Did you assume this was the back of the class?

Sometimes when I’m teaching a yoga class, I like to turn the class around. And then I walk to the back of the room, and say to the class, who are all now facing in my direction, “I bet you all thought this was the back of the class didn’t you?” The point of this is not be different, or to confuse people. It’s to point out an assumption – the assumption that the class would take place facing the front of the room – and to ask students to let go of this assumption.

Did you assume this photo would be related? It isn't. (Image via Flickr: Zanthia)

In addition, it’s also important to let go about any assumptions surrounding your body while practicing yoga. Don’t assume that you need to dress a certain way, or look a certain way to practice yoga. Don’t assume that you will like or dislike a pose or practice that you haven’t tried. And most importantly when it comes to your body, don’t assume that you can or can’t do something without asking and listening to your body first. Making assumptions about your body can easily lead you on the path to injury, because what worked for you yesterday may not work for you today.

In the same way your assumptions can also hold you back; if you always assume that you can’t do something, then you’ll never do it. Give yourself permission to let go of the assumptions surrounding not only your practice and your body, but yourself as well. If always paint yourself with the same brush, assuming that you are a certain way (someone who can’t stand silence, or a fidgety person, or a person who needs a very active practice, for example) then you may never get to experience those things that don’t fit into the picture that you have of yourself. Maybe you needed a vigorous yoga practice 5 days out of 6 last week, but could have used a restorative practice that one other day. If you assume that you’re a vigorous yogi, you may never try that restorative practice. So let go of your assumptions about you as well.

Take a deep breath every morning, ask yourself who you want to be today, and then give yourself permission to explore. To let go. To discover. And to put your assumptions aside, just for today.

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Does your yoga teach you how to FALL?

image source: Lululemon

In honor of the coming fall weather, my favourite season of the year, I thought I’d write a little something about falling.

You see, in most of my classes, when it comes time for some balancing poses, I see a lot of students concentrating on trying not to fall. Particularly in Tree Pose, (or Vrksasana if you want to get technical), because it demands that we stand on one leg, instead of the two we are used to. For many of us, something that looks so simple can actually be quite challenging, especially if you have not had occasion to stand on one leg a lot lately. And so I watch students of all ages set their faces with a determination not to fall; they will balance on one leg even if it means holding their breath and waving their arms to keep themselves steady.

So I ask you: what’s wrong with falling?

Falling equals failure, in many yoga students’ minds. But the reality is that this is where the true yoga happens. Do you curse and mentally beat yourself up when you fall out of a yoga pose? Or do you approach it as part of the learning process, a way to deeper understanding and the realization that oh, that’s where my limit is?

Practice is the effort to secure steadiness, says Patanjali in 1.13 of the Yoga Sutras. This is true both in the physical sense, and in the mind. When I teach tree pose, I walk students through the initial alignment, and then I focus on teaching them how to fall. If you practice tree pose regularly, you will eventually become steadier on your legs. I don’t need to teach this — it will happen naturally over time. What is harder is learning to cultivate steadiness of spirit. Fall with a smile. Fall with a laugh. Fall with acceptance. Fall with curiosity.

Because everyone falls at some point in life. How do you choose to fall?

Return of the Yogi

I have returned to my mat.

Well actually, I never left my mat. I’ve been on it, I just haven’t been present. But yoga takes place not only in our bodies but in our minds too, and mine hasn’t been on the mat much lately. This past month or two, I’ve been thinking mostly about how to keep my food down, as I experience intense morning sickness and the tiredness that comes along with the first trimester of pregnancy. An important distraction, indeed.

Yoga, of course, doesn’t care if you are pregnant or feel as though an evil elf has taken over your insides. It’s there for you, no matter what you’re going through. And so I say thank you my dear mat. Thank you for being there for me even when my mind has been elsewhere. Thank you for allowing me to feel normal again, even just for 15 minutes at a time. And thank you for not judging my inability to get through a vinyasa without child’s pose lately.

I have returned to my mat. And really, no matter what else is going on around me and inside of me, or what my practice looks like now, isn’t that the most important part? I think so.

How to take your yoga camping.

  

This past weekend I went camping with a group of friends for four days in the mountains. And when I say mountains, I don’t mean some pretty numbered campsite that you drive your car to and that has outhouses and shower facilities around the corner; I’m talking drive a few hours through the mountains in a 4×4 vehicle to find a clearing by the ocean to park a tent or build a shelter out of nearby trees, if you wish (seriously, one friend did this). That kind of camping.

Knowing that I would be without the comforts of home but would have time aplenty (yeah, I just said aplenty), I was determined to bring my yoga camping with me, showers or no showers. So I did. And guess what? It’s surprisingly easy. Here’s how to make it work:

Step 1: Bring a yoga mat. Your cheapest, oldest, worn-out yoga mat. You know the one the dog tried to chew up? Yeah, bring that one. ‘Cause it’s going to get dirty while you are doing yoga outside, and so are you.

Step 2: Bring layers of wicking and quick-drying yoga clothes. You want to be as comfortable as possible but still be able to move. Again, these will probably get dirty, so be prepared. Layers will keep you both warm and cool, and the quick-drying abilities will ensure that if you get rained on or want to give them a rinse that you will still be able to wear them for tomorrow’s yoga. Because if you’re going to take your yoga camping you might as well make the most of it, right?

Step 3: Bring music. This can be a stereo, an ipod, or even the radio in your car if it comes right down to it. Yoga to the sounds of nature is great, but if you aren’t lucky enough to be camping on a warm sunny day, you might need some extra motivation to get moving, and dancing for 5 minutes to an upbeat song can help get you warm and ready for yoga.

Step 4: Find a flat surface. Or an inclined surface. Or just any surface, really. If you wind up with your mat on a funny angle, just think of it as an extra challenge in stabilization, and change around your position on the mat with every downward dog so that you can reach all angles. If there are no surfaces to place a mat on, then practice your standing poses. I’ll bet your Warrior III feels a bit stronger when you are trying not to fall off a rock.

Step 5: Experiment. This isn’t your typical at-home or in-studio practice, so why not take the opportunity to do something different? Instead of bringing a class with you, just practice what comes to you naturally. See some trees nearby? Practice tree pose. Missing some sunshine? See how many sun salutations it takes to bring the sun out. Was that an eagle that flew by? Eagle pose. Get it? Go with the flow.

And if all else fails, there’s always more to be learned in downward dog – a yogi’s best friend.