Why I Love Yoga: Part 2
At about the same time, I was told I was a likely candidate for Marfan Syndrome, a potentially deadly disorder of the aortic valve. I was pulled from daily gym class and spent that hour each day in the library with the "special" kids. I was required to have echocardiograms and EKGs every 6 months for the foreseeable future, if not the rest of my life.
I don't remember if it was a few months or a year later, but sometime after that initial diagnostic period, I was fitted for a back brace. I was expected to wear it 23 hours a day until I stopped growing--approximately 6 years. Yeah, right.
Why Do I Love Yoga: Part I
Sometimes it's nice to take a minute and remind myself of all the many reasons why I love yoga. Because I'm hyper flexible, I often have to forgo extensive asana practice in favor of targeted strength training for my hips, shoulders, back, and core.
But yoga is my rock, the calm eye of the hurricane, the lighthouse pointing the way home when seas are rough and skies are menacing, the thing I return to after allowing myself to get scattered in the ego-driven winds circling us all at any given time. And here are some answers to the question, "Why do I love yoga?":
It's the end of the year. Already, I'm hearing people talk about New Year's Resolutions. For many people, resolutions revolve around one thing and one thing only: getting fit. And for many people these days, yoga classes seem a rather non-threatening point of entry on the path to greater fitness.
I applaud their interest: yoga is an incredible method for getting in touch with your body, uniting the body and mind, and learning how to breathe fully. So I'd like to give beginning yoga students some tips on how to start off their yoga journey the best way possible.
Every yoga class is different. Well, not so if you go to a Bikram (or "hot yoga") class, or if you're learning the Ashtanga series. But most beginners are not headed straight for the 105-degree oven that is Bikram or the rigid, extremely disciplined practice of Ashtanga. Most would-be yoga students are interested in learning some poses, sweating a little, and feeling like they did something good for themselves.
Beginners are more likely to head for a Yoga Flow class or a Hatha Yoga class. And I have to reiterate--every single one of them will be different. So how do you know, when you see a class on the schedule, what you're getting into?
Why Do I Teach Yoga
"Why do I teach yoga?"
It's a question I often ask myself, because sometimes I get lost and need to find my way back. I get caught up in the very American view of yoga that promotes yoga practice as a way to lose weight and work on one's body shape and size. I feel pressured to teach a fast, flowing, aerobically stimulating class even when I know that the students asking for such a class are not ready for it physically. I let myself fall into the trap that I have fallen into since I was a youngster: trying to be what people want me to be instead of what I am.
In the last week, during my lovely yoga retreat in Puglia, Italy, I found myself falling into the traps that I just described, and I had to pause and ask myself again, "Why do I teach yoga?" Below are my answers.
The law of giving and receiving is one of what Deepak Chopra calls The Seven Spiritual Laws of Yoga. This law tells us that the universe is constantly nourishing us when we are nourishing it. When we give what we would like to receive, we actually get just that. For example, when we put love, gratitude, and joy out into the world by way of positive interactions, a welcoming demeanor, and random acts of kindness, we get all of those good vibes sent right back to us to receive.
I feel particularly connected to this law after having taught a charity yoga class at Namaskar Yoga in Chicago’s Lakeview neighborhood.
The entire experience exemplified the law of giving and receiving:
What could be more beautiful than that?
We all, in fact, have a simple method for perpetuating this giving-receiving continuum every minute of every day. It’s called breathing, or pranayama.
When you think about the act of breathing--how you are taking into your body these particles that had previously been swirling and twirling around outside of you, and then release them a moment later to take in breath anew--you can see how we humans are always giving to and receiving from the atmosphere in which we live.
When we add consciousness or mindfulness to this typically automatic action, we deepen the practice of giving and receiving even more. Imagine: consciously breathing in love, joy, and kindness and intentionally breathing the same out into the world! How bright our smiles could be! How connected we could feel to our neighbors and friends! Just by sharing the simple act of breathing, colored with the beautiful qualities of love, joy, and kindness.
We can also use the action of the breath as a metaphor and try to emulate its cycle of giving and receiving in other ways throughout our days.
Recall that to experience the law of giving and receiving, you just need to be willing to give to others exactly what you’d like to receive. If your wallet feels light and you’d like to encourage abundance in your life, tip your waiter a little extra the next time you eat out. If you are desperately in need of some cheering up, extend some extra kindness and a smile to the bus driver as you board today. If you’re feeling alone and crave affection, reach out to an old friend and express your gratitude for their presence in your life. You’re telling the universe that everything you need, everything you crave, is already there inside of you--and the universe will respond in kind, giving you even more.
Mr. Chopra gives us an excellent set of affirmations regarding the law of giving and receiving. It’s amazing how something so simple can be so profound.
This piece by Elizabeth Landau on CNN.com [the full link appears below this post] is a beautiful account of how mindfulness can change the shape of both physical and emotional pain.
Back pain is the type of pain that I see and work with most frequently in my events and classes.
When a person is experiencing pain--or is accustomed to feeling pain--the mind runs amok with negative thinking. Whether it be anxiety, depression, blame, shame, or the anger that Monty Reed (in Landau's piece) describes, those negative emotions actually cause pain to increase or intensify. Judging yourself for having a particular feeling or emotion, or believing you are victimized and disempowered, can cause anyone's back to hurt!
Having just come back to the real world after my splendid retreat in Puglia, Italy, I am already planning to be back in Puglia this summer planning my 2013 retreats there. Yoga in Italy might just be in your future after you read what my guests from this year's retreat at Trullo Solari wrote:
“Sara was great and her selection of this location was excellent.”
“I highly recommend Trullo Solari to anyone who truly wants peace and quiet . . . It is truly a paradise!!”
“I had a wonderful time! The setting was lovely: beautiful and comfortable.”
“Sara is a great instructor, and it was nice to be able to practice indoors and out. Classes were a good mix of breathing, stretching, and strength.”
“The food was stupendous—abundant and perfect.”
“Having three vegetarian meals a day was great. I thought I would miss having meat, but I did not.”
“Sara is helpful with all things related to yoga, and to have her undivided attention was best of all! I would definitely attend one of her retreats in the future!”
And if you need more incentive to make a yoga retreat your next vacation, read this [sadly, the link for the article I wrote is no longer live. Note to self: Always download a PDF of externally-hosted writing!].
For those of you taking my Yoga without Back Pain series who'd like to practice at home, here are the asanas we have covered so far. Thanks to your fellow student Shauna for asking that I send out the list.
By the way, you'll each get a complete list of the pranayama, meditations, and asana that we've practiced after the fourth class, so make sure I get your e-mail address for that.
And now, the asana from lessons 1 and 2:
[Performing all with bandhas engaged]
Tadasana (mountain pose)
Vrksasana (tree pose)
Utthita hasta padangusthasana (standing big-toe pose)
Dhanurasana (bow pose)
"Moving" cow pose
Upavistha Konasana (seated wide-angle pose)
Virabhadrasana II (warrior II)
Dwi Pada Pitham (two-legged table)
Apanasana (the "vital air" pose, with legs crossed over)
Jathara Parivrtti (belly twist, with legs extended)
Remember to practice with excellent spinal posture, deep and full breathing, and your bandhas engaged, and these should feel great! See you next week . . .
For a succinct yet descriptive blog post about the region in Italy where I and a few lucky guests will enjoy my Spring 2012 Yoga Retreat, this year-old post by Tina Ferrari takes the cake [the post is no longer available.].
Puglia as a region is "the most beautiful in Italy," according to my Italian teacher, and "untouched by mass tourism," as Ms. Ferrari reveals.
Beauty, tranquility, and a luxurious traditional trullo that only our small group will share? What better place to turn inward as we explore yoga asana (postures), pranayama (breathing), and meditation.
The best part about the region and our trip there? The food is amazing, as illustrated by Helen Graves's blog post about cibo pugliese (the food of Puglia) on her Food Stories blog.
There's still time to join us next spring! Why deprive yourself any longer?
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