Reflecting on My Yoga Journey
Over my years of being a yoga teaching, I find that teaching has helped me to reflect on my own yoga journey. Sometimes I find that when a brand new person walks into my class and this is their very first yoga class, it reminds me of my first yoga class. I remember to myself how I felt, what I liked and disliked, and I try to use that to make the new person feel more welcomed and part of the group. I also have a few students who have been practicing with me for years, and I find it so fascinating to see how far they have come and it helps me to reflect on that part of my journey. I know how important some of my yoga teachers were to my growth and progression and when I have students telling me that I’m their favourite teacher or that they love my classes, I really try to connect with them because I know how important that was to me. I guess you could say that my yoga journey has helped to shape my yoga teaching and I am so grateful for that. I try to see both the beauty and the potential in each pose and know that each student is on their own path of growth. When I started practicing, I had practically no strength and my asanas were displays of wild flexibility with zero integrity. I had some teachers who adjusted me constantly and made me feel very inadequate because I didn’t understand what the problem was. I also had some teachers who were patient with me and recognized that I literally did not have the strength to hold integrity in poses and needed help to get there. Having experiences like these has helped me in how I deal with students who are on extreme ends of the scale. Whether they are too tight or too flexible, I recognize that spending too much time adjusting them can make them feel very self conscious. Reflecting back on my own journey has made me so much more aware and that translates into how I teach my students. The awareness I have for teaching that I have been granted through my practice is one of the MANY reasons that I LOVE teaching yoga!!
The Yoga High
I have heard the feeling you get after a great yoga class being called “The Yoga High” on more than one occasion. It’s that feeling you get when the class is over and your body feels great, it’s more strong as well as more open than when you walked in the class, and your mind feels more at ease. Maybe you’ve forgotten about a terrible day, or an argument you had, or maybe you went into the class with a headache and are leaving the class without. The “yoga high” is when everything that was out of whack in your body is now back in balance, and everything just feels so much better when it’s properly balanced! The reason that I love the “yoga high” is pretty self explanatory, I like feeling good and yoga makes me feel that way. But on a less personal note, I love the yoga high because I think it is actually a really cool aspect of yoga. If yoga was just an exercise to help you lose weight, you wouldn’t have this same feeling. Sure you would feel good after a great workout because exercise releases endorphins, but you don’t necessarily feel balanced. You might feel stronger, but you probably don’t feel more open, and most exercise routines don’t have any meditative sections during the practice. I think the yoga high is a reason that so many people fall in love with yoga and stick with it as a lifestyle (like me!). Also, the fact that everyone in the class can feel the same way after is an amazing collective group experience. I find it really fascinating and think it is a really important factor for yoga because I think it helps people connect deeper into their own body and mind. The yoga high is just one of the MANY reasons that I LOVE yoga!
Viparita Salabhasana – Inverted Locust Pose
Inverted locust pose, or chin stand as many people know it to be called, is a frightening pose to me. Whenever I have practiced it, I have always kept at least one knee on the ground for support. However, when you Google it, there are some really amazingly beautiful images of people with their feet all the way in the air, or even in a scorpion-type variation. At this point in my practice, I am not ready to try the pose this way. To me, it seems, that your neck is in a very vulnerable position and kicking up into the pose could be very bad for you. I’m sure the people in the photos do not kick up into the pose, they probably float up into it by pressing, or they do it through some transition. If I were to try it, the only possible way at this point for me would be to kick into it, and that is not even an option just because of the vulnerability of my neck. I also do not understand the proper engagement techniques to be safe in this pose. So if I don’t have the understanding of what needs engaging, I will choose not to practice it. I do find it to be a beautiful pose and perhaps one day I will be ready to practice it, but at this point it is not a part of my practice. I can only assume that it holds some lovely healthy benefit, or could possibly be therapeutic if done properly, otherwise I’m sure people wouldn’t practice it. Either way, I find this pose to be a mental puzzle for me and a little too dangerous for me to try just yet, that’s why I find it so challenging!
Adho Mukha Svanasana – Downward Facing Dog
Downward dog is maybe the most well known yoga asana, even to those who do not practice yoga. Many people visualize this pose before they actually do a class and it may be one of the most widely practiced asanas that I can think of. So for a pose that is so well known and widely practiced, you’d think it would be the easiest pose, right? Wrong! Downward Dog done without proper alignment and engagement can actually cause pain and harm. As we grow up and get used to driving, working at a computer, cooking, etc. our hand muscles tend to tense up. So for many of us, when we first get into down dog, there is wrist pain. This is because our hands are too tense to space out the weight evenly through the “four corners” of your palm. When you’re able to find this rooting, you’ll find that there is zero wrist pain associated with downward dog and that it can actually be a therapeutic pose for the wrists. Learning that engagement in downward dog really helps to set your wrists up for hand/arm balances in your practice. Shoulders tend to be tense for the same reasons as the hands and therefore many people round in their upper back. Once you learn to soften there and draw the shoulders away from the ears, you can get some really nice traction in the pose. By being firmly rooted in your hands while drawing your weight up and back, really helps you to decompress your spine. The hamstrings are another common problem area, everyone wants to get their feet flat on the ground even though this isn’t practical for many people. Learning to bend the knees if your hamstrings are tight will help you to find that length along your entire spine. Often times if you look at pictures of people in downward dog, their upper backs are long, but they are rounding in their low backs close to the tailbone, this is really common and hard to feel in the body. This is another case where you should be bending your knees if this happens to you, that way your pelvis is free to do an anterior tilt, creating length in the low back. So with all that in mind, does downward dog still seem like an “easy” pose? Probably not! This pose invites your entire body to the party and there are so many things to think about, but that’s why I LOVE it so much!
New Found Understanding
I so love and appreciate all the understanding I have gained through teaching. I understand so much more about this practice of yoga as well as my body and how general anatomy functions. I understand that different daily activities affect the way people can practice from day to day. I understand that yoga is not just about asana and that all aspects of the practice are equally important. This is all understanding I have gained since being a teacher. Before I took my teacher training, yoga to me was a really great exercise, particularly great in the hot room. I didn’t even know about meditation or anything about anatomy. I knew of pranayama simply because most yoga classes teach you to use ujjayi breath while moving through the postures, but I had no understanding of how vast the practice of pranayama actually was. I also didn’t understand what I was “supposed” to be feeling in some poses because with my level of flexibility, I just couldn’t feel it. After becoming a teacher and figuring out anatomy, and what muscles were being worked or stretched in these poses, I was able to find a better variation or completely different pose that worked the same areas. I also had a better understanding of how to build or structure a class to be optimal for my students. I learned how to both “wing” a class and also how to prepare for a class. When I took my first teacher training, I took it to become certified because I love yoga and wanted to make it my career. What I didn’t realize was that I would gain all this knowledge and understanding for my “yoga tool kit” and that I would continue to (probably forever) add to that tool kit and THAT’S one of the MANY reasons that I LOVE teaching!
There is Always Room for Movement
As a continuation from last week’s post about why I love yoga, I find it so interesting that there is always room for movement in each and every pose. Just as I spoke about last week, no matter how far you get into the pose, there is always a more advanced option that you’re working towards. Similarly, no matter how far you get into a pose, you will find that if you focus and really use your breath, that there is always room to move. A common movement that I love to work on is expansion on the inhales and softening on the exhales. I find that a really good indicator that you’ve gone too far into a pose is if you find that you feel stuck or that you can’t breathe. For example, in a standing side bend, I used to just to just go as far as possible, with zero engagement, and I literally couldn’t breathe. What I eventually learned through practice was that I was basically crunching and compressing, so I needed to learn how to find engagement and bend with strength rather than collapse into the pose. Now I can go just as far as before, but I can easily breathe because I know how to engage my body to support myself. When teaching, I find this happens pretty frequently for people in hero pose. It seems like many people have it in their minds that they are a failure with the pose if they don’t lie all the way back onto the ground. The thing is, to be able to get into supta virasana, you have to have pretty flexible quads and psoas muscles. So then if they don’t have that flexibility and they go all the way back, they may feel stuck in the pose and definitely won’t be able to have a nice even breath. When I first started yoga, I went with a friend of mine and she did exactly that and she whispered to me that she was stuck and started panicking. It was really funny after the fact, but during she felt genuinely panicked. So I find that this indication from your body really helps you to start listening to your body. As we grow up and have to face many different life experiences and circumstances, I find that we become very good at ignoring the signals of our bodies. When we begin to practice yoga and begin to pay attention to our breath, we begin to tune back into our bodies. When we connect back into our bodies, then we can find movement through our poses and really work with our breath. You will even find that your body really varies from day to day depending on the activities you’ve been involved with. The potential for further movement, no matter how far you get into the pose, is one of the many reasons that I LOVE yoga!
Sesame oil has got to be my favourite oil that I use frequently. During one of the yoga trainings I did, we were learning about Ayurveda, and sesame oil came up (since the season was changing from summer to fall). We learned that sesame oil has warming components and is therefore great for use in the fall and winter, unlike coconut oil which is cooling. Depending on your dosha, sesame oil could be the perfect oil for your constitution. We learned about oil pulling, which I spoke about in a previous post, sesame oil is great for oil pulling because not only is it warming, so it makes you feel cozy, but it also draws toxins out. We also learned that using a dropper to put sesame oil in your nose is fantastic for your sinuses. I have been putting sesame oil in my nose everyday since and it has made such a difference, particularly over the winter when it starts to get more dry in the air. To be clear, I’m talking about the cold pressed raw sesame oil, because there is also a lot of toasted sesame oil products in stores, stay away from those ones (particularly if you are oil pulling or putting the oil in your nose). The best way to tell is by colour, raw sesame oil is a light golden colour whereas toasted is a darker brown colour. More benefits of sesame oil include: healthy skin, decreased risk of diabetes, lowers blood pressure, heart health, cancer prevention, bone health, arthritis relief, respiratory health, antiviral, and antibacterial. All of these benefits are the result of compounds that are found in sesame seeds and oil such as zinc, copper, sesamol, manganese, an assortment of vitamins and other minerals. For such tiny seeds, they are packed with super nutrients, plus they taste pretty good. I love everything about sesame oil and I highly encourage you to try it out!
Through my teaching journey, I have found a much bigger capacity for compassion than I had before I started on my yoga path. Before I found yoga, it wasn’t that I wasn’t compassionate, it was more that I didn’t understand why people didn’t see or feel things the way that I did. If I wanted to go out and do something and my friends didn’t feel like it, I would often time feel annoyed because I wanted to do something, so they should too. Or at work, if someone didn’t get what I was trying to show them, I just couldn’t understand what they weren’t getting and it was very frustrating. It was a self-centered way to be and I was miserable, I didn’t realize it was because of my lack of compassion. When I began my teacher training and even for the first little while as a certified teacher, I didn’t see that everyone has a different experience of a pose in their body. Then, over time I came to realize that I have a very different experience of some poses in my body than many of my students do. It dawned on me that everyone leads very different lives and has vastly different life experiences which translate into their bodies and I had to honour that. If I teach a class in the “after work hour(s)” than I have to make it a stress-free class because these students could have had a very stress-filled day. if someone tells me about an injury they have, it’s my job to ensure they practice safely. This has crept into my daily life as well. If someone is angry, upset, frustrated, etc. I always try to see things from their point of view and understand them, rather than react to them. I feel it is so important to have compassion for those you interact with often, not only is it a nicer experience for them, but it helps you to stay more at ease and at peace with situations. The thing is, everyone thinks they have compassion, and we all do to a certain degree, but trying to actively understand and be compassionate rather than react to situations is so much easier said than done. It is a journey that I think would benefit everyone to work a little more actively with. I love that through yoga and particularly teaching yoga, this has happened naturally for me, it’s one of the many reasons that I LOVE teaching!
There is Always Room to Grow in Your Practice
I find it truly amazing how there is always room for improvement in your yoga practice. To me, the term “practice makes perfect” should really be, “practice makes progress”. For example, my back bend practice is so deep that I thought for a little while that there was no way I could go further. I had my feet flat on my head and I had figured, that’s it, I’ve gone as far as one can go in back bends. That was kind of fine for me because I know how much work my inversions and arm balances can use, but I thought I came to the end of the road for back bending. Then one day I came across a beautiful account on instagram of a yogini named Talia. This woman is amazing, she trains so hard and competes. I’m nowhere near the level of her back bends and it made me realize for the first time that there is ALWAYS room for progression! And it’s not just in asana, there is always room for progress in all aspects of yoga, including pranayama and meditation. The other thing is, your body can be and is very different from day to day. Maybe one day you have just gotten into full hanumanasana and then the next day your legs are a little sore and you can’t. It doesn’t mean you’ve regressed, it just means your a little different in that moment, so keep working on it! Try not to ever think you’ve made it to the end of the line, keep reaching for the stars and you may just be amazed at what that leads you to. All the room for progress and growth that this practice offers us is one of the many reasons that I LOVE yoga!
Baked Margherita Spaghetti Squash
This delicious recipe is so pleasing to many of the foodie groups. It’s vegetarian, paleo, gluten free… Pretty much guilt free, what more could we ask for?
Here’s What You’ll Need:
1 large spaghetti squash
1/2 a small onion, minced
1 sprig of parsley, finely chopped
1 small garlic clove, finely chopped
2 sprigs of basil, torn
equivalent to 1/4 teaspoon of oregano, finely chopped
1 large roma tomato
2 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil
1/2 cupped of shredded mozzarella cheese
freshly ground salt and pepper (I use pink Himalayan salt)
-Preheat oven to 400 degrees F
-Cut the tomato into small chunks and mix together with the basil, parsley, oregano, and onion.
-Cut spaghetti squash in half (lengthwise) and scoop out the seeds. Sprinkle chopped garlic, salt and pepper.
-Place face down on a baking sheet and place in the oven for about 20 minutes. Check the squash at this time, the contents should be quite easy to fork out, if not place back into the oven for another 5-10 minutes until you reach this consistency.
-Remove from oven and loosen the stringy squash with a fork, but leave this in the skin. Drizzle the “spaghetti” with the extra virgin olive oil and add tomato mixture in. Cover with the cheese.
-Place oven on broil and put the spaghetti squash back in (face up this time) for about 5 minutes (or until cheese is fully melted)
-Remove from oven, allow to cool for a few minutes and ENJOY!!