Honoring my teachers

Today is Guru Purnima, the day in the Hindu culture to honor our teachers.

Teachers come in many different forms. They may have a formal role as a teacher, or they may present themselves as a teacher simply in the way they guide you.

In the opening chant in Ashtanga, we reference the sage Patanjali. I was told that the opening chant is a way to honor the teachers of Ashtanga who have come before us and who have passed down the practice.

In the spirit of Guru Purnima, I recognize the teachers who have shown me the Ashtanga path:

  • Maria, my first Ashtanga teacher. I showed up to Ashtanga at SunMoon back in 2002 or 2003 without any idea of what it was. I instantly felt welcomed by Maria and the community of Ashtangis.
  • Mona, owner of SunMoon who had the wisdom to bring Ashtanga to Mankato. She has lovingly supported this practice in Mankato for nearly two decades.
  • Mel, the teacher with whom I practiced the longest. She was encouraging both physically and mentally. She could spot resistance in the body and knew that the practitioner had to work on more than the physical before the asana could open.
  • David Rogers. I only practiced Mysore with him last summer a few times, but I so appreciated his knowledge and style of teaching. He was the one to help me break some of the bad habits I had developed over the years, lol 🙂
  • Angela Jamison. I met Angela in 2018 at a workshop held at Ashtanga Yoga Minneapolis. I was hungry for knowledge, having just dedicated myself to a regular Ashtanga practice. I will never forget Angela’s entrance into my life right when I needed it. I just spent another weekend with her and will see her any chance I get.
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Me and Angela, July 2019
  • David Swenson. David has been a teacher to me for years, albeit only in book form. His practice manual has been my Ashtanga bible for years. It was an honor to take a weekend workshop with him last September.

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Me and David Swenson, September 2018
  • Lynn Thomasberg. I first met Lynn in March at an assist workshop at OneYoga. I felt comfortable with her and learned that she and Mel were friends, so of course I liked her right away! I have agreed to do an Ashtanga teaching apprentice program with her this fall and I just started to take Mysore classes with her this summer.
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Me and Lynn, March 2019

Namaste, gurus.

Must you run to stay in shape?

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Do you like my grimace, lol! This is about Mile 21 of the 2018 Mankato Marathon.

I like data — I don’t think I’m alone!

If you obsessively track anything related to your fitness, raise your hand!

I’ve tracked my running miles over the years, but most consistently since 2016. No real reason — I guess to simply see how the miles add up. I like to compare month to month, and year to year.

So this year, well really at the end of last year, I decided upon a little experiment: I was going to run less and focus more on my yoga practice.

The dedicated yogis I got to know in the past few years, specifically the dedicated Ashtangis, seemed to do quite well doing only yoga. Because I was averaging about 80 miles a month, I was experiencing tight hamstrings and tight hips, which made it a challenge to achieve certain asanas.

But I’ve been a runner since about 1995, and I had grown accustomed to view running as my primary workout and the “only” way to stay in shape. In the past 8 years I also added cycling and swimming to the mix as I incorporated triathlons into my schedule.

I really do enjoy running. So far I have not experienced anything that delivers such a “quick hit” of endorphins. I can go for a 30-minute run and feel energized and “high.” The dopamine effect is real. After a bad day, a run is a beautiful antidote.

In 2018, I committed to a marathon. I had done five marathons previously and felt done with that, lol. But I was asked to do a charity run for a nonprofit, and I couldn’t say no. Running for something beyond myself gave me extra motivation. But I told myself in 2018 that after the marathon, I’d be done.

I vowed to still work out. My goal was 30 minutes a day for most days, but that consisted of primarily the elliptical and “HIITmill” at the gym. I did very little running throughout the winter. And I added an Ashtanga practice most mornings (though a truncated practice–at least it was something).

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OMG, I love the HIITmill! I told a woman today at the gym to try it out, and she did! 

Now that we’re halfway done with the year, I decided to check on my running stats.

Holy crap, my running mileage is down 70 percent from last year!

The thing I was most nervous about — gaining weight — did not happen. In fact, I’m down one pound over this time last year. I always thought I needed a heart-pumping cardio workout like running to maintain my weight. But lo and behold, this yoga thing seems to be working!!!!

Now yes, I’m still running, but it’s about twice a week. I also am biking more than I did last summer, but anywhere between 7-15 miles at a time, 2-3 times a week. I’ve gone swimming once so far this year, lol.

I do notice a decline in my cardio capacity. My heart rate seems to go higher more quickly than it did when I was running a lot. So I can tell that my heart muscle probably isn’t in as good of shape as it used to be.

I do like a good cardio workout once in a while. I like to get my sweat on. But this experiment tells me that perhaps some day I will transition almost completely to yoga as the way to stay in shape.

 

Being forced to slow down

It’s frustrating to have an injury, isn’t it?

But it’s a humbling experience. We may have plans for our bodies, but our bodies often have different plans.

I was doing well, gaining strength and mobility in my Ashtanga practice. I had been working on jump backs and jump throughs, trying to build strength in my arms to lift my off the mat so my legs could shoot back. I also had been working on stage 1 of handstand that I learned in my Bheemashakti training.

Then this:

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That is from a tiny, tiny mole removal, lol! The doctor needed to go long in order to seam it up, since she had to take out a circle of skin and you can’t really stitch up a circle.

Doctor’s orders were no exercise for a week, no lifting over 10 pounds, and certainly no yoga.

After a couple of days I practiced asanas that didn’t require weight on my arms or arm extensions. But even in trikonasana I could feel the skin of my arm stretch, so I didn’t want to do much of that.

Later in the week I did some modifications. One week after the excision, I was back to a fairly normal Ashtanga practice, though with knees down during chaturanga. I also was back to practicing jump backs and jump throughs, so I was glad to only have a week off from that.

My goal asana for this summer, bhujapidasana, is going to have to wait a while longer! My arm is not going to like my leg resting on it!

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And starting next week I’ll be doing a Mysore practice once a week at OneYoga in Minneapolis, so I anticipate being a little weaker for that than I had hoped.

At times we need to take a step back and rest. Our bodies are good at telling us when to do that. Are we so good at listening, though?

 

 

A dip of the toe into Bheemashakti Yoga

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Me with Troy and Angela of the Bheemashakti Yoga School. Troy and Angela came from San Diego to do a weekend workshop in Minneapolis June 15-16.

I attended a 6-hour Bheemashakti Yoga training June 15-16 held at Nordeast Yoga in Minneapolis. I first heard of Bheemashakti in March, when a couple of people in my Ashtanga assist workshop mentioned it. Elaine and Jonathan brought the Bheemashakti Yoga School co-directors, Angela Patriarca and Troy Munsey, to Minneapolis for the workshop.

According to the website, Bheemashakti Yoga is “a standardized system of yoga that range from general physical exercises, to deep spiritual practices.” It’s a relatively new style of yoga, starting in India in 2005 and brought to the U.S. in 2009.

I find it beneficial to shake things up once in a while. While I continue to deep-dive into Ashtanga through continued practice, workshops, teaching and training, at the same time I’m eager to expand my breadth of knowledge about yoga and holistic living.

On Saturday afternoon Angela and Troy led us through a series of backbends. What I like about Bheemashakti is the building onto a foundation. Rather than go right into urdhva dhanurasana (wheel pose) after a warm-up, there are a series of foundational poses in which you go further and further into backbends. Same thing with handstands, which we practiced on Sunday. I’m not there yet, but someday!

I also liked the kapalabhati breathing technique (for a video, see below). I can really feel this along my ribs, my abs and my back today!

I’m not sure yet where I will place Bheemashakti in my daily practice. I know I will continue with the Ashtanga morning practice. Today I experimented and did some Bheemashakti backbends late in the afternoon, after I was working on my computer all day. I liked the counter-effect after sitting for hours, so perhaps Bheemashakti will be a late afternoon or early evening practice a couple of days a week.

I do know that when I learn something new, it’s OK to not know where it’s going to fit. A seed has been planted, and it’s unknown when it will sprout or how big it will become.

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Light as a feather…jump-throughs and jump-backs in yoga

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Photo credit: https://www.geograph.org.uk/photo/982792 

Will I ever fly?

Will I ever float?

I know one thing: If I never work on it, I’ll never be able to do it.

I attended a “flying and floating” workshop on Saturday at Good Vibrations Yoga in Hopkins, Minnesota, with Sara Mandel. I’ve been working on my jump-throughs and jump-backs and I had a lot of fun experimenting with those movements on Saturday.

It strikes me that many of us think, “Will I ever _________?”

In other parts of my life, at different times, my questions have been:

  • Will I ever publish a book?
  • Will I ever run a marathon?
  • Will I ever be able to swim almost a mile in an Olympic-distance triathlon?
  • Will I ever be able to do sirsasana (headstand)?

The answers to those questions have all been yes. Because I worked at each one, sometimes for years. Through each process I have learned more about patience and trust.

How do you fill in that blank? What are you doing to make that answer “Yes!”?

Reflections upon leading Ashtanga primary series classes

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Bhujapidasana. #Goals

On Thursday, I wrapped up my second multi-week session guiding students through the Ashtanga led primary series at Sun Moon Yoga Studios in Mankato. I thought this would be a good time to reflect. So many thoughts!

* The Ashtanga community in Mankato is fabulous. I think I had 14 registered for winter session and 10 for spring session. Others would drop in here and there. Ashtanga is such a specialty practice that the people who actually commit are much fewer in number than people who attend other yoga classes. Plus, Ashtanga really is a home-based practice — it’s great to come together with fellow Ashtangis on a weekly basis, but it’s not necessary. So I am beyond thrilled with those numbers as well as the mix of faces. Some people have practiced Ashtanga for years in Mankato and I practiced with them back when Mel W. was teaching. But others are relatively new. Over the summer I’d like to convince 2-3 more people to commit to the fall session.

* My own practice has grown. Since January, I’ve committed to a near-daily practice in the mornings. In my day job I teach writing, and there’s no way to teach that without writing myself. There’s no way to teach Ashtanga without doing Ashtanga myself and taking additional training. I have some more fun and exciting training on the horizon for the summer and fall!

* Some crazy things are happening because of my daily practice and basking in the energy a room full of Ashtangis emits. I can’t quite find the words at the moment to articulate this, but it has to do with the cultivation of energy, the arcs of energy that run between me and others, and the ability to seemingly harness that energy to gain results.

* I’m so much more comfortable with assists. Back in March, I took an assist workshop with Lynn Thomasberg. I love the way a body “gives” under my hands — I can feel the person finding that “sweet” spot.

* I’m leading a class, not teaching. I see my role as a guide and observer. I’m there to cultivate the space — show up early, turn on the lamps, adjust the temperature, create the warmth needed for Ashtangis to settle into a practice without distraction. What I want most is to create a space in which Ashtangis can reach deep inside of themselves, go to a place both mentally and physically that will open up new channels of energy and new ways of seeing. After class, some of the practitioners will share their experiences. I loved this one from last night:

Summer we’re scaling back to one-hour Ashtanga “prep” workshops in June and July. I look forward to spending more time in asanas and regrouping for the fall full primary series. I also plan to work on a personal goal of attaining bhujapidasana.

 

Plants are encouraged to grow; so are people

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It’s an honor to witness a revelation.

After class on Thursday, one woman said she had the best Ashtanga practice she had had in a long time. She said she came into class tired and weary and wasn’t expecting much from herself. But partway through she thought to herself, What’s happening here? The look on her face after class was one of amazement and surprise.

Leading an Ashtanga class is unlike other teaching I do. In the university classroom, I have knowledge about a topic and I try to impart that knowledge unto (generally much younger) students. They look to me as someone who has professional experience in the field, and they have relatively no experience. They are there to learn from someone with more experience.

But in an Ashtanga class, I am not the one with the most experience. Instead, I’m there to cultivate an environment in which students feel comfortable going inside of themselves to reach their potentials. How do I do that?

  • By showing up early, at least a half-hour before class starts. I turn on the lights and make sure everything is in order before they arrive. I don’t want to be rushing around getting things ready as students come in the door. That would set an anxious tone.
  • By greeting them as they arrive and listening to them. If I get there early, I’m ready. So when students talk to me, I can give them 100 percent attention. I’m not distracted. They may tell me something important, like an injury they have or an emotional or mental roadblock they’re facing.
  • By using a calming voice when leading them from asana to asana.
  • By using assists to help them get further into an asana.

It’s like a garden — you don’t make the plants grow, but you cultivate a favorable environment so they have a chance to grow strong.

I’m glad I was able to curate an environment in which the woman was able to achieve a fulfilling practice. I want to hear that and hope to never hear the opposite — that my class is a space in which people feel discouraged or unwelcomed. Her words encourage me to create a space in which she can continue to grow, as well as others.