"Change is not something that we should fear. Rather, it is something that we should welcome. For without change, nothing in this world would ever grow or blossom, and no one in this world would ever move forward to become the person they're meant to be." B.K.S. Iyengar
I have been thinking about change, and personal growth in the New Year, and have been greatly inspired by one of Live Oak Yoga's regular students, Greg Shamitko. Below is a conversation with Greg, about one of my favorite topics, yoga.
When did you first try yoga?
My first experience with yoga was not a great one. My wife and I had just started dating at the time. She signed us up for a couple’s yoga class. I was fine with trying it though I had never practiced yoga before. I figured how bad could a one-hour class be? It turned out it was a 3-and-a-half-hour class! Savasana was a full 30 minutes long. People were snoring everywhere. Some people walked out. The instructor pushed some of the more esoteric aspects of yoga too far for an introductory class. He ended the class with a “gift” by singing us a song he wrote on an organ in a made up language. I found it bizarre to say the least. Talking to other participants afterwards, nobody was interested in a second class.
My next experience was entirely different. I was completing the P90x workout series with some friends while going back to medical school. One workout a week is 75 minutes of yoga. I was not overly excited given my first experience, but welcomed what I thought would be a nice easy break from the otherwise intense workouts. I was wrong on all accounts. For one, it was anything but easy. The videos are vinyasa-heavy with long deep holds in warrior positions. It’s a pretty well rounded video complete with inversions and balance poses. I found myself sweating more and more exhausted after the yoga video than any of the others in the series. Additionally, I found myself more centered and able to focus on studying for that day than any others. There is heavy emphasis on focused breathing and mindfulness, but without being too out there for beginners. Though it came in video form, it was a great intro to yoga. Anyone who is skeptical to try a yoga class because they think it will be too easy or it’s “just for girls” should try that video if you don’t want to go to a class.
What made you want to try yoga (again)?
In the intervening seven years from the P90x introduction, I completed a difficult residency and had two kids as well as started working nights as an ER doctor and it was taking its toll. I hadn’t worked out or exercised in a long time. I had gained weight, became constantly stressed and exhausted, and my back and joints hurt every morning when I woke up. I was taking ibuprofen daily for low back and hip pain. I had a small squamous cell skin cancer develop rapidly and I began to wonder where things were headed. One of my wife’s friends had recently opened a yoga studio and she suggested I try it, both for my health and to support our friend.
What were you nervous about in your first class?
Would I make an idiot of myself? Would I look stupid when I can’t come anywhere close to touching my toes? Am I going to be the only male there, and is that going to be awkward? Is it going to be a repeat of intense Chakra talk with made up songs and made up languages? I was pleasantly surprised when it was very different from my first experience. Physically challenging, meditative without being hokey, and both intense and relaxing.
Why do you continue to practice yoga?
I have lost twenty pounds. My back and joint pain has disappeared. My blood pressure, slightly high previously, has normalized. I have more energy, focus, and patience than I had before. Not only has it helped my physical and emotional well-being, but I think it has helped with my family’s as well. I think I am more patient with my wife, kids, and coworkers. I feel better than I have in years.
What has been the biggest surprise for you in the practice of yoga?
It hasn’t gotten old or boring even though most classes are similar in structure. There are always ways to improve even the basic poses. Each instructor has a different feel to their class that keep things fresh and challenging. Each class is different and can be as hard or easy as you prefer and can be adjusted for all levels. I add a pushup in my vinyasas between up-dog and down-dog for added strength building. There are some poses I may never attain, and frankly, I don’t care if I do. Reverse prayer is just something my shoulders will probably never be able to do, and I don’t have a problem with that. But they are more flexible and less painful than they were before. There is no age or skill level that can’t be accommodated and each class is a different day to challenge and improve.
What is your favorite pose?
I have to pick two, because I like them each for different reasons. Interestingly, after my initial introduction of never-ending Savasana, I’ve found this to be my favorite non-strength pose. Some have called it the most challenging yoga pose. I can say I find it to be the most rewarding. Often times after work, my mind is racing and stressed. It’s a final way during a practice to calm my mind and remind myself to live a little more in the moment. It’s the best way to start or end my day.
My favorite active poses are any of the inversions: forearm stand, crow pose, handstands, etc. They are poses that are challenging and require strength that were initially very hard for me to do. I can see week-over-week improvements on them which is very satisfying.
What other sports or exercise activities do you participate in?
I’ve recently started running again recreationally. I used to run a fair amount when I was younger, nothing excessive but probably 15-20 miles a week. Attempts to restart that were often hampered in part by hip pain due to proximal hamstring tendonitis from an old injury. I’m running again pain free because of the increased flexibility and range of motion I have. I’ve done half marathons before, but my goal over the next year is to train for and complete a full marathon as it’s something I always said I would do.
I also try to do some additional upper body exercises during the week. Yoga is great for all of your core and the muscles related to extension of your arms and legs (triceps and quadriceps) but less so for flexion (biceps and hamstrings). I try to do pullups or chin-ups on my way to or from yoga class to help keep balance to my arms and back as well as a few other strength training exercises like lat-rows. I’m considering starting cross-fit a few times a week, but timing and my schedule hasn’t allowed that yet.
A beautiful guest post from Audrey Le; a friend, fellow yogi, physician, and soon to be studio owner herself. Enjoy!
Loving Kindness For Haters
A funny thing happened in yoga class last week. We were instructed to do a loving kindness meditation, a practice meant to open the dark portals of the heart. We were asked to first bring to mind someone we consider easy to love (a friend), then someone virtuous (a benefactor), someone we didn’t know very well and had no strong feelings about (a stranger), and finally someone we hate (an enemy). We sent each of these people loving thoughts. I know it might sound hokey to some of you, but just go with it for now.
The following day, my cousin asked me who I’d thought of as the person I hate. I confessed truthfully that I’d had trouble bringing anyone to mind. The best I could come up with was a former coworker who I occasionally found annoying. I said that I don’t really remember hating anyone at all to which she quickly reminded me of the period a few years ago when there was someone I had strong negative feelings about – which is what hate is right? Having a flair for the dramatic, I remembered then that I might have even sang “I hate you” songs about them. Yeah. I definitely did. Somehow I’d forgotten about all that.
How was that even possible? After some reflection, I think I finally know. I have friends who are right now struggling with feelings of hate and feelings of just being unable to let go. Some of these friends listened to me several years ago as I overanalyzed, raged, and whined about this cruel cruel world and about my poor poor heart. I thought I would write this down for them.
Boy was I mad back then now that I have cause to think about it. I felt like a wounded animal, wronged and treated like a crumpled-up discarded candy wrapper. The timing could not have been worse, because I was also dealing with the grief from a friend’s passing. I was broken-hearted. There was a short time when I did withdraw into myself laying in bed tired of trying to feel better, but as it turned out life wouldn’t let me stay there. The following is a true story.
On my worst day as I felt unable to get out of bed weighed down by the sheer fatigue of feeling, someone rang my doorbell. I’d rarely ever had anyone come to my door unexpectedly so that in and of itself was jarring. I absolutely did not want to get out of bed, but the person just would not go away. I was forced to get up and walk to the front door. When I peeked out the side glass panels then, I saw an old lady with white hair dressed neatly in a white dress suit. I only saw her back because she had started walking away slightly bent over towards a white town car parked right in front. I watched as she climbed into the front passenger side and the car drove slowly out of sight. Later, I looked out at my doorstep to see if some weird religious pamphlet had been left – you know the ones – but there was nothing. That was the last I saw of her.
Why do I tell this story? I’ve told it to my cousin, and she jokingly called it divine intervention. I don’t know about that, but it was at least a stroke of luck because it shook me from my immobility. It made me get up. What I did after that was surround myself with people. If someone wanted to come around, I let them come. They say that time heals all wounds. I don’t think that’s really true. People hold onto things for years, even decades. I think time and distance just give us new perspective, and provide the space and opportunity to work with our feelings and heal ourselves.
There is something about a broken heart when you let yourself abide in it. I recently spent some time with a friend who made a comment about her friend, who had been acting rather grandiose, that she never was more pleasant to be around than after the dissolution of her marriage a few years back. She had never been so gentle, open, and honest. I think grief gives us a unique chance for self-reflection which is how I came to this moment.
Why do we hate people? Why do some people make us suffer? My short answer is that maybe they don’t. It’s perhaps only our reaction to other people that make us suffer. Why should I care if someone yelled at me, told me I was lacking, rejected my work or my care? What does that do really? Does it change anything about my life, my reality, or about me or who I am? Having answered no to this, if I hate someone for how they make me feel, I must already have the idea that I am perhaps what they think I am (stupid, ugly, unlovable, etc.). I must be lacking in self-love in some area.
This is how I am. Even the thought of the possibility that I didn’t like myself in some way made me angry at myself. What the hell? I’ve worked really hard to be an evolved compassionate human being. My discomfort with my imperfections – and let’s face it, none of us are perfect – showed that I was lacking somewhat in the area of self-compassion. This consequently made me even more irritated with myself. Of course, just as with others, you can’t bully yourself to self-love.
I didn’t know exactly in what area I was feeling lacking, but I went with it anyway. This is what I did. I read Sharon Salzberg’s book on the loving kindness practice and I started doing some of the meditations. For weeks and weeks I practiced sending loving kindness to myself as the loved one, the virtuous one, the stranger, and as the hated one. Deep down, I knew I still believed that the other person was responsible for my discomfort, but I also knew that I was responsible for my own feelings, so I kept at it. Then, taking a cue from Susan Piver, I started sending loving kindness to the person I felt all the negative feelings towards giving them all 4 roles. I’m not sure how long I did this or when I stopped.
It happened a year or two after that a friendly acquaintance I occasionally spent time with started saying really unkind things about the person I had once sang “I hate you” anthems about. In the first place, I was startled that the subject had been brought up at all. Secondly, I was more startled later that I started to defend this person but I was truly offended for them. I kind of felt the way I normally feel when someone badmouths any friend of mine.
What the heck was that, I wondered. Was I displaying the symptoms of some kind of weird Stockholm syndrome (where the kidnapped gets attached to the kidnapper, or the traumatized gets attached to the traumatizer)? I found, however, that unlike in the past, I no longer wished that I had behaved differently or they had behaved differently, or that things had turned out differently. Then I forgot about it I guess until my cousin brought it up that day.
I’ve truly come to accept the fact that nothing is black and white and people are indeed varied shades of grey. Caring people can do uncaring things. Good people do bad things and bad people do good things. Perhaps they are one and the same person. We all do things to keep ourselves comfortable that might hurt other people. I certainly have. My cousin reminded me of this after yoga class that day, and many have said it before – everyone is doing their best from their level of consciousness. If we knew better, we would do better. Anyway, if any one action or choice can define us as a person, we’re all in trouble.
If you love yourself enough to know that like everyone else, you deserve happiness, you’ll let it go. If you love yourself enough to know that like everyone else you deserve to be treated with gentleness and consideration, you’ll let it go. If you love yourself enough, you’ll understand that other people’s actions and choices are not a reflection of your worth, you’ll perhaps find compassion for both yourself and them, and you’ll let it go. You’ll know you’ve done this when you forget to remember about that time someone wronged you or made you feel small, when a chance reminder startles but no longer stings. You’ll know this when you can finally let go of people who have let you go, and when you stop trying to do things to make yourself feel better because you are better.
You know what though? If you’re hating today, let yourself hate. If you’re clinging to the past, just let it be what it is right now. I just want you to know that no matter who you are or where you are, you deserve happiness and love. Maybe today, though, I can be that little old lady in white for you, reminding you that you have the strength to keep moving through it.
Pose of the Month- Trikonasana
Trikonasana is a wonderful pose, taught in beginner classes, advanced classes, and an element in just about every sequence that I have ever taught. The beauty of this pose is that it is ever changing with the yogi’s body, and there is always further and deeper to go with this pose.
As you begin your practice, and begin to gain flexibility, you may feel that your primary goal is to get your hand down on the floor, testing the limits of your hamstrings. I don’t discourage students from working toward this, but I do remind them that after your hand hits the floor, your next step in mastering this pose is to bring your hand off the floor, and reign it in so to speak. This is where the true growth process begins.
Look at these two images of trikonasana below. You can see in the first image that my hand is touching the mat - but at what cost? There is strain and torque on my sacrum, which can cause injury over time. And in truth, I am sort of relaxing into this pose and resting on my palm. I am not using my core at all to hold myself in the pose.
Now look at the second image. My hand is not on the mat. My hips are open, and my sacrum is neutral. This takes away the strain on the sacrum that can be an issue for frequent practioners at risk of overuse injuries. I am also lifting the left side of my body using the oblique muscles, twisting my heart open toward the ceiling, building valuable core strength. You can see that the back leg is active and engaged and my neck is in line with the rest of my spine. As an added core strength challenge in this pose, I could also reach my left arm out toward the front of the mat, parallel to the floor.
I invite you to play with this pose in the mirror at home, to get a sense of where your body is in space. Have fun practicing!
Check out this podcast.
In this episode, Dr. Rebecca Hutchings gives a presentation on meditation, delving into the benefits of meditation and the underlying physiology to explain these benefits.
Most of us understand and feel the benefits of meditation, but being able to see scientific evidence based on research is an amazing thing, and Dr. Hutchings is here to do that!
Rebecca is both a doctor and a yoga teacher, she has collected research from numerous studies and presents this information today. From heart and brain health to weight loss and mood, you may be surprised to learn about some of the many benefits associated with meditation!
Dr. Rebecca’s talk is recorded from Nathalie’s yoga studio and features an audience Q&A at the end.
Nilong Vyas is the winner of our 31 day New Year's Yoga Challenge. She attended 28 classes in the studio during January, and only missed a few days in order to attend a yoga retreat elsewhere. The Yoga Challenge was a great way for Live Oak Yoga students to grow their personal practice and for our yoga community to grow stronger together. Watching Nilong practice each day and see her progress was an honor. I asked her to write a guest blog about her experience with daily yoga. Enjoy!
My Yoga Journey
By Nilong Vyas, Yogi
I have been ‘practicing’ yoga for over 20 years. I started in college at our local gym. I loved it but like everything else, I was inconsistent. I stopped and started many, many times trying multiple forms of yoga in the process...Iyengar, Hatha, Vinyasa, Bikram, Hot Yoga, Restorative, Yin, Aerial, Kundalini, etc, etc. If it was available, I tried it. I never stuck with any of them, however, mostly because life would get in the way or I would injure myself by pushing myself too hard (I have a competitive streak).
Fast forward to a few months ago when my husband notified me that a yoga studio had opened up within walking distance from our house. He hinted that this could be a way to overcome the inertia of my most recent hiatus from yoga. I signed up for a class pass but again was inconsistently going even though I could walk there and I really had no excuse not to go, except all the excuses that I DID have (I'm too tired, it's too cold, I don't feel like going, I have too much to do today and on and on).
Then the studio ran a special New Years ‘challenge’. I’ve been to studios that ran challenges before but this one spoke to my competitive side more than any other... there was a free month of yoga at stake (and a t-shirt) so this time I took it on. Although my kids insisted that I was pushing myself for the betterment of my health, secretly, I knew I was doing it for the free t-shirt! I didn't have much to lose!
Since I am the owner of my own business, Sleepless in NOLA, I have the luxury of setting my own schedule. I started scheduling yoga into my day and going every day; some days twice to make up for the 5 days I would be out of town (on a yoga retreat, nonetheless)...I HAD to win!! But what started out as something to scratch my competitive itch also started changing me...it changed how I was breathing (especially in stressful situations in my day to day life), it changed how my body felt (high heels were easier to wear without the usual wobbliness because I was stronger), it changed how my body looked (my arms had more definition and tone) it changed how I did the poses that I'd been doing for the last 20 years by changing the dialogue in my head (I started to adjust myself in the poses even before the teacher cued those adjustments), it changed how deep I was able to get into the poses (I was able to do poses that I was unable to get into before). Finally and most importantly it changed my perspective not only on how I looked at things but also in how I looked at exercise and health in general.
Previously, I would ‘workout’ once a week, possibly twice a week at most but to do an exercise regimen every.single.day was something I’d never before done, in my life. Plus I realized that attending daily classes helped my practice in a way I hadn't realized before. When exercising intermittently, I would forget how to best get into the pose and my muscle memory would have to 'start over' in remembering. By going daily, my muscles 'remembered' where to go quicker and I was able to spend my time strengthening the pose.
What changed in my mindset and as far as scheduling of my day was concerned is that I simply put yoga on the calendar every day and then worked the other activities around that. By doing this daily...for an entire month...I have changed my habits and now I NEED to work out every day or I feel like something is missing. In essence by scheduling it, I made my health a priority.
I can't promise that life won't get in the way again and that I won't skip some classes come February but I do know this much, I am definitely going to put my health first and everything else second. Who knows, I may even become a yoga teacher ;)
I have always shied away from those resolutions that are guaranteed to make me feel like a failure. “This is the year I lose xyz pounds. This is the year I never snap at my family. This is the year I stop swearing. This is the year I stay on top of EVERYTHING.” Setting unattainable goals makes me feel bad about myself, and the idea of a New Year’s resolution is to make you a healthier person.
In my 20s, I began inventing resolutions that I knew I could keep. One year my goal was to moisturize every day. Being able to follow though on something felt like a personal victory, and my legs were so soft that year. Another year I vowed to enjoy candles more often. I went to Pottery Barn and bought a bunch of candles for my fireplace, and really enjoyed them. You can see where I am going with this. Set realistic expectations, and succeed! Do something nice for yourself. Enjoy the process. Feel really good about your successes.
In my mid 30s, I took it a step farther. I decided to create projects for myself that I felt had the potential to help me become a better person. I realized that one of the things that give me real joy in life is ongoing personal growth. I am always looking to build, and to have new experiences. One year I gave up meat. Another year I decided not to buy any new clothing or shoes (that was eye opening; it turns out I don’t really need that much new stuff). One of my favorite projects was the year of 52 dates. My husband and I didn’t have to do anything fancy, we just committed to enjoying time together without the children. We went on a lot of bike rides and drank a lot of coffee, making it to 48 great dates.
This year I want to try one new volunteer activity a month, in the hopes that I can find something that works with my strengths and my schedule that I can continue past this year. I am starting in January with the Harvest Food Bank and February at Dress For Success. I welcome any recommendations throughout this year, and I would love company from my yoga family. Wouldn’t it be nice to finish 2018 having done something for our community? I will be posting each of the volunteer opportunities on social media in the hopes that some of you will join me in serving this year.
Check out this guest post from Tuck Sleep. Some great tips for ways to incorporate yoga into your everyday life.
Yoga offers excellent benefits for sleep whether you practice it at night, in the morning, or throughout the day. When you practice yoga, you can trigger a relaxation response that can decrease stress, anxiety, and lower your blood pressure. Promoting calmness and relaxation, yoga is a good choice for improving the quality of your sleep.Yoga is a particularly good choice just before bed or as you're waking up. At night, you can use yoga as part of your bedtime routine to wind down and feel more centered and calm as you drift off to sleep. When you wake up, yoga can be a soft transition into the day, filling you with positive energy.
You may be accustomed to practicing yoga on a mat or simply on the floor, but yoga in bed can be beneficial. When you practice yoga in bed at night, you may drift off to sleep as you're meditating. And in the morning, yoga can help you stretch out for the day before you've even gotten out of bed.
Practicing yoga in bed requires simple poses and an appropriate mattress. Some mattresses make it more difficult to do yoga in bed: for example, innersprings may be too bouncy, or you may sink too deeply into a foam bed. A hybrid mattress is likely to be a good fit for yoga in bed, as it's not likely to be too bouncy, but you should be able to move without sinking uncomfortably far down into foam.
Evening Yoga Poses You Can do in Bed
Child's pose: Sitting on your heels, lean forward and rest your forehead on the mattress. Lower your chest to your knees and extend your arms in front of you as you hold the pose and breathe.
Reclined spinal twist: Use this pose to relieve spinal tension. Lie on your back with your knees bent and arms extended to the side. Place your feet flat, and drop your knees to the left. Turn your head to the right and press your shoulder blades into the mattress, hold for several breaths, then repeat on the other side.
Reclined bound angle pose: On your back, bring the soles of your feet together and drop open your thighs. Breathe deeply as you place one hand on your belly and the other on your heart, then close your eyes.
Corpse pose: Practice mindful breathing in the corpse pose. Lay down flat on your back with your body aligned, and allow your legs to drop open comfortably. Close your eyes and release the tension in each muscle group, working from your head to your toes.
Morning Yoga Poses You Can do in Bed
Happy baby pose: As you're lying down, hold the outer edges of your feet and draw your knees toward your armpits. Keep your ankles over your knees and gently rock from side to side.
Bridge pose: Lying on your back, bend your knees with your ankles underneath them. Lift your hips up as you press your feet down into the mattress. Keep your hands together as you press your arms down and lift your chest.
Seated forward bend: Stretch your body out with this pose. Sit up with your legs stretched out in front, then lean forward with your torso, reaching your hands toward your feet.
Legs up the wall: With your back on the mattress, place your legs upward onto your headboard, using your hands for balance. Rest your shoulders and head on the mattress as you hold the pose and practice mindful breathing.
Off the leash; a personal reflection on one of Patañjali’s Yoga Sutras
This summer I had the pleasure of taking my kids to The Great Smoky Mountains National Park. As the mother of two city kids, I spend a lot of time thinking about how I can let my children off the leash. Here in New Orleans, they simply don’t get the freedom that I had as a child. So I sent them to sleep away camp in the Blue Ridge Mountains, and then we went camping as a family. The kids were thriving in their independence outdoors. And so was I. In the hustle bustle of daily life, we often forget to disconnect, and let ourselves off the leashes of our phones, computers, jobs, and other entanglements. We get caught up in our habits, both good and bad. Relaxing in a hammock between two trees, reflecting on some of my habits, I started to think about the Yoga Sutras.
The Yoga Sutras by Patañjali is the authoritative Sanskrit text considered to be the foundation of yoga. Each of the Sutras has many different translations, all somewhat open to interpretation. This brings me to Sutra 3.18.
Samskara Saksatkaranat Purva Jatijnanam
· Clear-eyed vision of the mind’s habits brings knowledge of our arising.
· Identification of one’s tendencies and habits will lead one to their origins. Consequently, one gains deep knowledge of one’s past.
In the studio this month, my focus for practice is to identify habits on the mat. Are they healthy? Protective against injury? Or are they preventing me from progressing in my practice? Are they a distraction in my efforts to still the mind? Off the mat, I am looking closely at my relationships, trying to identify patterns that enrich my life and let go of those habits that do not serve me.