Embracing Individuality

Today in the digital age it is easy to eschew paper-and-pen planners, datebooks, and lists for apps on our smartphones. In the same way my planner in college outlined every last assignment, appointment, meeting, and social event, my smartphone held every detail of my life – at least for a time.

In recent months I noticed that I forgot things every now and again – small tasks, meetings that slipped my mind until only hours before, things I forgot to buy, and so on. I out that all the apps in the world were useless if I did not check them or use them – and as you might guess, I didn’t use them because they didn’t fit into my life.

I’d been wanting to return to a paper-and-pen planner for some time but found that many planners didn’t have the exact features I wanted. Not entirely by accident I stumbled upon bullet journals, which are planners that can be customized from scratch. Armed with a blank notebook and a pen, you literally draw up a planner that is completely unique to you, complete with all the pages you need (be they weekly or daily breakdowns, meal prep notes, shopping lists, books to read, or a stick figures in yoga poses). The system worked for me because it was simple, adaptable, customizable, and best of all, could roll with the changes in my day-to-day life.

While teaching a yoga class and adapting the class to the students who were practicing with me that night, it suddenly occurred to me that yoga can be viewed much the same way. There are no two yoga practices that are alike – no two practitioners require the same combination of elements in their practice, and even those needs can change from day to day. Even someone new to their yoga practice will start realizing quickly that they must adapt their practice to themselves – over time modifying poses with props, slowing down or picking up the pace, changing their diet, waking up with meditation, or ending the day with half an hour of restorative yoga – modifying ‘yoga’ and everything it can encompass to suit their lifestyle, and find what works best for them.

It’s easy to look at other students (or the teacher) in class and think that is what our own yoga practice should look like – not just the poses, but also the spirituality, diet, attitude towards life, and so on. But we are all different and unique, and similarly, our yoga practices will look and feel different as well. Our bodies will look different in poses, as will our words and philosophies, and as tempting as it is to look outward for guidance, sometimes it is actually turning inward that will help you find the answers and understand what you need in your yoga practice and your life.

I would be the first to admit that it can be scary to embrace your individuality – every nuance, every swear word (if applicable), every quirk and goofy habit. But it can also be incredibly fulfilling and peaceful to be at ease with yourself – unapologetic for looking different and walking a different rhythm than those around you.

Hello To Myself

One year ago, in the company of thousands of other people, I sent a lantern up into the sky during a beautiful, surreal lantern festival.

That day I wrote a lot on the thin white paper of the lantern with my thin black marker – mostly fears, some anxieties and worries, but also hopes and goals that I had been afraid to tell anyone or even put down into words. I wrote and I wrote and I wrote, and at some point my mind stopped its chattering; through my pen, I poured my soul onto a lantern that I would later liberate into the sky, laden with heavy words and the desert dust of Nevada and bits and pieces of my story.

Lantern festivals are few and far between, but writing is something anyone can do, even if you are your only audience. This can be a private blog, or an anonymous Instagram; a journal tucked inside your desk, or a small notebook you carry everywhere. So many thoughts pass through our minds – for a few days, try taking a few minutes a day to jot down the things that you want to focus on, and see if that changes how you approach (or end) your day. Those few minutes of daily writing can become a meditation and safe harbor, where your thoughts can come out unfettered, unjudged, and uninhibited.

(You might be surprised at what you end up writing down, too – I noticed that I don’t necessarily write down the “deepest” or most philosophical things, but when I do write my days and short-term goals end up much more focused as a result.)

As a writer myself, I always advocate writing when one needs emotional release – whether it’s a break up or hitting the milestone of a long-cultivated dream – putting thoughts to words makes them incontrovertibly real, and maybe even as a result easier to let go of. Once the words exist somewhere, you can’t take them back – and sometimes, it is that very sense of realness that we need to let us move forward.

Place to Play

While watching a TV series recently, one of the fictional characters uttered a drop of wisdom during an athletics meet: “To truly have fun, you need to have strength.” Of course, yoga is not a sport and my practice is not a game – but in some ways I thought this idea carried quite aptly to yoga.

Once you develop the habit of coming to your mat, whether it is at home or at a yoga studio, your practice generally begins to develop naturally: you learn the poses, find your style of yoga, and know which props to grab on your way into the studio. But sometimes it takes more study to develop a strong foundation that allows you to truly explore and play at the very edges of your limit in your yoga practice. For me, that meant yoga teacher trainings, yoga workshops, reading books and research articles, and learning from (and getting inspired by!) my fellow yogis and teachers, other movement arts, and building a home practice.

Having a solid foundation allows you to go higher and stronger – to find more depth in your yoga practice without injury or compromising your body. A strong foundation is a form of strength that can allow you truly play, finding freedom in and enjoying the challenges of your yoga practice.

What bricks have you laid in the foundation for your yoga practice? We hope you will share your story with us via email or one of our social media platforms:

Our Precious Resource

How often do you find yourself saying or thinking the words, “I don’t have time for ____” – the blank being things that you want to do, things you need to do, or things that you used to love doing?

If you don’t say this, you might be one of the lucky ones.  I’ve said this sentence before, too many times to count.

We live in an age where technology brings the entire world to our fingertips – not just emails and text messages, but also video streaming, angry birds, tabloids, world news, and 140 character sound bites.  It’s all too easy to lose countless minutes to cat videos, articles about random topics, and scrolling through Facebook.

Someone suggested to me that instead of saying “I don’t have time,” I say instead, “It’s not a priority” —
“I don’t have time to work out” became “exercising isn’t a priority.”
“I don’t have time to study” became “learning isn’t a priority.”
“I don’t have time to write” became “my dream to write a novel isn’t a priority.”
We have 168 hours in a week.

It stung when I realized that out of my 168 hours every week, there were hours of time that I idled away doing nothing much at all. I realized how quickly those minutes on Instagram, watching anime, and playing games on my phone added up – time that I could spend doing things that were important to me.

We are in full swing of summer.  Some of us have siblings who are home from college, others of us have children who are out of school.  The days are longer and we might have vacations or long weekends planned with dear friends and relatives. If we took out Netflix, TV, or Facebook, would that translate into more time with friends and family, or more time doing things that are important to us?

If time is our most precious resource, then our priorities are where we choose to spend those hours. Are you making the most out of your 168 hours?

An Introduction to Detox

The Girls 067When the season changes from winter to spring, it’s easy to look at the rebirth happening in nature all around us and mirror that into our own lives. Whether it’s literally seeding a garden in the backyard or cleaning the house to reduce clutter and “noise”, renewal can bring freshness and inspire focus after a long winter.

Have you ever considered that your body might need to go through a similar process of cleaning, or detoxing? One of our own teachers, Natosha, was kind enough to give me (and you!) a quick introduction on the topic:

What is detox, in one sentence?

Natosha: Detox is the process of removing harmful toxins from the body.

Why is it important to detox and/or cleanse the body?

Natosha: Detoxification is so important because it can reverse the symptoms of illness, improve quality of life, enhance immune system function, increase energy, lose weight, and restore balance back to our body’s natural cleansing system.

What are some different ways I can detox in my daily life?

Natosha: A few ways easy ways to detox daily include — sweat in a sauna, dry-brush your skin, drink at least 2 quarts of water a day, breathe deeply, and exercise.

Applying multiple detox methods in your daily life will help you cleanse through different areas in the body and release different forms of toxin buildup.

How do I know if my body needs a cleanse or detox? How often should I be doing detoxes to remove built-up toxins from my body?

Signs and symptoms of the body needing a cleanse may be numerous and very broad but general symptoms include: headaches/ and or migraines, low energy, insomnia, indigestion, bloating, weight gain, low energy, skin conditions, etc.

The amount of detox and cleanse protocol depends on each person individual lifestyle. This is a really good question because if you detox for too long or too often you can lose valuable nutrients along with the toxins and leave your body depleted. For this reason I wouldn’t recommend doing a ‘full on’ cleanse where you restrict your diet for more than 2 to 4 times a year. In Ayurvedic practice, the changing of the season is the most powerful time to cleanse.

If I can do a detox on my own, why go to a workshop?

Natosha: There are three GREAT reasons!

ONE – If you have never done a detox before it can seem like a daunting task. There is a lot of misleading information out there, and it can get overwhelming and discouraging. Workshops are a great way to get your questions answered and get the correct information you need.

TWO – Detox programs can be complex and everyone’s body is different. Coming to a workshop is a great way to introduce you to the tools you will need to safely and appropriately start a cleanse cycle. It will help teach about moderate and more extreme detox methods. It will help you get the best results and deepen your understanding about your body. It will also help you tailor a detox program that best fits your lifestyle.

THREE – Workshops are designed to teach and improve upon already healthy lifestyles but also to motivate. There is no better encouragement than doing it with a group and feeling inspired.

The Scribble to Success

Now that we are at the end of January, you’ve probably heard any number of people in your life – friends, family, coworkers, or that stranger you struck up a conversation with at the grocery store – mention new goals that they’ve set for themselves, or resolutions they’ve made to kick off 2016.

But keeping a resolution or achieving a goal is not always easy. There are distractions, there are ways to procrastinate, we get busy at work, or a personal crisis throws us off our balance. It’s too easy to hit a bump in the road and after breaking the resolution once (or a few times), and then blame ourselves for not having enough willpower when we fail to live up to our own, often very high, expectations.

I have never been much into resolutions, in part because I don’t want to become a statistic (University of Scranton research suggests that just 8% of people achieve their New Year’s goals) but also because I believe that there is more to a self-improvement than an outcome or result.

Many of my own roads to success are not only not smooth, they are downright Escher-like. Whether it was getting into an eka pada koundinyasana or finishing that online Introduction to Programming class, some monkey always throws a wrench into what was supposed to be smooth sailing. In my experience, these roads are not straight and steady slopes to the top. The path to success is more akin to a two-year old’s first experimentation with crayon on the wall – it’s rough and looks like a massive scribble. Every minor or major obstacle – bumps in the road, if you follow the analogy – can lead to failure, to setbacks, and can make you feel like you’re back where you started.

I firmly believe that every journey will involve some amount of scribble, and by that definition, recognize that failure is almost always a prerequisite for success. I believe that the many infinite moments of a journey are what transform a person, and not just that single instance of success.

So be kind to yourself and enjoy the scribble – even you do not always know where your journey will take you.

Developing Focus

Yoga provides numerous opportunities for developing focus. Practicing drishti requires finding a point of focus for the eyes. Applying dharana, single-pointed attention, helps quiet chattering in the mind. Pratyahara, withdrawing the senses, can allow for enhanced relaxation and self-awareness by focusing inward. Maintaining focus throughout a yoga class can be challenging, but taking these same principles of focus and using them in daily life can be an even greater challenge.

I’ve always taken pride in my multi-tasking abilities and busy schedule of projects, hobbies, and activities. However, I’m slowly realizing I don’t need to accomplish so much to feel successful. In fact, it’s the simple things that bring an overwhelming sense of joy and success. There will always be challenges but now I’m more aware of how my focus determines my sense of success and fulfillment.

When faced with challenges of productivity I try to keep these ideas in mind to focus my energy and attention:

Slow down and simplify. It might seem counter-productive to slow down but it has made me more mindful and present in all aspects of life.
Do one thing at a time with full attention. When I’m fully engaged in a single activity I don’t miss the chaos of multi-tasking. Instead, I’ve found a new sense of accomplishment in being completely present.
Turn everyday occurrences into moments of awareness. By identifying occasions of gratitude, I’m more aware of the beautiful and joyful moments as they occur.
We all have aspects in our lives that demand our undivided attention. The challenge is to see them as opportunities to focus and reap the benefits of an enhanced awareness of self, success and fulfillment.

Schedule & Teacher Changes

Finding Gratitude

Let’s take a moment to find gratitude for the abundances in our lives.

Your list does not have to be long – it can be as simple as being grateful for your life journey; your communities – friends, family, passions; your yoga practice.

Taking an extra moment to acknowledge your gratitude is not only a wonderful gift for the person you are grateful for, but it is something that can have a positive impact on your own psychological and physical health.

But what about when we are angry, hurt or sad? When we are busy fostering a grievance or building a grudge, it may seem that there is no room for positivity at all. It may be easier to yell and hold onto that anger, especially if you were hurt by someone you care about. But if you try to cultivate gratitude in your life, especially when it is hardest, you may find healing will come to your heart and body much sooner than it otherwise would.

This practice of gratitude doesn’t have to be complex – it really can be as simple as writing down five things you are grateful for in a journal every day.

One of the things I am most grateful for in my life is my yoga practice. Since yoga has become my physical vehicle for self-exploration and introspection, I’ve often been able to carry the lessons I learn from my mat into my life, and vice versa. Looking back over the past few years, I can think of many cases when my struggle or fear with a particular pose translated from something that had happened off my mat – and how in working through the pose physically, I could begin to work on my own emotions and take that lesson back into the other parts of my life.

Revisiting and Relearning

As the summer rolls into August, we near the time of the year when many of us or people close to us – children, friends, parents, and colleagues – get ready to go back to school.

You can also look at your yoga practice through the lens of “going back to school”. Sometimes the poses, transitions, breathing techniques, or meditation we learn in class or explore on our mat are completely new to us, but other times they are combinations of elements we have already explored.

Our yoga practices (as well as any other movement lifestyle) are not static and unchanging, nor are they linear journeys. Each day in our lives we experience change emotionally, mentally, and physically – and every change, no matter how small, can in turn affect the state of our mind and body on any given day. And over a longer period of time, the many incremental changes add up to what can be monumental, incredible changes.

In the spirit of embracing this perspective, why not revisit an old pose or try something new (again)? You may find that in revisiting an ‘old’ pose, you will find subtle nuances that you didn’t feel the first time around, or you will be able to explore a pose more deeply because your practice has evolved. If you didn’t like a particular style of yoga the first time around, maybe give it a second or third try – a few months or a few years after the first experience, you may find that you can appreciate and even love what those practices can do for your body. Or maybe try that difficult arm balance or pose that wasn’t accessible to you a year ago and see how it feels now.

Silver Linings

YvonneIf someone asked you to name one hundred things in the room that were red, you might start noticing all the little bits of red around you: a lanyard for a convention badge, a DVD box, red binding for a book, the label on a bottle of Tylenol, or the lettering on a textbook. But if you hadn’t been asked to, would you have looked for them, or even noticed them at all? Chances are, you wouldn’t have.

By changing your focus, you can do a lot to alter your perception of what is happening around you. Having a good day – and being happy! – aren’t just about having good relationships with the people around you or successfully finishing a project at work, but also about the attitude that you carry with you. Seeing the silver linings in your day is something that serves you: like a filter, you’re opening yourself up to seeing more of the goodness and positivity that fills your life.

Several weeks ago, I was asked to temporarily move to the graveyard shift at work due to lack of coverage – a change that later became permanent. Though there are some obvious downsides to working odd hours, I determined instead to look for the silver linings: taking yoga classes during the day, being able to fit swimming at the gym into my daily routine, and presenting myself as a positive and hard-working individual in my professional sphere. (Plus, I avoid the commuter traffic, and I can actually make it to the bank on a weekday!)

There will be bad days and changes in your life that are maddening, frustrating, and don’t seem much like anything except the worst possible outcome; but, can changing the lens that you look at your life with help you to see the good in what seems to be a bad situation?Yvonne

Much Love and Respect,
Yvonne Law