below are some ways that you can improve your inner peace and relational peace by using the concept of ahimsa from an emotional standpoint.
To ourselves: Being a positive person is probably one of the best ways to practice ahimsa towards yourself. Choosing to be happy is a great start. Our happiness and reality lies within our perspective and if you look at life with a negative lens, everything will be potentially harmful to you! Being happy and giving yourself positive and happy vibes will significantly improve how you view the world around you. We can do this by giving ourselves self-affirmations. Being more aware and in control of our negative thoughts is a great way to be uplifting and peaceful towards yourself rather than harmful. We think because we don't say these things out loud it will not be harmful, but it is so harmful to ourselves. Instead of criticizing yourself, change your inner dialogue to things like, "I believe I can do this," "I look strong and beautiful," or "I am grateful where I am" instead of "I'll never be able to do that," "My stomach is so flabby" or "Things are so irritating right now." Talking to yourself like you are your friend (not your own enemy) is so important for self esteem and self-love. The way I look at, the father you can move away from negativity, which is harmful and toxic, the more you are practicing ahimsa.
To others: Sometimes for me, I can be a jealous person. Straight up just jealous and wishing I could be more like them instead of like myself. I see another person's life and I think so myself "wow I wish I could do that...how can I do that?!," instead of being inspired, uplifted and celebrating another person's success. Practicing ahimsa means to be genuinely happy for other's success and happy moments. This might look like expressing verbally how we are proud of our friends for what they are doing, giving other people affirmations and cheering them on. Being happy for other people is one of the most rewarding things to do sometimes! Think about how great it feels when somebody affirms you! If we are not encouraging our friends and being happy for their successes in life, we are the opposite, which is being harmful! Sometimes saying no words is better than saying something that could be potentially harmful, but at the same time, (this ties back to personal ahimsa), even if you feel jealously or envy towards another person, saying "no" to your own negativity and expressing that you are proud of a friend will help you actually feel it in your heart. Everybody needs encouragement no matter what they are doing or going through in life and offering positivity instead of harmful words or attitude is a great way to practice ahimsa.
Love and Light,
Ohhh Scorpion Pose. How I love you, and how I hate you.
This pose does not come easily, actually it is really really hard. Do not let the picture fool you. Sure, I have a smile on my face, but this took months and months of figuring out how to balance all my weight on my forearms with my feet straight up. Then once I felt stable enough there, I had to figure out the balance again for lowering my feet down, then work at the flexibility for my back to bend that much, all while remembering to breathe and tighten certain muscles, while relaxing other muscles. Strength and flexibility. All at the same time. Did I mention you have to breathe?!
Many people think that Yoga makes you to do all these "tricks" that feel like circus acts and its supposed to make you a stronger and better person. Seems like rubbish. Well, yes it is rubbish to believe that you will be a better person for fully achieving a certain pose. We foolishly start believing that we will have achieved greatness, that we have "won" the yogi-race once we touch your toes to our ballerina buns. Well, no....You won't be any better of a person after a difficult pose than you were before the pose. You will just be able to do the pose. Cool.
Is the motivation to do the pose come from the ego? Oooh, dig deep and really ask yourself that. Be humble enough to admit it. A lot of times that is where my motivation comes from. Any every time that is my motivation, I fail. Usually pretty miserably.
OR does your motivation come from wanting to challenge yourself, dive into the exploration of yourself, your personal growth and journey, and your true potential? Even if it means you will never achieve the crazy fad of "butt to bun" (if you follow the yoga community on instagram you know what I am talking about.)
The true Yoga lies in what the pose teaches you about YOU! Yoga poses, or Asanas, were designed thousands of years ago to be a tool to link our body, mind and soul together in union. The word "Yoga" is a Sanskrit word meaning to yoke or bring together. When our entire being is all in sync and united together, we are able to find more peace in our lives. Yogis do not get upset about not being able to perform certain asanas, but rather stay with the journey and learn from it. Yoga is a peaceful journey of inner discovery, not a forceful or aggressive way to contort your body. It doesn't matter what the end result of a pose looks like, because remember, it doesn't make you a better person anyway. It doesn't even make you that cool.
This doesn't mean that because the end result doesn't matter we should try. Instead, we keep practicing and growing the mind, body and soul exponentially. One definition of yoga I recently came across was "the understanding of the self as an expression of unlimited possibility." I just love that.
If we are in a difficult balancing pose the body says, "this is so hard I don't know if I can do it." The mind then needs to say, "yes you can do it, and we will be calm and steady together." We might stumble or fall a little bit. That's okay. Then, one asana at a time you are letting outside distractions fade away. Letting stress melt away. Dedicating your Yoga space to the present moment of what you are feeling in your body and mind. Building your physical and mental strength. Then 3 years from now the pose that was difficult is pretty easy now, and we have more difficulties ahead. And what a wonderful thing that is. Our bodies, our minds, our souls: an expression of unlimited possibility.
So, that doesn't mean that the person next to you, who is maybe in dolphin pose (a prep pose for scorpion) is less of a yogi, or human being, than you are. Hell no, you are not better than anyone else. Even if a person had a very limited physical body from age or injury they could not do yoga, it would be just as perfect as anyone else's yoga. Remember Shavasana, lying flat on your back, is yoga. Everyone is on a separate journey, in a separate body, working with separate issues than you. The key to being a better person is being constantly better than yourself.
Love and Light,
So, I very often hear these things come out of people's mouths:
- I want to start yoga but I don't know how.
- I feel so out of shape I can't do yoga.
- Yoga looks really hard.
- or, occasionally, Yoga looks too easy.
Well, I thought I would share a little tutorial on how to get your booty on the yoga mat and how to build some strength and flexibility for complete beginners! It is easy! But it is also not easy... You will see what I mean :)
When I started yoga I had very little patience and all I could think about how uncomfortable Downward-facing Dog was (if you don't know what that is yet, don't worry) and I would just get annoyed when the teacher reminded us Down Dog was a resting pose. "Great, thanks" I thought.
A few years later, I love Down Dog, but I didn't get there overnight. Mostly with the help of Sun Salutations I have found peace and comfort in Down Dog and many other poses. I have built a lot more strength in my shoulders, back, arms, legs and core, as well as gained more vital spinal and hamstring flexibility just through Sun Salutations. Overall, it is a fantastic cardio workout, will build strength, and improve your flexibility. it is a perfect place to start!
So, for this post, I am going to walk you through a simple and foundational sequence called Surya Namaskar A (say it exactly how it is spelled) or Sun Salutation A!
Traditionally, the Sun Salutation was performed at sunrise to pay gratitude to the sun, the source of all life on our planet! This ancient sequence is how most yogis start every yoga practice. Sun Salutations warm up the body, establish a rhythm of breath, and helps to center the equanimous yogi mind. I usually do about 12 of these when I start my own practice.
Lets get started! Pay attention to the breathing pattern. If you lose the breath you loose most of the work that yoga is doing in your body.
Pranamasana or Tadasana: Start by standing tall with your feet together. Your hands can come to prayer at your heart or rest by your sides. Rotate your shoulders back and let your chest expand open. Suck in your core muscles and don't forget about keeping your legs and glutes slightly contracted. Inhale and exhale here for as long as you need to calm your mind.
Ardha Uttanasana: Next, inhale hinging from your hips dive down with a flat back and look forward. Your hands or fingertips might come to the floor, your shins, or your quads. Avoid putting your hands on your knees though. Reach and open the chest forward and feel your spine and the backs of your legs lengthen. Hollow out your lower belly.
Uttanasana: Next, exhale and fold forward completely rounding your spine. Hang upside-down here and relax. You should feel a good counter stretch by rounding your spine and still be feeling a good stretch in the backs of your legs. You can use your arms to pull you closer inward and don't forget to suck in and hollow out the lower belly to find more space to fold deeper.
Ardha Uttanasana again: Inhale again and lift your chest up one more time and prepare for plank pose! This is just a transition to open your chest again for plank.
Dandasana: Now, exhale, keeping your chest lifted, bend your knees, ground all four corners of your hands into the mat and step back one foot at a time into plank pose (do this all on one exhale!) You should be on the balls of your feet, engage your legs and zip them up together, pulling upward through your inner thighs. Keep a neutral spine and your booty down. Engage your core! Puff the space between your shoulder blades out and pull your biceps forward. Keep your neck neutral and gently look down. Breathe here and take a few inhales and exhales build that strength!
Modify: If you need to, lower your knees to the floor! If you cannot hold good form you are doing more harm. Modify until you build the strength needed!
Chaturanga Dandasana: Next, the hardest part in my opinion, low plank pose or chaturanga dandasana! Exhale leaning your chest forward a tiny bit past your wrists, keep your abs strong, your legs and glutes tight and in a straight line, and your elbows in (super important) lower your body slooowly so that your elbows are exactly over your wrists. Gaze down gently and breathe. Try to hold here!
Modify: If you lowered your knees in plank pose, its a good idea to also lower with your knees down but with the same form as explained above. I did this for many, many, many months :)
Advanced: From Ardha Uttanasana, jump back with both feet at the same time, LANDING IN CHATURANGA. That is important so that you don't break your elbows someday...
Urdhva Mukha Svanasana: Oooooh now a favorite part of mine, Upward-facing dog! This feels good and will be a yummy spinal stretch. From chaturanga, inhale and without letting your body touch the mat in any other areas except your hands and feet, lift up with your chest and straighten your arms. Your shoulders should be in line with your wrists. Flip your feet over, only letting the tops of your feet and your hands touch the mat. Zip up your legs and pull your inner thighs upward but keep your glutes a little soft. Press the tailbone back towards your feet and your public bone towards your belly button. Use the lower abs here. Firm the shoulder blades against the back and move your elbow creases and biceps forward, puff your side ribs forward and lift through your chest. Gaze up and smile :) This should feel good on your back. If not, modify!
Modify: Bhujangasana: From chaturanga, come down to your belly softly and release your toes to come onto the tops of your feet. Put your hands under your shoulders and lift your chest up, using little to no help of your hands to lift you up. Gaze up and smile too! This is called cobra pose! If your lower back is not very flexible this is great for you.
Adho Mukha Svanasana: Next, prep for Downward-facing Dog. Use your CORE muscles and lift your hips up and back rolling over your toes and exhale slowly (or just step to the soles of your feet one at a time). Lengthen your spine, ahhhhh feels good after Up Dog! Reach down with your heels, its okay if your heels don't touch the mat and if your knees bend a little or a lot. My heels for sure don't touch! Lift up and back with your sit bones, firm your shoulder blades into your back and find space between your shoulder blades. Press firmly into your hands and again bring the creases of your elbows and your biceps to point forward. Relax the neck and let your head hang heavy. Ahhhh.
A lot of people, including myself once upon a time, complain about wrist pain here. First, make sure your palms are completely flat, your fingers spread, and all four corners of your palms pressing down, paying extra attention to the space between your thumb and index fingers and your index knuckle. Use the strength in your forearm muscles here too. Secondly, if you don't do yoga or for any reason spend a lot of your time bearing weight on your wrists, they are probably just weak. If you keep practicing and keep good form in your hands, your wrists will get stronger.
Keep breathing and relax. This is a "resting" pose remember? :P
Almost done! Look up and shift your weight forward. Step one foot at a time to the front of your mat and reach forward with your chest and come to stand with a flat back. Move slowly.
Advanced: Hop with both feet, float, fly forward! Right now my practice is somewhere almost to floating-ish.... If you are real fancy, pike up into a handstand and come down ever so slowly. Someday....
Tadasana again: Or like I think of it, TA DA! You did it! Reaaaach your arms up, maybe take a slight back bend and smile! First Surya Namaskar A done! Bring your hands to heart center and do it all again :)
Pick up the pace and use one breath per movement to build more heat, or stay and hold each movement for up to 10 breathes to feel the poses deeply.
In most practices you would do this sequence about a dozen times to warm up the entire body. On special occasions yogis will do 108 Sun Salutations as 108 is a very lucky and meaningful number for many reasons in the yoga world. Maybe that will be another blog topic someday :)
Happy yoga-ing and if you have questions please comment or email me!
Love and Light,
Ps- My outfit is by Cory Vines! The leggings are simple, but get the job done! They are high waisted so everything stays in place, and are longer length which is perfect because I like to pull them over my heels :) And the top has good coverage on the chest, is really lightweight, drys quick, has cute detailing! I only would recommend brands that I personally like and Cory Vines is really affordable. Score. www.CoryVines.com :)