What does broccoli have to do with Ashtanga?

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Photo Credit: cold_penguin1952 Flickr via Compfight cc 

Do you love Ashtanga?

Do you dislike Ashtanga?

You can only answer this question if you’ve tried it.

Like with anything, you’ll discover if you like it or dislike it only after you have tried it.

Did your mom or dad ever say to you about broccoli or Brussel sprouts or anything like that — “Just eat one bite, then you’ll know if you like it or not.” I bet they did! Or if you’re a parent, do you say this to your kids?

I’m offering a nine-week Ashtanga class at SunMoon Yoga Studios Jan. 17-March 14. I’m asking Ashtanga newbies to give it a try for the nine weeks. I don’t expect that at the end of the session, everyone will be an Ashtanga devotee. I fully expect some people will say, “This is not for me.” I love Ashtanga, but I don’t expect everyone else will love it, too. It’s challenging and structured and routine. That doesn’t appeal to everyone.

But all I ask is that if you’re curious, give it a try.

That goes for anything in this new year. What is your intuition telling you to do? Just try something new. You don’t have to commit to it — just try it.

What are you curious about?

Blossoming into the new year

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My journal, and Melanie’s center table and oracle cards at the Mindful Intentions workshop on New Year’s Eve.

“Take a look at each deck. Choose from the one that speaks to you,” Melanie says.

I kneel down, inspect a few cards, finding myself drawn to the ones that are colorful. A couple of the decks feature whimsical illustrations, which are cute, but for me maybe a little too cute. I spot the deck from which I drew last year, but want something different. When I see “Goddess Guidance,” I know that’s the deck for me.

I shuffle once, twice. I almost pick the top card right then, but something inside said to shuffle one more time — something about the number three felt important. I shuffle again, then I take the top card:

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My heart sings. This card, this notion of blossoming, feels exactly right.

We might think of people blossoming in terms of adolescence. How often are girls said to “blossom” into womanhood? But just because we hit middle age, or even older, that doesn’t mean we don’t keep blossoming into new things.

For 2019, my plan is to delve deeper into Ashtanga. I want to continue to build a home practice that I’ve been doing for the last couple of months. I want to attend more workshops and trainings. I’m excited to be teaching Ashtanga at SunMoon Yoga Studios starting in a couple of weeks.

I also have learned more about Ayurveda in the last three weeks or so. I’ve been trying out recipes and am loving the plant-based diet. I want to learn even more about this practice.

As always, I’ll be reading and writing, learning new things that way, both about other people and events and also about myself.

This seems like a good year to focus on “blossoming.” I’ve made an effort to put negativity behind me in the last year, and by doing so I feel ready to grow.

What’s your word for 2019?

 

 

Think you can’t meditate? Think again.

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This is what I try to envision when I meditate — a screen of static.

“I’m terrible at meditation.”

“I can’t meditate.”

“I don’t do meditation right.”

“My mind wanders too much when I try to meditate.”

Those were all things I’ve said at different points in my life. I knew people who meditated, I knew people got a lot out of meditation, I have had meditation “assignments.” But finally, finally, in taking my own journey and my own path to meditation, I’m settling into a practice.

For me, it’s like anything — it takes practice. I practice the piano to get better. If I write every day, writing is going to get easier and flow better. If I run most days a week, I’m going to be a better runner.

I’ve been meditating most mornings. I started short, just 2-3 minutes. But after a while, that became easier — those minutes went by quickly instead of plodding along like they did when I started. This morning for the first time I meditated for 5 minutes.

Yes, my mind wanders. My mind wanders on my mat, too. But instead of giving up, I bring myself back to the moment. Some days I have to do this countless times. Other days, I’m more present. Whatever is going on that day is “right.”

Another cool thing is happening: I’m viewing my Ashtanga practice as meditation rather than physical. I had always viewed it as physical — it’s a challenging and demanding practice, which takes a lot of physicality. I used to measure my progress by my strength and ability to get into poses. But lately, I am experiencing how the physical is a path to the meditation, not an end unto itself. This is bringing a new level of meaning and excitement to my practice.

What are your experiences with meditation?

Love your practice and show up

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Photo Credit: c3lsius_bb Flickr via Compfight cc

From Kino MacGregor’s The Power of Ashtanga Yoga:

“Many people assume that because they cannot easily bend their bodies into the pretzel-like positions of the Ashtanga Yoga Primary Series that this method is not for them. The sole qualification for the practice of Ashtanga Yoga is to love your practice and to ‘show up’ on your mat as much as possible. It does not matter what level of asana you perform, because the inner work of yoga is fueled by the authentic search for inner peace.”

Since June 8, I’ve showed up to my mat much more than I ever have in the past 16 years since I was first introduced to Ashtanga. I show up on my mat most mornings. Do I spent a ton of time on the mat? No. Most mornings at least 20 minutes. Only about one morning a week am I showing up for 30-45 minutes. But this is a vast improvement over other years when I didn’t even have a home practice and was doing Ashtanga only when I showed up to a led class 3-4 times a month.

Moving forward, I’d like to increase the time of my home practice to at least 30 minutes most mornings and to get back into doing the full series at least once a week.

My major challenge right now is motivation. I’ve hit the low point of the semester — long days at the office with lots of meetings and advisee appointments. This means that prep work and grading is happening in the evening when I get home and the weekends. It’s been hard to get up in the mornings knowing I have such a full day ahead. But that is exactly the time to bump up my practice.

I have the excuse of teaching yoga two mornings a week, which forces me out of bed. When class is over, I spend 20-30 minutes on the primary series finishing poses plus some cardio work. If I didn’t have to get up to teach, I think I’d probably opt for staying in bed as long as possible. I hope once I get past this busy time at work, I will feel more motivated.

How do you stay motivated for working out or for your yoga practice?

Run away? Or confront?

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My favorite place of tranquility: Artists’ Point, Grand Marais, Minnesota. Photo by author.

At the end of the Ashtanga prep class I’ve been teaching at SunMoon Yoga Studios, I like to read a short passage while students are in savasana. I usually read from Kino MacGregor’s The Power of Ashtanga Yoga.

Last Thursday I read this:

“The asanas work first on a practice level to burn through the toxins in the physical, emotional, and energetic bodies The poses also work to change the basic hardwiring of the mind. Normally, when we confront difficult situations, we want to run away. If we encounter a scary memory, we often want to bury it. The pattern, while totally natural, is not effective at creating a truly happy, healthy life. Yoga trains the mind to stay in places of difficulty instead of running away and developing protective measures. In yoga, there is no room for defense mechanisms. In fact, the yoga poses are designed to strip away every protective layer you may have developed to reveal the inner purity at the heart of your being.”

Ashtanga, like most physical endeavors, is a challenging practice. I have never been on a run or a bike ride or done an Ashtanga practice and said, “Wow, that was easy today!” Part of the reward upon completing physical exertion is the satisfaction in knowing that you pushed yourself in a difficult situation.

What do we find challenging on an emotional or mental level? There’s a tendency to push it away and not want to go there, just like there’s a tendency to stay on the couch or stay in bed rather than move your body.

Because Ashtanga yoga is done in silence, with the focus on the audible breath, it creates a meditative state as you challenge your body in the asanas. Running and cycling for me also have a mind-clearing quality, but not as much as Ashtanga does.

We often turn toward more destructive habits when we don’t want to confront difficult thoughts and emotions. I have been guilty of this, but I find that since I’ve been practicing Ashtanga regularly I’m not running away from myself and I’m treating myself better. It’s a slow process — I’ve only been practicing regularly for about four months — but I am hopeful for continued growth and strength. For me, and for all of you, be patient and kind to yourselves and trust the process, whatever that may be.

Have yoga mat and running shoes, will travel*

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I was in Washington, D.C., earlier this week for AEJMC, a journalism educators’ conference. I found a way to squeeze in both a run and a visit to an Ashtanga yoga studio.

The run went well despite the 100-degree heat index! The 5K was loosely organized by a member of AEJMC. Whoever wanted to show up in the hotel lobby at 5 p.m. on Wednesday was welcome. We each paid $15, which went toward student scholarships. It wasn’t a big group, as you can see, but we stuck together and had a great time getting to know each other! I saw one of the women in the lobby later that night and she kindly invited me to hang out with her and some other people she knew, two of whom are living in Minnesota so I look forward to maintaining those connections.

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On Thursday evening, I took the Metro for a short ride up to Woodley Park. I went to the 7 p.m. led half primary series. Earlier in the day, I didn’t feel like going. I was completely exhausted from “conferencing” (those of you who have been to multi-day conferences know what I mean) as well as spending Thursday afternoon walking about 5 miles in between visiting the National Museum of Women in the Arts and the National Portrait Gallery.

I went back to the hotel room to change and it was so cool in there! The bed looked so comfortable! But even though I was exhausted, it was exhaustion that just felt gross. I knew that if I stayed in the room all evening and laid around, I would feel even worse and more gross.

Thankfully I’ve been practicing ashtanga long enough to know that the physical activity would give me a boost of energy. So I packed my travel yoga mat into my bag and walked (again!) a few blocks to the Metro.

I’m so glad I did! If I hadn’t, I wouldn’t have experienced:

  • A part of DC I hadn’t been to before.
  • Seeing another beautiful ashtanga studio.
  • Mental clarity and a lift of my mood (which continued well into the next day).
  • Sharing my practice with welcoming, kind and gentle people.
  • A fabulous Lebanese restaurant down the street from the studio that nourished me after practice.
  • A gorgeous summer evening sitting outside in the city.

I’m still getting used to practicing yoga and running while traveling. The running thing has been working out well for about a year. Usually when I travel, I am busy and tired. In the past I have given myself a break while traveling. Traveling by itself is tiring with the flights and time changes and strange hotel rooms where you might not sleep well. But finally I have realized that squeezing in a quick run is the perfect antidote to that exhaustion. And honestly, after a day of sitting and taking in conference sessions, I want to move my body and not think anymore.

Yoga while traveling is really new to me. I found a yoga studio in Alnwick, England, when I was there in May, and now Woodley Park Yoga. I also did a morning practice in my hotel room on Wednesday, which I had never done before. So this is all part of my renewed commitment to Ashtanga.

Tell me about your workouts/yoga practice while traveling! Please share any tips you have. For example, I have a travel yoga mat and also some Yoga Paws gloves and socks. My travel mat is slippery so the gloves and socks work well, and you wouldn’t even need a mat with them because the grip is good.

* Title is in reference to this old TV show:

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My first Ashtanga workshop!

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Me and Angela Jamison. Angela, what a beautiful soul. I’m so grateful that she represented my first Ashtanga workshop. 

I finished my 200-hour RYT training in June. As the training wrapped up, I knew my next move was to devote more of myself to Ashtanga. To me, this involves four aspects:

* Cultivating a home practice, seeing as the nearest shala is a 90-minute drive away.

* Self-study of Ashtanga and yogic principles through reading of classic and modern texts.

* Continued self-evaluation and self-improvement. In the words of Angela Jamison (see below), what’s my stuff?

* Learning through face-to-face transmission through workshops and teachers.

I’ve been working on the first one and second one since June. I’ve been working on the third one for almost two years, but seriously and consistently for about a year. And the last one is very new — I’m coming off a weekend workshop with Angela Jamison, hosted by Ellie of Ashtanga Yoga Minneapolis.

I took pages of notes, practiced alongside 15 other ashtangis, and in general had a transformative and uplifting experience over the 10 hours. Plenty of blog posts will come from this experience! But for now, let me list some quick impressions:

* Angela Jamison is a beautiful soul. She is warm and empathic and encouraging.

* I just finished teaching a five-week summer session class at MSU-Mankato. That was an intense experience like none other, giving instruction day after day. How great it felt to sit quietly and absorb instruction, to be on the other side of the desk, so to speak!

* Ellie at AYM has a great shala space. The building is a former convent, and I could feel the sacred power of sanctuary lingering in the room. From where I sat, I could see the church across the street, which offered a symbol for quiet contemplation.

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* I soaked up the “tribe” aspect of Ashtanga. Back when I was practicing at Sun Moon, back when I thought it was only a physical practice, I still felt the power of the tribe and it was that I missed the most when Mona stopped offering Ashtanga. So to be back in a group of people committed to this practice felt like I was at “home.”

* I’ve been on this path for far longer than I had imagined. Angela said something about figuring out your stuff before you could fully embrace the practice. I have been drawn to self-study for the past year, for reasons that weren’t quite clear to me (or for reasons that seemed clear at the time, but now I see those weren’t the real reasons). The real reason was to prepare a clean heart for a commitment to the Ashtanga practice.

Have you attended yoga workshops? What has your experience been like?