Four Days ‘Til San Francisco!

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Pretty “painted ladies” in SF

Only four more days til the Yoga Journal Conference in San Francisco! I’m looking forward to studying with new teachers and learning much more about yoga therapy from Gary Kraftsow, whom I may want to study with in more depth after I finish my yoga teacher training. I also look forward to catching up with old friends and marveling at the crazy hills. San Francisco, here I come!

Kundalini Yoga….It’s What’s For Breakfast

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Kundalini (Photo credit: vaXzine)

I realize the title’s a bit silly, but every morning for the past week, while I’m drinking my coffee/eating breakfast,  I’ve been reading from one of the assigned textbooks for my teacher training, The 8 Human Talents, by Kundalini yoga teacher, Gurmukh.

I’ll be perfectly frank, my verdict is still out on Kundalini. I’d had no experience with that yoga system prior to starting my teacher training (aside from one DVD by Ana Brett that I tried approximately once…) One of the studio owners is this lovely little pixie sprite, whose delicate size belies a powerhouse of strength. She has trained with Gurmukh and incorporates Kundalini in her classes.

Here’s a little of what we’ve come to expect in her Thursday night class: Hold plank for 3 minutes (try it,  3 minutes in plank is a LOOOOONG time), your shoulders are burning, your arms are shaking, you think about dying, then she’ll instruct you to go into half chaturanga and…. BACK TO PLANK! Since our shoulders are already broken, why not throw in some dolphin? And then…back to plank. I hurt just thinking about it (and I’m actually fairly strong.) This sequence isn’t particularly Kundalini in nature, but more an illustration of the focus and determination this teacher is trying to instill in us.

It’s hard to even describe Kundalini, since it was quite different from the vinyasa flow classes I am partial to. For one thing, there were no sun salutation sequences. It felt a lot like pilates. A lot of repetitive, fast movement linked to breath. We were working on some 3rd chakra exercises, which relate to personality, self-esteem and ego. My teacher warned us that some of the exercises might bring up some emotion. I was skeptical. I’ve been practicing yoga for 6 years and I had yet to encounter a practice that evoked an emotional response, though I’ve heard it happens.

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After about half an hour, we moved on to one sequence that involved placing your fingers on your shoulders, thumbs to the back, fingers to the front (see picture above!) You then twist from side to side, inhaling to one side, exhaling to the other, keeping your elbows shoulder height. She instructed us to close our eyes and focus upward, where we imagined our third eye to be. This movement was done at a fairly rapid pace and I felt like that thing in washing machines that spins the clothes. All of a sudden, I felt this tightness in my chest, a lump in my throat and my eyes were getting a little moist. Damn it, I felt like crying. It was quite the experience.

These past mornings, reading Gurmukh’s book, I’m really getting into her explanations of the physical application of Kundalini. I’m starting to gain a deeper understanding of the chakra system and the physical ways we can address blockages via movement and breath. It’s also made me understand the exercises in class, why they’re so different from other vinyasa classes and the intention behind our teacher’s sequences. I’m intrigued to see where this leads!

I Challenge You To A….Downward Dog? (from jello arms to yoga teacher training)

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yoga (Photo credit: GO INTERACTIVE WELLNESS)

After over a decade of working in various advertising, media, PR and related fields, I decided this past September to enroll in a 200 hour Teacher Training program at Nature Yoga.

This was a decision that was years in the making. After taking my first yoga class in 2006 at (the now defunct in Chicago) Crunch gym, I was hooked. Seriously hooked. At the time, I was working at a media agency and one of our health magazine clients came into our office every week for a month to give us tips on nutrition, fitness, and health. Those of us who participated in her program received free passes to Crunch as incentives to (join the gym) get in shape. One of the trainers was a woman I had worked with a few years earlier, and I knew she knew a thing or two about fitness, she was a seriously ripped little woman. So, when she told us that if there was ONE thing we REALLY needed to do during the program, it should be to try a yoga class, I thought, “Eh, why not?”

I’d always been a little fascinated by yoga and, not to brag, had dabbled in it a little myself when I was a small child, along with my mom and Lilias Folan, who was the Queen of Yoga on PBS in the 70’s (oh, I didn’t mean to date myself…) But, decades later, I never really thought to seek it out on my own.

Armed with this “challenge” from my trainer, a colleague and I made a date to hit one of the Crunch yoga classes over lunch. My first observation was that there was an interesting mix of people in the class, young gym rats, middle-aged people, nearly as many men as women. I situated myself in the back near a woman I gauged to be in about her late 50s. Seemed like a safe enough situation, surely I wouldn’t feel out-of-place next to this nonYoga Journal cover model.

Gads, I was so, so wrong. The class seriously kicked my ass. When I was in downward dog, my arms were shaking like crazy. When it came time to lower down into chaturanga, I basically belly-flopped. Holding warrior was like trying to walk a tightrope. There was very little balance to be had. All I could think was…THIS is yoga? What happened to the gentle stretching? I’ve always been fairly flexible, so I assumed it would be a cakewalk. By the end of class, I wasn’t quite sure what hit me and I was a little humbled by my lack of strength/balance, but somehow….I felt AWESOME.

I remember turning to the older woman next to me, who was firmly holding her down dogs – no shaky arms there – and fully in control of her chaturanga. “Does this EVER get easier?” I asked her. She replied, “It does if you stick with it.” CHALLENGE ACCEPTED! It also didn’t hurt that my colleague was similarly in awe of the difficulty, yet awesomeness, of this experience. So, we went back…over and over and over. Soon, my noon-time yoga class was the absolute high point of my days. And over time, those downward dogs stopped being shaky.

And that was basically the genesis of my love of yoga. Eventually, I started not just physically practicing, but reading about it any chance I could. I bought DVD’s to practice with at home when I couldn’t make it to the gym/studio. I purchased books that offered more insight from experienced yogis. I researched the Sanskrit names of the poses. I checked out different studios. I busted out warrior in the elevator when no one was looking.

Over the years, I’ve ebbed and flowed in terms of commitment and ability. There were times when I practiced every day and periods of injury where my mat grew dusty for months at a time. I still feel guilty periodically when I think about those down times. Sometimes my ego berates me for not having practiced consistently enough that I am able to just fling myself into scorpion pose (although, I feel like my rotator cuff injury may have nixed that particular pose for me…) at moment’s notice.

And honestly, the single largest reason I had only wistfully entertained the notion of yoga teacher training for a few years is that I felt like I needed to be perfect at it. But, let’s get real here…I’m never going to be a Yoga Journal cover model. I’m not getting any younger and with that realization, I need to accept that perhaps I never will be able to do scorpion pose. But y’know what? That’s OK! What I lack in sheer gymnastic ability, I make up for in passion. Besides, asana is merely one little teeny tiny bit of yoga. If I can teach even a few people here and there the things I’ve learned along the way, mission accomplished!

I’m so very glad I made the decision to pursue teacher training. It has been an amazing experience and dare I say, life-changing?