A big THANK You

Dear readers and friends,

In regards to my previous post written about heartbreak, I have received an overwhelming amount of support, words of encouragement, and revelations of people going through similar struggles.

A wise yoga teacher told me that it is important to not only acknowledge the highs, but to highlight the lows as well. As a yoga teacher, I am NOT constantly in a zen-like state of mind. I struggle too and quite often. I share what I have learned thus far with my students, but I definitely do not have all the answers.

I am truly touched by all those who showed me solidarity.

THANK YOU all. I shall keep soldiering on with the strength received from your kind words, and hugs.

xo,

Aparna

Advertisements

Healing heartbreak through Yoga

Hour-Of-Despair

You know that sinking feeling in the pit of your stomach during times of crushing disappointment and loss? Yea, I wish I could say I didn’t know it, but sadly I have been enduring it for most of 2014. This emotion just kind of stays with you like an extra layer of skin. It permeates your senses and renders you weak, hopeless, defeated and severely dejected. There were many times when getting out of bed was so challenging. I would just cry on the way to work, cry at random points during work and also cry on the drive back home. Yea – I was a giant cloud of misery. Few things would cheer me up. The things I did, ate, experienced all seemed insipid and it was quite difficult for me to see the good that was already around me.

‘Twas the worst of times.

The small silver lining in my grey, grey world was yoga.

First of all, teaching yoga was a distraction – in a good way – not the let-me-numb-my-senses-with-my-iTechinicaldevice-way. When I was teaching, my brain was thinking about poses, cues, adjustments, breathing and more. I didn’t ruminate or constantly think about my miserable state of mind. Truthfully speaking, the only time I was present in the moment, was in the space of yoga. Activities such as arriving at the studio, getting my alone time to center myself, lighting candles in the yoga room, going over the asana sequence in my head and being around the other teachers at the studio were all little bursts of sunshine for me. I enjoyed greeting my students as well as talking to them after class and seeing their post-Savasana faces filled with calmness and gratitude.

A few months ago, I reached my lowest point. I allowed the hopelessness I felt to take over and entertained the idea of ending my life. Thankfully, I was immediately yanked out of this crazy talk by my close friends and family who reminded me of all the good there is in this world. They reiterated the importance of yoga in my life and how it has become a part of who I am. They emphasized the work that I do with students and the joy I get from it.

Yoga has given me purpose. Yoga quite literally saved me from making a HUGE mistake and losing all that I hold near and dear.

Teaching yoga was one thing, but practicing yoga was a whole different ball game. For a while, I simply didn’t do it. I would try to roll out my mat and tell myself to get on it and do some sun salutations, but I’d end up staring at my mat, feeling listless, rolling it back up and then mentally curse myself for giving up.

As time went by, I slowly began attending classes. In one of my favorite classes, we would chant a mantra in the beginning. A different mantra was chosen for each class such as compassion, or love for everyone, or peace for oneself, etc. I would hold onto to that mantra for dear life. Those 90 minutes were defining moments of peace and growth for me. It took a lot of work, concentration and focus on my part to NOT drift into my normal patterns of negative thinking. Yoga’s emphasis on compassion and non-violence (Ahimsa) towards all things, especially oneself was a huge help to me. In each class, I would try really hard to give gratitude for all that my body could do and be.

It has been a painfully slow process, but now I don’t feel so lukewarm when I sense the mat beneath my feet. I believe in the strength of my shoulders as they not only hold up my head, but also my dignity. My hamstrings and quads support me in warrior poses but also help me walk in life. Sun salutations assist in making me feel empowered. Sukhasana (Easy Seated Pose) reminds me of the power of meditation and breathing.

Our brains and hearts are amazing machines. We as humans, are astonishingly resilient in the face of hardship. Yoga has helped me see that in myself.

I am not fully healed. I am also not suggesting that yoga is the one and only solution for heartbreak (I did have quite a bit of help from professionals, family and my ride-or-die friends) I wish I could say I’m riding on a magical unicorn called yoga. I’m not on a higher plane of consciousness or awareness or happiness. I’m still on a journey. It’s just less painful now.

In my moments of despair, I would fervently search for answers, and figments of hope – just ANYTHING to help ease the pain. I would look for self-help articles, or books, or words, or people – just anything and anyone who could help me figure out a way get out of the dark hole I was in. But I’ve found that there is no one cure,  no one answer. It is ultimately up to ourselves to choose to forgive oneself and heal. We live in a time of plenty where there are numerous tools at our disposal to help with that. I just found yoga to be one of mine.

Do your practice and all is coming – Shri. K. Pattabhi Jois

I dedicate this post to all those out there who are enduring hardship, pain, and loss. Just know that there is a light at the end of the tunnel and you have a right to be happy.

Thanks so much for reading.

Namaste

The Gift of Yoga during the Holidays

Candle Light 027We’re all in the thick of it right now: racking our brains on what to get for so-and-so, attending holiday parties, moaning about the money spent on gifts, drinking a little too much and revealing your apt for singing Taylor Swift songs at the office holiday party, and best yet – crashing from your sugar high from scarfing down all the delicious holiday desserts.

Holidays are full of happy, stressful and REAL moments.

During these times of high energy and activity, attending a yoga class is probably one of the last things on anyone’s mind (or so I thought). But, I was thoroughly surprised to teach an almost full-class this past Sunday morning!

Yoga is always good for you no matter what season, but it is ESPECIALLY good for you during this time of year. According to the American Psychological Association,

If you are already experiencing stress in other areas of your life, you may be especially vulnerable to increased anxiety during the holidays. However, it is important to view the holidays as an opportunity to enhance your psychological well-being.

The APA recommends taking conscious steps to ensure a worry-free and enjoyable holiday season. One of them is: Take time out for yourself.

All my students who came to my Hatha class had that same intention. Their goal was to go inward and find some calm and peace in all the hullabaloo surrounding them. Yoga is a practice that is focused on the internal. We went through a  breath-focused practice which required them to tune out the rest of the world and tune IN (Pratyahara).

You can’t give all your love, energy, time, and effort towards your loved ones if you yourself aren’t centered and content (Santosha)

It may sound much more appealing to deal with the stress of the holidays by eating yet another double-fudge brownie and hiding from your family’s squabbles. But, think about attending a yoga class nearby you. It is possible that a class that is usually crowded will less so. This gives you ample opportunity to  ZEN out and think about all that you are grateful for this holiday season.

Thanks so much for stopping by and reading.

Namaste and Happy Holidays!

Iyengar Yoga helps wounded soldier regain daily functioning

No one really enjoys Mondays but here’s an inspirational post to inject some feel-good vibes into your week! Thank you Home Yoga Practice for this pick me up!

Home Yoga Practice

Screen Shot 2014-12-14 at 3.41.56 PM

Today would have been B.K.S. Iyengar’s 96th birthday. To illustrate the legacy of Iyengar’s teaching, I would like to draw attention to this video. It is an interview with Mark Zambon who attended Geeta Iyengar’s 10-day intensive that wrapped up last week.

Zambon lost both of his legs in a bomb blast when he was serving in Afghanistan. To assist with his rehabilitation, he was directed to an Iyengar yoga class taught by a Vietnam veteran. The elder veteran advised Zambon to try Iyengar yoga. He said “combat veterans take well to Iyengar yoga because it touches a very similar space in the experience of life.”

Zambon said the loss of his legs after the bomb blast radically changed his body functioning aside from the obvious loss of two useful limbs. He said it was difficult to cool himself down because 30 percent of his body surface had disappeared…

View original post 178 more words

Going beyond the Asana Series – Part 1- Setu Bandha Sarvangasana (Bridge Pose)

Supported Setu Bandha Sarvangasana (supported bridge pose)
Supported Setu Bandha Sarvangasana (supported bridge pose)

In today’s Western world, when any of us hear the word yoga, we immediately think of yoga studios, lean limbs, poses, and colorful yoga pants.  Make no mistake, as the physical part of yoga is definitely a key and an important component as it helps us tap into the other aspects of yoga. But, yoga is much more than just about attaining that perfect posture.

So how do we make our asana practice become something more than striving for impeccable alignment? For example, teachers cue us to activate our core, hug the muscles to your bones, firm your feet on the mat – all are important to help you have a safe and effective experience. But, how can we tap into the more mental aspects of yoga such as concentration (Dharana), going inward (Pratyahara) and meditation (Dhyana)?  By giving MEANING to each asana we do on the mat.

I’ve decided to start a series on this blog where I plan on going through yoga asana(s) and try to help you attach a certain intellectual purpose to each one. So the next time you’re doing yoga, you’re actually delving into the deeper and more substantial aspects. You will be elevating your practice to a whole new level 🙂

So the featured posture of today is Bridge – one of my favorites!

I’ll start off with some brief physical notes and cues to be aware of:

1) Lie on the floor and bend your knees to bring your feet flat on that mat (place a blanket underneath your shoulders if need be to protect your neck)

2) Actively engage your arms, and the soles of your feet as you firm your buttocks (not harden) and lift them off the floor

3) Try to maintain your thighs and buttocks parallel to the floor, keep your knees above your ankles, and lift your chin slightly away from the sternum.

4) Breaaaaathhhheeeeeeeeee.

Now for the meditative portion of the pose.

As you stay here for as long as it is comfortable for you – think of someone who is going through a rough time (maybe it is you) See if you can build a mental bridge towards that person (or yourself) filled with whatever it is they need – maybe they’re unwell and need some health. Or, they are going through a rough personal battle and need some encouragement and compassion. You can pick any good intention – positivity, happiness, love, peace, or forgiveness. With every exhale, think about sending them the chosen intention. On each inhale, imagine taking away some of their pain or illness or anger, stress, etc. Breathe here with focus for 30 seconds to 1 minute. Relax and then slowly make your way back down to the mat.

Yoga is a very personal and internal practice. One of the key goals of yoga is to help you realize what your true nature is. Even though in the above mental exercise, you are thinking of someone else other than yourself – you get to learn about your reactions, your mental capacity to forgive, be positive and selfless in giving that person some good vibes. Ergo, you’re ultimately getting to know what YOU are capable of.

As always, thanks so much for reading and stopping by. Your comments and experiences are highly encouraged! How have you given certain asana (s) meaning? Do tell!

Namaste

 

 

Yoga and High Altitude

IMAG0246

Two weeks ago, I was fortunate enough to be able to hike the Inca Trail for 4 days to get to Machu Picchu (one of the items on my bucket list) It was tough, but rewarding. On the 4th day, we woke up at 3:30 am  and hiked the last 2 hours to get to the main site so we could watch the sun rise over Machu Picchu. As the clouds parted, the historic city came into view and it was breathtaking.

Also important to note – it was taking my breath away quite literally as we were at ~8000 ft (~2400 m) above sea level.

During the hike, we climbed to about 13,800 ft (4200 m) above sea level and then hiked down to Machu Picchu. At the highest point of the trail, we would be out of breath every 10 steps or so; it felt like there just wasn’t enough oxygen in the air. Not surprisingly, altitude sickness is common at this height which can lead to symptoms ranging from headaches, to difficulty breathing, to dizziness and nausea. Chewing coca leaves and staying hydrated helped our group avoid major symptoms. Throughout the hike, I took long, deep inhales and controlled my exhales by breathing out fully. There was no better time to put Ujjayi breathing to use.

Ancient yoga masters were among the first ones to fully understand and discuss the importance of diaphragmatic breathing and its benefits. Ujjayi breathing is quite an efficient way to use the O2 you inhale.

Furthermore, as we reached the campsite each evening, we did some lovely yoga poses to stretch our sore quads, hamstrings, shoulders, IT bands, hips and more.

So moral of the story – Yoga is a highly versatile and adaptable resource to be used wherever you go.

As always, thanks so much for stopping by and reading!

Namaste

 

Lessons learned while teaching Yoga

 

Hello my dear readers, I am finally able to BREATHE – and write! Most of October has been consumed by work for me – there was a giant project that took up so much of my time. It was a real struggle for me to balance my life. But all that aside, I’m here now so thank you for welcoming me into your inboxes, and computer screens 🙂

Despite all the stress I’ve been under at work, it is time for me to celebrate my 1 year anniversary of being a yoga teacher!  I am truly SO grateful for the opportunity to be one and teach. I could probably write a soliloquy about how appreciative I am of this whole experience, but I won’t bore you with the details of that.

Instead, I would really like to share with you all the lessons I’ve learned thus far being a yoga teacher. As wonderful it is to able to assist, lead, and be in a room with like-minded individuals going through a physical and mental practice, there are definitely ups and downs in the world of yoga. But that’s the thing – yoga even recognizes this duality that exists in the world. With the good, there comes the bad and vice versa. It’s all about how you react to and learn from it. So without further ado, here is my list.

1. Always center yourself before teaching

I teach weeknights after a full day of work and if I’m driving to the yoga studio in heavy traffic – many times, I have forgotten all about Ahimsa (non-violence) I mentally yell and curse at the jerk driver who cut me off, or at the signal lights that seem to be green for all of 10 seconds tops, and more. So by the time I arrived at the yoga studio – I would be ANGRY and irritated. I have never taken it out on my students or anything, as I genuinely lighten up the moment I get ready to teach, but the whole experience of ARRIVING affects the way I teach in some way.

It is so important to be present when you teach. I seriously DESPISE not being there fully for my students (yes – despise) So now, I have a new routine. As soon as I leave work to drive to yoga, I turn my phone to Do Not Disturb. I listen to soothing music or enjoy the silence of not being connected to anything or anyone. I remind myself constantly of how I’m fortunate to be able to teach and how I enjoy seeing the smiley faces of my students who greet me and so on. I’ve done this routine for about 2 months now and it has worked wonders. I arrive in a calm head-space and am ready to be there fully for my students.

2. Don’t tailor your teaching to one student

Often times, as yoga teachers who teach a regularly scheduled weekly class, we tend to build followers or regulars who come each week. We become comfortable with our students. With time, we have built a level of trust with each other which enables my students to be OK with wherever I take them.

However, if someone new walked into class and said “Hi, I’ve never done yoga before. I’m looking forward to this class” – I would mentally break into a sweat while nervously smiling at the student and welcoming them. I’d be so nervous. I’d ask myself all these questions like “Should I stick with my asana sequence? Should I change it? Should I do more cues? How will the rest of my class respond if I change the sequence?Will my other students like it if I go a bit easier this time? Oh God, I hope I make sure I give them a good class. What if the new guy never likes yoga because of me?” etc, etc..

I’d immediately start formulating a new plan in my head to make sure it accommodated  this new student.

However, I have learned over time that this is not necessary. One student’s needs do not outweigh the others’. Be aware of their presence and performance in class, but treat them the same as all the others. I have learned not to give them extra attention or adjustments. They themselves wouldn’t want to be singled out you know? “Oh look at me, I suck so the teacher is here adjusting me constantly”

Just stick to your plan, be aware, and maybe add some extra cues such as “Go where your body can go today” and let everything else be as it was. It’ll work out 🙂

3. It’s OK to make mistakes

So one time, I took my student through an asana sequence, and we finished the right side. As we moved onto the left – I forgot a giant chunk of the asanas. My mind kind of blanked out. Then I slowly started freaking out mentally like “HEEEE-HHUUHHH OMGGGG…HOW CAN I BRING THIS CLASS BACK TO BALANCE..OMMMGGG WHAT HAVE I DOONNEE…” I blurted out “Oh uh sorry…whoops – can we go back to this asana you guys? Sorryyyyy!!” and you know what? My students simply chuckled and we went along with the class. There were no eye-rolls or sighs or comments after class.

It happens. We make mistakes as teachers – it’s all about how you recover and learn from them! Just laugh at your mistakes and your students will too and they won’t take it to heart. Trust yourself and trust them too.

4. Teach to the room’s energy

There are times when I’m so excited to introduce a new asana or new sequence I’ve come up with. But as a yoga teacher, I have to be flexible – pun intended. Some days, as my students enter the room, I can sense that they just want something more relaxing and restorative. Some days they want to be invigorated. Even though my class title might say Hatha or Gentle or Power, ultimately it’s about teaching to the students’ needs. Even if it’s a Power yoga class where we do more challenging asanas, I will tone it down a bit and include more meditation and restorative poses in the end. Or if it’s a Gentle class and I can tell that my students need a little pick-me-up, I’ll add a couple of heart opening asanas like Camel (Ustrasana) or modified Eagle (Garudasana – open the back of the heart)

Being mindful of the students is no.1 for all teachers and I’ve learned that my own desires for them don’t outweigh what they actually need.

5. Continue to educate yourself

It can be really easy to get into routine while teaching yoga. Week in, week out, teaching the same asana sequence with slight variations here and there – and then what? How can one provide more than just asana practice? How can one learn to adjust different students’ needs? How do you better yourself teacher overall? I personally find myself researching a lot of about asanas and how they affect certain muscles, connective tissue, etc. There’s also quite a bit of information out there about how yoga helps us mentally. I really enjoy reading articles, and books that detail the effects of yoga on our mind and body.  We are fortunate and live in a time where there are tons of resources around relating to yoga – why not take advantage of it?

But, as B.K.S Iyengar once said – the best teacher lies within you. Practicing yoga on my own helps me apply whatever external knowledge I may have gained. Once I experience how a certain yoga asana feels on my body, or how an intention resonates in my mind, I am able to bring that to my students with much more gusto and ultimately – help them be on a path to reach their best (whatever that maybe)

If you got to this point in the post and read everything – then I’d like to give you a giant hug – wherever you are.

As always, thanks so much for stopping by and reading.

Namaste