Author: Diane Cesa

Been a devoted yoga practitioner for over 5 years, and a registered yoga teacher. I am also training to be a yoga therapist and a yoga, Thai massage therapist.
Yoga

The Beauty and the Depth of the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali

I practiced yoga for years before I even picked up a translation of Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras.

After doing so, I became hooked and went on to study the sutras more in-depth.

This foundational text, while is best to study with a teacher (or join a sutra discussion group), is so full of wisdom and offers a complete picture of yoga (as opposed to the McYoga we see today in America).

This post pays tribute to the perfection of the sutras with resources for further study of the sutras as well as a chanting of the first two chapters of the sutras:

  • One of my favorite translations of the Yoga Sutras comes from T.K.V Desikachar in his book The Heart of Yoga.
  • The Internet archive of the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali is chock full of information for anyone wanting to take his/her study of the sutras deeper.
  • You can download the archive of the Yoga Sutras here. The archive includes translations by multiple authors in a variety of languages, as well as electronic versions of some reference works, translations, sounds, and images.

And speaking of sounds and images, check out these fantastic videos of the most influential yoga teacher, Krishnamacharya, practicing yoga with the chanting of the sutras (the first two chapters) by his grandson Kaustub as the soundtrack (if you’re interested in the chanting of the yoga sutras, visit the Vedic Chant Center).

What a treasure!

I enjoy yoga conferences, but sometimes the travel and the high conference fees can be a bit rough on the bank account.

The smart folks over at YogaHub have come up with a fabulous high-tech alternative — a virtual yoga conference. This 3-day extravaganza — which is the first of its kind — is aptly entitled Yoga, Health, and Happiness. Mark your calendars, because it’s taking place February 19-21.

What I love about this conference is that it’s targeted to yoga practitioners and yoga teachers.

The number of workshops and presenters is mind-boggling and the cost of this 3-day event is roughly the equivalent of a one-day workshop.

And when you register, you get all sorts of free goodies, including a home practice DVD, access to a private discussion forum for conference-goers, and learning tools to enhance your virtual conference experience.

Another excellent program that is really gaining popularity in the yoga industry, is Yoga Burn. Jane from Wellness Warrior wrote a comprehensive review of the program.

I am so excited about this very cool event. Perhaps it’s the techie in me that loves this idea of going virtual. Or it could be the accessibility of this event — even folks on a budget can attend.

I also love the fact that if you can’t attend life, there will be recordings of the sessions available for two weeks after the event.

Hmmm…I wonder if the virtual conference concept will have the iPad effect? (see, that’s the techie geek in me coming through)

Whether the concept of virtual concept tanks or not, I will be attending to see firsthand what this experience is like.

I’m finally buying an e-reader (I held out for a while because I love the tactile pleasure of books, but I’d like to cut down on all the paper so I’m switching to ebooks), so why not go the techie route on yoga conferences?

What do y’all think about the idea of a virtual yoga conference?

I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Yoga

Poetry and Your Yoga Practice

“Poetry has a wild invitation to it — an invitation to a feast, to your life as a nourishing repast…Poetry reminds you that you’re a sacred frontier of experience. Only you can occupy that corner of the universe.” –David Whyte

Years ago, I listened to the Clear Mind Wild Heart audio from one of my favorite poets David Whyte.

When I heard first heard his words about poetry, I thought that the same could be said for yoga. After all, I had found yoga to be a nourishing practice, one that reminded me of my own sacred frontier.

In this audio, he encouraged reading poetry on a daily basis, which I began doing. I would often sit on my yoga mat just before my practice and read a poem or two.

As David Whyte alludes to in his words above, I found myself captivated by the words on the page.

A few years later, the wonderful Robert McDowell released the book Poetry as a Spiritual Practice: Reading, Writing, and Using Poetry in Your Daily Rituals, Aspirations, and Intentions.

This delightful book reminded me of the power of the marriage of poetry and yoga. It was during this time that my love of Rumi, Hafiz, Kabir, and Mary Oliver grew.

I found myself coming back to the same poems time and again, much as I do my favorite asanas and pranyamas.

The similarity to my yoga practice was mind-boggling — as my body was never the same in each asana, so was my awareness each time I read the same poem. There seemed to always be a new nuance, a new sense of understanding.

Earlier this month, a beautiful book of 108 sacred poems — Mala of the Heart — was released.

This one little book contains an inspirational collection of poems from saints and mystics who lived and died before 1900. Jack Kornfield, who wrote the foreword for the book, encourages the reader to: “Read these poems slowly. Savor them.

Then, as with a mala of prayer beads, read them again. Let them become familiar to your tongue and your heart, and let their deep wisdom guide you to the love and freedom that is your own true nature.”

Wise advice.

This book now sits on my nightstand, and although I haven’t had it for all that long, it is already getting well worn.

I do believe that I’m following the editors’ advice, who say — “…our wish for you is that the reading and rereading of a poem will invite an ever-deepening awareness of your nature.”

I can’t think of a better compliment to one’s yoga practice, as a practice often has the same effect.

I’m not sure why, but my yoga practice felt particularly nourishing and blissful this morning. There’s just something about the simplicity of moving to the rhythm of the breath. It wakes the body up and enlivens the body and the mind. May you experience the same — or something even better — during your yoga practice.

Today is all about fun links and yoga resources. I’ve got a little something for everyone today. Hope you enjoy:

  • I just love hearing Indian myths and stories. I find them fascinating and I love getting a deeper look into the history and psyche of the country that brought us one of my favorite things — yoga. This fabulous TED Talk discusses Indian myths and their differences to ones in the West. If you’re a mythology fan, you’ll enjoy this 18-minute talk.
  • If there’s one good thing that’s come about as a result of the tragedy in Haiti, it’s the outpouring of compassion. Unfortunately, this compassion can wane after the fervor fades. Click here for an excellent TED Talk from Robert Thurman on expanding your circle of compassion. The 7-step meditation practice Robert offers is just wonderful.
  • Kirtans Krishna Das is about to release yet another CD of goodness. If you’d like to hear a sneak peek of the upcoming release, click here (scroll down the left-hand side of the page and you’ll see a music player).
  • Yoga Sharing is the latest addition to the yoga community. It’s the yoga community’s version of Facebook and Twitter. You can learn more and join here.
  • You’ve heard of Google but have you heard of Ecosia? Ecosia is an eco-friendly search engine that supports the environment rather than line the pockets of a private company. Ecosia donates money from the sponsored links to save the rainforests (so far over 16 million yards have been saved through Ecosia usage). If you’d like to do good while you search the Internet, click here
  • If you want to deepen your understanding of yoga, there’s a new site that offers a “continuous conversation” through tile workshops and online courses. Up2yoga is affordable — it’s a dollar for the first month and then only $10/month thereafter (the entire year costs less than one-weekend yoga workshop). Courses are offered by qualified teachers such as Scott Blossom, John Friend, Sally Kempton, and Ann Dyer (you can see a calendar of upcoming events here).
  • Deepen your practice, learn, and cultivate health and happiness — all without leaving the comfort of your own home. 

Yogi in Winter

“Let us love winter, for it is the spring of genius.”  ~Pietro Aretino

Chilly temperatures. Less daylight. Snow. For some, the thought of winter makes them want to jump for joy. I’m not one of those people. In fact, this year I was somewhat dreading the start of winter. I’m not a winter sports kind of gal (I prefer things like hiking and kayaking) and I’m a bit of a wuss when it comes to the cold (thank heaven for fleece!!!).

While I know that the seasons change and winter is part of the natural cycle of change, sometimes I still resist it. Luckily the resistance only lasts for a short while, then I start to embrace the chilly season.

Not only do I love having a crackling fire in the fireplace, but I find that the colder days offer me another opportunity as well — to be more productive. There’s just something about the wintertime that inspires me to start new projects.

Maybe it’s that I don’t mind spending more time inside and logging more hours at a desk. Whatever it is, I’m happy to be enjoying — rather than complaining about — winter.

Here are some of the things that I do to accommodate the shift in season — everything from my yoga practice to my lifestyle:

  • Reflect. The desire to slow down my yoga practice is something that happens a fair amount in the wintertime. I hold poses for longer periods. I stop and notice how I’m approaching my practice (whether I’m pushing or backing off). I play with my edge during the poses and notice the effect that it has on my mind and body. I also journal more. I just love sitting by the fire or by candlelight writing in one of my Moleskin notebooks. If you’re looking to slow down your yoga practice, try Insight Yoga with Sarah Powers, and to establish a journaling habit, check out the wonderful book, Life’s Companion: Journal Writing as a Spiritual Quest. Both will help you slow down and become a bit more reflective.
  • Spice it up. I also tend to use more heating spices during the winter. Often I’ll put some fennel and cumin seeds in a few cups of boiling water and sip throughout the day. Click here for a list of heating spices that you can incorporate into your wintertime routine. I also enjoy spicing up my body with this heavenly Cha Cha Chai body lotion.
  • Pause and retreat. If slowing down and hibernating is good enough for bears, it’s good enough for me. Every winter I do an at-home retreat to relax and take stock of where I am in life. If I can’t manage a retreat, I’ll schedule in half day pauses in which I don’t turn on the TV, get on the phone, sit at the computer, or listen to music. I’ll relax in silence. I’ll read, journal, meditate, or hang out in Legs Up the Wall pose. If taking a break and going on a retreat that doesn’t break the bank appeals to you, check out Comfort Queen Jen Louden’s Virtual Retreat (it’s happening in February). For a fraction of the cost of a spa/yoga retreat, you can get all the benefits. All you need is your phone.
  • See the light. I love to practice yoga by candlelight during the winter months. I make my candles do double duty in the winter — not only do I use them for yoga, but I also use them for meditation. I practice Tratak quite a bit during the winter months.

When I look at all the wonderful things I get to do during the winter, somehow the cold and the snow (and the snow shoveling) don’t seem so bad. Here’s to making the most of winter!

Yoga

Hiding Out on the Mat

When I first heard the adage, “How you do one thing is how you do everything,” I was somewhat appalled. I wasn’t buying it.

But it stuck in my head, rattled around and I realized that it’s true. I saw it from a yoga perspective — how I was on the mat was a direct reflection of how I was in the world. This is still true for me.

My yoga practice has changed quite a bit over the past 15 years, but the change has been more drastic these past few years. I’ve sloooooowed things down a lot.

When I started practicing yoga, I was all about flow — fast, non-stop movement. It was like I didn’t want to feel anything — I just wanted to distract myself and keep moving (interestingly enough, I injured myself quite a bit during my fast flow days).

No surprise that at the time, I was living my life in the same fashion. I bustled from one thing to another, so that I wouldn’t have to feel that I was unhappy, unsatisfied, frustrated, and confused. Distraction was the name of the game. I put the pretty label of flow on it, but what I was really doing was hiding (both on the mat and off).

My ego liked the protection that hiding provided. Heck, I got through an entire relationship on hiding.

The thing is, you can’t hide 24/7. It always comes back to bite you in your tight yoga buns whether the it is the relationship that’s depleting you or the job that’s sucking your soul or the habit/pattern that’s running your life into the ground, or the belief that’s holding you back, or the fear that’s dictating your life’s choices.

Those things are right there, underneath the surface and no amount of hiding can cover them up. That quiet moment in the morning while you’re sipping your tea, you feel it. When you wake up for no good reason at 3AM, you feel it. Waiting on line in the grocery store, you feel it. 

It’s amazing to the lengths we’ll go to not feel it: the rushing around, the denial (I was the queen of denial for over a decade and looking back on it, I laugh at how good I was at it.

Yep, I was a gold medalist in denial.), the excuses, the blaming of others, the dropping of good for us habits with the excuse of “I just don’t have time.” I did it all. And my yoga practice reflected that as clearly as a mirror.

It wasn’t until I slowed my yoga practice down that I started to gain some awareness around this (and around what I was hiding from and how I was hiding from it).

My ego cried out that I wasn’t challenging myself enough, that I wasn’t truly practicing yoga, that I was lazy and being soft, that I wasn’t living up to my yoga potential (How’s that for crazy? Yep, my ego is one crafty bitch.). Luckily, my heart knew better.

Years ago, I had an advanced yoga practitioner come in for a yoga therapy session. She’d been practicing yoga for years and was extremely flexible. I had her come into Pigeon Pose slowly and hang out in it for a while. WHOA — she got mighty uncomfortable.

She started talking about how she wasn’t feeling anything and that it felt weird to be in the pose when it wasn’t doing anything for her.

She kept up a stream of dialogue for a few minutes emphasizing that she wasn’t feeling anything and wanted to come out of the pose.

I could feel how uncomfortable she was getting. Interesting considering she kept saying that she wasn’t feeling anything. Not feeling anything or feeling too much?

Pigeon Pose is actually one of my favorites. When I’ve got a lot going on in my life, I go to Pigeon like it’s my best friend. I even do something that I never really do in my yoga practice — I set a timer so that I can’t flake out of the pose when it starts getting intense.

The last few weeks I’ve been overwhelmed — in the good way. I’ve been floored by all of the good that’s been happening for me (what a “problem” to have, eh?).

People and things have been showing up left and right. I’ve been given a lot of gifts in many forms. I’ve been loved in a deeper way than I have before. Even though it’s all wonderful, it’s all feeling so intense. Funny how such good things can feel like something that we want to shy away from. 

It’s like Pigeon Pose for me — I get in it and feel the intensity ramp up. I hit a point when I want to come out, using the excuse that my body has had enough.

Yet I know that’s not the case and that if I give it some time, the feelings will change into something entirely different.

To assuage myself, I’ll come up onto my elbows to take some of the potential physical harm out of it (I just do this to calm my brain which is screaming that my body is going to hurt itself).

But I stay. I stay and I feel. I choose to not hide. And the more I do this on the mat, the more I do it in life. I stop checking out and making excuses and hiding behind others and hiding from myself and my feelings. 

When I find myself wanting to speed my yoga practice up, it’s a sure sign that I’m heading for cover. That’s when I slow things down even more. I sink in and I let myself feel what’s going on — in all of its uncomfortable glory. I don’t want to my yoga buns to be bitten in quiet early morning hours or in the middle of the night or in the check out line at the grocery store or any other time. I want to uncover it and feel it voluntarily as opposed to it bubbling up because it can only be forced down for so long. 

So, my fellow yoga practitioners, I ask you — are you hiding? How are you doing it? Look at your yoga practice and consider the possibility that you might be practicing in a specific way so that you can avoid feeling something that you just don’t want to feel. And know that you can choose to not hide anymore.

Well…I’m off to set that timer and hang out in Pigeon for a few minutes.

Yoga

The Everything Yoga Blog Holiday Gift Guide

Happy holiday season everyone!

Gee, some deep breathing, bending and stretching and BAMMO — time fast forwards to holiday gift guide time once again.

Here are the things that have caught my fancy this past year.

Throughout the year I get a lot of pitches for inclusion into the gift guide but the joy of having a blog is that it’s not about advertising but personal opinion.

Here are my personal recommendations for unusual, fun — and useful — gifts for the holidays:

WildBath — I love supporting entrepreneurs/local businesses/homegrown businesses, so it’s no surprise WildBath has become a favorite of mine. I love, love, love the exfoliating shower whips. They come in delightful scents, last a long time and are priced right. 

Lavanila — These scented deodorant, fragrance and body products are a bit pricey, but I love the scents. When I’m feeling like a splurge, I head to Lavanila products. 

Kaliana — With a tagline like “Turn on your happy,” how can you not love this company? Kaliana’s natural healing products are offered in mists, body oils, and supplements and come in the following formulas: comfort, confidence, stress relief, healing, calm, and joy. I use the mists and supplements and absolutely love them!

Melanie’s Magical Mermaid Mist — And speaking of mists, I also love this formulation, which combines oxytocin and essential oils for a complete joy-inducing experience. I use this mist everyday (sometimes more than once because I love the scent so much).

Desert Alchemy — If you’re a fan of flower essences, I recommend Desert Alchemy. The formulations are excellent and the shipping is super speedy.

Dr. Singha’s Muscle Rub — Get a little too down in your Downward Dog? If your muscles are crying out for a little TLC, I recommend Dr. Singha’s Muscle Rub. I found this formulation when I went to a spa last Spring and I’ve been using it ever since. I like to buy it from Vitacost.com because the price is so low. It’s the perfect gift for either yourself or someone else to make the muscles go AAAAAHHHHHHHHHHHHH!

Alvera All-Natural Deodorant — After years of trying every natural deodorant on the market, I was so disgusted that I went back to regular ole deodorant. I wasn’t happy about it, but I was happy that I was using a deodorant that was effective.

Then by accident, I found Alvera. It’s all-natural, it’s cheap, and it works!

Finally, the search is over — effective deodorant that I feel safe putting on my body. Again, I like to buy it from Vitacost.com because it’s so cheap. 

Omtique — I know — another online store for yoga clothing. Boring, right? Well, I just adore Omtique’s adorable socks, which showcase a yogini in Triangle Pose. These socks are the perfect stocking stuffer for your favorite yoga practitioner.

Wei of Chocolate — My friend recommended these chocolates to me last Winter and I’ve been indulging ever since.

These yummy chocolates are infused with spices, herbs, and flower essences and they are actually good for you as they are made from dark chocolate (they are also vegan, gluten and soy free, organic, and fair trade) that is 65-74% cacao. I tend to get the assortment because I love all of the flavors.

Yogi — This particular yoga clothing retailer offers stylish and comfy clothes that go from yoga studio to street. 

Yummi Yogi — I happen to think that cookie cutters in the shape of yoga postures is pretty darned adorable but what I really like about Yummi Yogi are the inspiration/ideas offered on the web site for using these cookie cutters in a variety of ways.

Nope, it’s not just cookies but everything from pumpkin carving guide to paper ornaments to hostess gift. 

The Mystic Masala Aromatic Malas — Malas make great gifts so I was delighted to find these scented malas from The Mystic Masala. Each mala features semi-precious stones and scents to coordinate with each Dosha. 

Buddhist Boot Camp — I have an overabundance of T-shirts, but these cute Tees from Buddhist Boot Camp made me want to buy one anyway. These Tees are emblazoned with the saying, “Sit Happens.” When I discovered these, it was a true LOL moment for me. I couldn’t resist buying one.

Yoga in India —  If traveling to India to study yoga is on your wish list this year, you might want to check out this guide, Yoga in India: A Journey to the Top 24 Yoga Places. The book conveniently comes in all formats from hardcopy to PDF to eReader format. It’s the perfect guide to ashrams and yoga centers in India.

Books — Yes, I’m a total book freak. Often I buy too many books and have to create a prioritized reading list to get to them all. Here are my favorites of the year thus far:

Etsy — As I’ve already mentioned, I love Etsy. Here are a few of my favorite Etsy shops: Spademan Pottery, Madelynn Cassin Designs, Alkemia Perfumes, Gaia Conceptions, Outiart, and Tickle Me Pink Boutique.   

Ahhh, my work is done here. You’re free to shop to your heart’s content. Seriously, though — may you have more joy than stress this holiday season. May you enjoy the moments rather than struggle to create the perfect moment.

And when all else fails, BREATHE. Here’s a little soft belly meditation for you to keep you centered and happy this holiday season.

Yoga

The Joy of Never Getting There

“…I have been running so sweaty my whole life
Urgent for a finish line
And I have been missing the rapture this whole time of being forever incomplete

Ever unfolding
Ever expanding
Ever adventurous
And torturous
And never done…”

–Excerpted from Alanis Morissette’s Incomplete

When I was new to the practice of yoga, I watched people in class executing more advanced poses like Headstand and found myself wanting to get there — to that place where I could effortlessly extend my body into Headstand, balanced perfectly for as long as I desired to stay in the pose.

The first time I attended a weekend-long workshop, I checked off beginner to the skill level question but I found my mind drifting with great enthusiasm to the day that I could check off intermediate/advanced.

I wanted…more. I wanted to get somewhere. I wanted to be able to define myself in a certain way. I wanted a certain skill. I wanted specific knowledge.

I wanted some sort of societal ideal. I wanted to get to some sort of final destination in my head that promised nirvana and everlasting peace and fulfillment.

The funny thing about all of this wanting is what happens when wanting becomes having. Not a whole heck of a lot. I can remember one training in particular — I had been working towards completion for a little over a year.

I had worked hard and devoted myself to the work involved in completing the training. I had written numerous papers, spoken to my mentor once per week for 8 months straight, completed dozens of assignments and tests and videos and nerve-wracking evaluations.

When I reached the home stretch I found myself feeling anything but elated. I felt sad. I didn’t want the training to end.

I didn’t care about the nifty, suitable-for-framing course completion certificate. I didn’t want to be done. It was the unfolding that I wanted more of.

Of course that’s the whole crux of it — we’re never done (what would be the fun in that?). There’s always another certification or finish line or yoga posture to conquer or relationship to be had or income level to reach or thing to acquire. It’s like the donkey chasing the carrot on the string phenomenon.

Oh we try on our yoga mat and on our meditation cushion to be here now and quench the desire to get there, but that brain of ours is always chasing the next thing (or person, for that matter).

These past 3 years I did something that shocked some folks in my life — I dismantled just about all of the things I had built/achieved/chased for much of my life. Some would say this is a terrifying time in my life. I say it’s exciting, real, perfect…and I wouldn’t change it for anything.

It’s undefineable, and I suppose that’s what makes it uncomfortable. Just the other day I was discussing this with a close friend. I was asked when I would be building up the very thing that I had just torn down. I laughed — “What’s the rush?

Why must I replace something right away or jump back into something immediately?” My friend replied, “No rush…it’s just…don’t you feel like there are a lot of loose ends right now? Don’t you want the same thing you had before, just better? It’s so up in the air. Don’t you want to know how it’s going to turn out?

Don’t you want something solid?” Again, I laughed. The truth is that I already had solid and firmly tied ends and it didn’t even come close to being the right thing for me. It was wrongness disguised as solid, achievement, safety.

I was “there” — that mythical place where everything feels safe and rainbows are lighting up the sky and unicorns are prancing about. Funny how I was unhappy “there.” You’d think those cute little unicorns would have ensured my happiness but…

Seriously though — “there” is an illusion. Once you get there you realize there’s another there over the horizon. Or when you’re “there” you realize that “there” doesn’t feel how you thought it would. Perhaps “there” doesn’t suit you at all. It certainly didn’t live up to its high standards.

All the rushing to get there, all of them wanting to know how it’s going to turn out, all of the driving need to solidify what’s happening — it doesn’t amount to much. Often it doesn’t live up to expectation. Most often it leaves you with a niggling feeling that something is missing, that there’s more out “there.”

Right now I’m so far from “there,” it’s laughable. And now that I’m here, I can finally, as Alanis says, enjoy the rapture of being incomplete. Yes, it’s scary in that there are no clearly defined spaces — it’s all undefined and incomplete.

Yes, it’s intense. And you know what else it is? It’s aliveness personified. I’ll take alive over complete (or the illusion of completeness) any day.

Now that I have all of these loose ends, I realize that “I have been missing the rapture this whole time of being forever incomplete.”

And I also find myself not caring about executing Headstands or checking the intermediate/advanced skill level box.

Funny, eh?

Yoga

Taken

I’m in a bit of a Tofurkey coma (I think I’m on protein overload) but I just couldn’t let this day pass without a little blogging.

This morning I combined my favorite Thanksgiving Day tradition — a walk in the woods — with another favorite daily activity of mine — yoga.

It was a warm, beautiful, sunny day here, and being in nature always makes me grateful to be alive, so I started this day off with some nature and yoga in nature time.

As I walked in the woods, I reflected upon the last year of my life, utterly amazed at all of the wonderful things, people, events, and circumstances that have shown up.

I breathed deeply and gave thanks with every step I took, reminded of the fact that every step I’ve taken this past year has led me here — to this perfect spot.

I am thankful, yes, that’s for sure. I try to live in gratitude, knowing that whatever shows up is always perfect.

This isn’t always easy and it can be challenging to not default to ungrateful, whiney thoughts.

But if there’s one thing I’ve learned this past year, it’s the value of letting yourself be taken.

While walking on the trail today, I let myself be taken by nature. I dropped the thoughts in my head and surrendered to the sights, sounds, and scents around me.

I let myself be taken by my yoga practice.

There was a point where I was moving and it seemed as if the yoga was doing me rather than the other way around. I could feel my breath initiating and supporting the movement. I was completely taken.

My life isn’t much different.

Oh, yes, I have those times I want to muscle it because I want something to work out a certain way. I get attached to thoughts or people or circumstances. Then I remember to let life make love to me. All I need to do is allow myself to be taken.

Today is a day of gratitude, yes. There’s a lot of talk about the importance of gratitude.

I wholeheartedly agree. I think allowing yourself to be taken is important too.

I know, I know — all of this “let life make love to me” and “taken” stuff seems like the ramblings of a protein overload (and don’t forget to throw in sugar overload as well — damn, but that pumpkin cheesecake was delicious!), but I speak from experience here on the joy of being taken.

When you’re in the moment, fully BE in that moment. When you’re practicing yoga, breathe and move and yet the yoga fully inhabit your body.

When you’re out in nature (or making love or playing with your children or snuggling with your dog or [insert personal scenario here]), let yourself be taken, fully engaged, present, surrendered to the love and beauty of the experience. If you do that, you can’t help but feel gratitude.

It will swell up inside of you without you even having to try or write up a gratitude list. My greatest Thanksgiving wish is for you to be taken.

I also want to thank each and every one of you and let you know that I am grateful for you! I am grateful for the fact that you read my yoga-related ramblings.

I am grateful that you take the time to comment. I am grateful that you forward posts to friends or subscribe to my feed. I am grateful that every now and again something I write moves you or inspires you or helps you.

Thank you!

And in the spirit of the holiday, here are two short videos for you:

Words of Gratitude

and here’s a cautionary tale about gratitude: http://www.youtube.com/embed/U1F1m-hRcWE

And, because food is somewhat central to this holiday, here are some yummy vegetarian recipes. Yum! Leftovers, anyone?

Happy Thanksgiving! May you be thankful, may you give, may you be taken.

Namaste!

Yoga

The Style is No Style

There was a time when I cared quite a bit about which style of yoga I practiced because the style of yoga I practiced defined the practice of yoga for me. I had such a rigid idea of what yoga was back then.

It was this not that; it looked like this, not that; it was taught like this, not that.

Then one day I took a yoga class that started with my saying “This isn’t yoga!” (oh no, it didn’t fit into my small view of what yoga was at all) and ended with “Ah, THIS is yoga!!!”

Imagine my surprise when my definition of yoga went up on smoke in a mere 35 minutes. After that I became intensely curious about other styles of yoga and basically practiced and/or studied many of them in the years that followed.

As time went on, I found myself caring more about how the practice made me feel rather than what it looked like.

Then my interest was igniting by yoga therapy and I got further and further away from identifying with a particular style of yoga and focused more on one of the definitions of yoga — relationship.

I focused on one’s relationship to body, mind, emotions, and breath. I stopped believing in one-size-fits-all yoga and approached yoga as something to be applied to the individual. My own practice consists of various styles at various times. 

During this time of defining and redefining yoga for myself, I saw yoga linked to many different practices.

Everyone seemed to be teaching some sort of yoga combination, whether it was yoga combined with acrobatics, rebounding, running, martial arts, or dance.

Yoga purists everywhere cringed as yoga became a marketing vehicle for various exercise routines and hot new fitness trends.

At times I walked this line myself, often adding more fluid movement into my own practice. I became somewhat cautious about when I used the term yoga to define my practice (or parts of it).

Because of this blog, every day I get pitched on practices and/or products that use the yoga calling card to gain the attention of yoga lovers everywhere.

Yes, it’s become a bit of a yoga free for all.

Heck, it makes me want to stop using the word “yoga” altogether as a practice descriptor.

There are days that it feels like the word ceases to mean anything.

Then I remember back to training that defined yoga as attention (the ability to focus the mind in a chosen direction for a desired period of time) and realize that many things can be defined as yoga.

And really — who am I to judge? I’m not the yoga police, after all.

And every now and again, something with the yoga calling card catches my eye and I take a closer look. Ray Rizzo and his book, Weightlessness: Integrated Exercise: Yoga, Pilates, and Chi Kung.

For description sake, Weightlessness is a practice defined as a “beginner to an intermediate system that combines some of the most efficient and effective mind/body practices from around the world.”

What made me want to know more was the copy on Ray’s DVD, Weightlessness: Volume I. Yoga and Chi Kung: “The style is no style.”

The me of the past would have dismissed this work as yet another attempt to market some new combination of practices using the word yoga in the title but the been-there-done-that me wanted to see more.

I read the book and watched and practiced along with the DVD. I loved it. The title weightlessness is warranted, as the practices were fluid and made my body feel energized, loose, balanced, and strong all at the same time.

Yes, many postures were familiar to me because of my yoga background, but there were enough movements inspired by other healing arts to make the practice seem fresh and new (it had a familiar yet different feel to it).

My body felt at ease during the movements and I found myself not caring at how this practice was defined. I just liked how it made me feel.

The book is divided into 4 parts:

1. Developing Your Foundation (which includes some basic information about the concept of weightlessness, a breathing primer, and some basic warm-up moves),

2. Exercises for Ease (this section includes 3 series of movements that are considered “maintenance” sets),

3. Exercises for Healing (which includes “the therapeutic set,” postures that are restorative in nature as well as a chapter on nutrition),

4. Exercises for Mastery (“the advancement set,” which, interestingly enough, includes many yoga postures that are taught in standard yoga classes [a good reminder that not everyone is suited to practice seemingly “basic” yoga asana] along with interesting dynamic moves inspired by various martial arts disciplines.

There’s definitely something for everyone here, and I would happily recommend this to even my beginner students, as there’s plenty of movements that provide physical and emotional balance and well-being without fear of injury.

The DVD is the companion to the book but only covers the basic Maintenance Set, or the exercises for ease. It runs around 40 minutes, so it’s easy to incorporate into one’s daily routine.

The practice is broken up into 3 segments, so folks who can’t or don’t care to do the full practice can spend approximately 10 minutes on an individual segment rather than practice all three strung together.

Yoga

Permission To Be Bad

I started my job hunt a few months before college graduation.

Being the eager, soon-to-be college grad (actually, I was probably more like the panicked grad, as I had student loans to pay back, rent, and other bills) that I was, I sent out hundreds of resumes.

Most of the responses were the same — we appreciate your interest but we need candidates with experience.

Of course, this made me ponder the age-old question: How do I get experience unless someone will hire me?

Fast forward 5 years later to my foray into the yoga world. I bought some DVDs and practiced at home because I felt like I was too inexperienced to take a yoga class.

I wondered, “What if the teacher uses a Sanskrit term for a yoga posture and I don’t understand?

Heck, I don’t even know most of the poses. I’m going to look like a moron on the mat.”

Gee, the same question that applied to that first job could apply here too: How do I get yoga experience unless I take a yoga class?

The point is — you have to start somewhere. And when you start, you have to accept that you’re not going to know what you’re doing. In fact, you may even be bad at it. The question here is: If I don’t allow myself to be “bad” at something, how can I ever improve?

Just this weekend I flew through the air on a trapeze (no, I won’t be running off to join the circus anytime soon).

I was there with quite a few seasoned people who have been taking classes for months. I watched 7 people “fly” before me and it was quite clear they knew what they were doing. In fact, they made it look easy.

Then they called my name to step up to the ladder for the climb to the platform. <GULP!>. The directions the teacher had given us during the 10-minute orientation were swirling in my head yet I couldn’t seem to remember the details.

How was I supposed to hook my knees on the bar again? When do I swing my body? Then I started the climb to the top and my musings over the correct form were replaced by concern for my personal safety — Gee, this ladder is pretty tall and that platform looks tiny. 

By the time I got settled on the platform, knees bent (yes, they were shaking just a bit), hands on the bar in the ready position all of the thoughts seemed to fly out of my head.

Instead, I jumped and listened to the directions being shouted by the instructor below. Interestingly enough, I flew through the air, my body doing what it was being instructed to do.

On the dismount, my brain kicked back in and balked at the instructions to let go of the bar and tuck my knees into my chest. The result?

I landed face down on the net rather than complete the backflip that would have me landing on my back — and would have looked a lot cooler than a face plant, I might add. 

My second time out, I shut down the thoughts, let go of the bar bringing my knees to my chest and viola — I flipped through the air landing in the net on my back. Funny what happens when you stop thinking or trying or worrying about doing it “right.” 

It makes me question how many times I’ve said no to something/someone/some experience for fear of not being good enough and looking bad.

I didn’t go to my first yoga class until I had been practicing a few months. What else have I put off for fear of looking like I don’t know what I’m doing?

This is such a nonsensical story that our brain makes up to protect us from getting hurt. Just last week I played tennis after not having picked up a racket for 2 weeks. I played awful. My feet seemed stuck to the court. My timing was off.

My form was awful. I was baaaaaaad. It doesn’t matter. I’m playing again this week. If I’m bad, so be it. I’m not going to be a better tennis player until I’m a bad one. 

What are you holding off on doing because you feel like you need to be good/have more experience/be a better person before you attempt it? Are you putting off having a relationship? Or are you talking yourself out of a career change? Or maybe you’re dragging your feet on going to that yoga class? 

I’d like to offer up a new way of looking at this: now is the perfect time to start that relationship or change your career or go to that yoga class or try that new thing that’s been in the back of your mind for years or whatever.

You are enough right now, as you are, to do whatever it is you want to do. And now for the best part: I give you permission to be bad at whatever it is you’re wanting to do.

It’s okay to not know what you’re doing. Looking foolish isn’t the end of the world. Making mistakes and falling down is allowed and encouraged. 

It’s not just about not going to a yoga class because you don’t feel experienced enough to keep up. It’s about not participating fully in life because you feel like you’re not enough.

Trust me on this one — you ARE. In fact, you’re more than enough to do whatever it is you want to do right now.