Monday, May 28, 2012


Yesterday, I shook hands with a woman at church who was in a wheelchair. She was beautiful, a brunette with long shiny hair and big brown eyes, and a huge smile on her face. She couldn't have been too much older than me. Obviously a woman of faith, she seemed completely content with her life and shared her joy with others. I felt happier after speaking with her. 

Then, I found out this woman used to be a full-functioning "normal" woman with a great job and a prosperous life, until she got into an awful car-wreck and is now paralyzed for the rest of her life and needs around-the-clock help. She could live at home with her family in Mississippi but wanted to live in Atlanta on her own. 

Now, that to me is courage and that is faith, and whenever I start to think I have a really huge problem, I'll try to think of the amount of strength she must have inside of herself and how huge her spirit must be.

Although this post is not directly related to yoga, I felt inspired today at the end of my run to write about how much we (I am very much, 100% included in this "we") take so many things for granted. I'm talking things like this:

1. I can wake up everyday, put both of my feet on the ground and engage in life. I also have the power to make my life miserable or make it as joyful as possible.
2. I have a healthy body and I am able to participate in activities I love (i.e. yoga, running, hiking, swimming, eating, etc.) because of that. I have enough food to nourish my body everyday and I have the choice to respect my body and take care of it. 
3. I have people in my life who love me and who will always be there for me when I am hurting, and visa versa. 
4. I have a healthy mind that allows me to do other things I love, like writing, reading and learning. And, I have the power to create peace and balance in my mind if I consciously work on it. 

After my run, these are the thoughts that drifted into the forefront of my brain, after a day in which I was probably taking all of those wonderful things for granted. And sometimes, no I don't have the energy to "consciously create balance in my mind" but that is okay. It's ok to have some days of mental chaos and distrust that life is working out the way it is supposed to. It's hard sometimes to remember that but I believe if we can always keep (or try to) the grateful thoughts in our minds and hearts, regardless of what happens externally, we can realize how much we have already. We can see clearer, and life becomes richer and more meaningful.


Monday, May 7, 2012

We’re all after the same thing.

Most mornings I try to read a Hindu Sutra, which was required material during my yoga training. I made a decision, I guess you could call it a New Year’s resolution, this past January: Most mornings, I will read a sutra and let it sink in, reflect on it, then re-write it in my journal to fit my perception of it. I am happy to say, I have carried through with it, and my journal is now full of my interpretations of each sutra (I’m a little over halfway through now), along with random prayers, thoughts, drawings and yoga class plans. 

A few months ago, I was reading a few sentences explaining why it is important for a “yogi” or practitioner to turn back to his or her religious foundation once they started to delve into Hinduism. Most messages inside the sutras are indeed hard-hitting and impactful to me, but I could go as far to say that this one was personally transformative. Being raised an Episcopalian and coming from a southern religious family, I have struggled with balancing my yoga practice and spiritual beliefs with my relationship to Christianity—until now.

“For those students who have rejected a particular faith tradition, it might be beneficial to review at least some of its fundamental teachings, prayers, customs and practices….Developing a deep interfaith-based vision of spirituality is certainly in keeping with the spirit of the Yoga Sutras.”- Hindu Sutras, Pada Two

In the recent past, I thought, “Well, I can’t call myself a Christian or read any of the scriptures because that would be contradictory to my study of Yoga.” And I would still go to church from time to time and always enjoyed it, but just made sure I was mentally-detached from the Christian philosophy. My parents would cringe when I said, ‘Sorry guys, but I’m not a Christian.”

And I get that. They watched me be baptized, take First Communion, sing in the choir, perform in Christmas pageants, get Confirmed, and they plan on seeing me married by a priest. I understand why those words would bother them. Luckily, my parents are the type to let me figure it out in my own time, in my own way, so they would just nod their heads and say Okay.

But in the past few months, I’ve realized how comforting is to turn back to the Church in a connected way, in a way that makes me feel okay about carrying out my Christian roots. Just because I’ve devoted a chunk of my life to the practice of yoga and studying the Sutras to better understand where yoga comes from, does not mean I have to cut off my Christian past. As corny as it sounds, my childhood in the Episcopal church was a beautiful one and I wouldn’t have wanted it any other way.

This morning, I was sitting in church listening to the Sermon about transformation and making changes with God’s help to become a better person. The preacher talked about how important it is to recognize when God is truly doing work inside of you, and to make a conscious effort to create more moments in your life like that. Instantly, I thought about my yoga class I had taught 24 hours before that service. When I am teaching yoga or practicing yoga, I feel the most present, compassionate, spiritually elevated and free from my mind’s exhausting agenda and any of life’s distractions. I feel like teaching is my opportunity to spread a little bit of God’s everlasting peace, strength, joy and love.

“All faiths contain the same essential universal teachings.” – Hindu sutras, Pada Two

In other words, we are all after the same thing, at least those of us who choose to believe in something. We all pray to the same God, we just have different names for Him, we just envision different manifestations of that “Higher Power.” So now, personally, I prefer not to say, “I am Christian,” or “I’m not Christian” or “I am Hindu,” and so on. 

I just have a whole lot of faith and make sure it keeps getting stronger. And that’s really all that matters.


Saturday, March 17, 2012

American Mentality blocks ancient intentions of yoga

In light of a recent controversial New York Times article, “How Yoga Can Wreck Your Body,” followed by a bandwagon effect of yogis firing back, I feel naturally compelled to offer up my own two cents on what is going on in America.

First of all, I am a baby yoga instructor. In other words, I received my 200-hour training certification a mere six months ago and I realize I have much to learn.
However, I have been practicing for nearly nine years and was lucky enough to grow at a studio that has stayed true to yoga’s roots. In effect, I developed a clear understanding in my mind of what yoga should truly be about: Compassion, liberation, focus, acceptance, relaxation and inner joy.
Day 323 Kwan Yin
Photo: Happydog
And, I see exactly how we [Americans] are distorting it. We twist it and tweak it beyond belief. We now have a successfully spun web of everything contradictory to the true 2,000-year-old practice.
No wonder people are destroying their bodies and having“yoga injuries.” It has been taken to a level where it never initially intended to go –– a place of competition, comparison and purely physical gain. I was reminded by this blurred ego-centered vision of yoga after I walked into a beautiful studio excited to possibly teach there.
But I drove away an hour later feeling let down by my own culture.
The woman was perfectly nice but one of the first questions out of her mouth was, “Have you ever been to L.A.? Have you taken the classes out there? They are so much better than here.”
“Well, um, no,” I said. “I haven’t. What makes them so much better?”
Once she began rattling off her response, I felt disheartened. Her list of answers included “sweat”,“work-out”, “toned” and “tighter”.
After our L.A. conversation, I led her through a demo of one of my yoga classes. She kept saying, “I need to sweat! I need to sweat!”
This was the first studio I set foot in on my search. It really freaked me out.
I thought, “Is this what yoga has to be like now for us –– for Americans? Has our intense, ‘Go-Go-Go’ over-achieving attitude overflowed into an ancient Indian practice intended to release the ego and calm our minds?” We have “Yoga Bikini Bootcamps,” which makes me think we want yoga to make us look sexy as we strut our little yoga butts and bods on the beach.
Photo: lululemon athletica
We are obsessed with Lululemon pants, water bottles, tank tops and everything else as long as it has the little symbol on it and priced at least 50 bucks. We want to go into 109-degree rooms for 90 minutes to stare at ourselves in the mirror and be yelled at by our almighty yoga instructor on a microphone, all while we must keep reminding ourselves we are burning calories.
As a woman, I understand the want to look good in a bikini and the want to burn calories. I understand wanting to be “tighter” and “toned,” but that is why we have push-ups, weights, resistance bands, cardio machines, group fitness classes, bikes, running shoes and everything else- and I personally enjoy all of these things. I love to get my heart pumping and break a good sweat –– it is healthy. But it should not be a necessity in a yoga class.
To my relief, I quickly discovered there are definitely studios here maintaining true yogic ways and I am lucky enough to teach at a few of them. I feel fortunate to work in these studios and grow as a new teacher and to spread my passion with others.
My personal benefits from yoga are three-fold: mental, spiritual and physical. My practice helps me to create mental focus and clarity, to understand the inner-workings of my mind and to overcome obstacles and break any mental chains holding me back from living life to its fullest potential.
Yoga brings me closer to my heart to clear past betrayals and hurts, leaving me free to share love for myself and everyone else around me. It helps me to take responsibility for my words and actions, to acknowledge and accept my flaws, and to live with clearer intent and awareness of the world around me.
And my physical gain from yoga has nothing to do with the tightening of my rear end. It has to do with my ever- increasing acceptance of my body and feeling comfortable in my own skin. It has to do with feeling like a warrior.
I could go on and on about how yoga serves as a tremendous aid in the richness of my life. It does this for many people I know, along with thousands of others. And it can do this for everybody, even A-type Americans (I am one of them, okay?).
It is not just about the Asanas, the physical postures of the practice, but it is also about life off the rubber mat. Yoga is about taking what we develop in our practice, whatever that may be – joy, strength, unconditional love, compassion — and bringing it out into the world to share, to make a positive difference in other people’s lives.
The true journey of yoga – an exploration of the heart, mind and soul — must begin on the inside. And it certainly does not begin in a session of Bikini Bootcamp.

Breath of Joy

I teach four yoga classes every week right now, and each class is drastically different from the next. One class has all beginners, people who have never heard a Sanskrit term or been in Downward Dog. They have to watch me carefully as I show them each movement and need direction in every moment. Then another has serious yogis who want to sweat profusely and deepen his or her practice, combined with new-comers who just want to get flexible and learn basic yoga postures....You get the idea.

Honestly, I had absolutely no idea what I was getting myself into when I decided to name my class: "Multi-Level".  I had subconsciously created a big challenge for myself.

But man, am I glad to take on this challenge now. It's taken a little work and lots of focus (and more to come), but it has caused me to meet so many different types of people- all ages, colors, sizes, and levels of yoga practitioners. At first, I freaked out a little inside when I had a person completely brand new to the entire practice of yoga in the same class as someone who has been practicing for over five years. I thought, maybe I need to change the name of my class. 

Now, I see that a little patience, attentiveness and compassion goes a long way, to help each person go where they need to go that day in his or her practice. Whether it's modifying postures, taking more advanced variations of them, or pushing back into Child's Pose to rest for a few breaths, I find having "Multi-Levels" in one class can create a compassionate communal harmony among the group.

However, there is one exercise that all of my students can do: Breath of Joy. It just never fails- at least from my yoga-teaching experience so far. It is one of my all-time favorites. In a nutshell, it's three inhalations and one exhalation- first inhale with arms out in front at shoulder height, second inhale with arms out to the side like wings, third inhalation with arms way up over head and one exhale with knees bending and arms sweeping back behind the body (with a sigh). Although it sounds a little ridiculous, and sometimes, my students (and myself included) feel a little silly practicing Breath of Joy, I have found it is one of the most imperative parts of my class. 

Every single person in front of me is smiling (or laughing!) by the completion of five to ten repetitions of Breath of Joy. It does not matter how serious, how nervous or how fearful a person may be on any given day-- there is always at least a little turn up in his or her mouth. And that to me, is what yoga is all about. 

Personally, It has helped (and continues to help) me to find my inner joy, even when my external situations have been draining or depressing. And I am a firm believer that yoga can be a healing technique for everyone- if they let it.  That is why I try to add Breath of Joy into the middle of all of my classes- so we can let go at least for a few moments, and everyone can experience and share their own joy, despite whatever struggles they may be facing. 

I'll never forget one day in my Wednesday night class, a class full of hard-working business people who come to sweat a little and let go of stress they accumulate from work. We were in the midst of Breath of Joy, and all of a sudden, we were all hysterically laughing.  No one really knew why but it didn't matter. That's the only time I've lost control of myself completely while I am teaching, and boy, did that feel good. 

We live in a fast-paced society that makes it easy to be swept up in fear and uncertainty. So, we have to keep spreading the joy. 


Saturday, February 18, 2012

You are exactly where you need to be.

I have been feeling a bit sluggish, a bit less enthused than usual. As far as my career goes, I am pursuing my dream of being a journalist and a yoga teacher. However, my journalism job is freelance right now, requiring me to spend much of the day hauled up in the house typing and researching. That, along with the typical February gloomy weather, has begun to make me feel a bit restless, craving more.

I found myself thinking, I want things to fall into place faster, I want to get to my goal faster, I want this to all happen now. I even told my mother—in a moment of self-pitty—that I felt like I wasn’t doing anything with my life. She just kind of let me have my crybaby day and listened to me, because she knows how I am—she knows I am always trying to do too much at once and am just now learning how to ease up on myself when I need to. She knows I am stubborn and impatient with myself.

But I am beginning to learn the true importance and gift of relishing the joy that is always attainable at any given moment, even when it seems completely misplaced, totally out of sight… it is still there. That is not the issue. The issue is when we choose not to feel it, when we suppress it and drown ourselves in worry and fear. The issue is when we choose not to share our joy, so others can feel theirs too.

This morning, I was teaching a yoga class and during the Pranayama (breathing technique) Nadi Shodhana (alternate nostril breathing), I felt a sense of relief and happiness wash over me. I felt my lips turn up and a big smile spread across my face.

While teaching yoga, I am always there- 100% body, mind and spirit. That is one of the reasons I love it so much- it keeps me so grounded and so very present. And today, I felt inspired again and uplifted…. Thankful for this chance to share yoga… Thankful to feel like I truly belonged in that exact moment, in that studio. There was nowhere else I could have wanted to be… nothing else I would rather be doing.

Sometimes it takes pivotal moments to change our mindsets, but once we experience them, we can naturally come back to the center—to acceptance and release… to surrender. We can see that simply living from the heart and taking steps- however big or small- down each of our individual pathways is worthwhile—it is success. It is "doing something with our lives."

As cliché as it is—that saying: It’s about the journey, not the destination--- It is so true. And I constantly have to remind myself of that—or I am just going to be unfulfilled until I reach a certain goal or get a certain job or a certain relationship. Then, I will get there and still unsatisfied because I will be reaching for something else.

So, instead of obsessing over what is not happening right now, I will take advantage of what is happening—and honor every step along the way. Each step is a chance to change, grow and expand into a better version of myself. And instead of wondering if this will happen or if that will happen, I will consciously choose joy, creating space in my mind to relax, participating in what is happening right now. Because what my mother always tells me is absolutely true:

“You are exactly where you need to be.”


Thursday, February 2, 2012

Owning My Confidence.

It dawned on me over the past few days. I taught an evening yoga class and this amazing 60-something-year-old woman told me I seem "so confident" while I am teaching. I just laughed and told her I'm glad I can fake it.

But once I got home and reflected on our conversation, I realized: You know what? I am becoming confident in teaching yoga-- with good reason. Since my training last summer, I have studied, planned, and continued growing my knowledge of the practice. I deserve to feel at ease and comfortable while I am teaching, so I can help my students to feel the same.

It's funny how we can unknowingly send out a certain impression, a facade, to the world around us--- especially to those who barely know us. We can be feeling one way and seem like we are feeling the exact opposite. People can guess you are someone you are absolutely not even close to being. I know from experience.

For most of my life, especially during the past few years, people have thought I am much more confident and sure of myself than I truly was. It used to irritate me and bother me, because I wanted people to know that I was the same insecure "young adult" like everyone else. For some reason, I was frustrated and even kind of bothered with this notion that I seem to "have it all together," because I certainly didn't feel like it. There were only a select few who actually knew all of me to the core- each insecurity, each flaw, each issue.

But somewhere in between the time I graduated college- about 9 months ago- and right now, I started to realize there is no reason to be frustrated. It's taken me a while-- some heartache, some tears, some struggles-- to gain clarity on how I want my life to be and how I am going to live it. I had to jump over massive obstacles of fear to get there.

I realized running from the person who truly knows what she wants, is futile. I asked myself, wait a minute--- why have you been working so hard at figuring out what you want, finding your passion and working toward your dreams? You're succeeding.

As I get older, I become aware of everything-- negative thoughts, old beliefs, people who suck the life out of me -- and I see how necessary it is to let that all go and never look back. And, I become more and more aware of everything else --people who love me completely, my passions that keep my fire burning, and JOY-- that I strive to cultivate and cherish in my life.

In this process, I become more aware of who I truly am and I realize how important it is to accept and embrace all of me- flaws and assets combined. In turn, this will benefit everyone in my life, because after I accept more of myself, I accept more of everyone else.

So, I'm thinking, maybe instead of "faking" my confidence, I can actually begin to own it.