Music for Your Yoga Practice

When I’m planning a yoga class or private session, one of the biggest and often most overlooked pieces to consider is the music. Do I play music? What kind of music should I play? Should it be soothing, calming? Should it be groovy, danceable? These are all questions that run through my head when I’m planning to teach yoga. It can often be just as important as the sequence being taught. Music can set the tone for a yoga session, creating an upbeat environment or creating a quiet, calm space.

So, what’s the answer?

Well…it depends.

There are so many factors at play when it comes to planning the type of music, if any, to add to a yoga session. What kind of yoga are you teaching? What’s the make up of the class? What’s your mood or the mood of the student/students?

Ultimately, my plan is always to have a couple options at hand. Usually, I ask the student or group of students if they would be okay with music being played during the class. Then, before playing the music, I do a check in. This helps me determine if more upbeat, active music is appropriate or if calming music is better fit.

No matter what type of music I start with, I always always always end the class with a calming song. I believe its always best to have a calming, soothing song during savasana (corpse pose). This will definitely help with the release, the whole point of the pose.

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A great, though pricey, option is to have headphones for the students. You can have a couple different playlists available so the student can choose what they want to listen to. Be sure to connect a microphone to the headphones via Bluetooth so that the students can still hear your instructions.

I’ve been to many different classes with many types of music playing and it all works. Go with your gut when picking out music for your class. You will set the tone for the class and the class will follow your lead.

Pose Breakdown: Vajrasana (Thunderbolt) vs. Virasana (Hero)

Two poses that often get confused or interchanged are vajrasana (thunderbolt pose) and virasana (hero pose).

Both poses are seated postures, often used during meditation before or after a yoga asana practice. These postures are also good to use during pranayama practice.

The picture on the left is vajrasana and the picture on the right is virasana.

Image result for vajrasana                                  Image result for virasana

As you can see, the two poses look very alike. Generally, your body is in a similar position. The main difference, however, is where the feet are. In vajrasana, you are sitting on the heels of your feet. In virasana, you are sitting between your feet. The subtle difference changes the elevation of your hips.

The benefits of the two poses are pretty much the same, the elevation of the hips however may cause more or less comfort. Similarly, sitting on the heels or between the heels may depend on the comfort level of the yogi.

Ultimately, whichever posture you chose, you will benefit. Whether you use this posture for meditation, pranayama, or simply as a break between yoga asana, you will find it to be a great posture for your feet and thighs. It also helps create awareness of posture.

Finding Your Yoga

One of the questions I am asked most often is “which yoga is the best?”

I always respond the same way, it depends.

The type of yoga that is “best” depends on so many factors. It depends on the person practicing, it depends on the mood of the person, it can even depend on the time of day the person is practicing.

Here are a few things to ask yourself when looking for a “type*” of yoga to best suit you.

  1. What do I want to focus on with this yoga practice?
  2. What do I want to feel after this yoga practice?
  3. What is my primary reason for participating in this yoga practice?

These questions will give you a sense of what you’re looking for out of a yoga class and help guide you to specific types of yoga classes.

Here are a few popular types of classes available in most areas:

Hatha Yoga

This is basically the source of all yoga. It generally encompasses all practices of yoga. It is were most yoga practices stem from, from the asana (pose) sequence as well as pranayama (breath) practice.

Vinyasa Flow Yoga

This type of yoga is very much the typical yoga people think of. It’s very fluid, moving from one pose to another in line with the breath. You breathe in with one pose and out with another. This can fluctuate in intensity, from power yoga which is usually very active, fast paced, and builds strength, to Ashtanga, which holds a bit longer in each pose.

Yin Yoga

This type of yoga is slow paced, holding poses for long period of time (can be anywhere from 2 to 5 minutes).

Kundalini Yoga

This type of yoga blends together spiritual practice with asana. This practice incorporates movement with breath as well as chanting specific mantras. The goal is to increase consciousness as well as improving vitality.

Bikram Yoga

This type of yoga uses the same 26 poses in the same sequence. It stemmed from hatha yoga practice, joining movement with breath. Generally, Bikram Yoga is practiced in a hot room for 90 minutes.

There are many other types of yoga out there. I always recommend new yogis try different types of classes as well as different teachers. You may find you like the style, but a different teacher can really change the outcome of the class. Ultimately, like I said, the style of yoga depends on a lot of factors. The best thing one can do as a new yoga student is to be a YES, be open to the possibility of the class. You never know what you’ll find.

 

*(Note: I do not subscribe to types of yoga, for me its all about the sequence that is put together, not the name given to a sequence or flow)

A Yoga Sequence for the Feminine

In honor of International Women’s Day, I wanted to share a sequence that is often used to specifically honor the feminine within. Now, this doesn’t mean that men can’t do this sequence. On the contrary, I believe this sequence can and will help anyone, whether its to honor the feminine or just as an alternative sequence.

Traditionally, it is called the Moon Salutation. One can consider it the sequence to honor the moon, like the Sun Salutations are used to honor the sun and fire within.

Image result for moon salutation

Here is are the poses (pictured above) that make up the Moon Salutation Sequence. (Note, this is one variation of Moon Salutation. Many more variations can be found online.)

Standing Mountain Pose — Tadasana

Upward Salute Side Bend/Half Moon — Urdhva Hastasana

Goddess Squat — Utkata Konasana

Star Pose

Extended Triangle Pose — Utthita Trikonasana

Pyramid Pose — Parsvottanasana

Low Crescent Lunge — Anjaneyasana

Low Side Lunge

Garland Pose — Malasana

Low Side Lunge

Low Crescent Lunge — Anjaneyasana

Pyramid Pose — Parsvottanasana

Extended Triangle Pose — Utthita Trikonasana

Star Pose

Goddess Squat — Utkata Konasana

Upward Salute Side Bend/Half Moon — Urdhva Hastasana

Standing Mountain Pose — Tadasana

This sequence can be done any time of day. Morning or evening, when the sun in shining or the moon is beaming, the Moon Salutation sequence can be incorporated in any yoga sequence.

Go forth! Honor the feminine within!

Happy International Women’s Day!

Yoga & Self-Love

Putting yourself first is often seen a negative, selfish. Altruism, or selflessly putting others before yourself is often rewarded and praised.

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So how do we take care of ourselves while still taking care of others? Those of us who have careers in public service or non-profit can understand the risk of burnout. Constantly giving ourselves to others can be quite exhausting and often takes a toll on our wellbeing. So what do we do?

Spoiler alert…yoga can help!

One of the key principles of yoga is the increase self-awareness, to promote self-realization. Once we are more aware of ourselves in terms of our feelings, our thoughts, etc, we can understand how external events or situations affect us. We can then cultivate better means to deal with situations which may later lead to burn out.

This is self-care. By engaging in regular self-care, we can allow ourselves to become the best possible versions of ourselves. This will allow us to continue serving others without as high as risk of burnout. By engaging in self-care, you aren’t saying that you matter more than anyone else…in fact its quite the opposite. Self-care suggests you simply want to make yourself better to help others more effectively.

Consider this: You wake up Monday morning after a mere four hours of sleep because you were up all night helping your child who was sick. You make breakfast and lunches for the family, then get ready for work. At work, you are helping people too, whether it is fellow staff or customers your company serves. During your lunch hour, you help a co-worker work through a personal problem. After work, you pick up your kids and head home to start dinner.

In this scenario, where is there any time for you to simply be? We are constantly doing, but when are we just being? I assert that if we took just a few moments each day to practice self-awareness, we would be less stressed and overwhelmed throughout the day. Even if its a simple five minute break, where we acknowledge our feelings and just allow them to be. There doesn’t need to be a solution at the end of this time, but awareness of the self promotes peace and tranquility, ultimately the ability to accept things as they are. This is key in self-care. By accepting yourself as you are, by admitting what you can do and what you can’t and accepting that…you can then truly serve others to the best of your abilities, whether it is family, friends, or in your career.

So…let’s get out there and practice some self-love!

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Pose Breakdown: Tadasana (Mountain Pose)

Let’s breakdown a pose that is fairly standard in most yoga practices: Tadasana (Mountain Pose)

First and foremost, there are many ways to do this pose and for each person it is going to look and feel different. That’s OKAY!

Here are two basic versions of Tadasana:

Image result for mountain pose

The basic aspects of Tadasana are:

  • keep full contact of both feet on the ground
  • straighten legs
  • firm thigh muscles (squeeze them together)
  • bring belly in and up (engage core)
  • straighten back
  • relax shoulders (keep them down/away from neck)
  • keep gaze straight ahead (keep your focus, drishti, on something immobile)
  • keep breathing deeply, slowly
  • hands can be open, at sides or in prayer at the heart
  • feet can be together, touching or about hips width distance

Tadasana is a great pose for standing meditations or beginning a yoga practice. It can help bring focus to the mind, allowing you to feel grounded and present. These are important aspects to begin a yoga practice.

Tadasana also can encourage feelings of strength. Here’s a fun experiment to do with a friend. Stand completely relaxed, muscles and feet loose. Allow your friend to gently push you. Did you move or shift position? Now, come to Tadasana. Stand firm, grounded with muscles engaged. Now, again, allow your friend to gently push you. Did you move or shift position? In most cases, the invocation of Tadasana provides stability and strength, which leads to minimal movement when touched. Translated off the mat, being grounded and feeling strong can allow us to remain steadfast when presented with adversity!

Some other benefits of Tadasana:

  • improves posture
  • unifies body and mind
  • promotes better blood circulation
  • promotes lengthening of the spine

Enjoy practicing Tadasana and see how it changes when you’re more aware of your body!

 

Drugs, Alcohol, and Yoga

There seems to be a growing trend in yoga classes and yoga studios to add either drugs or alcohol to the yoga practice. I have recently seen stories of “Ganja Yoga” and “Beer Yoga” classes popping up across the country and all over the world. There seems to be this idea that having a high takes yoga to another level.

Image result for ganja yoga

I have to say, I don’t know if I’d agree. While I admit, I haven’t tried doing yoga while being in any form of mind-altered state, I can’t conceptually see the benefit to it. From my understanding, these substances are meant to take you out of yourself, take you away from the things in your mind that keep you rooted and grounded. These are forms of escape from your life. While yes, some people use yoga as a temporary escape, the true purpose of yoga is to unify yourself with yourself. Yoga is used, more often than not, to keep one grounded and centered. In the Yoga for Recovery training, we used yoga to embrace the feelings, good or bad, that came up during the practice. THAT’S THE POINT! Yoga literally translates to union…union of all parts of the self, mind-body-soul. I just don’t see how dissociating these things can really align with the traditions of yoga, any type of yoga.

Image result for beer yoga

Now, maybe these substances are being used to help the body relax so that it can get into the poses during the asana practice. Maybe these substances help individuals with any anxiety or pressure they feel from being in a yoga class. I’m certain individuals who participate in these yoga sessions can come up with their own reasons and defenses. To that I say, to each his or her own. I can’t say that these classes are right or wrong. Honestly, if you want to try it, maybe it’s the fun thing that gets you into the yoga studio. In my humble opinion, I don’t think its for me. I know I can’t knock it until I try it, so I won’t completely knock it, but I don’t know if I’d ever want to try it.

*Please note, the statements above are 100% my opinion and do not reflect any stance taken by any other contributors to this blog or any classes mentioned above.

 

Yoga Festivals

Image result for san diego yoga festival

At the end of January, I was honored to participate in the first ever San Diego Yoga Festival. When I found out this festival was taking place, I wondered where else I could find yoga festivals. I found a website (YogaFestival.com) that has a very concise list of yoga festivals taking place all around the world.

yogafestivals

Yoga festivals are great for exploring different types of yoga as well as yoga in different atmospheres. Most yoga festivals have outdoor and indoor classes as well as different types of yoga. The San Diego Yoga Festival even had non-yoga activities like surfing and aikido.

Yoga festivals are also great for meeting people. You can really make connections when you’re surrounded by like minded people. Generally most yogis agree on many things, on many issues, so if you’re looking to meet people and you are also interested in learning more about yoga, a festival just may be the ticket.

Yoga festivals aren’t just for the veteran yogi. They are great for beginners, teachers, and pretty much anyone with any form of interest in yoga. They range in price from inexpensive to really expensive (especially the international ones). They also range in time. Some yoga festivals are one day while others span a whole week.

Check out the list and see if there’s one that seems right for you! It may be just the thing you need to dive even deeper into your yoga practice.

Yoga Revolution

Throughout the month of January, I participated in the 31 Days of Yoga Revolution with Adriene (Yoga with Adriene). I’ve done many different types of challenges like this at various times of the year, but I have to say this one may be my favorite. Most of the challenges I’ve done in the past have been short term, somewhere between 5-10 days. Last fall I did a long challenge, 30 days, but it wasn’t what I expected.

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I went into this new challenge with an open mind and an open heart. I didn’t want to bring any past experiences into this challenge, so I took the new year as a reset and a restart. I figured this challenge would be a great way to kick start a new year and really make a solid attempt to do 365 days of yoga!

Each day, a short 25-35 minute yoga video was sent via email. It was accompanied by an often very long, but very thoughtful and thought-provoking text. So many mornings, when I was too tired to think about practicing, I would read the email and it would reinvigorate me, help me reaffirm this challenge and my goals for my life. The first email also included this calendar, allowing me (and the other yogis) to see what lay ahead.

yogarevolution

Some of the practice titles looked daunting, I will admit. I will also admit that some days I wasn’t 100%. I did most of the sessions in the morning, before starting my day. Some days I really did not want to practice for 35 minutes. Some days I just wanted to do my own thing…AND THAT’S OKAY! The point is, I stuck to it. Each day, no matter how I felt or what mood I was in, I went to my mat and gave myself up to the practice.

THAT, MY FRIENDS, IS WHAT YOGA IS ALL ABOUT!

Some practices were tough. Some were easy. All were EXACTLY WHAT I NEEDED.

Ultimately, yoga is what you make it. It can help you become the best version of you possible. It can help empower you to take that step towards your career or life goals. Or it can simply be a way for you to get away and be calm.

I highly recommend this 31 Days of Yoga Revolution. You can find the entire challenge on YouTube (31 Days of Yoga Revolution). Adriene also has various other challenges, like Yoga Camp (Yoga Camp). Even if you simply review her YouTube videos and pick and choose which ones you want to do, they are a great way to get started with yoga and to really become more serious about your practice. Adriene also has many instructional videos on specific poses which is great for beginners and advanced yogis (sometimes we need a reminder to prevent injuries).

Here’s to finding what feels good in 2017. Heyyyoooooooo!

Yoga with Animals

Goat Yoga. Bunny Yoga. Cat Yoga.

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The news headlines have been recently saturated with stories of yoga with different types of animals. So what are the benefits of doing yoga with animals?

Animals are often seen as companions. They can provide calm when we are stressed and provide comfort when we are lonely or sad. In a yoga class, animals can provide a sense of comfort and distraction. Many people feel overwhelmed or intimidated when in a yoga studio class. Looking around, it’s almost natural to compare ourselves to others in the class. With the addition of animals, one can be distracted from those feelings by focusing on the animals.

Image result for goat yoga

Distraction can also be a negative side-effect of doing yoga with animals. The main purpose of yoga is to bring yourself into the present moment, to focus on the sensations of the body and the feelings within. Having animals roaming around the studio (or farm) can take away from that “being present” mindset. It can also distract you from focusing on your breath or on specific poses in the asana practice.

Either way, yoga with animals in on the incline. Studios across the country are beginning to offer classes with “social” animals and the reviews are more positive than negative. Maybe yoga with animals helps increase awareness, as you are having to focus on your yoga practice and try not to be distracted by the cute, fluffy bunnies. Maybe it’ll help to focus on the sounds and smells of the farm while the goats are chewing on their grass. Ultimately, yoga is what YOU make it, so give yoga with animals a go! Who knows, it may be the purrrrrrfect practice for you.

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