40 Days Challenge: Week 2

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For the 40 Days challenge, Week 2 was all about vitality–“living a life of enlightened knowledge and action,” according to Baptiste. I didn’t really feel it much at the beginning of the week, or at all for most of the week. Even though I was happy that I made it through Week 1, Week 2 started miserably for me. The weather went from gorgeous on Friday of Week 1 (80 degrees and sunny!) to 30 degrees with (I hope) one last bit of snow on Monday morning. Crazy! On Monday, I was all set to go to a workshop on alignment, but I honestly looked out the window and wanted nothing to do with driving in that mess. I called breathe and rescheduled for Cyndi’s Digestion workshop on Tuesday night, and later on Monday I attended Dahn’s 1:00 p.m. class in Pittsford (one of my favorites). Even driving in that was horrible, but I made it to class and enjoyed myself. Despite the crap weather, my practice improved my mood, and suddenly the snow wasn’t so horrible.

On Day 2, I went to breathe owner Cyndi Weis’s class at 6:00 p.m., and we did a lot of core work; my abdomen felt magical by the end of the night! Afterward I stayed for her workshop on digestion to improve nutrition. I won’t go into detail on it, but it kind of reminded me of a certain song from the Scrubs musical episode. The information was, as always, very interesting and useful, so even though I was sad about missing the Principles of Alignment workshop (which I hope they’ll repeat at some point), I was happy to have attended this one.

Surprisingly, before this challenge, I had never driven out to breathe’s Webster location. I usually stick to Pittsford, and I go to the downtown annex on East Ave. every now and then as well, if it fits my schedule better. I always thought Webster was too far away, but I found out that it is manageable to get to. I was supposed to go on Monday of Week 2, so on Wednesday, since the weather had improved, I decided to try Webster to attend Erica’s 4:30 class. Erica read selections from a book called Manual of the Warrior of Light by Paulo Coelho, an inspirational book about manifesting courage and motivation in your life. I really liked her reading to the class; there was something very inspiring about that. I think that since the Webster studio was a brand new experience for me, it felt like a whole new yoga practice for me as well. I didn’t even groan when Erica asked the class to do eight (!) Sun Salutation B’s on our own! Normally, the instructors tell you to do two or three, but hey, like I said—whole new yoga class (almost)! (I also had the Amusing Thought of the Week (TM): my wheel pose is awful, and I have trouble lifting my head up when I’m in it. I decided instead that when I do it, it’s not a wheel–it’s a flat tire! This is probably only funny to me, and I don’t care.)

Even though I told myself I would try to do my classes Monday-Friday to free up my weekend, I ended up skipping class on Thursday. The weather became gloomy once more, and as a result, I just wanted to curl up and sleep. I actually missed being on my yoga mat, but not enough to go through a vinyasa class. I almost considered going to a restorative class that night, but I ended up staying in with my hubby instead. I went to class on Friday morning, and then Saturday morning, and I’m pretty certain that morning yoga is the best thing ever. I typically prefer morning classes, if they’ll fit into my schedule, and I notice that when I attend those, I feel energized for the remainder of my day. On Saturday I needed it; my dad and I organized a surprise dinner for my mom to celebrate her birthday and her retirement last week. It was great to see the family and spend time with them late into the evening just catching up (and they know all about my 40 Days challenge and are really supportive!).

I didn’t have quite the same level of energy during Week 2 that I carried in Week 1, but by the end of Week 2 I was happy that I had made it and hadn’t been tempted, despite bad weather and bad moods, to give up. Finally, I’ll leave you with an excerpt from page 13 of Baptiste’s 40 Days, which my instructor read at the end of my Saturday class. I like this particular anecdote about the simple (and maybe not so simple) ways in which we can manifest change in our lives by stepping out of our comfort zones.

“We can convince ourselves that we need to keep our identities as we know them intact. We think we need the stuff, the money, the status, the security, the big house, the persona we’ve created. Psychologist Carl Jung spoke openly about his lifelong desire to go to Rome to study the great written works within the Vatican library. For many years, he would periodically make train reservations and then cancel them. Though he longed to read these great works, at the same time he was afraid because he feared he would see within the great spiritual writings and works of the wise men of old that his life’s work was all wrong. Jung was very honest about his conflicted feelings. It was as if a voice within him whispered, ‘What if I’ve built my whole life on sand? What will that say about my thought systems, my achievements, my identity?’ Unfortunately, Jung never was able to step out of his comfort zone to make the journey to Rome because he so feared seeing himself in this new light.

“At some level, we all have this conflict within us, and it scares us. We are afraid to let go, to face the groundlessness and uncertainty. Way down deep, we feel that if people saw us unmasked, the naked us, the authentic us, they would recoil in horror. We are terrified of ourselves, so we maintain the illusions, patch the leaks, and hide. We have become so very sophisticated at presenting our masks that we almost fool ourselves, but not quite. Many of us sense that something is wrong and that deep change is needed—a brave unveiling of who we are at our core. But we doubt ourselves and our worth, so, like Jung, at some level we cling to what [we] already know and accept as reality. We veer away from taking that journey inward and therefore out of our comfort zone, not realizing that the way out is in.

“Once we’ve gone inward, we can then step out beyond our comfort zone and find the courage to flow from our hearts. Going out on the ledge, we have no choice but to be real. When you are standing directly in the face of the unknown, all the rest of the phony stuff doesn’t matter. In moments of great fear, everything else just falls away and there is nothing but you, your heartbeat, and your breath. Those are the moments of pure truth, when you are cornered into simply being.

“We cannot transform without leaving our comfort zone; there is no secret passage around this basic law. You must face your fears, abide in unconditional openness, and cut through all your tendencies to hold on.”

That idea of being “cornered into simply being” is how I tend to feel on my mat. The person I may be outside of the yoga studio, no matter what’s happening in my life, simply isn’t who I am when I’m immersed in my practice. Fear and doubt tend to leave my mind the more my mind connects with my body. If a great man like Carl Jung could feel that sense of fear and doubt, what can I do, even in some small way, to release my own doubts? I feel like I’m able to get some of my best “thinking” done on the mat, especially if it’s just being able to let something negative go and not give it any further thought.

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Monthly Yoga: April, Anusara Yoga

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About this series: For 2012, I vowed to try a new type of yoga each month and write about it here. This is the fourth of 12 reviews–keep checking back for more!

For the month of April, I decided to try Anusara yoga, a fairly popular and newer style of yoga that has appeared in the news quite a bit recently. As I mentioned a while ago, Anusara yoga has come under fire for founder John Friend’s misconduct involving drugs, affairs with students (some married women!), and various business issues. Attending an Anusara yoga class, however, has nothing to do with those allegations. I’m fairly certain that Blue Lotus Yoga, where I visited for the month of April, may refer to themselves as Anusara-inspired, perhaps in distancing themselves from this scandal, but this label (or any, really) never came up for the course of this class.

In fact, once I left the class, I realized that besides the aforementioned scandal, I knew very little about Anusara. It’s a form of yoga in the vein of Hatha yoga, founded in 1997 and unifying “a life-affirming Shiva-Shakti Tantric philosophy of intrinsic goodness with Universal Principles of Alignment.” Okay, that’s actually a bit vague. Some common attributes of an Anusara class include:

  • each class beginning with an invocation or centering
  • movements and action coordinated with breath
  • postures in keeping with the Universal Principles of Alignment, a set of guidelines in Anusara that are applied to ensure maximum strength and stability in the poses along with different focuses of one’s energy; it relies on the Three A’s of Attitude, Alignment, and Action (also a bit vague, to be honest)
  • adjusting students’ alignment, but not “correcting” or “fixing” it (I’ll address this one later)
  • no set routines, but reliance on solid sequencing of the over 250 asanas included in Anusara, plus finishing class with Savasana

There are other characteristics, such as instructor demonstrations and assists, that you would also find in many yoga classes. Overall, it doesn’t sound too terrible, and much of it is material you would find in most yoga classes. The main thing that I could tell that seems to separate Anusara from Hatha or other schools was the emphasis on philosophy, and things like different energies and “spirals” in the body. In the class I attended, we really didn’t talk philosophy, and I was glad for that because some of this stuff honestly sounds a bit bogus. Instead, I will address the categories I mentioned above.

Our class did begin with a short invocation. During the start of the class, the instructor talked us through a little bit of a centering and breathing exercise, and then we moved on to Surya Namaskara/Sun Salutation A. I was a bit bothered toward the beginning as the instructor sat in front of the class on a rug rather than moving about the room, but she walked around for the rest of class. She didn’t have her own mat, either, to demonstrate for the class, which I thought was odd—I’m so used to seeing instructors with their own mats, even if they barely get a chance to use them while teaching. This resulted in her both relying on a student for a demonstration of shoulder movement at one point and using the student’s mat to further explain it to the rest of the class.

In terms of offering adjustments for poses rather than correcting them, I’m not sure I see much of a distinction. Certainly an assist can help a student move into a deeper stretch, but how much adjusting can you do before you’ve “corrected” someone’s alignment? The only difference between the two seems to be the underlying intention. The instructor at Blue Lotus didn’t do this a lot, but she did continually tsk at the student in front of me, likely because her shoulders appeared tense. They weren’t, actually; the student simply had rather defined muscles, and the instructor seemed to want to force the student’s shoulders down farther than they could possibly go. In fact, I don’t know if this student was a regular student at Blue Lotus, but if she isn’t, I can’t imagine why she would want to go back. The instructor seemed to correct her alignment (or adjust, if you prefer) far more than everyone else’s. I cringed every time the instructor went near the poor girl!

Most of our class seemed to consist of lunges, either variations on a Low Lunge (Ashwa Sanchalanasana) or Crescent Lunge (Anjaneyasana). We did other poses as well, and ended in Savasana, but the lunges stuck out the most because I could feel it in my thighs when I left! To be honest, I did not get a strong sense of breath linked with movement for most of the class. This may be something for yoga practitioners that is sort of implied (remember to breathe!), but the instructor didn’t really emphasize it much throughout her lesson. I also didn’t get the sense that the sequencing was linked very well. Some of it honestly felt made up on the spot. I could be biased here; the instructor announced at the beginning that she needed to be somewhere else immediately after our class ended, and I think she was preoccupied as a result.

Overall, I didn’t feel like I was doing anything really special in this class; it moved much slower than I’m used to, which could be beneficial for some students, but I expected a bit more from an open level class. I’m not sure if this was because of the instructor’s preoccupation, my own preference for power vinyasa, or the Anusara style of yoga as a whole. So far for the year, I would say this class ranked as my least favorite. It wasn’t bad—the other students in the class appeared to be regulars and seemed to enjoy themselves. It just didn’t quite move at my speed, and I barely broke a sweat (remember, though, I do hot yoga—I’m a bit spoiled in terms of horrendously sweaty classes!). Rest assured, though, that taking such a class has little, if anything, to do with the current controversy surrounding the practice, and its fairly relaxed pace, at least in non-advanced classes, would make for a fine introduction to yoga for a beginner.

40 Days Challenge: Week 1

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As I’ve mentioned several times, I’ve just begun breathe yoga’s 40 Days to Personal Revolution challenge. The challenge involves going to breathe five times a week for any class and attending one lifestyle or asana workshop per week; in addition, I am trying to follow some of Baron Baptiste’s guidelines for the challenge as outlined in his book of the same title.

What an amazing week so far! I’m on day four (four days of yoga in a row—holy crap!), and I feel amazing. I will admit that today I had to fight myself a bit to go to class. I did make it, though, and now I only have one more day left to attend class, preferably tomorrow. The other two days I will use for home practices. I noticed that on day one I was totally pumped to begin; I attended a class in the evening so I could stay for the nutrition workshop afterward. Day two I still had the same momentum, but day three I had a little bit of trouble getting going in the morning. Today, however, I was just tired. I tried to bargain with myself (“Maybe I can go Friday and Saturday instead!”), but eventually I forced myself to go to class. I’m glad I did. Where I felt slightly rundown this morning, despite a decent night’s sleep, my energy has been crazy the rest of the day. If you saw my status on Facebook about feeling like a badass housewife, that’s why: despite any initial reluctance this morning, I cleaned, did the shopping, fixed stuff, did laundry, and wrote two blog entries, and I didn’t feel the need to slow down and rest once! I can already feel the difference the 40 Days challenge is making in terms of my energy.

The theme for week one, according to Baptiste’s book, is presence. The idea is to be fully aware and present throughout everything you do, whether on your mat or otherwise. I actually like the idea of being present and have encountered it before. It sounds almost deceptively simple. Of course your body is present in everyday situations, but what about your mind? How many times have you talked to someone and not really listened? Perhaps you wanted to be somewhere else, or you were worried or anxious about a later event. Being present is important in our distracting, technology-obsessed culture; we need a reminder to get away from the screens around us and just focus on what’s important, whether it’s friends, family, a task or assignment, or just the beauty of the world around us. I try to be present on and off the mat; it does me no good to be distracted in any situation.

One thing, however, that I’ve failed at thus far this week is meditation. Baptiste mentions starting and ending each day with five minutes of stillness in week one to clear your mind, and sadly this is something I’ve either forgotten or didn’t want to do. I’ll see what I can do to change this in the coming weeks, but despite feeling positive overall, this is one area where I don’t feel entirely confident. I am not really very good at clearing my head other than when I’m focused on a really intense yoga practice, but maybe this speaks to my need (and most other people’s) to be constantly doing something rather than just focusing on breath and stillness.

Another way my challenge has differed from the book is in terms of diet advice. On Monday night, I attended my first challenge workshop at breathe, called “Rev Your Metabolism/Boost Your Nutrition,” hosted by owner and dietician Cyndi Weis. Cyndi’s advice resonated with me a lot more than Baptiste’s. For starters, Cyndi actually has credentials in nutrition, unlike Baptiste, and the advice she gave didn’t veer toward wanting to change the diets of others. After all, food is such a personal thing for many, and what works for one person may wreak havoc on the body of another.

Cyndi discussed the idea of revving your metabolism by sprinkling your nutrients (carbs, proteins, and fats) throughout the day to help you avoid crashing or feeling rundown. Carbs give you immediate energy, but proteins and fats, she said, are necessary for longer-term results. Her nutrition advice was in a similar vein in terms of not correcting others but helping the individual tap into his or her needs. Eating whole foods rather than processed ones (i.e. eat the stuff your grandma can actually identify as food) and eating a variety of colors (greens, reds, oranges, purples, browns, etc.) are some of the best things you can do for yourself. Minimizing processed foods should be common sense to most of us now, but sometimes we all need a good reminder (I know I do!). After shopping today, I have a fridge stocked with fruits and veggies, and although I’ve been a strict vegetarian for over a decade, it’s good to remember that even a supposedly healthy diet such as that can always use some improvement.

I am so excited for week two to begin. In terms of trying to set a routine, I think I’ve moved past any initial resistance, and going four days in a row (five tomorrow?) proves to myself that I can do it. Next week I’ll be learning about alignment in yoga, and the theme for the week is vitality. In the meantime, I’ll try to see if I can get myself to meditate at least once before the week is over!

40 Days, Yoga Controversy, and Inspiration

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My 40 Days challenge begins on Monday, and I am super excited! I have already begun mapping out which workshops I want to take and paired them with classes before or after they take place (hey, minimizes my driving from Point A to Point B–no sense in going back to Point B twice!). Throughout the challenge, I’ll try to give weekly updates and try to sync my activities with those that Baron Baptiste has discussed in his book on the topic. The first week is all about the concept of presence, which I’ll talk more about next week.

Truth be told, I actually began planning for the 40 Days challenge last week. Since its primary feature involves attending five classes per week, I began that last week with classes on Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday, and Sunday. Yes, Easter Sunday! This was a benefit class at breathe, with donations going to their Off the Mat, Into the World challenge for this year. It was a great day of yoga alongside probably about 40-50 other people who all wanted to be there (or, as the instructor joked, had to make up some kind of excuse to be there!).

I’ll have a new monthly yoga entry fairly soon; I’ll be trying Anusara yoga this month (this weekend, in fact, if things go as planned). While the founder of the movement may have faced some recent controversy, I don’t think this reflects on the practitioners of Anusara-based yoga. I may be a “novice,” but to me, all yoga is good yoga. If it speaks to you, it must be doing something good, regardless of what others may say or believe.

And now, some inspiration for the upcoming week:

Y is For Yogini is full of a great mix of yoga and humor, but this list of Yoga Class Pet Perks (not Peeves) makes me smile. (This list is a good, and humorous, bonus!)

I am so excited to see Seane Corn in May, and this article she wrote about her days pre-yoga really sheds light on how transforming a yoga practice can be.

Think all yogis look like the ones you see on the pages of Yoga Journal? Think again! Check out these two amazing galleries of yoga for everybody–and every body!

Finally, a quote from Baron Baptiste’s 40 Days book that I really liked when I first read it. It resonated with me, and maybe it will resonate for you, too.

“Never making a decision is a decision unto itself. It is a decision to stay in a personal fog. Staying in the confusion is safe, because in the fog, we never have to face the mundane that comes with committing to a path. Everyone tries to avoid the mundane path, but that is the path that makes us grow.” (16)

Committing to the goal of completing the 40 days challenge may seem tedious or mundane, but it is certainly one that will bring results! I am so ready for Monday! How about you?

Monthly Yoga: March, Aerial Yoga

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About this series: For 2012, I vowed to try a new type of yoga each month and write about it here. This is the third of 12 reviews–keep checking back for more!

A few months ago, a friend alerted me via Facebook to a new yoga class using silk slings or hammocks—you know, the kind you might see in Cirque du Soleil. The moment I read about the class, I knew I would have to head over to Aerial Arts of Rochester and try it out. I’m not sure what took me so long, but I finally got there this March.

I called ahead to reserve a spot since space is limited to only 10 participants due to the number of silks in their facility. Each silk is made of an incredibly strong material and can hold up to 1,000 pounds; they are the same kinds used in professional aerial/cirque performances. Will, Aerial Arts’ co-owner and aerial yoga instructor, informed me over the phone that I was welcome to drop in that night, but I would be participating in the most difficult class of their series, which runs six weeks. I decided this was all right, though, since I was really only there to see what it was like.

I showed up fairly early and Will greeted me and gave me a rundown of what to expect. Like with the Bikram studio, I also had to sign a waiver here, although this one seemed a bit more understandable! Once the silks were set up and class members began filing in, Will led me to one of the silks on the end. I got a bit nervous because it felt a bit high up (it should tuck in at your low back), but once it was tugged down, I was able to get it to where it had to go. Will helped me to test it by telling me to flip over essentially into an upside down Supta Baddha Konasana.

Well, I thought, this is new.

Getting there took some effort—those Cirque performers make it look so easy! Once I got flipped over, however, I didn’t want to let go of the silk. After some coaxing and reassurance that no, I wouldn’t fall on my head, I let go.

I really want to be able to tell you all what a wonderful, freeing, and magical experience this was. Instead, the truth is that the silk dug into my low back and, at the time of writing this three days later, I still have bruises on that area. I do think it was pretty cool to hang out upside down like that; I don’t often get to since I have yet to master a headstand.

Luckily, the rest of the class relied on several other poses. Toward the beginning, we leaned our torsos forward and back in the sling while standing on our yoga mats. When it came time to stand in the sling, I became a bit nervous once more. Although my feet were only three feet off the ground, I felt like I was up much higher. I managed to move into tree on one side, but switching legs in the sling proved to be a bit difficult. Standing up also reinforced my white knuckle grip on the silks from earlier in upside down Supta Baddha Konasana, which we did once more toward the end. (Maybe upside down butterfly is a better name for it? Mine was more like drunk butterfly!)

Finally, we stretched out in the slings, turning them into hammocks. At that point I was content to just lie there and enjoy the weightless feeling inside the silk. This point was probably my favorite part of the class; if anything, I recommend going just to hang out in the slings (or maybe you should just buy a hammock).

For the most part, I could do some of the poses, and I’m sure if I had joined the class on week one, I would have had a better success rate. The other students in the class were either part of the six week series or had dropped in before, and if they’re anything to go by, practice does make perfect. They seemed to move into the poses quite effortlessly, so if you’re considering aerial yoga, rest assured that you will probably do much better than I did if you stick with it.

This was certainly not a typical yoga class. It wasn’t the acrobatic aerial movements you might expect, but it did rely a bit on upper body strength and flexibility. I will say, as well, that the instructor and the other students were all incredibly nice. They teased me a bit for picking this class to drop in on, but everyone was very encouraging. Many of the students also remarked how wonderful the classes at Aerial Arts were in addition to the aerial yoga, and one woman even mentioned that the classes have significantly minimized the pain she experienced that resulted from a chronic illness. How excellent is that endorsement? I am considering going back to try the entire series, but not until after my 40 Days challenge ends. Thus far, this experience looks like it would win the award for most unique yoga class in the Rochester area!

Chakras, Essential Oils, and Yoga

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On Sunday, March 18, I attended a workshop at breathe entitled “Chakras, Essential Oils, and Your Yoga Practice” hosted by Cyndi Weis, the owner of breathe and essential oil enthusiast. I’ve attended her yoga classes before, often on Friday afternoons, where she lets students sample different oils in order to guide their practices for the day. I’m intrigued by the oils’ different functions, so I decided this workshop would be a nice introduction to the topic. As an added bonus, all proceeds for the event went to the SEVA challenge to raise money for women and children in India who have been victims of sex trafficking. Who can’t love yoga that’s dedicated to a cause?

The workshop itself did not feature a yoga practice, but instead was a lecture by Cyndi explaining what our chakras are, their connections with the mind/body, what oils might go well with each chakra, and how you can integrate this information into your yoga practice. She did offer the disclaimer that these oils were her associations with each chakra, and that they may vary from person to person. She also explained some of their primary uses (e.g. lavender for calming, peppermint or citrus for energy, earthy ones like spruce for grounding, etc.); most of the oils we sampled were blends of three or more single oils.

So what are essential oils, you may ask? They come from different plants and can be any part of the plant, including its leaves, twigs, roots, and resins. When you buy essential oils, you are getting oil made from the plant—not perfume grade “fragrances” that rely mostly on synthetic chemicals. Essential oils are incredibly potent! For instance, just one drops of peppermint oil can be about as strong as 26 cups of peppermint tea. Another interesting fact about them is that their biochemical make-up is similar in structure to that of human blood. (Weird, right?)You can apply the oils topically (one drop on the hands to spread on different parts of the body like the bottoms of the feet, back of the neck, rims of or behind the ears, wrists, or different chakras). You can also inhale them, place them in a diffuser, put one drop into a full water bottle, or blend them into gel caps to take orally. My favorite method is placing a drop of oil on my hands to breathe in and then apply it to the neck or chest or behind my ears.

I don’t want to go into too much detail on chakras, since I’m not really an expert on them (“novice,” remember?). Essentially, chakras (“discs”/“wheels”) are different points of the body which can guide physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual aspects of your body and mind. You can find out more here, for instance, or Google it. I’m going to give a quick run-down of the oils we used, which were all made by Young Living Essential Oils (you can find each one on their website for full ingredients). I scribbled notes like a madwoman during this workshop, but I may have missed some info at one point or another.

1st Chakra/Muladhara: We used “Valor,” which includes spruce, rosewood, blue tansy, and frankincense. Since this chakra deals with grounding and stability, we placed this oil on the bottoms of our feet. This one is great for a yoga practice with many poses emphasizing stability in the feet (such as warrior poses).

2nd Chakra/Swadhistana: Since this chakra resides in the pelvic area, it is often associated with emotion. We used an oil called “Release,” which I’m pretty sure I’ve tried in Cyndi’s Friday class. Somehow, we tend to store pent-up emotions in this area of our bodies, so hip openers like Supta Baddha Konasana or pigeon are a great way to relieve this tension. “Release” included ylang ylang, lavender, sandalwood, blue tansy, and geranium.

3rd Chakra/Manipura: This chakra resides in the lower torso area and relates to our self-definition and ego—for instance, how we see and define ourselves. The oil we used was “Believe,” which is made with balsam fir, rosewood, and frankincense. To me, it didn’t smell bad, but it reminded me a bit of the smell of lumber. Because this chakra is near your core, twists in yoga are a great way to ignite this area in your practice.

4th Chakra/Anahata: This is your heart chakra, associated with—you guessed it!—love. This chakra resides in the center on the spectrum of the seven chakras, so from here we go from the more tangible aspects of the body to the more spiritual ones. Asanas such as chest openers and backbends are excellent for opening this chakra. The oil we used this time was “Forgiveness,” which was a blend of at least 15 different oils, including lavender, rosewood, ylang ylang, bergamot, lemon, geranium, and more. Frankly, I thought this one was too busy with all those ingredients and didn’t really smell all that great. Others in the workshop really liked it, though. It depends on your personal tastes, really.

5th Chakra/Vishuddha: The name for the throat chakra actually translates to “the poison-releasing place,” which I thought was interesting. Qualities like communication, self-expression, and finding your own voice all come from the 5th chakra. The oil used here was “Clarity,” which I think was my favorite; it’s made from rosemary, basil, cardamom, jasmine, lemon and peppermint, among others. Cyndi also mentioned that “Clarity” is great to place on your forehead if you have a headache. I liked this one because I could really see how the peppermint could make you feel more alert. Poses emphasizing a flat back aid in opening this chakra; fish pose apparently works as well.

6th Chakra/Ajna: Even if you’ve never dealt with chakras, you’ve probably heard of your “third eye” before. This is the point just above the space between your eyebrows that allows for visualization and perception. We used “Dreamcatcher” for this chakra, which is made with ingredients including juniper, bergamot, tangerine, anise, ylang ylang, and black pepper. The juniper and citrus scents were particularly strong in this oil, and I would have to say this was my second favorite scent. Child’s pose is a good asana for centering your third eye.

7th Chakra/Sahasrana: The final chakra resides at the crown of your head and deals with your consciousness. Lying in Savasana or doing a headstand are great ways to focus on your 7th chakra. The oil used for this chakra was “White Angelica,” which included angelica, melissa, sandalwood, spruce, geranium, myrrh, and others. This is apparently a good oil for “creating an aura” of protection around yourself, especially if you have to deal with an unpleasant person or situation.

I don’t own many essential oils, just lavender, bergamot, and now peppermint. I can tell from using “Clarity” that the peppermint oil really improves mental alertness. Mostly, I enjoyed hearing Cyndi speak on these topics; learning in this environment has definitely reaffirmed my commitment to exploring my yoga practice more throughout the year (and beyond).

Monthly Yoga: February, Restorative Yoga

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About this series: For 2012, I vowed to try a new type of yoga each month and write about it here. This is the second of 12 reviews–keep checking back for more!

As a regular for breathe’s power vinyasa classes, I never really considered the merits of a restorative class. After all, I figured, why go to something that’s a bunch of breathing and laying down? I go for the exercise—I can relax at home. Yet I find, increasingly, that it’s difficult to relax at home, even if I’m by myself! There is always some type of distraction for me, like seeing something that needs cleaning or fixing or wanting to check something on the computer. (And a word of advice: cats are entertaining but not very helpful during yoga!)

I’ve heard this from many different sources, but power yoga tends to attract Type A personalities. Although I wouldn’t say that I fit firmly into this category at all times, I do tend to keep schedules obsessively (hello Filofax!), have a million different things going on in my head at any given moment, and agonize and worry about something almost all the time. I am not teaching right now, but for most of the past year, I taught college-level English courses and juggled two or three different schedules all at once. (The joys of being an adjunct… but I digress!) Yoga, even in power vinyasa classes, has been my way of unwinding and “sweating it out,” but now that I’ve tried a restorative class, I can easily see the benefits of attending these sessions on an occasional, or even regular, basis.

I took a restorative class after my regular vinyasa class, and I figured I would be okay to continue on since at least I wouldn’t be doing any more sweating than I already had in the early portion of the evening. At the end of my first class, I noticed that I couldn’t really quiet my mind during Savasana—it just went all over the place. Even when I started up the restorative class, I suddenly felt that I had too much to think about just with the class itself. “I’ve never done this before.” “How do I get my mind to be quiet?” “What if I can’t relax?” “What are we doing?” “How many blankets, bolsters, and blocks do we need again?” “What are we doing with all of these props?” “Oh no, do we even have enough blankets and bolsters for everyone?” (Yes, the last thought really did cross my mind, and it didn’t need to. Why I felt I had to worry about that issue, I’m not sure, since I wasn’t the one in charge!)

For class, we used five blankets (!), three bolsters, two blocks, and a strap. Somehow, it was daunting just to grab all the props and then wonder why we were using them. I am used to having a block and maybe, in a really adventurous class, a strap! We started out on our backs with blankets rolled under our ankles, knees, and necks. Pretty comfortable thus far. The instructor went around the room and helped each student to adjust as needed. She was very insistent that we let her do the adjusting for us; the goal of the class, after all, was for us to relax and not have to fidget with our various yoga props. Then we switched to a supported Supta Baddha Konasana with a strap, all while reclining on a bolster supported by blocks. I’m not kidding when I say that I love this pose as we normally do it, as it’s a fantastic hip opener, but that night I just could not get into this modification. It felt just slightly uncomfortable, enough so that I couldn’t stop thinking about when we would change positions. I finally stuck the bolsters underneath my knees, and this alleviated the issue, but by that point I just felt like I was doing something wrong.

Okay, seriously, I thought to myself. How can you relax “wrong”? How could you even be bad at relaxing in the first place?

The next pose was a modified reclining twist with arms laid across blankets and one knee supported on a bolster. This, too, took me a while to get used to. While I’m fine with a twist flat on my mat at the end of a vinyasa class (arms spread open with one knee angled and draped across the opposite leg), for some reason the props just complicated things. Again, I began to feel like I just wasn’t making myself comfortable the right way, or like I should be able to clear my mind completely in these poses. I also couldn’t stop fidgeting. Maybe I can blame the coffee I drank earlier in the day.

Yes, I’m aware that this isn’t exactly rocket science, but I guess this really just speaks to how little time I actually spend trying to make myself comfortable. Think about it: how often do you take the time to relax your body completely? This doesn’t include the times when you’re lying in bed trying to fall asleep and anticipating your plans for the next day, or when you’re sitting on the couch, vegging out to something on TV. How often do most of us just sit or lay without some kind of distracting activity an arm’s length away? My guess, if I’m at least remotely average in this, is not too often.

Our final pose was Savasana, again aided by bolsters and blankets. Our instructor led us through a quick guided meditation focused on our breathing. In all, we only did five poses, since they require a fair amount of set-up time, which means we must have held each for about ten to fifteen minutes. Finally, finally, I was able to relax in Savasana. It was almost over too soon. It seemed like in the last five minutes of class, I finally got it. I hadn’t exactly cleared my mind, and I still moved around just a bit, but I left class in a state I can only describe as post-yoga bliss. I get this all the time with regular vinyasa classes, but with the restorative class focused entirely on relaxation, it seemingly amplified tenfold!

Will I do this again? Probably, but I can’t imagine going to breathe only for one of these classes. If I do attend another restorative class, though, it would definitely be after a vinyasa class and not before. I may need something caffeinated for afterward next time, too! On my drive home, I still felt a little bit too relaxed. However, I can’t imagine anyone who wouldn’t benefit from a restorative class. I had felt a bit off this past week, and after this class, I feel like I hit some sort of cosmic reset button for myself. We all need a way to unwind, and a nice, gentle practice every once in a while may be just the thing for the workaholics and compulsive worriers of the world.

Coming soon to The Novice Yogi!

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As I mentioned in my last post, I have some exciting news! I have a couple of big things coming up for this blog, and naturally, you guys get to hear all about it.

The first is that breathe is offering a challenge based on Baron Baptiste’s book 40 Days to Personal Revolution from April 16 to May 25! The challenge involves taking five studio classes per week and attending one “lifestyle” workshop (so long as the class requirement is met). Topics range from nutrition and digestion to backbends and headstands, with information on detoxing, meditation, and essential oils thrown into the mix. I am so excited to get to participate since I missed it over the summer. I’ve already begun reading Baptiste’s 40 Days book, which includes different breakdowns of poses and practices for each week of the challenge along with advice to keep you motivated. I’m also getting myself trained to go five times a week now so it’s a smooth transition in 28 days. Best of all, to keep myself on track, I’ll be blogging about my progress. Let’s see if the program is as truly transforming as it says it is!

The other big announcement is that famed yoga teacher Seane Corn will be teaching three workshops in Rochester in May (right at the end of the 40 Days challenge). I’m signed up to go to her all-day immersion on Saturday May 26! Some of the workshop will deal with things like chakras and meditation, but the rest of the 6+ hours will be an intense yoga practice. Naturally, I will let all of you know how it turns out. (And hey, if you’re in the area, you’re welcome to join me there or in the 40 Days challenge! It’s always nice to have a partner to keep you motivated!)

This afternoon, I’m off to a workshop on how knowledge of chakras and essential oils can augment your yoga practice. The proceeds for this go to Off the Mat Into the World’s annual SEVA challenge (bonus: Seane Corn is the organization’s founder!). I’ll let you know about it later!

Motivation is key over the next couple of months. What are your tips for staying motivated for a challenge (a workout, a creative project, or anything else)?

Adventures in Couples Yoga

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Ever since I started doing yoga, I’ve been trying to get my husband, Joe, to come with me to my power vinyasa classes at breathe. While he goes to Planet Fitness on a semi-regular basis to lift weights and run on the treadmills, he’s admitted that he’s not the most flexible guy in the world, so his workout has limits. Still, I was incredibly happy that he’d finally decided to join me for a class on Saturday morning. As much as I like having time to myself on my mat, I enjoy having some company occasionally, too. What better company for me than his?

Joe had actually never taken a yoga class before, so this was a brand new experience for him. Heat isn’t exactly his favorite thing, either, so I was surprised he was actually willing to go with me to a class heated between 85 and 90 degrees. When we got in, however, he had already forgotten about the class’s temperature and asked me why it was so hot in the room.

Yours truly, before class. You should know that I'm addicted to iPhone photo filter apps.

Joe, pre-class. The only guy I've ever seen wearing a metal band shirt to class!

For this class, we chose breathe’s downtown studio, mainly because it is the largest out of their three locations. Joe didn’t want to feel as if he was surrounded by people, so we practiced in a corner in the back where we still had plenty of space to move. Before class began, I explained a few poses to him and told him to rest if tired and not worry if he couldn’t bend a certain way. I also reminded him to look at me or the other students if he wasn’t sure what to do, or listen to the instructor for modifications to make the asanas easier. This is my advice to pretty much anyone attending a yoga class for the first time; don’t beat yourself up—at least you’re trying! The only thing I really regret is that I probably should have brought him to a beginner level class, just so he could get more of a breakdown of the flow sequence and other typical poses.

The class was pretty standard as far as breathe’s open level classes go. We didn’t do anything too outrageous, just stuck to sun salutations, standing series, balances, and sitting poses for hips and abs. Joe kept up with it well, and even if he had to rest for a moment or just stay in downward facing dog, he remained present throughout the class. I giggled a bit when he looked over at me before Savasana with a confused look on his face and asked “What are we doing?” I quietly explained that all he had to do now was lay back, and he sighed with relief. This part seemed to work for him, but when I asked him what he thought at the end of the class, he summed it up in one word: “Torture.” I’m, of course, inclined to disagree with him, but I can see why he’d say that. The class provides an intense full-body workout, and for someone used to lifting weights and running, working all the muscles in your body is a new, and potentially uncomfortable, experience.

Joe’s visit to breathe reminded me of my first time there when I took an evening beginner class last January. I knew it would be a hot class, but I had no idea how that would feel in a packed room (pretty bad, actually). I also knew some basic poses but didn’t really know what combining them into a series would feel like; it was a lot more movement than I anticipated. Like Joe, I was also nervous about being in the center of the room where I thought everyone would see me mess up, but since space was limited in my class I ended up close to the front of the room anyway. As I attend more classes, I notice that I hardly pay any attention to the other people in the room any more. The nervous feeling in the pit of my stomach before the beginning of each class gradually faded; I don’t feel the need to impress others or compete with the person next to me. With apologies to some yogis, it’s not a competition (or at least your classes shouldn’t be!). Joe mentioned that he fell out of a pose and felt like the whole room was looking at him, but I assured him that they would be ridiculous to judge him for it; everyone falls out of a pose at some point. The important thing is trying it and not being afraid to fall.

Will Joe ever come back to yoga with me? I’m unsure. At the moment, I think it’s the furthest thing from his mind. Yet I think that it shows that it’s always worth a shot to experience it once before dismissing it entirely. I’m proud of him for coming with me and putting forth the effort to keep up with the class. He knew it wasn’t going to be a piece of cake, but he still did it. His open-mindedness gives me the courage to take more risks, whether I suspect a good outcome or not.

As an added bonus, check out some of these pictures of the studio in the beautiful Hutchison House!

Such a beautiful space for a yoga practice!

Isn't this fireplace gorgeous?

The carved ceiling is gorgeous. This lamp hung low enough that I could touch it when I raised my hands over my head.

Keep checking back to The Novice Yogi! I have some exciting news coming up!

Monthly Yoga: January, Bikram Yoga

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About this series: For 2012, I vowed to try a new type of yoga each month and write about it here. This is the first of 12 reviews–keep checking back for more!

Although I have been very happy with my practice at breathe in the past year, I have tried to motivate myself to try new branches of yoga to deepen my commitment to it. The power vinyasa classes at breathe have certainly helped me through some stressful times, got me more in shape, and continually allowed me the chance to just let go when I need to. The classes’ heat, intensity, and rigor have become a staple in my life this past year, and it’s not a habit I intend to break anytime soon.

I had heard of Bikram yoga before. It’s known for being fairly intense and sometimes competitive; from my understanding, Bikram competitions are something of a controversy and may feature in the summer Olympics this year. My only experience actually seeing what goes on in a Bikram class came from watching a documentary called Enlighten Up! (I highly recommend this documentary, if anything just to see the differences amongst yoga’s many disciplines.) The main thing I remember about the bit concerning Bikram yoga was a male instructor who seemed not so much to teach the class as command them. The other thing was that the instructor asked the documentary’s subject to not drink any water until later in the class. Unless I misunderstood this exchange, this seemed to me a weird command (and also highly dangerous!); however, I recognize most instructors would likely not ask this of their students. Add in the fact that classes are heated to 105 degrees Fahrenheit with something like 40% humidity tacked on, and the whole thing seems pretty intimidating.

A Bikram studio recently opened this past year in Rochester, and I decided to give it a shot. I’m already used to the heat from the vinyasa classes (which are about 85-90 degrees, though with little to no humidity), so I at least kind of knew what to expect. When I arrived at Bikram Rochester, I was greeted at the door by Aaron, the owner. He asked me if I was new, and when I said yes, he had me sign a waiver.

Wait, what?

I admit I skimmed it, but it essentially stated “It’s not our fault if you pass out in class and/or hurt yourself!” I’m sure this would send most people running far away. I suppose if you’re 100% new to yoga, this is probably not the best place to start. I signed the form, and then Aaron told me that I had one goal: not to leave the room. “Even if you want to lie in Savasana [corpse pose] for the whole class, that’s fine” he said, “just don’t leave the room.” The guy was kind of intense. Too late now, I figured. I had already paid for class, so I headed back toward the classroom.

The interior was all wood paneling with a large mirror stretched out along the front of the room. I am not used to mirrors. Part of what got me into doing yoga at breathe was the fact that on their website, I noticed that the pictures of the classroom revealed no mirrors. I remember going to the gym in high school and college and having to stare at myself sweating during my workouts. It was not a pretty sight. I took a spot in the back of the room, and thanks to having incredibly poor eyesight once my glasses are off, the mirror thing wasn’t an issue. I at least could make out the fuzzy outlines of my classmates to clue me in to what I was supposed to be doing. Good enough!

Class began with a breathing exercise, and then we moved into Bikram’s 26 asanas, or postures, each one done twice. To be honest, the heat of the room didn’t feel much different from that of breathe’s classroom, but even during the breathing exercise, I noticed that my skin was already stippled with sweat. We then moved on to our standing series—no sun salutations here! Thankfully, the class allows for plenty of breaks, including water, and the instructor would open the doors every once in a while to let some cool air into the room.

The instructor gave the class directions throughout almost the entire 90 minutes—I mean it. She barely stopped talking, which was on the one hand kind of impressive—like she was some sort of yogi auctioneer—and on the other hand a bit irritating. I’m used to long silences and usually some music, so to hear nothing but talking and other students breathing for an hour and a half was a bit weird.

At one point in the class, we got into Vriksasana, or tree pose, although Bikram yogis perform this pose a bit differently than what I’m used to. For me, this involved a very hasty reshuffling of limbs! This class’s version of Trikonasana (triangle pose) involved a bent knee, rather than straight (we usually refer to this as “side angle pose”), and Bikram also had a slight variation on Utkatasana (awkward pose, a very fitting name for it). The differences didn’t bother me, in the end, but I have to admit I did miss my normal “routine,” loose as it is in Baptiste classes.

I met my “goal” of not leaving the room, so I did feel some satisfaction by the time class ended. I saw a few people go in and out, probably to get some air, and I don’t blame them! It’s a tough workout, and it was honestly a bit tempting to step out for a moment at some points. It didn’t help that the cold bottle of water I brought to class was lukewarm by the time I finished. The intensity that Bikram offers is its main draw, and I can see why. As difficult as it can feel, it’s always incredibly rewarding to make it through over an hour of heat, sweat, and stretching! I think I may try another class in the future to augment my practice, but not to replace what I already do.