Finding your yoga home

Some of the obstacles to getting started in yoga is not knowing what type of yoga is right for you. There are many different styles of yoga and sometimes the best way to find out if you like something or not is to try it for yourself.

Yogitastic with her mat

But just to help you along, below are brief descriptions of the most popular yoga styles in the U.S.:

Ashtanga – In this style there are six established (and strenuous) pose sequences. Meaning there’s a series 1, series 2, etc. Yogis move rapidly from one pose to another, combined with deep, controlled breathing. Also referred to as power yoga.

Hatha – All yoga poses are considered hatha but more popularly when referring to a type of class it means it is slower-paced, gentle and focused on breathing and meditation.

Bikram – Created by Bikram Choudhury. This style is a series of 26 poses (each performed twice) in a nearly 105º room with 40% humidity.

Hot yoga – This style is similar to Bikram only in that the room is warmer than your average room but only from 85º to 95º. The lower temperature is more manageable while still benefitting from the warm room which helps with flexibility.

Iyengar – Founded by B.K.S. Iyengar. This form of yoga focuses on precise alignment and deliberate sequencing. Props are used in this class to helps students to get into the right position.

Anusara – Created by John Friend (who is awesome, by the way). This style of yoga also focuses on precise alignment like Iyengar but taps into the more spiritual (and fun) aspects of yoga. Expect a lot of “heart-opening” poses like backbends.

Jivamukti – Created by Sharon Gannon and David Life. A typical class includes a theme, some chanting and references to ancient scripture weaved into the physical practice. It is rooted heavily in yoga philosophy and traditions.

Kundalini – This practice is intended to release the kundalini (serpent) energy of the root chakra (area around your lower spine). Movements are intense and with a lot of work on core. There is also a lot of sitting. This one thoroughly kicked my butt.

Restorative – This style of yoga is heaven on earth. The poses for this class focus more towards relaxation. Props like blankets, bolsters and eye pillows help yogis to sink into their breath and let go. Stressed out? This is the yoga practice for you.

Vinyasa – My favorite style of yoga. Also commonly known as flow, like ashtanga, yogis rapidly flow from one pose to the next with attention to the breath. Most vinyasa classes are taught with music. (And I love that!)

Yin – This practice involve more passive stretches held for longer periods of time (read: not a cake walk). For those people (like me) who have a more fiery practice, this style of yoga is the perfect balance to cool down with.

Sometimes you’ll see a class labeled Yoga I/II. If the studio isn’t clearly affiliated with a style of yoga, it probably means that the teacher combines or blends several teaching styles in her classes. If you have never tried yoga, it’s best to start at Yoga I. As you improve, then you can move up to Yoga II then Yoga III.

I hope this helps get you on your yoga journey. If you have any questions, please let me know!

P.S. I teach a Yoga I/II class every Thursday at 7:00 PM in Silver Spring. I mix different styles of yoga and share a theme with my students. Questions and requests for clarification are always welcome. Come and join me next time!

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How to have a good day

We wake up every morning – some days feeling like P-Diddy (couldn’t resist) – not really knowing how our day will go. Prepared for the worst but hoping for the best. Some days unexpectedly exciting things happen and other days cat videos are the highlight. But there are a few things you can do to help yourself along to a good day.

Cat and Egg

  • Give yourself plenty of time to get ready in the morning. Even if it means 10 minutes less of sleep.
  • Wear clothes that make you feel good. Not too tight. Not too loose. Clothes that are just right.
  • If you have a crappy commute to work, expect that it will be crappy and stop fighting it. Put on some music instead or bring a book with you.
  • Make a to-do list. Then attack it. Maybe celebrating every time you check an item off of the list.
  • Get up from your chair and chat up a co-worker about something non-work-related.
  • Play your favorite songs. You know, the one you can’t help but sing along to or tap your foot to.
  • Do something nice for someone. No need to be extravagant. Just a random act of kindness.
  • Drink lots of water. Coffee and soda don’t count.
  • Have lunch away from your desk. (Even if it means sneaking into an empty conference room).
  • Get some sunlight. (Pull your chair right up to that window).
  • Give someone a hug. (Preferably not a stranger on the Metro).
  • Try not to dwell on or rehash unpleasant events from your day or the day before.
  • Read or watch something funny.
  • Tell someone how much you love and appreciate him/her.
  • Do yoga. (Duh)

These are just some suggestions. Maybe an impromptu dance party will dispel cranky thoughts or an ice-cold glass of something. It doesn’t matter. What’s important is that you not get mired in the muck of your day. Break away from your train of thought and give yourself some space to breathe. We don’t have complete control over our day-to-day but since spending our days hiding under our covers isn’t an option, I suggest you try any of the items above.

What do you do to make it a good day?

Photo via Flickr (Creative Commons) by Mar O.olmL.

Resisting change

I am a creature of habit. I find a lot of comfort in routine. I try to sit in the same place in my yoga classes. I like to order the same dishes in my favorite restaurants. Every night, I change into my PJs, take my vitamins then take out my contact lenses. In that order. Every time.

I also drive the same route to and from work everyday. It is a short cut through back roads that shaves about five minutes off of my commute. But on Friday, I noticed a few new signs on my way home. Access during rush hour has been restricted on the roads I was using! I could no longer drive that way to work. I would have to use the already heavily congested main roads!

AND I SAW RED!!!!!

Do Not Enter Sign

“What the hell? Why would they do that? So that a few of the more affluent people in the neighborhood could walk their precious ugly little dogs in peace? We live in a CITY. If you want quiet suburban roads, then move out! You don’t get to choose who does and doesn’t use your streets. I pay taxes in this county, too!” (Pepper it with a few choice expletives and you come pretty close to what I really said).

AND IT JUST GOT UNDER MY SKIN… That night I couldn’t focus, couldn’t relax into my weekend, couldn’t stop talking about it… I slept poorly… In fact, I slept poorly all weekend! Every time I thought about it, I got upset all over again. Who the hell did these people think they were?!? Evil thoughts were running through my head like egging houses in that neighborhood. Or hoping they all got robbed. This feeling sat like a brick in the bottom of my heart and it weighed me down.

This morning, I headed to work and took a different route. It was as annoying as I thought it would be. But I got to work and got a sweet parking space. There was no apocalypse. Dead puppies and unicorns didn’t litter the streets. Nothing had changed for anyone else. And I got to work just fine. A little later but just fine.

I tortured myself all weekend over this thing that wasn’t personal. And over something that I could not change. Something I could simply adapt to. But I resisted it as hard as I could… to my detriment and to no one’s benefit. And I paid the price… I needlessly suffered instead of adapting to the change.

So the next time you run up against something that is or will disrupt your life, ask yourself and answer the following questions:

1. What is it about this change that bothers me?

2. Can I do something about it? (Like write my representative?)

3. How can I integrate this change into my life?

Then take a deeeeeeep breath and play Bobby McFerrin’s “Don’t Worry Be Happy.”

The more quickly you go through the process by answering these questions, doing what can be done and accepting the change, the more quickly things can become smooth again. I am not suggesting you turn yourself into a doormat but some suffering stems from resisting change that we cannot do anything about. And there is no purpose to that kind of suffering.

Now, it’s your turn: How do YOU adapt to change?

6 tips on getting the most out of your yoga practice

Your yoga practice is called that because – duh – it requires practice! It also takes work, commitment and dedication. You will be elated by your good days and you will have to persevere through your bad days. You will learn and re-learn things. You will discover truths about yourself.

Each time you step on your mat will be a complete and unique experience. Your yoga teacher plays a role in what happens during class but, more importantly, YOU play a role in your yoga experience.

Think about it – after a particularly heinous day, you get on your mat thinking you’re going to “yoga this day right out of your hair” but then you hold on to your unpleasant thoughts… Does your practice then feel a little lacking? Do you feel as frustrated as when you started? Do you feel like you just wasted your time?

Below are some tips on how you can make the most of yoga each and every time you step on your mat:

  • Be patient. Strong poses take time. It will come.
  • Stay present. Mindfulness increases awareness of your body. It will not only help you fly in your poses but also prevent injuries.
  • Release your expectations. Don’t start with the goal of successfully holding a difficult pose. Allow your body to guide you and don’t be too hard on yourself.
  • Do not multi-task. Set aside your to-do list or what lies ahead of you. Focus on the one thing that you are doing. You will be better at listening to the needs of your body.
  • Ignore your peers. You are on a different point in your yoga journey than your fellow yogis. Turn your blinders on and focus.
  • Breathe. When you are straining, you tend to hold your breath. When you hold your breath, your muscles tighten up instead of expanding and this will hamper your flexibility.

I know… You’re thinking… It can’t be that easy?!? Trust me. It isn’t. In an age where multi-tasking is king not letting our mind go “SQUIRREL!” is a hard task. Rather than talking to yourself as you flow from one pose to the next let your mind go blank. Then come back here and tell me how it went.

Good luck!

Never say never

I am not a quitter.

I am opposed to the idea of all or nothing.

I believe in MODERATION.

Even when we’re talking about bad habits. After all, everyone has one (or, in my case, five…… thousand).

One of them was my dependency on soda. A can of soda first thing in the morning and last thing at night. I was having about 3 to 5 a day. It was my pick-me-up, my panacea, my crutch… If I didn’t get any, I would get cranky — okay, MORE cranky.

Finally, two years ago – after much nagging by family and friends – I made the bold decision to cut out soda from my life. I was getting older, gaining weight, my sleeping pattern was wacky and I was not bouncing back as quickly from the abuse I was giving my body.

At the beginning, I kept failing at it. I was sneaking it in when no one was around. I would lie if anyone asked if I had had any soda. Then I’d be plagued with guilt and shame. I felt pretty pathetic. And I really thought I couldn’t do it. That I was doomed to age badly with osteoporosis.

But then a friend pointed out that if drinking soda was one of the worst things I was doing to myself then maybe I just need to relax – to quit being so hard on myself. There were worse things I could be doing. And so I thought, “What if I just cut back instead?” A little soda wasn’t bad. It was that I was drinking it like water. Suddenly a gigantic eco-friendly light bulb went off in my head!

So when I said cut out I didn’t mean never ever. And it’s that distinction that has allowed me to dramatically cut down on my soda intake. I went from having soda every single day to once a month – if that.

The key has been not saying NEVER. Allowing myself to have it on very rare occasions has made avoiding it so much easier. It’s not draining on my self-control and I feel a lot happier. It’s a little way of tricking myself but it has made all the difference.

And when I “slip” I’m a lot kinder to myself. There’s no beating myself up. There’s no disappointment. There’s no feeling of failure. There are no late night soda benders – where I’m up all night and I wallow in self-recrimination the next day. Because no one’s perfect. I would love to tell you that as a yogi I eat well and do well all the time but that couldn’t be farther from the truth. By taking the word NEVER out of my vocabulary I am loving myself better. I don’t get as easily derailed and I’m more likely to get back on and start again. To relax, relate and RELEASE!

So write NEVER on a piece of paper, rip it up and throw it away. You can thank me later. I accept cupcakes as a form of payment.

And if you have any tips that you use to stay on track, please let me know! Let’s get some ideas going!

How to start working out

So you got yourself a gym  membership, a velour tracksuit that J-Lo would be envious of and a new pair of sneakers – now what? I am asked all the time how to start a workout regimen – whether it’s running, weightlifting or yoga. Or even just how to finally get active.

It’s simple and I’ll tell you how. Just send me three payments of $9.99…

Just kidding.

You start by walking – literally. Take a walk outside or on a treadmill… Just walk. For a mile or three. Whatever you can do. Try that for a week. The week after walk a little farther or walk a little faster. Maybe add in some run/walk/gallop combination. If the weather is nice, go for a nice long hike.

If you joined a gym, try a group fitness class.

Most gyms have a weightlifting class or a sculpting class that can accommodate all levels of fitness. That is where I started. Instructors were able to tell me how much weight to use and kept an eye on my form to make sure I wasn’t hurting myself. (At the beginning, senior citizens were lifting twice as much weight as I was but I made myself feel better by moving my bench as far away from them as possible – bunch of overachievers.) 😉  I tried every single group fitness class that was offered – including Zumba – I felt both fabulous and ridiculous. (Did you know that laughing at yourself also burns calories?)

From there you figure out the activities you enjoy – what motivates you, keeps you challenged and more importantly keeps you coming back. Once it’s in your blood it’s fairly easy to delve into other activities like kayaking, hiking, rock wall climbing or long bike rides.

Here are a few tips you can try:

5k Running Machine

1.  Tag along with an already active friend (i.e. let her drag you to something you never thought you’d do).

2.  If running is your chosen drug, register for a 5k race. There’s nothing like a definable goal to keep you motivated.

3.  Sign up for a challenge. (Like the Burpee Challenge starting tomorrow!)

4.  Rope a friend in. Hopefully you’ll keep each other going.

5.  Start simply and build. Don’t allow yourself to take on too much. You start small and get stronger every day.

Ultimately, being active will become a way of life – something you want to do rather than something you have to do. But the beginning is really as simple as walking out of your front door.

So what are you waiting for?

Jump into YOUR first yoga class

Okay, you’ve heard all of the talk. Your cool friends are doing it… (And by cool I mean the ones who bathe regularly.) And now you’re ready to try yoga AT LAST.

Now what?

First, decide on which studio you’d like to try out. Preferably one that you’ll keep going to if all goes well. A lot of studios have a new customer special so no commitment necessary at this time. Perhaps go with a friend to his regular studio.

Second, decide which beginner’s class to take. Talk to the people who run the studio. They can match you up with a class and instructor who will fit your needs and your schedule.

Third, show up.

Well, okay. Here’s a bit more information:

  • Wear clothing that isn’t too baggy. It’ll be important for the instructor to see your form and make sure you’re aligned to prevent injury.
  • Bring a mat, a towel and a bottle of water. Most studios have mats you can borrow if you don’t have one.
  • Arrive early. Give yourself time to let the instructor know that you are new. Let him know of any injuries you may have so that he can show you options.
  • Clear your mind. Focus on the moment. And throw out any ideas that other people in the room are judging you. That couldn’t be farther from the truth.

There are plenty of types of yoga out there and each instructor has his own style. Don’t try one and then give up. Try a few different classes. You’ll find your home soon enough.

If you have a yoga studio/instructor you would like to recommend, please feel free to drop it into the comments section. I would love to be able to share it with others and not just in the DC area.