Arm Yourself (with Crazy, Strong Asanas)

“Summer’s coming!”

“Spring break, wedding season, and bikini season are right around the corner,” they say. Well, of course, these (rarely helpful) reminders often succeed in turning our attention to our day planners and our post-hiberation bodies. If you’re like me, then your inner monologue usually follows, “So, how much time do I have?” (Time enough to fit in one more weekend of Ben & Jerry’s and red wine indulgence, I hope!)

We can’t avoid all the reminders, and we can’t always hate them either. It’s important – all year round – to evaluate how we’re treating our bodies. But, instead of fueling a love-hate relationship with our bodies by feeling the need to suddenly ‘kick it into shape,’ could it be better (and healthier) to check in with our bodies on our own accord, in an effort to ‘take care’ of ourselves? The holidays bring an equally welcome and dreaded break in our regular schedules and eating habits, and the stress – and cold – of the season eggs on our urge to put on the pounds. (Literally, biologically, our bodies crave the extra fat for added warmth in the colder weather! My favorite excuse for reaching for a few extra Tollhouse cookies on a frigid night…)

Checking in with ourselves, as I discussed in a different context in “No Regrets: A Guide to Managing the Chaos,” is all it takes to stay healthy and happy on a daily, weekly, monthly and seasonal basis. Every day, checking in allows us to notice how our bodies are feeling, what our minds are up to, and consequently, how one might be negatively influencing the other.

For example, recently, I realized that my busy busy mind had been neglecting some physical discomfort and ailments that really deserved closer attention – so, I scheduled a doctor’s appointment. After taking the time to be more present to my body, I also began to notice how my headaches and other symptoms were affecting my focus, and thereby making me cranky and irritable. Not getting enough rest at night (8 hours or more, most nights each week) was also contributing to my negative attitude and my overall mindset. These are examples of how the body and mind are in sync at a very fundamental level, which ultimately affects our day-to-day comfort and productivity. By giving both my mind and my body the attention they deserve, as you would ‘take care’ or check in with a good friend or family member on a consistent basis, you’ll notice it’s much easier to be and stay healthy and happy for as long as you’re willing to stay present.

As I’ve said before and am often reminded, it’s already in you. Don’t bother looking at magazine covers with pictures of a body they’re telling you you should have this summer. Instead, check in with your own body, and treat it well; and you will undoubtedly be the happiest, healthiest, and sexiest you this summer, and always. Physical fitness can and should mean checking in with our body and what it’s really craving, (extra cookies are always okay to have sometimes; and despite your regular gym routine, maybe your body is craving a run outside or an exercise class this week). By paying attention to what the body really needs to be flawlessly in sync with our mental health and well-being, we can find balance and fitness that’s easily sustainable – if it’s approached as a welcome lifestyle shift, rather than a ‘quick’ fix.’ By listening more closely to what we already know (like that voice that tells me when I’m full, before I make the decision to pick up another cookie anyway), we can be our happiest and best selves without the high anxiety and the love-hate relationship. We’ll just keep the love part…

There’s nothing wrong with wanting to look your best when it’s part of wanting to be your best. As much as yoga helps to manage daily mental chaos – of should’s and shouldn’t’s, temptations and remorse – by providing steadiness and clarity with regular practice, yoga also has its physical benefits. For me: I crave healthier, lighter foods because I have a greater awareness of how different foods impact my physical and mental well-being (and equally how I impact my food, through my footprint on the environment). I also am slowly but surely getting into the best shape of my life, effortlessly. Because, I return to my mat for benefits beyond a few push-ups; simply because I’m better (and certainly a better friend, daughter and girlfriend) when I do.

Since I’ve already introduced a few well-rounded basic asanas for home practice in “Happy Holidays! Your Asana Cheatsheet,” I wanted to share a few basic postures that specifically target arms – an area that caused my college girlfriends and I much anguish, as seemingly always “the last part to tone!” – so you can feel confident whatever the new season brings, without needing to master handstand or flying lizard pose to do it.

So…let’s do it.

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ARM YOURSELF with Crazy, Strong Asanas:

All the poses I’ve included below are for beginners, unless noted otherwise. Any beginner posture can be made more challenging by either holding it longer (anywhere from 30 seconds to 5 minutes) or by adding modifications which require additional strength building, as I’ve noted below. My daily practice is a fluid (ever-changing) combination of these postures, which I’ve built upon over time to further challenge myself and engage new muscles in the body. Through repetition, we gain muscle memory – so as we practice more and more frequently, learning to engage our muscles in new ways, our bodies naturally start using these muscles more in our daily lives. For instance, bending over, you might find you engage new muscles in your core, or you might not notice. But over time, your body will change, as it becomes more engaged, stronger, and healthier. This heightened awareness and efficiency of our physical body is called body clairvoyance.

The sequences below are basic techniques that will, at face value, promote greater arm strength and stability. With further practice, however, these postures can also become a full body work-out, enabling you to begin to engage your muscles in new ways and stimulate greater all-day awareness for all-over strength building.

As always, be careful and present in your practice by listening to your body. Every body’s different and, as I’ve learned more and more throughout my studies, not every body is able to do every pose. Don’t judge yourself for what you can or cannot do today, just be present in acknowledging where you are, and set a goal for yourself of where you’d like to go from here. With patience and determination (aka repetition), the form and strength of the posture will come and you’ll be able to embody more and more of the cues I’ve included here. (But likely not at first, so go easy on yourself!)

Click the posture name below for step-by-step instructions and check out my full body cues for an added challenge. Enjoy, and let it flow! 😉

Down Dog Vinyasa Flow

Downward-facing dog
-Widen the fingers of each hand apart from one another, and press the palms firmly into the ground. (This means there should be no gap between the floor and your fingers, particularly where your ring finger meets the palm of each hand.)
– Lift your hips up and press back through your arms, engaging your triceps and keeping a micro (small) bend at the below. Then, gently straighten your knees and engage the backs of your legs (your hamstrings) to lower your heels closer to the ground. Once this is accomplished, you can press firmly through your heels, with equal force pressing through the hands, to engage the calves and enjoy a rock solid down dog. (Go ahead and try me, tsunami – I ‘ain’t budging!)

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High Plank
– Lowering into plank from down dog, extend from your wrist through your shoulder without lifting out of your shoulder socket, by ensuring your arm/the head of the humerus rests securely in the shoulder socket.
– Holding this position, lower your hips and engage your core to maintain a straight spine.
– Flex your feet and push your heels away from you, to lengthen from your hips through your heels. This way, you’re engaging and lifting from the legs away from the ground and away from your upper body.
– Check back in to straighten your spine and engage your upper and lower body muscles, planting firmly into the floor and lengthening away from it in equal opposition for full body strengthening.

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Chaturanga Dandasana
– Slowly lower from high plank to chaturanga by first bending at the elbows and focusing on drawing the elbows in against the sides of the body as you lower. (This is a great example of listening to your body, as some bodies may need to modify by moving the elbows slightly away given their unique skeletal structure.)
– Engage the core, flex your feet and push through the heels to engage your hamstrings and lengthen the legs away from the hips. Set your gaze slightly in front of you to straighten your neck and cervical vertebrae for a straight spine.
– As you build arm strength, you will be able to lower more slowly, hold this posture, and even push back up into high plank for a yogi push-up. Using your breath to guide this movement makes it much easier, by pressing up on a strong, deep inhalation and slowly lowering down with a deep exhale. (Trust me, it helps a lot.)

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Vasisthasana/Side Plank (with advanced modifications)
– The secret to holding this posture is core strength. Lift your hips away from the ground and lengthen the spine. Flex your bum and hamstrings, and lift your lower body up while pushing away through the feet.
– Widen your fingers and press firmly through the hand grounded into the floor. (Remember, the ring finger rule!) Once you’ve found this stability, draw your other arm up and lengthen away from the body, gently pulling your torso in opposite directions. (To start, it’s helpful to rest your arm on your hip to lift into the posture and work towards lengthening through the fingertips, only once you’re firmly grounded and comfortable in the basic posture.)
– *This posture has recently been scientifically proven to reverse sclerosis by practicing for 15 sec.  or more per day on the side with the spinal curvature.

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– Once you’ve mastered side plank in it’s conventional form (above), begin to play with movement and test your strength and stability by trying these variations:

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– Remember to utilize your core by lifting from the hips for stability, and flex the foot using the heel to guide movement of your free leg while strongly engaging the leg muscles. You may rest the foot above or below the knee to hold this posture, but do not rest your foot or put any pressure directly on your inner knee in this posture. 
– Maintaining the opposite force of pressing down and drawing up through the fingers and wrist is also key to maintaining upper body power and stability in this posture.
– Head and neck positioning is really unimportant in this posture, as long as you’re comfortable and not straining or holding tension in these places. Gazing up and through the finger tips is a popular choice for an added balancing challenge.

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– Fully engage your leg and slowly reach your foot up and away from your body through the heel, while maintaining upper body stability.

One-armed dog push-up’s
– Lower from downward-facing dog into a position similar to high plank (except here, it’s okay if your bum sticks up in the air a bit). Lift one foot off the ground and lengthen your leg away from you by flexing the foot and lengthening through the heel.

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– Bend at the elbows, and draw your arms alongside your body (for stability). Lower the forehead towards the ground while lengthening your leg further away from your body through the heel.

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– Lower fully down in an upper body chaturanga with your forehead on the floor and your leg still raised and pushing away from the body through the heel.

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– Raise back up, pressing firmly through the hands on a deep inhalation, keeping the elbows slightly bent and held tightly alongside the body with leg raised. (Returning to original ‘one-armed dog’ posture)
– Repeat 10, 20, 30+ times, switch legs and completed on the opposite side. (In a recent workshop, we were asked to do 50 of these on each side, in unison. There was a 60+ year old woman beside me who killed it. Time to give it a try?)

Intermediate/Advanced: Upward Bow or Wheel Pose Push-up’s
– For intermediate to advanced practitioners only, this posture becomes much easier once a solid foundation of arm strength is gained.
– First, lay on your back with your knees bent and your feet firmly planted on the floor. Bending your elbows and pressing your palms into the ground behind your head, push firmly into wheel pose while engaging the core to stabilize the spine. (See link above for more detailed instructions.)

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– Find a comfortable position in wheel pose by walking your feet in towards your hands and always keeping a micro bend in your elbows as well as your knees. (Did you catch it? I’m missing my micro bend below! This creates instability and undo pressure at the joints which can cause bone degradation and nerve damage over time. So keep that bend!)

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– Bend your elbows and gently lower the top (crown) of your head to the floor. Just like in chaturanga, be sure to draw the elbows in toward the body rather than letting them splay out and away, to maintain stability of your joints.
– Once your head is planted on the floor, push firmly through the feet and lift the hips up through the core. Move your hands slightly back (1 inch) towards your head, allowing brief and gentle pressure to rest on the crown of the head (*advanced practitioners only*), and press back up firmly through the hands into wheel pose, for an inverted yogi push up!
– For beginner and intermediate practitioners who want to give it a try, keep your hands firmly on the ground at all times and lower the head down to the floor before lifting back up for a safer, modified version of the push up.

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Resting Postures* (These are counter postures designed to stretch your muscles in gentle opposition to the work you’ve already done. Feel free to sprinkle these in between your more intense postures, but definitely include them during your post-practice cool down – that is, before you take your well-earned, luxurious Savasana!)

Relaxed Standing Forward Fold
– Grab onto the elbows and release the head and neck to fully relax the neck and spine.
– Press firmly through the feet and legs, but keep a micro bend in your knee to alleviate undo pressure to your joints.
– Gently hang here, releasing any remaining tension in your upper body and allowing your autonomic nervous system to kick in, sending ‘feel good,’ relaxation-inducing hormones to your brain. (This happens anytime you lower your head below your heart. Hence, why EMT’s have patients lower their head between their legs following an accident.)

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Knees to Chest Pose
– Gently wrap the arms around the knees, drawing the knees into the chest. Grab onto your fingers, wrists, or elbows, whatever is most comfortable for you. Hug your knees in and rest here (remembering to maintain your deep breathing).
– Hold for 30 seconds – 1 min., with or without rolling gently side to side, if this feels good to help loosen up tight hips.

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Reclining Bound Angle Pose
– Bring the soles of your feet together, and allow your knees to relax towards the floor and your hips to gently open. If you feel any tension or discomfort in your knees, move your feet further away from your body (1 foot away, or more) until you find a comfortable position.
– Allow your arms and shoulders to relax, turning your palms upward. Draw your arms alongside your body, place them farther away or let them rest above your head; whatever is most comfortable for you in the moment.

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Namaste ❤

Photo Credit: A big thanks to my photographer, Matt Annese! Check out more of his work here.

Work Hard, Play Hard.

In my previous posts, I’ve talked about the importance and “beauty” of finding yoga on your mat – particularly in those moments when you find your “yoga high” and perhaps even experience a state of pratyahara (withdrawal of the senses, as awareness draws inward). We treasure these moments, because they are so few, and reconcile with ourselves that they can only be fleeting. But – ah ha! – what if it were possible to live in yoga, even when you’re off the mat?

If you haven’t heard the phrase “living in yoga” before, please allow me to introduce you. Living in yoga does not mean living in a perpetual state of pratyahara, perpetually withdrawn from the outside world – though some, very traditional yogis choose this path of renunciation. Rather, it means applying basic yogic principles (revisiting the eight limbs = yoga’s “code of ethics”) and practicing yoga as “the science of the mind” on a daily basis, by carefully observing your own thoughts and choosing your words (and thoughts) with care and intention. How nice of a notion. Of course, we know that though yoga is sweet, life is not that simple. So, often times, the “living” part gets in the way.

This week, I can certainly relate to the feeling of having to surrender to life – in this case: my schedule. I love school. I love yoga. Grad school for yoga? Sign me up! But somehow in the midst of two weeks of non-stop events/classes/studying (all of my waking hours) my enthusiasm waned, and life took over. And suddenly, it wasn’t so fun anymore.

In talking to fellow classmates and checking in with friends who are building their own professional careers (from event planning, to accounting, sales and yoga!), I began to notice a theme: Surrender to our schedules – to life – in a non-stop whirlwind of meetings, parties, and events all designed to achieve balance (to some degree) and overall success. These are great goals to aspire to, even admirable. But wouldn’t it be nice if we could get there without feeling like we’ve lost control along the way, and that our lives are driving us? When do we get to stop running and just enjoy? (And don’t say: retirement. Although that should be enjoyable too!)

Living in yoga, your schedule remains the same and your obligations and deadlines are just as urgent. But, instead you commit to living more fully in everything you do and allow yourself to stop and smell the roses – today (no waiting)! This is as lovely as it is challenging, because living in yoga also means devoting greater consciousness to your daily life. By being aware and observing your own thoughts and actions throughout the day, you aspire to live in the present moment with compassion and authenticity. This means, allowing yourself to take one thing at a time. And not only do it, but enjoy it.

This also means making a concerted effort to make time for you, to do what you love – even, and especially, in the midst of chaos. (The picture above was taken this past weekend when I showed my close friend, Laura, my all-time favorite spot* during her first-ever trip to California!) There is nothing more cherished – or important – than memory-making…

As my boyfriend ran out of the house to work this morning, we reviewed our schedules for the day, both with a looming fatigue already at 8:00am. (Whenever you think you have the craziest day ahead, there is someone with one even crazier…) But together, we reached the conclusion: “Well, you can only be one place at a time.” All you can do is the best you can, where you are – and do your best to enjoy it!

In my morning meditation today, I set the intention to bring awareness to the present moment as I go forward into the weekend and coming week, so that I can relax and enjoy all that’s in front of me instead of feeling bound and overburdened. This, like anything, takes practice. But is there anything more worthy of working towards? Being present means listening actively, expressing gratitude, sharing your ideas confidently, and enjoying life – as it is, how it is, right in this very moment. This is, at its simplest, living in yoga.

There are only so many hours in the day. You can only do one thing at a time. So, just do what you can. And enjoy it!

Gives new (& better) meaning to: “Work Hard, Play Hard.” Go forth, and play!

Namaste,

Amy

*photo taken at my favorite peak on Foothill Trail in Ojai, CA

Be Bold, Be Beautiful

Entering into the “world of yoga” can be intimidating. Especially in Los Angeles and especially in your mid-20’s, there’s a lot of pressure to achieve a certain standard. To add to this pressure, I’ve primarily developed my personal practice and knowledge of yoga by teaching myself at home.

In grad school right now, we’re learning in detail about the different types of guru-student relationships – characterized by one-on-one mentorship from a “teacher,” in this sense, spiritually focused – that are so essential to understanding and developing a personal yoga practice, in keeping with yoga’s historical and traditional integrity. However, the reality is that the rapid growth in popularity of yoga among Westerners today (especially in the States) has largely diminished concern for consistency in the traditional practice of yoga, simply out of necessity. In the interest of “reaching” as many people as possible, yoga teachers and studios aim to pack their [increasingly, hot] rooms to capacity. This leaves many intermediate yogis who have grown to feel and appreciate the deeper benefits of yoga, lacking the classically acclaimed direction and guidance necessary from a “teacher” to enable their development from intermediate to advanced; or, more specifically, to harness the full benefits of yoga in the truest sense, enabling cultivation of utmost strength, happiness and longevity.

I acknowledge and respect that not everyone who is interested in yoga seeks or expects any psychological or spiritual benefit. (I started with Bikram, remember?) But for those who have recognized a shift in thinking since beginning their practice, or might in the future, it’s natural to yearn for greater nourishment – perhaps, a teacher training – to explore the full scope of your evolving practice. While Westerners continue to sort through this puzzle of adapting traditional Eastern practices into modern Western society (big things to come from my wonderful peers at LMU!), it’s important to keep in mind for your personal practice, the integrity and real purpose of yoga – and not to let the pressure get to you.

If you’ve “followed” any yogis on Instagram lately, you’re likely familiar with the pressure I’m talking about. The intimidation factor that has made its mark on yoga in the West emphasizing achievement in yoga as equivalent to obtaining physical strength and a glamorous physique. (I recently saw the winner of an Instagram yoga contest posted a picture of herself in wheel pose, perfectly toned, in her bra and panties…) So, in order to be credible in the “yoga world,” you need to be able to stand on my hands, touch your feet to your head, and jump through a ring of fire (naked)? Props to those girls (& guys), but I’m not sure that’s for me, and if I’m a beginner, this might make me think yoga’s not for me. Sometimes, like many others I know, I’ve put down my phone after an intense scrolling session and decided: “I’ll just practice later.” I lost my yearning in a wave of feeling that my practice was inferior; this, of course, being the antithesis of the very virtues we’re trying to cultivate in yoga: of confidence, of feminine power (shakti) and of unconditional love.

However, those images are only one perspective on “beauty” and honestly, though they are beautiful, I think they’re overplayed. Where’s the color, the fun, the creativity, the authenticity that truly characterize yoga? Have you ever laid in child’s pose and allowed your breath to takeover, losing sense for a brief moment of your long “To Do” list, and with it, the arguments and disappointments of the day? Finding this kind of calm in an otherwise hectic day of work and errands; that is truly beautiful. And the ease and accessibility of this posture – that anyone, anywhere, of any age, race, or orientation, can achieve this benefit (or, “yoga high”) in child’s pose – That is beautiful.

All this to say, whether in your yoga practice or out in the world, you should feel free to be, do and live as you are and where you are, today. This is your life, and there is no right way. That applies to your yoga asanas, Instagram posts, professional trajectory and personal interactions. There is a healthy way, a kind way, and an authentic way – but not a right one. Don’t let others’ standards (with their fancy handstands or boardroom presentations) make you think any differently about yourself, and what you could or should do to succeed, and to be valued. You are valuable, and your contribution is already great, whether you realize it or not – as long as it comes from a place that is genuine. Thinking boldly in this way, nothing can stop you. And more likely than not, you’ll be surprised by just how much you can do. Sometimes, I’ve learned, we are our own best teacher.

Next time you practice, whether in a class, in your bedroom, or in front of your television, remember that there’s more to yoga than handstands and that there’s more to you than meets the eye. And allow this awareness to inspire you, in all aspects of your life.

I also challenge you to post a picture of yourself on Instagram, Facebook or Twitter in your favorite, simple yoga posture (mine is tree pose – above!) as a friendly reminder to everyone out there that there is real beauty in simplicity. You just have to be willing to change your perspective. 

Be bold, be beautiful Xx

Amy

The Science of Sitting

When you hear the word “meditation,” what do you imagine? A group of Buddhist monks in temple, chanting and burning incense. A flashback to Woodstock with a field full of hippies sitting silently, listening intently to their guru (or spiritual teacher). Or, if you’re a bit more familiar, you might imagine an individual much like yourself sitting perfectly erect with each thumb and pointer finger touching together in the quintessential “Om mudra.” All of these images are valid representations of meditation. But if you’re like me, these vague portrayals are hardly enough to motivate you to adopt a daily practice, or to spend $200 on a five series class explaining what the point of all this is anyway. Experimenting on your own, or trying out a few YouTube tutorials is an option. But if you’ve tried, you’ve likely found that after two minutes – which feels more like twenty – your mind is in a million places, you’re restless, achy, and aggravated. Enter the oh so popular excuse – and one I’ve previously exhausted myself:

 “I can’t sit still long enough/my mind is too busy/I don’t have enough time to meditate!”

Well perhaps, it might be helpful to know the “why” first. You know meditation is good for you. The highly popularized benefits of relaxation and mental clarity are certainly enticing enough. And even corporate leaders like Oprah Winfrey and Rupert Murdoch vouch that meditation is useful for stress management and good decision-making. (Check it out here.) But how do you get there? And what is this all about, really? The answers to these questions have helped motivate my meditation practice and changed my perspective on yoga. Here’s what they don’t tell you, that I hope will help you along the way…

Yoga is an ancient practice, arguably dating back to 300 B.C., which has been passed down throughout history by way of individual, one on one instruction with a guru. Yoga’s classical definition is simply “the science of the mind” consisting of eight limbs of yoga intended to guide your path to enlightenment, or self-realization. The third of these eight limbs is “asana,” or a series of physical sequenced postures generally referred to as “yoga.” Ancient yogic texts insist that the other seven limbs are the most important steps to experiencing the full benefits of yoga. However, asana practice is intended to prepare you for the process of self-analysis and centeredness, by helping us clear the mind and prepare the body for long periods of stillness. (Savasana, anyone?)

When you leave a yoga class, you’ve likely felt what I fondly refer to as the yoga high. It’s a mental and physical buzz, or internal vibration, which leaves us feeling clear-headed, relaxed, and (relatively) stress-free. A former boss of mine who occasionally practiced yoga, used to joke: “If you want anything from me, just ask me after yoga class!” What you’re experiencing is a meditative state, and when you practice more frequently, this sensation lasts longer. While few ever complain about their post-practice buzz, this is also the reason why yoga is often associated with free-loving cluelessness and detachment from reality, which threatens its credibility and relevance as a useful everyday practice. (Revisit 1960’s Woodstock for a moment, and you’ll see what I mean.)

Although I’m not a scientist, I believe learning the mechanics of what’s happening during meditation is key to understanding, and thereby motivating our practice. My method of learning has always been: don’t ask me to do something until I fully understand why I’m doing it. (Sorry Mr. Murphy, the Pythagorean theorem just wasn’t happening…) But if you’ve ever wondered “why meditation?,” learning a bit of the science behind the practice is a great place to start.

Looking to science, specifically quantum physics, we know that all solid objects are composed of molecules, or a group of atoms which are uniquely formed to create physical matter and are perpetually in a state of subtle movement. Through meditation and asana practice, we are stimulating the vibration of our own molecular composition. When thinking of yoga, it might be helpful to think of body, mind, and spirit, and consider “spirit” to be the energy inherent to your molecular composition. Asana practice and conscious breath work (or pranayama) get this energy moving. Simultaneously, you are clearing the mind of restless thoughts by focusing your full attention on your breath and bodily alignment. (If you’ve tried Triangle pose for any length of time, you know that this process alone is a feat! Don’t get frustrated, you’re not alone. Practice makes perfect!) And while stretching deeply into postures like Warrior II or Pigeon pose, you are preparing your body to sit comfortably in meditation, a.k.a. Criss-cross applesauce or Lotus pose. Once these three things – body, mind and “spirit” – are in sync, then you experience real yoga and the benefits of the practice begin to take shape. In fact, the word “yoga” means “union” in Sanskrit, and represents this very process of convergence.

So, in understanding the why, we shouldn’t be concerned with quantum physics on our mats. Rather, applying the “why” to your practice is as simple as remembering your last yoga high and striving to reach it again and again. Then, try sitting in this stillness. Over time, you will learn to get there faster and stay there longer – using asana (physical practice), pranayama (conscious breathing), and even mantra (chanting) as different means to get you there. There is no right or wrong way, and every day will be different. But by playing with these techniques (have fun!) and challenging yourself to return to focus on your breath or alignment, the true benefits of yoga will unfold for you. Why? Because the science is there.

And I’m always here to answer your questions along the way.

Sending you good vibes! xx

Amy

My Year in Yoga

Sometimes following your dream means going down the unpaved road. The challenge is to trust that what awaits you at the end of the road is far beyond your wildest expectations. From a fellow traveler, do trust. You won’t be disappointed.

Those who know me well are well aware that the past year has been a little bit – or, a lot a bit – out of the ordinary. Moving to California was one thing, but forfeiting my career in government affairs, vowing to take up Yoga Studies, and accepting a graduate assistantship in religion and ecology – I think it’s safe to say I may have lost a few people along the way. But that’s okay, because my new venture is all about awareness. My love affair with yoga has thus far centered around my own growth and discernment, facing the harsh realities of post-college life and working them out on my mat. Through my five years of regular asana practice (or the physical practice of sequenced yoga postures as we all know them) I’ve found more self-confidence, focus and ambition than I ever imagined possible. In short, I believe my regular yoga practice has put me on the fast-track to becoming the best version of myself, and with this comes an overwhelming sense of contentment, and happiness. Goodbye fears, insecurities, and anxiety! Hello fabulous and all authentic me! It takes consistency, but pays off 100 fold. I’m in the best shape of my life, I’m the happiest I’ve ever been and I’m pursuing my dreams in a way I never could have imagined: by obtaining a Masters of Arts in Yoga Studies degree from Loyola Marymount University (LMU).

Now I want to give a disclaimer, because I realize in my very introduction I’ve painted myself as an over-enthusiastic (perhaps unstable), yoga obsessed 25-year old – nothing too original about that. But what is unique is that my journey in Yoga Studies has begun, and will continue, in unadulterated openness. I was drawn to the M.A. of Yoga Studies program and to LMU for their explicit over-arching mission for universal acceptance. If you don’t already know, LMU is a very catholic university. But the mission of this program is to explore commonalities of diverse religions – Hinduism, Buddhism, Christianity – to uncover the historical emergence, and contemporary significance of yoga. I don’t think there’s one way to find happiness, contentment, and a trim physique in this life. There are many. And people are unique, and deserve infinite opportunities to explore themselves and their interests to find their own path to obtaining these things. I do believe, however, that yoga is a powerful tool in this pursuit; the actual benefits of which have yet to be thoroughly researched and documented under the scrutiny of Western culture. While mainstream society begins to embrace the proven health benefits of yoga in hospitals and doctor’s offices throughout the country (woop, woop!), there is still more. I believe yoga has extensive socio-economic benefits through which yoga can fundamentally empower and transform individuals to do better for themselves and their families, despite perceived limitations of background or circumstance. This means: raising families above the poverty line, rehabilitating troubled or imprisoned youth, eliminating social side effects of mental illness, inspiring decision-makers to better serve the public and our environment, increasing the number of minorities in public office, and the list goes on…At a time when our country and our world are imploding with violence and chaos, and our leaders have proven ineffective to assuage the storm, I believe this awareness holds the key to restoring individual contentment and promoting universal acceptance in the U.S. and across the globe.

So, here I am, a part French-Canadian/part English/all-American Westerner devoting my life to Yoga Studies to explore just that. I want to give you the proof you’re looking for, that yoga is valuable to you and the people you love, beyond a 60-minute destress session and the potentiality for six-pack abs (although these aren’t bad side effects either). Armed with a B.A. in Public Advocacy, several years of government affairs work in the public and private sector, a published manuscript on the socio-economics of gender disparity, and a new endeavor as Assistant Editor for an academic journal in global religions and social ecology, I won’t let you down. (And I hope you’ll check back for small bits of enlightenment I discover along the way.) Challenge accepted.

I look forward to sharing and always appreciate your thoughts and reflections.

Keep on flowing xx

Amy