Sharing the light series: Meet CAROLINE DOBUZINSKIS!

Headshot of Caroline D.I stumbled into Caroline’s Power Yoga class, completely freaked and embarrassed that I was late. I HATE being late. Caroline smiled warmly at me and kindly made space for me in her class. My relief was short-lived, however, when she gently but firmly reminded her students of the strength and attention needed in a POWER yoga class by guiding us through a flowing series of postures designed to generate a lot of heat. Instead of fretting over being late, I was now desperately wishing I had grabbed a towel on my way in. But I also noticed that despite all the work, Caroline never lost the feeling of effortlessness within the poses – reminding me that my job was to find ease amidst the difficult poses. She was encouraging without being pushy. It was no surprise that despite the sweating and fatigue all of her students walked out of her class with a smile on their faces. Savasana had never felt so good!

Whether you’re a seasoned yogi or a beginner, I highly recommend a class with Caroline. She teaches several different classes from Yoga 1/2 to Power Yoga – whatever your body may be needing at the time.

Online, you can find Caroline on Twitter (@CarolineDinDC) and learn more about her on her blog. But if you would like to take one of her wonderful classes, you can find her at Yoga District!

1. How did you find your way to yoga?

I actually love thinking about my first introduction to practicing yoga because it was before yoga studios were as common as they are today (Gosh, I must be old). When I was in high school, I had a friend who was curious about trying yoga. I figured it would be good for me too because I was doing a lot of dance training at the time. We took classes at the local recreation center in my hometown of North Vancouver. The teacher must have been in her late 70s and taught hatha yoga. The kicker is that her name was Om.

It was a lot of legs up the wall and basic poses, and was really enjoyable and relaxing (we were definitely the youngest ones in there). The biggest challenge that I found was to not to have my feet and knees turned out because I was so used to doing that in ballet. I enjoyed working those different muscles and just being still. The atmosphere was also very different from what I had experienced in dance classes which I found refreshing.

2. How would you describe your teaching style?

I am a very welcoming and open teacher. If you have a question, ask and I will Picture of Caroline D.take the time to answer. I like to be tuned into my students to see if they are getting what they like out of the class. But I also like to provide an experience that goes beyond what a student might expect. I teach flow and power style classes with a short meditation at the end. Usually, there is a theme that I have been thinking about in my own practice and meditation (such as self-acceptance, compassion, mindfulness) that will run through the class.

Also, sometimes I try to be funny. It’s hit or miss on that one.

3. What is your go-to stress fighting technique?

A hot bath, some tea, and Saturday Night Live on Hulu. Love me some SNL!

4. Describe your perfect day.

It would have to happen back home in Vancouver: a morning hike up a mountain, a bit of yoga, then hanging with friends and family (maybe even a glass of wine at the beach).

5. Your last meal would be?

Thai food. Lots and lots of Thai food–rolls, curries, and Thai iced coffee. Then sticky mango rice at the end. Mmmmmmm….

6. Best advice you can give someone would be?

Love yourself. Plain and simple.

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PSA: Beware the yoga voice!

This is a public service announcement!

Caution Tape

At some point during your practice, you have been subjected to “yoga voice.”

It comes in the form of a well-meaning yoga teacher who, in attempting to create a certain atmosphere, will use a heavily affected, drawn out, sing-song tone during class. It may go something like this…

“And you raiiiiiiiiiiise your arms aaaaaaaaaaall the way up to the ceiling…
Reeeeeeeeeeeaching as faaaaaaaaar as your fingertips will go.
Exhaling slooooooooowly as you continue to streeeeeeeeeeeetch as far as you can goooooooooo…” While cooing reassurances all the way.

You get the idea. It drives me nuts… and to distraction.

Why would a perfectly good teacher feel the need to put on a performance like that? Just last week, I had the displeasure of being taught by a yoga voice-using teacher. There is no way she talks like that in the “real world.” Her sequence of poses were fine but I couldn’t focus because I was wondering how bad yoga voice happens to good teachers.

Don’t get me wrong. I wish I could be and sound like the gatekeeper to Nirvana but it just ain’t happening. That’s not who I am. Yoga voice smacks of insincerity. Your knowledge of yoga, your carefully chosen words and the sequence of poses you put together is all your students need to create their own internal yoga practice. A little incense, essential oil or soft music might be nice but mostly just you in all your authentic glory. Just like you don’t need an expensive yoga studio or mat to make beautiful yoga happen, you don’t need an affected voice to inspire your students.

I have run into a few yoga teachers who use this alternate voice to teach. I don’t know where they learned it or who encouraged them to do it. But it isn’t necessary. If you don’t speak that way outside of the yoga studio, don’t do it once you’re inside. Voice and tone is important. It sets the tone in the room so that a student knows it’s time to turn his gaze inward, let go of the outside world and begin his practice. But leave the sickly sweet voice out of it. You sound totally ridiculous. I don’t think your students are buying it either.

So my dear beloved fellow teachers, new and old alike, don’t let yourself fall into the trap of using a yoga voice. Our students deserve better than that. You are beautiful and wonderful without adding any affectations to your style.

Namaste.

Photo via Flickr (Creative Commons) by Picture Perfect Pose.

When pride is a good thing…

A few days ago I went surfing for the first time in my life.

I love the ocean… From afar, that is. Getting into the water without the protection of a boat or inflated arm floaties is something I never do. I have always been very afraid of submerging my head under water. Be it in a pool, the ocean or a river, I absolutely hate the sensation of water up my nose and not being able to breathe. In fact, I still pinch my nose and squeeze my eyes shut when dunking my head to get my hair wet.

And so it was with a lot of trepidation that I approached my first ever surfing class. Heart racing. Palms sweaty. Eyes dilated in sheer panic. But I knew I had to do it. It was not a question of whether I would try it but whether I would make it. I am happy to report that the only damages incurred were one lost contact lens, a huge intake of salt water and a bruised right hip.

Floaties

When I tell people about my surfing experience, their instant reaction is to say how impressed and proud they are of me. I would modestly smile and brush it off. But for whatever reason, when my friend, Rachel, told me she was proud of me, something clicked. It occurred to me that though I was hearing people saying this, I had not said it to myself. I had not acknowledged my own good work.

When she drove away, I took a moment and said to myself, “I am proud of me.” And this warm feeling started in my heart, spread out to my arms and legs all the way out to the top of my head and I felt giddy! “Holy crap! I am awesome!” I practically skipped up my driveway!

I had overcome this super scary thing – way out of my comfort zone… When in the past I had let my fears dictate my decisions. I needed to recognize that I am this person who pushes up against her very edges. So I deserved a pat on the back – not from others but from myself. I don’t tell myself enough how proud I am of me. I don’t always make big courageous decisions but I make brave choices all the time. Whether it’s trying a new dish, learning to do something or going up to a complete stranger. I take the harder road when easier ones are available. I continue on when many might have given up.

When I talk about pride, I am not talking about switching teams. I am talking about more than just accepting compliments from others but recognizing all the good things within ourselves and projecting it out to the world. We are good whether or not others see us and shower us with accolades. It is most important that we recognize within ourselves the work we have accomplished, the work we continue to do and the work we WILL accomplish.

So be proud of yourself and let your freak flag fly!

How have you celebrated yourself today?

Photo via Flickr (Creative Commons) by Board Shanty.

Yoga vs. Religion

Do you have to believe in God or a higher being in order to practice yoga?

Newcomers (and maybe not so new ones) delving deeper into yoga often come up against that question. The books that I have been reading assume that a yogi believes in a higher being (at the very least). But we all come from different religious backgrounds. Some of us don’t have a solid definition of God while others are flat-out atheists. So isn’t it a little presumptuous to assume a belief in God? And if I did believe in God, what if my God isn’t the same as your God?

I was raised Roman Catholic (with all the baggage that comes with that). I attended Catholic school for most of my life and even went to a Jesuit college. During college, I was a Eucharistic Minister and I attended and led religious retreats. I was not a religious zealot by any means – I more enjoyed being part of the Catholic community. After college, I removed myself from that community and I only go to midnight mass now because I can’t say no to my mother.

Through yoga I have become exposed to a different spiritual experience. Yoga is rooted in eastern traditions but not necessarily tied to a religious system. Statements like “the universe is conspiring to make your wishes come true,” “humans are intrinsically good beings” and other similar themes are common when talking about the full expression of yoga. But I have to admit that as a yoga practitioner I don’t buy into all of that. I can appreciate the spirit in which it is shared but I have my own beliefs that I am working to refine based on what works for me, my experiences and what I perceive as the truth. And that in no way hinders my practice. I am not less of a yogi.

I asked one of my teachers, “What if I don’t believe in God or a higher being?” And her response was, “Well, whether or not you believe in a higher being, there is something outside of yourself that you are working towards, working for or answering to – be it your family, your dreams or something like that and so even in that context we are not functioning in isolation.” And that made a lot of sense to me within the context of my practice.

So can you continue with your yoga practice while having a completely different belief system?

The answer is a resounding YES!

Ultimately, yoga is  a personal journey and is open and flexible (pun intended) enough to accommodate your religion or lack thereof.

If you are a yogi, I encourage you to learn a little bit more about the history of yoga and its traditions. But don’t be afraid to explore, push boundaries and ask questions. You can ask them here or share your experience with religion and yoga.

Candle Flame

Photo via Flickr (Creative Commons) by Peter Zoon.

Why do you yoga? by Crystal Ellis

I know why I practice yoga. But I wanted to know why others do. Are they the same as mine? What is their story? What can I learn from other people’s experience with yoga?

So I asked the Twitter-verse WHY DO YOU YOGA?

Crystal Ellis (aka YogiCrystal) shared her answer with me. You can check her out on her blog and on Twitter. She’s also on Facebook.

A picture of Yogi Crystal

A couple weeks ago Samantha posted a tweet asking “why do you yoga?” and because I am so passionate about how yoga has helped me, I jumped at the chance to share my story and tell you why I yoga.

I started yoga in January 2008 after much deliberation and critical self talk. I had been in a car accident in 2006 and suffered whiplash/soft tissue damage to my neck and had myself thoroughly convinced that I did not belong in a yoga class.

You see, back in that time I didn’t know anything about yoga and I believed that it was only for the flexible and strong. I had been weakened from the accident and couldn’t touch my toes, so in my mind, I would look like a fool in class. Good thing that a friend of mine had just graduated from teacher training and listened to my story. First thing she told me was that there’s no ego in yoga and most people are doing their own thing, so they don’t really see you. Well, that was enough to get me to my first class and I have been hooked ever since.

I am glad that I had a great teacher from the start that supported me and offered adjustments according to my injury. This helped me gain strength and confidence in my practice and pushed me to never give up. I quickly grew quite interested in yoga philosophy and anatomy and I completed my teacher training in 2009. I believe this helped me gain understanding and awareness on a whole other level that I am extremely grateful for.

I started yoga for injury rehabilitation, but now it has grown into so much more. Pain relief, strength, energy, flexibility, and most of all, peace. Yoga takes me away from the world for just a little bit. Away from the rush, stress, noise and occasional craziness of life. It’s an escape for me, like a mini-getaway. Like most people, my life can be busy and it always feels like I am on the go. I get to stop in yoga. Get to breathe. Get to relax. And these days, it’s so important to have yoga in my life for these reasons and more.

Yoga brings me such a sense of serenity that I can’t imagine my life without it now.

I sometimes laugh at my old self and all those nerves I had about taking a class, because now I am the one helping unsure people get to their first class. I feel great doing yoga, but it also feels amazing sharing this practice with others and seeing how they change and grow.

These are the reasons I yoga, have you thought about yours?

Sharing the light series: Meet LAUREN UBERMAN!

Lauren is a nice person… I don’t mean that in a prosaic “I don’t have anything better to say about her and she’s dull as dishwater” way. I mean that she’s good to people. Really good to people (her students especially).

When I see her I always feel like she’s got a laugh lurking around her smile just dying to get out. And this excited energy permeates her classes and leaves you tired and yet somehow refreshed. Maybe it helps that she doesn’t seem to take herself so seriously.

She was teaching a Yogilates (a yoga and Pilates combination) class at Gold’s Gym when I first met her. Despite the fact that laughing hurt for days after her class because of my abs, I really enjoyed it. She is a great teacher – clear, concise, approachable and obviously loved by her students. Sometimes yoga teachers with all their knowledge can become inaccessible and a little out of touch… But not Lauren. She knows her stuff and more importantly she is willing and able to help you.

Luckily for us all, you can find Lauren’s wonderful classes at Blue Pit Workouts. She has also been known to participate in a few plays in our area. When you see her, tell her I said HI.

1.  How did you find your way to yoga?

I grew up doing ballet and gymnastics but struggled with lower back pain due to mild spinabifita. I always stayed active but was in a lot of pain. I tried yoga and pilates (somewhat out of desperation) and have NEVER looked back!! My back NEVER bothers me anymore and I’ve found that due to my own struggles, I’m better able to help my clients and students with theirs – I can relate. We have to know our limitations before we can expand them. Yoga has definitely expanded mine.

2. How would you describe your teaching style?

Varying. I stay true to Iyengar (of course, from ballet, I’m focused on alignment!) but I go with the energy of the group I’m practicing with each time. I like to ask people what they feel like working on (it’s their class after all!) and incorporate that into our practice, whether it be adding extra hip openers to some Vinyasa or extra planks to Ashtunga. I like to mix it up so that the class doesn’t get bored and it keeps their muscles guessing as to what will come next from week-to-week. No same positions each class here!

3. What is your go-to stress fighting technique?

Deep Breaths. And music. Both can do wonders for your mind, body and mood. Sometimes it’s fun to relax and breathe to “yoga music” then dive into a full practice to Led Zeppelin or Bob Dylan. Whatever helps to keep us, as a class, in the moment, in the room, in the posture and out of our heads! Outside of class, going for long walks (while listening to my iPod), and playing guitar, piano, or ukulele takes my stress away – same principle – being in the moment and not wasting energy with worry.

4. Describe your perfect day.

Perfect Day? California-weather. Blue Skies, sunshine, and some kind of outdoor activity. Follow it up by either jamming with friends or going to watch some great live music. Yeah…nice. 🙂

5. Your last meal would be?

Something spicy. Either mexican or sushi – mmmmmm…… :-p

6. Best advice you can give someone would be?

Embrace your flaws, embrace your strengths. Usually one can help the other. No one has it all together and everyone is trying to figure it out. Cherish what makes you different, but don’t lose your desire to connect to your fellow man (or woman :-p). Take life in, ALL of it – the good and the bad – there is something to be learned in every situation, no matter how small. Other than that, it’s not a competition, encourage each other and be loving and kind, you never know who you may positively effect. It’s worth it. Count your blessings and just keep on keepin’ on. 🙂

Sharing the light series: Meet ANNIE CARLIN

I am always on the look out for good yoga teachers to connect with. On Twitter I have been fortunate to talk with a whole slew of yogis, teachers and like-minded folks. Annie Carlin is one of them. When she invited me to attend one of her classes, I jumped at the chance.

I was uncertain when I walked into the room but Annie’s infectious smile made me feel at ease. Her smile also had an element of mischievousness right at the very tips and I knew I was in for a fun class. I was not disappointed. From her I learned a nifty trick to help me strengthen my full boat pose… And it’s so great that I still get bubbly excited just thinking about it. These are the things you look forward to when teachers take classes from other teachers. The sharing of knowledge and feeling yourself expand right into that new information.

I look forward to many more experiences with beautiful Annie.

You can find out more about Annie here. She was also recently featured in Curvy Yoga.

1. How did you find your way to yoga?

Before I moved to DC five years ago, I lived in New York City my entire life. New York has a zillion yoga studios, but during college, one of my roommates told me I had to try a free class at a yoga studio a couple of blocks from where we lived. Though that first class kicked my butt and I felt like I would faint at any minute, something obviously spoke to me. When I moved back to Brooklyn after college, I found a studio I loved and was soon practicing almost everyday. To say that changed my life would be an understatement. Moving to DC was rough – but since then, I’ve become a yoga teacher myself and can pay forward the experiences I’ve had.

2. How would you describe your yoga teaching style?

So I’m a Prajna Inspired teacher – i.e. certified at 200 hours by Prajna Yoga out in New Mexico. The style incorporates asana principles from ashtanga and iyengar yoga with detailed anatomy instruction and wisdom from the buddhist traditions.

I teach a hybrid of flow and longer holds, and specialize in modifications for every body including working around injuries and other physical issues. I sometimes call what I teach what I call supportive yoga – yoga that incorporates props and modifications for folks who might not feel comfortable in a typical yoga class. I’ve done both a very physical and necessarily therapeutic practice at various times in the past ten years so I can adapt for students of all levels and needs. My current regular class is specifically for those who live in larger bodies, but I teach general classes quite often as well (as you saw this weekend)!

3. What is your go-to stress fighting technique?

Yoga certainly is up there, but I read somewhere once that singing was a great way to relieve the symptoms of stress because it forces you to regulate your breathing naturally. Since I love to sing anyway, it works especially well for me. My neighbors might feel otherwise. 😉

4. Describe your perfect day.

65 degrees, sunny, no humidity…

I tend to wake up early naturally so I’d start the day by walking to the local coffee shop, then I’d hit a farmers market and buy way too many delicious fruits and veggies. I’d spend a couple of hours at a yoga class with a teacher I adore or at a rocking zumba class, and then I would come home and make something amazing with my farmers market purchases. Finally, I’d spend the rest of the day snuggling with my boyfriend and/or chilling with friends.

5. Your last meal would be?

This one is hard! I’m going to say french fries from Cafe Luluc in Brooklyn, a Ray’s Hell Burger and a perfectly ripe plum or three. 🙂

6. Best advice you can give someone else would be?

Don’t miss the process for the outcome and don’t avoid experiences because you don’t know if you will succeed. I wish I always followed this advice myself – I think many mistakes I have made would have been avoided.