Here are some questions to ask yourself about dedicating some time to take care of yourself:
Need a visual reminder?
Need a little more enticement?
My usual morning routine begins with putting a teaspoon of coconut oil in my mouth and swishing it around for 15-20 min. Andrew actually likes it when I do this because the house is so much quieter.
Next would be to drink a glass of warm water with some lemon juice, followed by at least one liter of fresh water from our purification system. I drink another 1 or 2 liters throughout the day. Depending on my schedule, I have breakfast and do some work before my yoga practice, or get the practice done first thing before breakfast and work.
Lifting weights with www.jessicarumbaugh.com is also a part of my morning routine when I am home and can use my dumbbells, mini-trampoline, hula hoop and jumprope. I like a lot of variety in my workouts.
When I am traveling, I still drink the water, and I now have made a habit of doing 30 min. of aerobic exercise with videos from www.bradgouthrofitness.com. I really like the 15 min. programs called Live Lean 15. They are super simple to follow, target both the upper and lower body and I can do two of them in a row for 30 min. of sweat before I need to get ready to teach a class.
I know this seems like a lot to do in the morning, but it is an investment in self love that brings many returns. Even 30 min. per morning of any type of exercise is so much better than none!
Finally, I incorporate 10 min. of seated meditation and pranayama at either the beginning or the end of my yoga practice. I feel very blessed and grateful to have the opportunity to teach yoga for my career. Taking good care of my body and mind so that I can offer some inspiration to others is one of the best investments I could ever make.
Lately, I have been reading quite a bit of commentary online reminding us all that the practice of yoga is about more than just doing the poses. At the same time, there has been an increase in posts of beautiful poses on FB and Instagram. Yogis these days are very adept and proud of it. We seem to love showing off our accomplishments, and clearly people love to see them. With these two seemingly contradictory messages, one can only imagine how confusing this could be for students who want to learn more about yoga. Do I have to be thin, fit, acrobatic? Will I get hurt if I go to a class? Can everybody do handstands? What is the purpose of yoga anyway?
I feel that it is ultimately up to us, the teachers, the ones who offer this great practice to others, to do our part to help steer the perception of yoga on to a more balanced course. Most of us come to teaching from a place of overflowing gratitude. Yoga has changed our lives in some way, and from that place of gratitude we desire to give back, to pass that possibility on to others so they can find their own transformation. Amidst all the gorgeous pose photos and festivals and colorful clothing that draw students in in the first place, there is something that yoga offers that is unique and the most beneficial in the long run. What is that something? It is probably a bit different for each individual. For me, it has been developing the ability to listen to, trust in and follow my own inner wisdom. My personal GPS. My higher Self. Beyond all the poses and the physical benefits of the practice lies this true gem.
We teachers have the power to convey this deeper wisdom to our students by incorporating simple spiritual themes when we teach our classes. There are many different types of yoga offered these days in all types of venues. Some classes are only 1 hour long and do not include time for chanting or discussion of any kind. Some classes barely have time for any quiet sitting such as meditation, deep breathing or savasana. Still, there is a way to offer some spiritual wisdom and inspiration to hungry students.
Find inspiration and bring it to your classes. You may know a poem that inspires you, or a book that you are finding helpful. Perhaps there is a story you saw posted on Facebook that touches your heart. I feel that the juiciest themes come from one’s own personal experiences. That said, we need to be cautious about turning our classes into therapy sessions. Students do not appreciate or learn from having to listen to us vent or share our problems all the time.
Are you interested in developing your teaching to the point where you can inspire your students spiritually as well as physically? If so, take some time to ponder whatever is happening in your life and then see if you can find the lessons that Life is asking you to learn from that experience. Study the teachings of great ones such as the Dalai Lama, Gandhi, Thich Nhat Hanh, Pema Chodron, Byron Katie, Maya Angelou, Jack Kornfield and Eckhart Tolle. Their wisdom is offered in a way that is succinct, timeless and powerful.
Some examples of teachings that are applicable to yoga are:
Take personal responsibility for one’s life in all ways.
If you argue with reality, you lose.
Rise up from victimhood and be the change you want to see.
Learn how to be the observer so you can come from a place of responding rather than reacting.
Become aware of your tendency toward Fight or Flight syndrome that is often stress related.
These topics are just the tip of the iceberg as far as what is available to us online and in books. If you can learn how to deliver a message without sounding like a preacher, people will appreciate it. They took the time to come to class, let’s give them a complete experience: body, mind and soul.
Today, I want to talk about using props in yoga practice.
I have noticed that some newer students, and even more seasoned yogis, are sometimes bashful about using props in their yoga practice. They might think that to use a block or strap is to display inexperience with a pose, inability or weakness. Early in my practice, in my late twenties, I too had the “I’m fine, I can do it myself, I don’t need props” attitude. The truth is that props have nothing to do with weakness or lack of experience. The use of props is about 3 things: building strength, understanding one’s anatomy and honestly accepting where you are right now in your yoga practice.
I use props often, but not in ways other people might expect to use them. I use them to train my legs to stay strong during back bends or inversions (like a headstand) by placing a block between my upper inner thighs and squeezing it.
I use three blankets to get my neck and shoulders into a better position for a shoulder stand.
Here are some creative ways to use straps.
But props don’t stop at blocks and straps. I often use a wall to make sure I am straight and fully connected between my ribcage and pelvis, poses like camel or standing drop backs.
Here are some creative ways to use a chair to learn how to do back bends properly.
Most people need to use props at some point in their life to train them to be strong and honest in their practice. In many ways, anatomy is destiny with yoga. Some body proportions are very challenging to work with. Props can “level the playing field” and help us achieve better balance and ease rather than compensating, which leads to strain and over work.
It is important to note, however, that props should not be used as a crutch. Relying too heavily on a block or strap to complete a pose can hinder our real progress. I can’t stress enough, especially to newer students, that it takes a lot of work and a lot of physical strength to establish and then keep a practice going for a lifetime. Props are not just for older or weaker people. They are very useful tools for everyone! All the advanced yogis I have ever known make great use of props and bodywork to help them open their stiff spots and relax their tight spots.
It is so easy to cheat or compensate in yoga, so the wise use of props is really the only way I know to stay honest in a practice. Cheating leads to imbalance and injury because we never really know when we are overcompensating or slightly out of alignment. Even an expert teacher cannot watch us every second during our practice. If we don’t learn to do the exercise in correct alignment, it can eventually lead to getting hurt. Your instructor will help you as much as he or she can, but in a class of 10 students or more, it just isn’t possible for your teacher to watch you like a hawk.
If you are a yogi that doesn’t know how to use props and your instructor doesn’t explain it during class, you might want to investigate and seek out an alignment based teacher in a more fully equipped studio. It is good to be informed about all the possibilities that exist for learning this great art. If you are an instructor, don’t assume that your students will grab a block when they need one – and don’t wait for the challenging poses to start explaining it. If the studio you teach at doesn’t supply blocks and straps for everyone, that would be a very good investment for the owner to consider. Blankets and chairs are a real plus and a godsend if the studio can afford to purchase and store them.
Honesty, or Satya, is one of the Yamas, or ethical guidelines of Yoga. Be honest with yourself about your body’s proportions and don’t be ashamed of or afraid of knowing about your limitations. We all have limits! Some people are more bendy than others, some are stronger, but we all have places where we need to grow. It’s okay to get a bit of help from a block, a strap, a wall when you need it- even from another human being. It is not a sign of weakness but rather a sign of intelligence.
I do not practice yoga poses every day.
I’m sorry if that information is discouraging to your perception of me as a yogi, but my life is just as hectic and unpredictable as yours. There are days when spending time on my mat just does not fit into my schedule. The nature of my teaching schedule has me out on the road quite often, and there are times when it is simply not convenient or even possible. But, do not mistake this for lack of commitment.
A yoga practice is about more than simply doing poses, pushing myself, breathing and sweating on a sticky mat. The fullness of a yoga practice is about how we live every other hour of our day, especially on the days when getting on one’s mat isn’t possible. By this I mean being honest with ourselves, and kind and helpful to others in our lives.
Here are some of the other commitments I have made to myself to support a healthy lifestyle whether or not I am practicing yoga postures.
I am committed to eating healthy no matter what situation I am in, where I am traveling, or how hungry I am. It might be as simple as a bottle of water and an apple because nothing else is available. The processed, fried, sugary, salty foods that are readily available in airports and street corner convenience stores are not only bad for me, I feel bad when I eat them. The satisfaction created by consuming unhealthy calories is so short-lived, it’s not even worth the guilt I feel for subjecting my body to them. So, I pack my own food whenever possible. If I am unable to do that (like when flying), I look for the healthiest choices, such as salads, soups and fresh fruit or vegetables, which are becoming increasingly easier to find everywhere. I also take a green supplement, such as chlorophyll, and probiotics daily to support my immune system.
It can be just that simple… eat what you know will fuel your body and avoid or limit everything else.
The next commitment will seem contradictory: I do my best to let go of clinging to rigid rules. Life is so fluid; adhering obsessively to absolutes can create ever more stress and imbalance. I once believed that as a yoga instructor I was supposed to practice yoga poses every day, no exceptions. What I gained in exercise, I lost in the creation of excess stress in trying to make it happen. Who benefitted from that rigidity? Not me.
Life balance, including a calmer mind, is an important part of being a yogi. Eating healthy ‘no matter what’ may sound rigid, but it is relatively easy to do. It supports my body’s energy needs and keeps my mind much more steady. By staying with these commitments, I create the conditions for more peace and less suffering when I need to go a day or two or three (or more) without doing exercise or a yoga practice. I still stretch when I can, take the stairs instead of the elevator, and find other small fun ways to be physically active even when I am traveling. By letting go of trying to live up to my old perception of how a yogi is ‘supposed to be’ and instead, living into what being a yogi now means to me, a beautiful balance has been established.
Balance and commitment go hand-in-hand. Next time, I will talk more about that balance.
Stepping onto a yoga mat for the first time, you quickly learn that if you are going to master this artistic activity, you are going to have to let go – of preconceived notions, the physical limits you set on yourself, the mental limits that keep you from reaching further, and the emotions that you hide or hide behind. Quickly, you learn that you will have to remind yourself to let go every single time you return to your mat.
You might come into yoga shy about your body or intimidated by some of the bodies around you. You might find that you are comparing yourself to other students in the room and feeling less than. Sooner or later, you learn that it feels better to let go of comparing yourself to anyone else in the room.
Every single body has a different story to tell and no one is judging you for yours, except maybe you.
The rest of the class is focused on what’s happening on their own mats, making sure they don’t fall over and crash into their neighbors. They don’t see that your shirt has ridden up and your belly fat is exposed. Negative body image syndrome is rampant in our culture and it is debilitating. If you’re so wrapped up in holding tightly to your negative body image, you will struggle to take chances, weaken yourself, and miss the full experience of doing yoga.
You have to let go of your mental limitations when you’re on your mat. Do you want that bind? That crow pose? Release yourself from the fear-based mindset that asks in doubt, ‘can I?’ and allow yourself the space and confidence of ‘I can’ to flow in. Seemingly impossible tasks can be handled one step at a time. The real reason you cannot bind may just be that you have tightness in your shoulders and upper back which first need to be opened. The truth of why the arm balances are so impossible might be that your core needs strengthening in all of your poses, arm balances just make that point clearer. The bigger the hurdle, the more there is to learn. Each apparent roadblock is actually a gateway towards learning something we need, but we first have to let go of the thought processes that prevent us from recognizing these simpler first steps.
Letting go emotionally is one of the most therapeutic pieces of yoga. As many of you know, yoga played a pivotal role in recapturing my joy following the sudden violent death of my son. When you are feeling grief, sadness, or depression, your mat is one of the safest places to go to release these negative emotions. The intense focus required to balance on one leg in a standing pose or on your hands in an arm balance frees your mind from the ‘chitta vritti’, the unrelenting chatter, for even a moment. You can let go of the negative emotion that seems to shroud your heart and mind, and just be okay for one breath; on your mat, where it is safe, warm, quiet, and where your spirit is nurtured. In the midst of intense emotional pain, you will find your body expressing itself and letting go of what your heart is trying to hold on to so tightly. You would not be the first person to release the tears of emotional grief while lying in savasana; no one around you knows and your instructor will most assuredly understand.
The human body holds onto so much throughout its lifespan. Your muscles have a memory. Cells will hold on to toxins. The mind stores everything. The heart feels pain – and has the capacity for tremendous love. In my many years in yoga, and through my closest relationships, I have learned that it’s possible to let go of that which holds me back from being open to love and joy— the feeling states that humans seek most. I hope you can find a way to let go of whatever is holding you back and open yourself to more love and joy.
You deserve it.