Asana – The Physical Postures of Yoga
When you think of yoga, you automatically have the picture of someone doing a posture, people don’t necessarily always think of the meditation or breathing. I absolutely love those other aspects of yoga, but asana is what originally attracted me to the practice, and I will always love it. I started yoga for the exercise that these postures offered (particularly in a hot room), I found many benefits, I lost weight, I gained even more flexibility, I began to get stronger, and most importantly for me, I learned so much about my body. I was a chronic hyper extender in all of my joints and had no idea, I certainly had no idea that hyper extension causes damage to the joints. I was also (and still struggle with) being a chronic back bender. In any position you can imagine I was back bending and not even knowing it, whether it was standing to do the dishes, going for a walk, sitting at a desk, etc. etc. etc. Embarassingly enough, I always was a little nervous of going downstairs with high heels on (which I wore everyday for work at the office and before that I wore everyday to university and highschool). I came to realize that I felt unstable because I had very weak muscles everywhere in my body. Yoga asana brought me to this realization everyday when I would practice and feel like I would die in a simple lunge. Doing any strengthening postures would really bring me to the edge of my limits, I wouldn’t be breathing, I would be turning red from over exertion. It was my goal to do yoga everyday and I had no expiration day on that goal, almost five years later and I’m still practicing everyday. Sometimes when I feel like I have plateau’d in my practice, I look back on just how far I have come in five years. I don’t know the exact percentage to which I have increased my strength, but I know it is well over 200%. To me that seems amazing, in five years I have come so much further than I could have ever imagined and this is mostly due to my asana practice. As my practice has advanced, I have come to realize that the asanas offer so much more than just exercise. These postures actually aid so much in your meditation and pranayama practice. Asana eventually helps to calm your mind (and if you’re anything like I was, you’re thinking of a million things at once) and open your body to allow you to sit (or lie) in one position for awhile and first of all, stay comfortable, and secondly, not have your mind wander. This really improves your way of life overall, even if you haven’t cultivated a meditation or pranayama practice, a dedicated asana practice still offers you the calmness and openness you need to improve your way of life. Getting all these benefits from originally just trying to get in shape is one of the MANY reasons that I LOVE yoga!
July’s Tip: Have a Tea Bath!
Everyone knows that drinking tea is great for you. There are tonnes of health benefits, from antioxidants to fighting free radicals to being heart healthy, etc. So many of us drink it all up throughout the day, but why not try it a different way. Tea baths are becoming a “new thing”. Our skin is the biggest organ on our body and theoretically if consuming tea has all those benefits for us, why wouldn’t absorbing tea through our skin give us the same or very similar results? I was right on board with this as soon as I heard about it, but after some quick research, I was unable to find a whole about it. One comment that was common throughout all the things I read, tea baths are deeply relaxing! So, to my knowledge there is not a whole lot of proof of the benefits of tea baths, but I would think it’s similar to the principles of an Epsom salt bath. Putting the salt in the bath to infuse into the water gives you a chance to allow the bath water and all the goodness it’s infused with to absorb into your body through your skin. The properties in the Epsom salt are great for muscle soreness, so for a tea bath, I feel like you would absorb the benefits of the particular tea through your skin. Give it a shot if it sounds interesting to you, I know I’m going to!
How Open Students Are to New Experiences
Sometimes when I ask the class in the beginning what they want to work on and crickets chirp, it can be disconcerting because I know that everyone has something they want to work on but are too shy to speak up. Sometimes though, I already have something planned and if no one speaks up, I go ahead with my plan. Many times it involves something new to everyone, which can be a little nerve wracking sometimes because you don’t want anyone to feel like they can’t do something or that the new moves are beyond them, but at the same time, their practices are never going to move forward if they don’t try weird new things. So, no matter how I’m feeling about what I’m planning to teach, I teach it because I eventually realize that my concerns have no merit. After these classes, the students almost ALWAYS tell me that they loved the new thing and can’t wait to practice it again. This blows my mind sometimes, just because it shows to me that people are so much more open minded than I sometimes give them credit for. It seems that everyone loves trying new things and even if it’s really hard, it gives them something to work towards, and everyone needs goals in their practices! Being consistently surprised by my students is just one of the MANY reasons that I LOVE teaching!
All The Interconnecting Branches
It’s funny to think now, but when I took my first yoga class, I thought it was just a low-impact exercise for flexible people. I soon found out that meditation and pranayama were big parts of yoga as well, but what I didn’t realize was that there are SO many interconnecting branches of practices that weave together and compliment yoga in so many ways. When I took my 200 hour teacher training, I was introduced to kirtan, which is a traditional performance with singing, chanting, and instruments. To me it was like a really relaxing and calming concert where the songs were mostly in sanskrit. When I took my 300 hour yoga teacher training, I was introduced to Ayurveda and fell in love with its principles. Since that part of my training, I have been starting my day by oil pulling, then having a drink of warm lemon water to kickstart my digestive system, having oatmeal everyday for breakfast, etc. Ayurveda tells us that having a properly functioning digestive system is the key to health, so it’s really mindful of what we put in our bodies, but I also find it to be non-judgemental, it doesn’t tell us to be vegan or gluten free or paleo, it just suggests what is most calming and healing on your digestive tract. I also learned about crystals and how healing they can be. I learned about being mindful of the moon cycles and understanding how the moon and its cycles affect our bodies.I learned about grounding myself and energies and vibrations of people and spaces and how to work with these. And moreover, I learned about how just showing gratitude for everything we’re grateful for changes our vibrations and the vibrations of the things we’re grateful for. The point is, from a little seed of just wanting exercise came all this knowledge and wisdom about being mindful and kind. I can’t believe how yoga has opened my eyes and my mind and that’s one of the many reasons that I LOVE yoga!
This is probably going to be the easiest recipe I’ve posted. This is an easy recipe that has more instructions than ingredients and the result is oh so good for you! Ghee can be used as your new cooking oil, it will be cheaper, probably last longer, and has a higher burning temperature than oils! You can use it on popcorn to make the closest thing to movie theatre popcorn without having to leave your home. You can use it in place of butter on foods. It is full of vitamins and minerals, but the mil solids and impurities have been removed, this makes it more compatible with lactose intolerant people. It aids in digestion and therefore can improve your immune system.
Here’s what you’ll need:
-A pound of high quality non-salted butter
-A small saucepan
-A spoon for stirring
-Warm up saucepan on high heat
-Cut up your pound of butter into chunks to aid in the melting time
-Add all of the chunks of butter to saucepan and lower the heat to medium-high
-Stir constantly to aid in melting the butter
-Once the butter has melted, keep stirring and a foam will appear on the top layer of the melted butter
-Keep stirring and scrapping the sides of the saucepan to ensure that the foam stays in the melted butter not on the saucepan
-Keep stirring and you’ll notice that the foam begins to curdle and become a little chunky, that’s because this is the milk solids and impurities.
-Keep stirring and eventually the curdles will sink to the bottom and the consistency of the melted butter (almost ghee) is really liquid-y and golden in colour
-Keep stirring because the milk solids and impurities are now at the bottom and browning, contributing to the beautiful golden colour of your ghee, so we wouldn’t want it to burn!
-You will notice that the mixture starts foaming again, this means you’re almost there!
-Once the foam become bigger bubbles (about 1 cm in diameter approximately), it’s time to strain your ghee!
-Get a fine sieve and strain the gorgeous golden liquid into a glass jar and toss the milk solids and impurities. (Don’t worry, the milk solids/impurities are supposed to be that weird red colour, you did nothing wrong!)
-Let it cool with the lid off until it’s room temperature because you don’t want to close it and allow condensation to form, ghee doesn’t like water!
-Once it’s room temperature store in a cupboard so that it can be in darkness (ghee keeps longer this way).
-After a few days you’ll notice that it starts to become a bit more solid instead of that gorgeous golden liquid, this is totally okay, it doesn’t mean it’s gone bad.
Sharing What I’ve Learned From My Studies
One of the most important things to being a teacher, in my opinion, is to always continue being a student. I believe that there is never a point when you have acquired too much information, and if we ever think we get to that point, it should be obvious that there is a lesson to be learned there as well. Having said that, I don’t believe that you should hoard that knowledge to yourself and potentially become judgmental towards others because they don’t do things the way you’ve learned them. The thing is, people do things the way they do them because that’s how they’ve learned, if you wish for them to experience something that you deem important, then you must teach them, or they may never learn it! I am seeing this judgmental behaviour all over social media lately. There are a few huge instagram accounts and the people who have those accounts show incredibly beautiful expressions of inversions mostly, but some other poses as well. You always see other yogis telling them they are doing something wrong, from the way they point, flex, or floint their feet, to the way their legs are positioned. When I see these pictures, it’s quite obvious to me that they know exactly how to do those poses and don’t need the judgement to be able to do them. The most hurtful is when fellow yogis comment that the poses are not “yoga” and the simple fact that they are taking a photo of themselves doing yoga doesn’t make it yoga. I find that interesting because one of the eight limbs of yoga, yama, would probably frown on these comments. Yama, is the first limb of yoga and basically means self restraint, so showing reverence towards others, non-violent behaviour, etc.
ANYWAYS, getting back on subject. I totally believe that in order to avoid these behaviours, we all need to teach each other what we’ve learned. Sure yoga teachers have more of a specialty in sequencing the postures in the best way for our bodies, or knowing alignment queues better, but we can all show each other what we’ve learned. I was taught to always flex or floint my feet in poses like inversions, then someone told me the benefits of pointing my feet… For me, pointing my feet in inversions makes the pose so much stronger, I’ll probably stick with pointing my feet for the foreseeable future. When I teach a class and they try something a certain way they’ve never tried before, and it really resonates in their body, that is such an amazing feeling. The opportunity I get to share what I’ve learned with a room full of yogis is just one of the many reasons that I LOVE teaching yoga!!
When I was in university, I got my degree in Commerce, but I minored in Religious studies. I find learning about different religions to be so fascinating! I went to Catholic school for elementary and secondary, so I learned a whole lot about Catholicism, but when I was introduced to different religions of the world, I was so interested in all the different perspectives and how many similarities there were throughout all religions. So when I took my first teacher training and a major part of it was the philosophy of yoga, I was so excited. I had learned about Hinduism before, but only very generally, I never knew that this religion tied into the philosophy of yoga (and Buddhism too, but we focused more on Hinduism). We had the privilege of learning from two top scholars in the field, Dr. Douglas Brooks and Hareesh Wallis. These guys had such a breadth of knowledge in their field and it was a joy to learn from them. They were both also experts in the Sanskrit language and so we were able to learn a lot about the Sanskrit names of the poses. Learning about the philosophy of yoga gave me a bigger picture of yoga and how it’s not all about doing crazy poses, how there are eight limbs of yoga and asana is just one of them. It’s so interesting to me that yoga asana only became a thing way back in the day to open the body to be able to sit and meditate for very long periods of time, and look at what it’s evolved into today! I also love how some asanas have stories that go along with them. For example, hanumanasana (July’s pose of the month!) was a pose dedicated to the Hindu god, Hanuman. The (really simplified) story of Hanuman was that his friend, Ram’s, girlfriend, Sita, was kidnapped and taken so far away that there was no way Ram would be able to rescue her. So Hanuman (the monkey god) took a giant leap practically across the world, and since he leapt with one foot forward, the other foot was behind (like splits pose) and that’s how the pose came to be in yoga. (He did end up saving Sita and she was reunited with Ram, in case you were wondering). Anyways, I just find it all very fascinating and it shows to me that there is so much more than exercising and stretching to yoga. I absolutely love the history and philosophy of yoga and it is just one of the many reasons that I LOVE yoga!
July – Hanumanasana
Hanumanasana has got to be in my top 5 favourite poses, if not my most favourite pose of the moment. I absolutely love this pose, I comes so naturally for me and is usually just a very comfortable pose for me to be in. Of course there are days when I feel tighter and need to warm p a little to get into it, but generally it is easy for me and I feel like it’s a beautiful expression in my body. I am so passionate about this pose that I feel like a have a whole bunch of students who come to my classes with the intention of working on their hanumanasana. When I teach this pose, I always take the class through a whole lot of warm up so that their hamstrings are really warm and they have the best chance possible of easing into the pose. It’s so amazing to see students who once were nowhere near full hanuman, over time actually make their way into it. I have at least 5 students who once had such tight hamstrings they could barely do the modified variation, now they can get into it no problem at all. So to get into the pose, after a good deal of hamstring warm up, come into a lunge position with your back knee on the ground. Put more weight into your back knee and straighten your front leg. Draw your hips back and heart forward and begin to hinge from your hips. From this point check in with how you are feeling here, if you feel a deep stretch, don’t go further just yet. If your hands are significantly far away from the ground, rather than curling your back to get your hands on the ground, bring your hand to your shin (same side hand as forward leg) and rather than leaning your weight into your shin, push your shin into your hand, doing this will help to keep your quadricep strong and avoid any hyper extension in your knee. If you are feeling open enough you can release your fingertips onto the ground. Once you find the best spot for you, you can a) stay still and really feel the stretch you are receiving, b) move with our breath, inhales lengthening you, exhales softening you deeper into the pose, or c) lengthen your pose, moving your forward leg more forward coming towards full hanumanasana. If you are somewhere in between and your hips are pretty close to the ground, but not quite there, use a yoga block or a rolled up blanket to rest on, remember when you have the chance to relax into a pose rather than push yourself, you will have a better chance of going deeper. Try it out, with the hot July weather, you never know, your hamstrings may be a whole lot warmer than you’re expecting!!
Visvamitrasana – Pose Dedicated to Sage Visvamitra
Visvamitrasana is a really tough pose, it requires a lot of strength as well as flexibility. To get into it, your hamstrings and inner thighs must be warmed up as well as your shoulders. It’s probably best to do some core warm ups as well, so that you are feeling strong and stable, Once you are completely warmed up, to come into the pose, the best way would be to come into a low lunge with both hands on the inside edge of your forward foot, then grab the outside edge of your forward foot with your opposite hand. From here begin to straighten your forward leg and pivot on your back foot so that you come to the inner edge of your foot. So basically, the pose looks like side plank with the foot that should be on the ground actually straight and being held by your upper hand. That may not make sense by reading it, but luckily for you there is a photo. The pose will not happen if your shoulders are really tight and you have to have A LOT of muscular energy going on in your supporting leg. This is one of those poses where you might feel the initial urge to hold your breath, but keeping a nice even and deep breath will carry you through the pose much easier. This pose is such a challenge to me because I have a bad tendency to hyper extend in my elbow of my supporting arm in side plank, so with the added challenge you can imagine how tough it would be for me to work away from my tendency. I do love a good challenge though and can definitely appreciate the strength this pose offers to me. I know that with more practice, over time, this pose will become a favourite of mine. The potential this pose offers me allows me to LOVE the pose, but the strength it requires definitely makes it one of the more challenging poses for me.
Supta Virasana – Reclining Hero Pose
Not only do I love doing this pose, but I love teaching it so much! I feel like virasana (and even more so supta virasana) is a pose that people have a lot of ego about, but really it’s a pose that you can learn a lot about yourself in. It is an excellent pose for stretching your quadriceps, psoas muscles, and even your shins and tops of your feet. However, I find so many people feel like they “suck” at the pose if they are not lying flat on their backs, so they will contort their bodies in strange ways to try to get flat on their back. The problem with doing that is that your knees are in a very vulnerable position in virasana and supta virasana. While in this pose, it is SO important to actually listen to your body and not push yourself, otherwise you could end up feeling stuck in the pose, or worse, injuring your knees. Whenever I teach these poses, I give the option to stay in virasana or if your body allows, to work towards supta. Once everyone in the class gets to the spot they’re choosing to stop in, I sometimes like to tell the true story about how I once went to a workshop where we stayed in supta virasana for 15 minutes. I then say, “If you feel like you might die if you stay in the pose you’re currently in for 15 minutes, please come out of the pose a bit and honour your boundaries.” Guaranteed more than half of the class comes out of the pose a little bit. I love practicing the pose because it’s pretty relaxing for me and I do get a gentle stretch in my quads from it. My quads, as strong as they are, are extremely open, so I rarely feel a stretch there and supta virasana only gives me a gentle stretch there, but it feels lovely in my body. I learned from this pose that I arch my back too much, and I always work on lengthening my tailbone more in the direction of my knees. I never really felt how overly arched my back was in reclining poses until I figured that out in supta virasana. The amazing opportunity to learn more about how your body functions in this pose is just one of the reasons why I LOVE this pose!