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Clean Slate: Yoga for a Fresh Start

Posted on Tue, Feb 04, 2014

firefly, yoga pawsWhen you see the calendar show a new year, it feels like anything is possible. You vow this will be the year your finally knock “that” thing off your to-do list, whether it’s moving, changing jobs or losing weight. Looking at the year on January 1, it seems like there is plenty of time and energy to do what you want to do. But, by the end of January, cold weather and busyness make it all too easy to slip back into your comfort zone.

If, like many people, you blame lack of willpower for not being able to achieve what you want to achieve, you might need to change your perspective slightly. No matter how much you want something and how hard your work for it, lasting change (or even drastic change) can only come if you are able to rewrite your attitude toward that thing. The baggage most people carry around about a certain issue makes it hard not to drag the negativity of any past unsuccessful attempts into the current one.

These kinds of thought patterns are referred to in Hindu thinking as samskaras. Every decision you’ve made or action you’ve taking creates a samskara in your mind. While they can be either positive or negative, you might be prone to noticing the negative ones, especially if you are trying something that you have struggled with in the past. Freeing yourself from negative samskaras means detaching your current situation from any past ones.

Side Plank Pose, VasisthasanaThe yogic idea of “living in the present” is a good starting point for doing just that. While it’s great to have a plan for the future and to learn from the past, you live in today only. So, as you try to change, you first need to learn how to focus on the present moment.

 Whatever happened the last time you tried for this or a similar goal, is a closed chapter. It may have been relevant to the person you were at the time. Maybe, you needed to learn perseverance rather than “acing” the task the first time. Or, perhaps, the thing you wanted at that time really wouldn’t have served you in the long term. Your inner wisdom may have been telling you that you were exerting a lot of energy trying to accomplish something that didn’t resonate with your true self. If you tend to carry that negative forward, make a conscious effort to release that mental baggage. Remind yourself that you have learned that lesson, and are ready and able to move forward with new skills and determination.

So, as you set your intention and create a plan to reach it, take some time in meditation to examine why you want to reach this goal. Is it really something you want or something someone told you to want? And, if you get there, what will be the benefit? How will your life change? How will you change? If, after reflection, you feel that tingle of excitement about starting down this path, then go for it. You are not the same person you were yesterday or 10 years ago. The “you” that is starting this journey clearly has every chance to succeed.

Yoga reinforces that perspective. Most yoga practices include a core range of poses. So, you’ve probably done Adho Mukha Svanasana (Downward-Facing Dog Pose), Tadasana (Mountain Pose) and Plank Pose more times than you can remember. But, your experience of those poses is different every time you come to your mat. Maybe you used to struggle to hold Plank Pose, but now you can focus on lengthening through your feet. Maybe your heels now reach the floor in Adho Mukha Svanasana, so your awareness moves toward your breath. These things demonstrate your ability to grow and change, so they’re good reference points for trying to manifest change in your life.

Whether you’ve just taken your first yoga class and or are  checking out advance pose videos on Yoga Journal’s site or any of the various yoga offerings on You Tube, you’ve experienced yoga’s unique ability to instill a “yes, you can” belief in your mind, body and spirit. It’s a rare practice that doesn’t reveal something to you—something that empowers you and liberates you from the idea that you’re bound to fail. Your practice gives you tangible proof that you can accomplish anything you choose to do. Sure, you’ll wobble or even fall a few times. You’ll take steps backward and sideways. But you’ll also learn, and that knowledge will not only bring you goal closer but suggest new avenues to explore. The only real failure is not trying at all.

 

Here are some poses to help you wipe your personal slate:

Upavistha Konasana, Wide-Angle Seated Forward BendUpavistha Konasana (Wide-Angle Seated Forward Bend)

Benefits: This pose allows you to see and feel your body evolve as you practice it.  How to do it: Start in Dandasana (Staff Pose).  Leaning slightly back with your hands behind you, open your legs to a right angle. Then, press your hips forward to widen your legs somewhat further.  Keep your kneecaps and toes pointing upward. Slowly move your hands forward as you stretch from your hips. Keep your back long. You should think of your belly touching the floor before your chest to keep from rounding your back. Hold for at least one minute.

 

boat pose, core posture, yoga core posture, yoga core pose 

Paripurna Navasana (Full Boat Pose)

Benefits: This pose helps you to feel centered, making it easier to focus on the present.  How to do it: Start in Dandasana. Place your hands behind you. Engage your core to lift your legs until your shins are parallel to the ground. Exhale and bring your arms off the floor so that they point forward. If you can, stretch your legs. If you’re new to this pose, you can support your thighs with your hands. Hold for 10 to 20 seconds.

 

 


Urdhva Prasarita Eka Padasana, Standing SplitUrdhva Prasarita Eka Padasana (Standing Split)

Benefits: As you deepen your practice of this pose, you will be reminded of your body’s ability to change. How to do it: Start in Virabhadrasana II (Warrior II Pose). Place your right leg will be in front.  Sweep your left arm around to end over your head. Then, turn your body so that your torso lays down over your right thigh (you will need to pivot your left heel as you do this). Your hands should be on the ground on either side of your right foot or on blocks. Move them slightly forward and shift your weight into your right foot. As you do that, raise your left leg until it is parallel to the floor. Keep both feet parallel. If you can, clasp your right ankle with your hands. Think of sending energy down into the floor to lift your left leg. Hold for 30 seconds to one minute, then release and repeat on the other side.

Clear the air.  If you’ve had difficulty with a particular issue in the past, it can help to sit down and make a physical list of your previous attempts. Then, destroy it—you can burn it, bury it, shred it or whatever else helps you feel like you have made a break with that samskara.

Be accountable. Vocalizing your goals, especially to a friend or family member who will keep you on track, is a great way to prevent backsliding. Share them with anyone you can trust to help you out. Write out a contract with yourself and sign it. Be as specific as possible. The clearer the goals are in your mind, the easier they will be to reach. 

Remember that while samskaras can be hard to break, you can do it. Just as your body stretches and becomes more malleable and stronger as you work on physical yoga poses, your mind also becomes more responsive as you work to reshape your thought patterns. Happy New Year!

 

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Tags: advanced yoga, Beginning Yoga Poses

New Moves: Enter into the Dance of Yoga

Posted on Mon, Aug 12, 2013

yoga and dance, yoga and movement, yoga trace dance, yoga movesFinding stillness is a major draw for many people who practice yoga. While practicing, holding a pose, it’s not just the monkey mind that stops. The world seems to slow down. Ask anyone who’s held a Plank pose for 90 seconds. That kind of downshift away from life at light speed is a big reason why 20.4 million Americans (that’s 8.7% of the adult population) study yoga (according to the 2012 “Yoga in America” survey by Yoga Journal).

But, as with all things relating to yoga, there is also another side to consider. The classically linear approach to asana practice is just one tool for finding balance and unity. Even the most loyal Hatha practioner can benefit from the occasional class that jumps off the grid and starts everyone moving. After all, you started your life rocking and rolling inside your mother. Think back to your childhood. Were you ever still? And, when you were, didn’t you long to get up and get outside, play a sport or walk to your favorite “secret place”? You didn’t have to work at bringing together mind/body/spirit; you didn’t know any other way of life.  (below photo credit http://bmacstudio.com/   Dan Schmidt)

yoga dance, yoga love, love yoga, beautiful yoga imagesYoga that moves can help you get reconnected with that physical joy.  More and more studios are offering dance-infused yoga classes that invite students to let go of their expectations about perfect form and get in touch with their bodies. You can’t compare yourself to anyone else because every student hears the music a little differently and responds in his or her unique way. To get some inspiration, watch any of Shiva Rea’s trance dance sequences. No one cares whether the person next to him or her is swaying faster or has arms that are more extended. Each student has gone deeply within and let that inner dancer take over.

crow pose, Bakasana, Crow PoseAdding an element of dance into your practice can be a fun way to explore the carefree side of yoga. The poses build on what you’ve put so much time into mastering, but there’s a twist. Where you might be used to just holding a pose in yoga, the dance element means you are constantly moving through many of those positions, creating a fluid flow with your body. Your body instinctively starts to move with the music. And, as you relax into that rhythm, your muscles warm up, loosen up and may open up poses you couldn’t access from a more contracted foundation. Since you don’t know what to expect, you’ll go into the class without the usual metrics in your mind of how close your head is to the floor or whether today is the day you’ll fly in Bakasana (Crow Pose).

This practice is also a great release for your mind. You might find yourself feeling awkward or self-conscious as you circle your body and isolate your rib cage in a side-to-side slide. As you practice, consciously let go of that negativity. Learn from your body’s wisdom. In most of these poses, you will feel balanced and secure if you are using correct alignment. Let that guide you.

Here are some poses to try as you start to enter into the dance:

 

Plank Pose

 

Plank Pose—Variation

Benefits: This sinuous version of the staple pose lets you experiment with controlling and releasing your body at the same time. How to do it: Come to Adho Mukha Svanasana (Downward-Facing Dog Pose). On an inhale, bring your body forward so that your hands are under your shoulders and your body forms a straight line from your head to your feet. Keeping your core engaged, slowly make a circle with your hips, starting by bringing your hips to the right and down. Complete one circle, then reverse. Repeat three times in each direction.

 

 Vrksasana, Tree PoseVrksasana (Tree pose)--Variation

Benefits: Moving your arms in this balance pose helps you learn to stabilize one part of your body while freeing another. How to do it: Begin in Tadasana (Mountain Pose). Shift your weight onto your left foot, making sure all four corners of your left foot are equally engaged. Lift your right leg and turn it out from the hip. Place your right foot on your inner left thigh (you can reach down to clasp it and pull it up if needed). Raise your arms above your head. On an exhale, start to sway your hands from side to side. After a few breaths, gradually involve your arms and shoulders. Continue this for 30 seconds to one minute, then release and repeat on the other side.

 

 

 


 

 

Adho Mukha Svanasana, Downward-Facing Dog

Adho Mukha Svanasana (Downward-Facing Dog Pose)—Variation 

Benefits: This flowing version of the pose lets you stretch muscles around your hip cradle that often get tense during daily life and practice. How to do it: Start on your hands and knees. On an exhale, stretch your knees away from the floor and shift your weight back slightly. Inhale here. On the next exhale, stretch your heels onto or toward the floor. Inhale and on your next exhale, circle your hips to the right and then to the left. Make sure you articulate the side part of the circle. Repeat three times on each side, then release.

yoga for abs, core yoga, yoga for your core, yoga absEngage your core. Even when you are moving your hips, holding your center and back engaged will help you stay on balance. Staying strong in your center allows you move your limbs more freely as well. But, don’t confuse engagement with holding yourself rigid. Still let your body move. For fun, the next time you’re sitting on your mat or on the floor, just start lightly twisting your torso from side to side, slowly raising your arms with each twist until they meet above your head with your palms sealed.

Coordinate Your Movement and Breath. In this kind of practice, your breath provides the metronome for the flows in each pose.  Keep your breath calm and steady.  Try to visualize that the beginning of each movement starts with your breath and flows outward from the center of your body. 

And, remember, there is no exact “right” way to do any of the poses listed here. Let your body move and find out how you feel best. Maybe you tend to move in smaller, more controlled ways. Maybe you like to let yourself flow through big, bold shapes. It’s all good. And, yes, do try this at home!

 

 

 

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Tags: advanced yoga, Beginning Yoga Poses

Help – I'm having a Yogic Identity Crisis!

Posted on Thu, Jun 27, 2013

laura grace ford, yogic identity, ashtanga yoga, So my yogic transformation has stretched so far that it has become more like a split personality! I have changed so much in the last few years that I barely recognise my new self as me! So much so that along the way I had trouble adjusting to whom I have become.

My good friend laughs lovingly at the two versions of me and calls them Laura and Vera. Laura was the highly sociable good time, out all night girl and Vera likes to drink herbal tea and wear warm clothes and sensible shoes and be in bed by 10 o’clock so she can practice Ashtanga Yoga every morning.

Everything that Laura loved, Vera has given up. Everything that Laura was, Vera is the polar opposite. Even everything that Laura would have said, Vera will contradict.

Vera is much happier and content, but Laura will not seem to die without a fight!


Yoga helps you to start looking at yourself more closely. They say it is like cleaning the self-reflective mirror that enables you to really see yourself. The cleaner it becomes the clearer you see everything. You see your own actions, you see the actions of others, you see intentions versus actions, you see old negative habits more clearly and you see the world through new eyes. You see a way to change.

I read an article recently, which reminded me that the more you practice the more sensitive you become. You see more, you feel more, you sense more, you are more. This means that you can feel hyper sensitive to certain stimuli around you.

I now have an aversion to noisy, busy places when I used to love the hustle and bustle of busy bars and nightclubs. Now they almost scare me and like a rabbit caught in the headlights I freeze and panic. And I want to escape. I feel as though I am somehow vibrating on a different frequency. A quieter, calmer frequency that doesn’t allow me to feel at ease in over crowded, noisy, loud and aggressive situations. I’d rather be chilling in a hammock, taking in the natural surroundings, watching the sunset and listening to the birds.

laura grace ford, yogi, yogic transformation, yoga health, yoga pose

(seriously? My old self shouts – ‘just listen to yourself!’)

I started to recognise that all of my bad habits were a form of self-abuse. A way of drowning my sorrows: numbing myself to life. I would drink and smoke to disengage, to somehow become less present. You subconsciously ‘leave the room’ when the alcohol kicks in. It alters your state of mind and your whole being. Smoking too, damages your body making you weak from the inside. The sutra’s state that at first you smoke a cigarette and then slowly, it starts smoking you. Burning you away from the inside, distinguishing your self. You start to notice smokers coughs and splutters, the constant clearing of the throats, the harshness in their voices and the smell that lingers around them. Everyone hates a reformed smoker, so I found myself just pulling away from them rather than preaching to them. I am no angel, and I don’t profess to be. Smoking is a strong addiction and can take hold of you easily. I admit to sometimes smoking the occasional cigarette; and I no longer beat myself up when I do. But I don’t enjoy it anymore. I can taste it in my mouth, I can feel it in my lungs, I can feel it in the morning when I wake up and my liver has been detoxing the chemicals out of my system overnight. I quickly remember why I don’t do it anymore and knowing the damage that it is causing my body helps me to not start the daily habit again.

So why do we act in such a self-abusive way?

It basically comes down to self-love. If we really loved ourselves why would we chose to damage ourselves in that way? As an act of love would you give another a glass that contained a fluid that would nurture them or would you give a glass that would make them lose consciousness, vomit and black out? As an act of love….. really, which one would you chose?

So as an act of love to oneself, how would you treat yourself if you really loved yourself?

(Vera talking)

 yogic transformation, yoga health, yogic identity, laura grace ford, ashtanga

For me it was really hard becoming this new version of myself. I lost friends. I lost lovers. I lost my social life. I lost respect. I lost my identity. I lost touch of who I really was….. But then I started to realise what I had gained. I had gained self-discipline. I had gained self-respect. I had gained much better health and vitality. I had gained self worth. I had gained new friends with the same outlook to life. I had gained new eyes to see the world.

 

Yet, still my old self called.

Laura would want to party. Laura would want to dance. Laura would want to stay up late and be wild. Laura thought that Vera was boring and that nobody liked her. Everybody loved Laura! Laura didn’t want to die!

Laura and Vera were not friends. They didn’t even like each other very much. They fought. They argued. They didn’t speak for weeks. They would give each other disapproving looks and walk in opposite directions (see how a split personality can drive you crazy!).

laura grace ford, ashtanga yoga, yoga love, yoga id, yoga identity, Yet the more I practiced the more comfortable I became with my new self. The more I wanted to live in my new world. The more I wanted to practice. I wanted to continue walking down this path. I realised that the benefits far out weighed the alternatives. The positives outnumbered the negatives a million to one.

I had gone from waking up in the morning in Bristol UK, barely able to walk to the bathroom due to high levels of toxins in my system, to waking up bright and breezy, in Maui Hawaii, about to take on the second series of Ashtanga Yoga with some of the most senior practitoners in the world. People: who in the 60’s were still practicing daily and were fighting fit and strong. These people inspired me. They were full of life and vitality. Yoga was keeping them young. I want to be standing on my head at the age of 69 and balancing on my forearms in Pinchaymarasana. I want to be slipping into Karandasana like I was still in my teens and touching my toes to my head in vrishchikasana. I want to be strong enough to still complete the second series on my 70th birthday!

I started to find myself not missing my old life that much after all. I started finding it hard to socialise with people who were intoxicated. Repeating themselves over and over and shouting at each other. I started finding it hard to watch people treat themselves with such little care. Watching them damage themselves in more ways than one. I started to cringe and shudder as I watched people acting in the very way that Laura behaved for such a long time. I wanted to get them all to start doing Ashtanga and start to feel the benefits of this amazing practice, both mentally and physically. I wanted to give them a new lease of life. A new love of life.

laura grace ford, yoga, yoga pose, yoga blog, love yogaA path to happiness.

But I know deep down that you can lead a horse to water….

A teacher’s job is to show people the door, but it is up to them to walk through it.

 

Laura will always be a part of me. I have learnt that Laura doesn’t have to die. Even though I wasn’t happy being her and didn’t like lots of things about her, she is still a part of my history.  Through Yoga I have learnt how I can take the best bits of her and merge them with the best bits of Vera.

They aren’t really two – they are one. And neither of them are who I really am; they are part of my ego. Part of what I call I. And yoga destroys the “I”.

The Ashtanga process breaks us apart. It smashes our ego to smithereans. It breaks us so that we can take out all the bad bits and then put all the good bits back together again. After talking to other Ashtangi’s I realised that I was not alone. I was not the only person to go through this…. In fact it was all part of the purification process.

The hardest thing about loving yoga so much is not being able to get everyone to do it! At first I was a real yoga pusher, but now I have come to realise that people have to find their own way. People have to find their own path. People have to come to it due to a genuine yearning for something, a knowing that there is more to life and a desire to discover what that really is. 

They have to have a genuine want for new eyes.

 

beautiful yoga

Nancy Gilgoff told me today that Gurji had once said that people that are drawn to yoga have done it before in a past life. People that dedicate their lives to it are firmly on the path to self-improvement and liberation. So if someone just hears the word ‘yoga’ or does one sun salutation in this lifetime, then in their next they will be drawn to it even more. So by sharing this wonderful practice and all its incredible benefits with as many people as I possibly can this lifetime, it will ensure even more dedicated yogi’s in the next round. So for every person that I get to teach even one sun salutation to, I can rest assured that it will make a difference. That was enough.

Pattahbi Jois said “Do your practice, teach, and all is coming”

And so I teach with humble pride and honour, knowing that I am sharing with others this wonderful gift. 

~Laura Grace Ford

Tags: advanced yoga, yoga for being present, ashtanga yoga, Discover your truth, forgiveness, laura grace ford

Explaining the Yoga Transformation cliché

Posted on Fri, May 17, 2013
beautiful yoga photo
Photographer Julien Balmer of Visual Spectrum Photography

It may be cliché, I know, but yoga has changed my life.

Somebody recently asked me how and I realized that it is has been a slow and steady process, one which is vast and deep and profound. I struggled for a quick and easy description. It got me thinking....... How has yoga really changed my life...... Or more to the point changed me.

I used to be a wild party girl, chasing the next thrill, the next high, the next hit and the next buzz. One day I finally realized that it was insatiable. There was never enough, it always left you wanting more. More music, more hits, more highs, more booze, more spiffs, more cigarettes, more alcohol, more sex, more rock and more roll, more more more more more. IT was never enough. IT was not satisfying. IT was endless because IT was not IT.

I woke up one morning with a nose bleed and a hangover from hell. I crawled downstairs threw up and then looked at myself in the mirror. There must be more to life than this. There must be more to me than just this. 

I turned my back on my party ways, I packed my bags and left my life. I left myself! I jumped ship. 

beautiful yoga photo, yoga paws, finding myself

Mhari Scott | Seattle and Portland Wedding Photographer

I had found Ashtanga yoga a year before and it was the first thing I had done in ages that actually made me feel good about myself. It actually made me feel. I had been numbing myself to life for so long that I could barely feel anything anymore. 

I chose life. I didn’t want o be numb anymore…..

I immersed myself in the new world I had discovered. I started taking my practice seriously. I devoted time to myself to making myself feel good. I started to take care of myself. Lesson one - if you don't look after yourself then how can u feel good? Inside and out. 

I started to observe myself. What did I do, how did I do it. 

I beat myself up. I put myself down. I hit myself with a derogatory stick all day everyday.

Lesson two - without observation there will be no change. First we have to recognize our faults before we can start changing them. 

I started to taking note when and why I was doing this. I burnt my stick. I made a pact with myself to start being nice to me. If I am not nice to me then how can I expect anyone else to be?

I changed my ways.

Lesson three - by changing the way you do things in your daily life can allow a new person inside of you to grow. I stopped drinking. I stopped smoking. I stopped partying. I went to class. I did my practice. I changed my patterns. I'm not saying it was easy, not at first, but with persistence and continuity; then things will change (Lesson four). 

India beckoned. I could hear it calling me. It's funny because when you drink and smoke and alter your state of mind then you begin to lose touch with you intuition. You simply can't hear it as clearly as you can with a clear head. I had lived in a blurry bubble for over 12 years and quite frankly, everything was hazy. As I began to clear my head I began to hear that little voice inside of me. The little voice of the larger me. The more I listened to it, the more it spoke to me. Guiding me, telling me which way to go, which path to take, which decision to make, what was right, what I wanted.

Lesson five - always listen to that little voice for it is the voice of your soul. 

I went to India. Choosing life, expansion. Choosing to follow my path. 

I learnt how to be on my own agenda. I realized that I had always done everything for everyone else and hardly ever did what I wanted to do for me. Lesson six. Live life for you! Put yourself first. 

forward bend

I learnt how to enjoy my own company, how to be ok with myself. Yoga teaches you to begin to be ok with where u are. Make peace with wherever you are and be content with that. Don't strive after achievements that you have not yet fulfilled or feel frustrated by things that have not yet materialized. Lesson seven. Make peace with exactly where you are today. Not where you were yesterday or where you want to be tomorrow, but where and who you are today. 

My practice and experience of India was arduous. It was a hard graft. I had upped my practice from 2-3 times a week to 6 and my practice itself was almost twice as long and the level of demanding-ness had quadrupled. I learnt that once again perseverance leads to achievement. Lesson eight - Without commitment you don't get very far. 

I kept going. When things got tough, when I felt like I was never going to get to where I wanted to go. I kept going. I was enjoying the journey and knowing that the journey was the destination I stopped looking forward and began looking at now. Living in the moment. Living each day as it came. 

Lets pause there for a moment…..living in the now is a hard practice. It takes years of trying to even get close. But you have to start somewhere, you have to be happy where you are and you have to preserver. I realized how much I cling to the past and how much I try to mentally paint a picture of the future. Again it is extremely heard to let go of these things but you have to just keep on trying. Keep acknowledging what you are doing and keep recognizing that you are doing them. Lesson 9 to live in the now is really hard! Only severe determination and constant effort will get you there.

yoga class, yoga shop

Lesson 10 - you are enough. Don't listen to other people's opinions of what you are capable of. If you want to do something. Just do it. Don't ask others people's advice. Listen to that voice inside of you. Don't listen to your fears of inadequacy. Don't let other people stop you from pursuing your dreams. 

A 'friend' told me that I was not ready for my teacher training, he had not been with me in India. He had not seen what I had out into my practice. He had no right to tell me what he thought I was capable of. I ignored his advice and I did it anyway. I was good enough. I started to believe in myself.

Lesson 11 - don't give up!

 On returning from my travels things went down hill.  My world fell apart. My vision of how life was going to be was so very far from how it actually was. I was lonely. I was in a new place. My creature comforts where stripped away. I fell. I got very close to giving up, for the first time in my life I danced with death. I fought depression. I struggled through. I took on all my weaknesses. I cleared out all my dirty corners. I did a big spring clean of me. 

When things got really bad I asked for help. (Lesson 12 always ask for help when you need it). I'm not very good at asking for help. I don't like to be a burden. Ironically I help other people endlessly, yet I can not ask for the anything in return. 

I asked for help. I got out of my hole. I reconnected.

Lesson 13. Everything you need is within you. Don't ever forget that. 

Lesson 14 - dream big.

Life is about following our dreams. About making them happen. Nothing is outside of our grasp. You really can do anything if you set your mind to it. Follow the things that excite you. Make decisions based on what feels right. If you can't find an answer then you are probably just messing with the wrong question! I was stuck between two options that I could not decide between until I realized that neither of them were what I wanted to do. I did a workshop with Nancy Gilgoff and she said to me 'come to Maui'. As she said it something inside of me lit up. I could go to Maui. I could go and spend a few months practicing second series with Nancy Gilgoff!! I could do that. Suddenly I got hit with the ' I can't afford it / what about my job / what would I do when I got back' thoughts. I decided to bin those and live in the moment. Right now it was the only thing that really excited me. It got my chi flowing. It made me sparkle. It made me feel alive! I was going to make it happen. I was going to live the dream.

yoga, yoga love, yoga paws, yoga and self, my yoga, yoga for depression, yoga self help

Lesson 15 - choose life. Every day you will be more. Every moment you are getting closer to your dreams. Every second you are changing and growing. Every day you can be a new you. Every thought can be the birth of a new dream. 

Who knows where you will be in six months, six weeks, six days or even six minutes from now. 

 

So that is how yoga has changed my life. It has taught me so very much about myself, about how I live and how I can live. Yoga is not about the physical stuff. It is a tool to help you begin to see yourself. Imagine you have a mirror to see yourself in, well practicing yoga helps you to clean that mirror…. For the purpose of seeing yourself more clearly.

When you can see yourself, you can change yourself.

This is how yoga helped me to transform.

 

Laura Grace  www.ashtangayogadeva.com

Tags: 4th Chakra, advanced yoga, 1st Chakra, being present, 2nd Chakra, 7 Chakra, 5th Chakra, 6th chakra, 3rd Chakra, 8 limbs of yoga, benefits of yoga, yoga chakras

Topsy-Turvy: Yoga Inversions for a Fresh Perspective

Posted on Fri, May 03, 2013

yoga paws, yoga glove, yoga socks, toesoxs, toesoxThere are few yoga poses that students either love or hate as much as inversions. You might be clamoring to get to that part of class or you might dread even thinking about trying to kick your legs over your head. Whatever camp you fall into, though, looking at the world from a 180-degree rotation is a great learning opportunity, not just in your practice but in your life.

The biggest fear factor many students have about inversions is worrying about falling (not surprisingly). But, just like life sometimes does, yoga asks you to conquer your fears to experience the biggest rewards. And, the benefits of inversions are huge. By reorienting yourself in relation to gravity, your body has the chance to work your cardiovascular, lymphatic, nervous, and endocrine systems in ways that you normally don’t, according to Yoga Journal. That stimulates your body into becoming more efficient, research suggests.

yoga inversion, yoga pose inversion, handstand, yoga handstandSo, if flipping your head to where your feet usually belong is not comfortable for you, remember that you can benefit from inversions with or without modifications. Just lying with your feet up the wall is as much an inversion as a headstand. Every time you fold forward , your brain and circulation receive the benefits of reversing your blood flow. Yoga is not an extreme sport that demands that you leave discernment behind and forget there is a difference between your “edge” and a cliff. You need to silence your ego and look inside to see whether fear is stopping you or whether there is a realistic mental, physical or spiritual reason a variation on pose simply does not work for you at this time.

And, don’t think that using props or supports means you’re “not strong.” All of the tools that complement your yoga practice are simply extensions of your body. They work in unison with your physical body to enable you to achieve poses your body alone can’t access. Think of them as friends.  Starting into the more difficult poses with the support of a wall might help you feel more secure. Or ask if your studio has a headstand bench—a heavy stand with padding for the neck and shoulders which enables some students to rise into headstand more comfortably. Keep in mind that you don’t have to hold these poses for long. A few breath cycles when you are starting out is fine.

Here are some poses to turn your world upside down:

Adho Mukha Svanasana, Downward-Facing Dog

Adho Mukha Svanasana (Downward-Facing Dog Pose)

Benefits: This simple inversion helps you get comfortable with having some of your weight on your hands and your head below your heart.  How to do it: Begin on your hands and knees. Make sure your knees are hip-width apart and that your hands are under your shoulders. Spread your fingers and press them into the mat. On an exhale, turn your toes under and lift your knees. Don’t lock your knees straight. Instead, keep your heels slightly lifted for now. On another exhale, straighten your knees gently and stretch your heels to or toward the floor. Keep your head between your arms. Stay in the pose for one to three minutes.

 

inversion, shoulder stand, modified shoulder stand Salamba Sarvagasana (Supported Shoulderstand)

Benefits: This pose helps you find a balance point on your upper back so it’s easier to feel the alignment through your spine.  How to do it: Take a couple of blankets and fold them firmly into rectangles that are about one by two feet. Lay down with your back on the blankets and your shoulders resting at one of the long edges. Bend your knees and put your heels on the floor near your hips. Exhale and press your feet into the ground to push your legs up and toward your chest. Spread your arms by your shoulders and bring them in toward each other with bent elbows. Pressing your upper arms into the mat, place your hands on your lower back, supporting it. Then, inhale and stretch your legs up to the ceiling. Remain in this pose for 30 seconds if you are new to it, gradually adding on five to 10 seconds until you can stay comfortably for up to three minutes.

 

Halasana (Plough Pose)

Halasana (Plow Pose)

Benefits: Bringing your legs up over your head in this pose helps you engage your core and stretch your hamstrings, which both help you feel more confident in inversions.  How to do it: Begin in Salamba Sarvangasana. Keeping your core engaged, lower your legs to or toward the floor behind your head. Try to keep your torso at a right angle to the floor. Keep your throat long and lengthen your chin away from your shoulders. You can keep your hands on your back, or you can clasp them on the floor. Remain in the pose anywhere from one to five minutes, then release. This pose may be contra-indicated for those with chronic neck, back or shoulder problems, those with unmedicated high pressure and pregnant women (past the first trimester).

 

describe the image Adho Mukha Vrkasana (Handstand)

Benefits: Using the wall as a support in this pose allows you to experience the feeling of being fully inverted without worrying about falling backward.  How to do it: Start in Adho Mukha Svanasana with your finger a few inches away from the wall. Firm your shoulder blades and pull them down toward your pelvis. Then, bend your right leg and bring it closer to the wall. Continue to lengthen your left leg. Then, push your right foot off the floor while sweeping your left leg up. If this is as far as you can go, that’s fine. If you feel like trying for the full pose, kick up and bring your heels to the wall. Stay there for 10 to 15 seconds, slowly working your way up to one minute, then release.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Salamba Sirsasana,  Supported Headstand

Salamba Sirsasana (Supported Headstand)

Benefits: Using your arms to support your head in this pose helps you feel more secure.  How to do it: Fold blankets or a sticky mat firmly. Kneel on the floor. Place your elbows shoulder width on the mat or blanket and clasp your fingers together. Push your inner wrists toward the floor. Place the crown of your head on the floor and press the back of your head into your hands. Inhale and straighten your knees so that you are in a V shape. On an exhale, push both feet off the floor (you can bend or stretch your knees). As they come up, your knees and feet should align over your hips. Stretch your legs if they are bent. Remain in the pose for 10 seconds if you are new to it, adding on five to 10 seconds every time you practice until you can stay for three minutes.

yoga, yoga travel, yoga inversion, yoga shoulder standAs you practice, listen to your body. Some of these poses are challenging and if you feel a sense of unusual pressure in your head or your eyes are bloodshot, come out of the pose and scale back your inversion practice. Even if you have a regular home practice, try to get a teacher’s guidance when you start practicing more advanced inversions to ensure that you are working correctly and safely. Don’t feel pressured about trying the most advanced inversions. Listen to your inner wisdom. You don’t have to do a perfect handstand to have a beautiful practice that serves you best. In fact, that kind of striving for something that doesn’t feel good or authentic to you is the opposite of the liberation yoga makes possible. So go and have fun in your body and seek out some new points of view.

 

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Tags: yoga for stress relief, how to do arm balances, arm balances, advanced yoga, inversions

Spring Forward: Freshening up Your Yoga Lifestyle

Posted on Fri, Apr 05, 2013

yoga and spring, spring yoga, The concept of “spring cleaning” is a centuries-old way of recognizing the primal shift in the world as you move through the seasons. In Ayurveda, each season has a dominant dosha-- from the Vata dryness of winter to the Kapha calm of early spring.  As the time of year changes, you respond to these shifts by changing your habits and environment. That’s especially true in spring. As you open your windows and literally let the sunshine in, you feel freer, lighter. It’s only natural to want to bring that lightness to all aspects of your practice and your lifestyle.  Getting rid of things you don’t need is a wonderful tool for balancing the Kaphic energy that’s abundant at this time of year.

The other tendency of a Kaphic time is the lack of motivation to try new things. Kapha’s nature is habitual and when it’s in excess, you might find you tend to stay in less-than-optimal situations longer than you need to. That applies to major life issues like jobs, relationships or houses, but it also can creep into your practice, diet and home. That makes this a great time to throw caution to the wind and introduce some fresh ideas. They don’t have to be huge changes, but shaking up the routine on and off the mat can help you take full advantage of the opportunities that the season affords.

crane pose, crow pose, Before you take class or start your personal practice, house-clean your mind. Toss out the stories about  what you’re “bad” at and open the way for new opportunities. This is the perfect time to take advantage of the warmer days and the comfort they bring to your body to try one new pose. Maybe Bakasana (Crow or Crane Pose) has a fear factor for you. Grab some blankets, put them in front of you, and give it a go the next time you’re in class. Whether you make it or not, you’ll gain so much from not letting the pose intimidate you. Try reaching for that bind you’ve never seen before when the teacher gives it, or pick a pose you’ve always wanted to learn and ask your teacher to help you work on it. Think about connecting with other students and taking the yogic lifestyle into life off the mat.

yoga and food, yoga for weight loss, yoga to trim belly fatSpring is also a great time to experiment with what you eat. Finding lighter foods to balance Kapha is a good reason to look at other shelves in the grocery store. Even though a lot of locally grown produce isn’t in season yet, there’s plenty of variety to add spice and color to your plate. If, for example, you always eat quinoa, check out some other grains. Whole grains like barley and buckwheat might be fun to try. Adding more fruits and vegetables into your diet is also good this time of year and offers a chance to experiment. It’s a great way to make you sure you maintain your electrolyte balance—especially if you like hot yoga or a fast flow that makes you perspire freely. If you don’t have a body brush, check out the offerings at your local health food store. Exfolitation is a great way to slough off dry skin and bring a glow to the outer you that reflects the you within.

spring cleaning, yoga springFinally, literal spring cleaning is a vital tool to help open your mind. Think about what physical stuff makes you feel “stuck” or “trapped.” Is that lamp from your college days still “you”? Could someone else use the piano that’s collecting dust or serving as storage? Decide to take on one or two of those places now.

Maybe finally getting the clutter out of your garage will make you feel like you breathe more easily, or maybe it’s the pantry shelf of expired spices that isn’t leaving room for you to move forward. Whatever that area is, use freeing that space as a meditation. Think about what thoughts feel like that physical clutter. As you remove the physical things, visualize yourself throwing away those ideas, cues or litanies in your mind.

yoga pawsAnd, definitely, add some “green” to your spring. Get your Yoga-Paws and take your practice outside, looking for areas without the emissions from cars or the toxins of city streets. Bring some houseplants and some potted herbs into your spring-cleaned home. Replace you pillow with organic ones or use organic towels and face cloths.

Enjoy the space you’re creating in your body, your practice and your life.

 

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Tags: arm balances, advanced yoga, food and yoga, being present

Yoga Buffet: Develop a Taste for Different Approaches

Posted on Fri, Mar 22, 2013

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Everyone gets stuck in a rut from time to time, whether in your job, your life, your style of dressing or even your yoga practice. Routine isn’t a bad thing when it’s helping you to be organized so that your days are more peaceful. It’s also nice to know that you can count on a good experience in a class or that Thursday night out with family and/or friends as something to look forward to.

yoga paws, hot yoga, hatha yoga, vinyasa yogaHere’s where discernment comes into play. There’s a difference between the thought patterns that hold you back and the comfortable life patterns that help your days feel anchored and settled. Maybe, you can’t remember the last time you missed your favorite Thursday yoga class. Or, you consider yourself “addicted” to your preferred style. Your home practice never varies. Sound familiar? First of all, good on you for finding a practice that inspires you. Consistency on your mat is a great thing and is a wonderful tool for advancing your mental and physical practice. There’s no need to leave that routine, but sometimes trying a different style can be a fun complement to your weekly practice. Because yoga is so complex, it’s easy to forget how much variety there is beyond the classes you regularly take.

yoga food, yogi, yoga for change, yoga for depressionJust like with food, experimenting with your yoga can add flavor to your regular practice. Sometimes seeing poses through the lens of a different style or teach can help you toward that “aha!” moment. Sometimes, a different class can teach you something about yourself as a yoga student—you tend to respond to visual cues more than verbal corrections to adjust your alignment, for example—that helps you learn. Often, it takes a blend of styles to help you open all of the opportunities for expanding your physical capabilities on the mat as well as your mental and spiritual muscles.

yoga class, yoga paws, hatha yoga, vinyasa yogaIf you are looking to try a different kind of class, the first thing to consider is how far you feel like going outside the box. Maybe you are just looking for a different shade of the same color. If you’re a regular hatha yoga student, giving yin a go might offer you the chance to slow down further and explore each pose more deeply. Learning to stay in a position for five minutes, feeling your body warm and soften and passing the point of reactivity as you release enables you find new meaning to the idea of being in the moment.

If you usually seek out vinyasa or power yoga, you might want to find a hot class to intensify the experience. The challenge of creating heat inside the body as you move through a slow but steady series of asanas while accepting the 105-plus-degree heat in the room can bring a sort of laser focus to your movements and your breath. Working in the heat can help you get in touch with the idea of softening and lengthening your muscles and tendons—a perfect complement to the muscular expansion/compress that typifies flow classes.

yoga fun, yoga paws, crow pose, crane pose

 

Maybe, you’d like to take a leap outside of your comfort zone. If that’s the case, think about what kind of different class you want. If you are a Bikram devotee, just trying a class without the heat will offer a new experience of yoga. If you’ve done Ashtanga for most of your time as a student, you might want to try a hatha or vinyasa class to see what it’s like when you can’t predict the next asana. 

And, sometimes experimenting is just plain fun. Walking into class with no expectations is a great tool to give yourself a clean slate. The poses that send up red flags in your regular class may not even be part of the sequence in a different style. And, the class is bound to be unfamiliar, so you walk in with a fresh attitude and enjoy a new way of moving and thinking.

 

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Tags: yoga for beginners, advanced yoga, Beginning Yoga Poses, Mindful eating, vinyasa yoga, hatha yoga, ashtanga yoga

Being Present: Exorcising Your Yoga Ghosts

Posted on Thu, Mar 07, 2013

yoga pawsOne of the keys to growing in your yoga practice—and your life—is to learn to leave the past in the past.  Just because you wobbled out of Garudasana (Eagle Pose) or didn’t reach your leg in Natarajasana (Lord of the Dance Pose) at one point in your yoga journey doesn’t mean you have “bad balance” or that you’re super-tight.  It simply means that at that point in your practice, or even on that day, there was a disconnect between how your mind wanted to experience that asana and what was available in your body. But, bodies change. The floor comes closer to your fingertips. You find that point where you’re suspended on your arms. You shift to one side and balance seems effortless.  To make the most of that change, you need to embrace it. 

Celebrate the “new you” that you’re building each time you come to your mat. Close your eyes and relax into the warmth of stretching muscles. You may have to consciously remind yourself that you’re no longer “not bendy.”  You’ve left that aspect behind in a very real sense, but you won’t be able to move forward physically until you really accept that you’ve accessed new abilities that open up further opportunities.

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Like someone who has lost weight or had a makeover, you can enjoying living and playing in a body that is not limited by the past. Think about what you’re able to do at each moment as you take class. Maybe your hip flexors have opened up enough that your hand and foot now connect in Natarajasana. Maybe your core has gotten strong enough that “hovering” in Chaturanga Dandasana (Four-Limbed Staff Pose) seems like flying. Or, it could be a mental breakthrough like understanding how to square your hips to the edge of your mat that makes Virabhadrasana III (Warrior III Pose) accessible. 

 lord of the danceSometimes, though, the hardest part is standing back and acknowledging that you’ve moved past some things you used to think you were “bad at” or that didn’t come naturally. So many students bring preconceptions to the mat about being tight, weak or unable to balance. It’s all too easy to carry that baggage around even after you have physically become able to access those skills in your practice. And, it’s not just that you deserve to feel proud of what you’ve accomplished. So often, that negative self-talk hampers you in class, too. Thinking of yourself as limited stops you from “going for it” when the teacher gives more advanced poses, but it also stops you from being able to fully release into the depth of what you can do. Self-confidence is the best antidote to any lingering fear of failure. 

yoga pawsSo, the next time you practice, visualize that this is the first time you’ve ever hit the mat. Don’t think about what you did last class or last week. Just let the practice flow as you move.  During Savasana (Corpse Pose) think about how that informed your practice.  What was it like to move without your yoga ghosts?

 Yoga is a wonderful way to learn to understand and enjoy your own capacity for growth and change. With each class, you gather more valuable information about your mind, your body and how they work together. No matter how long you’ve been practicing or what style you prefer, every time you come to your mat (in class or at home) is a step on a journey toward deeper understanding of your body and a wider range of abilities.

 

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Tags: yoga for stress relief, advanced yoga, being present, Beginning Yoga Poses

Welcome to the Jungle: Yoga for Your Wild Side

Posted on Fri, Mar 01, 2013

Outdoor yoga, Eka Pada Koundiyanasana II (Pose Dedicated to the Sage Koundinya II)The aim of yoga is moksha, liberation.  The path toward that kind of blissful detachment is hard, and traveling it is often a profound experience. But, as the first yogis discovered, tapping into your inner child may be one of the best tools for becoming a fully realized “adult.” 

Vrksasana, Tree PoseYou can imagine their journey of those early seers as they observed the birds, animals and insects around them—trying to learn the secrets of these beings’ vitalty, their peace in seeing where they fit into nature and their comfort with being a self-accepted part of the universe. And, you can also imagine the fun they had as they made their first, uncertain attempts at emulating dogs, cats, fish and amphibians. They were willing to check their human egos at the door as they gave themselves up to trying to get into the minds and bodies of fellow creatures who seemed so free. Like children, they probably weren’t worrying about how they looked in their efforts to take the shapes of other beings; they just let go and started to play in their bodies and minds. Their legacy, yoga, invites you to join in the fun.

So, let your inner five-year-old come out and play. As you practice any of yoga’s many creature-inspired poses, go back to that place in your mind and focus on trying to embody one of that Tittibhasana, Firefly Poseanimal’s qualities. For example, in Tittibhasana (Firefly Pose), put yourself in the place of that delicate insect. Imagine that your legs are wings that can keep you in the air. In Dolphin Pose, explore the feeling of your back mimicking the sea creature’s grace.

Use yoga’s varied asanas to break out of some tired thinking and experience the mind/body connection in a new way. Forget about your own form, arms and legs, hamstring and glutes. Exercise your imagination as you “become” a locust, a stork or a monkey who can do the splits. Free yourself from expectations as you allow yourself the liberty of stretching, strengthening and balancing your own wild side in poses that connect you with the natural world. Enjoy the “trying.” It’s all part of the fun.

  

 

Here are some poses to try on the playground of your mat:

Salabhasana, Locust Pose  

Salabhasana (Locust Pose)

Benefits: Visualizing an insect in this pose can help you focus on your back body, which can be easy to forget about. How to do it: Lie face down on your mat. Bring your arms to your sides, palms up. Exhale and lift your head, shoulders and feet off the mat. Lift your arms by focusing on moving with resistance. They should be parallel to the floor. Engage your legs and bring your toe mounds to touch. Hold for 30 seconds to one minute, then release and repeat one or two more times.

 

Bakasana(Crow Pose)Bakasana (Crane or Crow Pose)

Benefits: Thinking of being a flying bird can help you over the fear of falling forward—or never flying at all.  How to do it: Begin in Tadasana (Mountain Pose). Squat down with your feet slightly apart. Make your knees wider than your hips and bend forward, placing your hands on the floor in front of you. With your elbows bent, put the backs of your arms under your shins. Engage your core and round your back. Shift your weight gradually into your hands. Once you are on the balls of your feet, you can stay there or come into the full pose by strengthening through the core, shifting your weight onto your upper arms and picking up your feet. Remain wherever you have chosen for 20 seconds to one minute, then release.

 

Eka Pada Rajakapotasana, One-Legged King Pigeon Pose

Eka Pada Rajakapotasana (One Legged King Pigeon Pose)

Benefits: Channeling pigeons’  chest-forward carriage can help you open your heart in this stretch. How to do it: Start on all fours. Bend your right leg and bring it in front of you, knee opening out to the side. Stretch your left leg and slide it directly behind you (It may tend to migrate out to the left). On an exhale, keep your back long and stretch forward over your right leg. After a few breaths, bring your body upright. Gently lift your chin without compressing your airway. Stay in the pose for up to one minute, then release to Adho Mukha Svansana (Downward-Facing Dog Pose), drop back to all fours and repeat on the other side.

 

puppy poseUttana Shishosana (Extended Puppy Pose)

Benefits: When doing this pose, try channeling the spirit of a dog offering a play bow to help you relax your shoulders. How to do it: Begin on your hands and knees. Move your hands forward slightly. Release your hips halfway towards your heels. Lay your head on the floor or a blanket. Lengthen your spine. Hold for 30 seconds to one minute, then release.

 

 

camel poseUstrasana (Camel Pose)

Benefits: Envisioning the sinuous curve of a camel’s long neck and back can help you release into this backbend.  How to do it: Start on your knees.  With your hands to the back of your hips, open your chest to the ceiling. Engage your front thighs and draw your shoulder blades into your back ribs. If you can, cartwheel your hands back to your heels. If that’s not available to you, curl your toes under to raise your feet or bring the right hand back to the right heel, raising the left arm straight along the left ear and touching index finger to thumb. Stay in the pose for 30 seconds to one minute, then release. If you’re doing the last variation, return to the basic pose, moving the left hand back to the left heel, right arm stretched toward the ceiling, touching the index finger and thumb.  Hold for 30 seconds and release.

As you move through the poses, let yourself meditate on each animal you embody. Think about where it lives and put yourself in those surroundings.  Focus on each of your senses—what does this animal smell? What does it taste? Finally, at the end of the practice, take stock of all the new sensations you’ve experienced. And, leave the studio feeling as free as a bird!

 

 

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Tags: advanced yoga, yoga back bends, moksha, yoga for upper body strength, balancing poses

Confidence vs. Comfort: Respecting Your Yoga Body

Posted on Tue, Nov 13, 2012

You know how much the kind of day you’ve had plays a role in how you feel in your yoga class or practice. When you’re happy, you feel stronger, more balanced and you have an easier time finding your alignment. When you are stressed or upset, your body feels heavy and stiff, like you’re wearing armor. You’ve probably learned to compensate for those moods to some extent in your practice, whether through your focus or warming up or meditation.

monkey pose

You know your thoughts and feelings going into class affect what you do, but it’s often harder to process how your feelings about your abilities in class shape how you approach the poses. Knowing the edge between challenging yourself to grow to greater heights in your practice and “pushing” your body to the point of pain or injury can be a challenge, especially if you tend to approach your yoga from a very aggressive or very passive place. When you hit the part of the class that is the most challenging for you, you will probably—like all students—have to decide how much to work for the next level of intensity. Whether it’s inversions that make you want to head for the door or Hanumanasana (Monkey Pose) leaving you wishing for Gumby legs, you need to decide whether you are going to, as Shiva Rea puts it, “go for it” or whether now is the time for fuller exploration of where you are today.

YogaPaws, Yoga Paws, travel yoga matIn today’s competitive and athletic culture, where the “bring-it-on” attitude rules, you might feel like a failure if you have to step back or don’t reach for the most difficult iteration of an asana. While yoga champions enjoying your practice at a level that’s comfortable for you, that inner voice that wants to get an A in everything can be hard to silence. If that’s the place you find yourself in, try focusing on the depth of the pose you’re in—feeling your body lengthen or feeling the strength in your muscles as you breathe. You are working fully in whatever pose you are in. Don’t look around the room. Bring your awareness back to your breath. If that’s not helping you feel less uncomfortable, you can also try reminding yourself that you have to fully master each stage of the movement—you have to walk before you can run.

yoga paws, yoga store, travel yoga matWhile it’s important to respect your body as far as not pushing it too far, it’s equally helpful to understand when your mind is working against your body by keeping you from believing in what you can do. The physical consequences of negative self-talk can be all too tangible—feeling tight or weak, or like your breathing is  constricted —so try to keep your perceptions out of the moment. Instead, focus on the physical sensation of the movement. If you are experiencing pain, then do back off. But, otherwise, “failure” is just another learning tool. If you face plant out of Bakasana (Crane or Crow Pose), the world won’t end and you certainly won’t be the first student to have done that. Eventually, you’ll adjust and fly.

Your yoga practice is, in the best sense, all about you. Learning to trust your body to tell you when it can and can’t be pushed will help you connect with it and treat your physical form with more sensitivity. Your body is not a machine, nor is it an obstacle to your goals.

 

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