Easy Does It

advanced yoga pose I read an article in elephant journal today that is making the rounds on all my yoga Facebook groups. The writer, Theresa Pauline, says “If I had a nickel for every time I saw a posted photo of a yoga teacher in handstand, I’d be a millionaire.” This sentiment is something that I have experienced myself. I have seen countless photos of teachers and yoga practitioners who are able to contort their bodies into spectacular poses. On one hand, I feel it’s not my place to judge. Every body is different. Perhaps that teacher studied gymnastics as a child or is naturally flexible. Perhaps they have practiced that pose daily for years. Who knows. On the other hand, I have gotten intimidated and shied away from practicing with certain teachers because of the photos I have seen of them. raghu Hello Raghunath! I was so afraid to take his class, Flight School, for years. Sure, I heard friends rave about him but I was still nervous since I felt his practice was way more advanced than mine. When I found out he was leading a spiritual pilgrimage to India, I felt I had to take his class. Turns out that while he seemingly is able to do inversions and arm balances blindfolded, he was a “normal” person and a great teacher.  I took a class with Kathryn Budig at the 2013 Yoga Journal Conference. kathrynbudig I hadn’t realized her class was on advanced yoga poses. One thing I remember her saying was that her life didn’t change when she was able to get her foot around her neck. One of my favorite yoga teachers never posts photos of herself in advanced poses. Another favorite teacher recently posted a photos in advanced poses.  I was impressed. I have taken her class many times and she has never introduced these poses in class.

I don’t consider my poses to be “advanced” at all. The photos that I have on my website are rather tame. Downward dogs and tree pose.  I’m also aware after having taught yoga, these “tame” poses may be advanced to certain yogis. My definition of an advanced practice has nothing to do with yoga poses, but more about taming the monkey mind. In that aspect, I’m a total newbie.

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Back On My Mat….Again

the mat

 

A few months ago, I wrote about renewing my love for yoga. After a while of not practicing, I felt great being back on my mat. I felt amazing. However, I spent most of my summer off the mat. I have my reasons, aka, excuses, of course. I gave tons of Reiki sessions. I started kickboxing. I did make it to a handful of classes. Some days I even managed a home practice.

But my heart wasn’t into it as it once was. I tried to be gentle and kind to myself. I knew this was only a phase. I knew it would pass. But it was still challenging for me. I didn’t feel like I was being who I was, if that makes any sense. I continually reminded myself that yoga is not just asana or yoga poses. I knew I would eventually find my way home again.

And I have. These past few weeks I’ve been taking more classes. I actually crave yoga. I think that is what was bothering me:  I was missing the desire for yoga. Without that desire, I felt off kilter. I did love kickboxing. I also love the other workout classes that I have been trying recently. The difference is that now I can’t wait to get back on my mat. I’m looking forward to practicing with my favorite teachers and practicing with new teachers and studios.

Speaking of mats, I also purchased a new mat. It’s called The Mat by lululemon. While I have heard great things about The Mat, I always shied away from it mainly because of the logo. I typically dress head to toe in lulu and I felt silly practicing with a lulu mat. Yet after reading rave review after rave review  (and seeing it released in the color Plum), I decided to purchase it.

I blogged about finding the perfect yoga mat over a year ago. That blog post is one of my most popular blog posts. Clearly there are many yogis in the same boat. Since writing that post, I have only been using my Jade Fusion mat. I find it cushiony and non-slippery. I either haven’t broken my Manduka Pro in or I have a defective one, but it’s so slippery. I just don’t reach for it since I hate slipping.

I’ve used The Mat at least three times. Pros: It’s very grippy and lighter weight than my Jade Fusion and Manduka Pro. Cons: It shows stains and it smells. When I first opened The Mat, I laid it out in my office with the windows open for a few days. My office still smells. The Mat still smells a tiny bit but it has gotten a lot better. The thing that bother me the most are the stains, aka, sweat. When I’m in child’s pose, my forehead leaves a stain on the mat. It does go away eventually, but it’s taking me some time to get used to seeing stains as I practice. That has never, ever happened to me in any of my years of owning a yoga mat.

I bet the black mat doesn’t show stains as much. If you know me, you know I love all things purple but I may get a black one next time. In the meantime, I’m going to enjoy my mat as much as possible, stains and all.

Yoga Isn’t Just For Kids

mykidsyogaclass

Now that school is back in session, so are my kids yoga classes. This past week I’ve slowly eased back into my teaching. I taught two classes in East Orange to kids who have suffered trauma and now demonstrate severe emotional and behavioral issues. I will admit to being a bit nervous about resuming teaching there. Before I enter the Center, I take a few minutes in my car to center myself.  I pray and ask for guidance and support to best serve the kids. I send Reiki to myself and the room. I slather myself in calming essential oils and off I go. The classes I taught this week are the “easy” ones. The kids are younger and, for the most part, not as affected. Yet, I was cursed at, called stupid, had my props thrown across the room and a child tried to kick me. This particular child knew me from last year so I was surprised at his reaction. I do my best to stay calm and present to them an adult that will not react to them by yelling or getting overly upset.

I also led my free kids yoga class at Shatki Yoga. I had 20 kids (!!!!) in my class.  While my class is geared for kids ages 3-7, most of the kids were on the younger side. This free class always draws a large crowd. We like to offer a free class a few times a year so the kids can try the class before the series begins and the parents can see how it goes. This free class is a bit different than the classes I teach in the rest of the series simply because there are so many kids. I had an assistant this time which helped tremendously. What usually happens is one child asks to use the bathroom and then every single child has to go. With that amount of young kids, I needed an extra set of hands. All the kids seemed to have a lot of fun. So did I.

On Friday I visited Karma Kids Yoga. I became certified to teach kids yoga through this studio and I have continued to take numerous trainings they offer. One of the great things that the director, Shari, extends to graduates is the opportunity to observe classes. Since I don’t begin to teach on Fridays for another two weeks, I took the opportunity to head into the city and observe a 3-4 year old yoga class.

karma kids room

The studio is filled with butterflies, bright colors and fun. It was great to watch the teacher. It made me feel a lot better about my own teaching since her class was very similar to the ones that I teach. Sometimes I worry that I’m not doing a good enough job but observing this class helped increase my self confidence. The teachers who teach there are so lucky as the studio is filled with amazing props right at their fingertips.

Lastly, I volunteered to teach a free kids yoga class for my community on Saturday afternoon for the Maplewood Loves Wellness event. Even though I had just taught a free class a few days before, I still felt compelled to offer my service at this event. I assumed there could be families who weren’t aware of my class at Shakti. There really isn’t a way to prepare for an event like this. The event was like a street fair. My class was announced over a microphone and kids started to come over. I had kids ranging in age from 2-12. We sang some songs, did sun salutations and breath work as parents and passerby’s walked by.

All in all, it was a nice transition week back to teaching. Plus I was also able to give two in person Reiki sessions and one long distance session. I’m thankful to be able to continue offering healing energy sessions in addition to teaching kids yoga. As the weeks go on, I will be teaching at a preschool and an enrichment program at my daughter’s elementary school. Summer was great while it lasted!

Yin & Yang

cko

A few days ago, I chatted with an acquaintance about yoga. She had taken a class or two in the past and was excited about learning more. However, when she went to the class, she felt out of place. Disoriented. Out of sorts. She wasn’t familiar with the Sanskrit names for poses or even the “regular” names.

I could relate. Two weeks ago, I decided to check out a kickboxing studio in my town, CKO Kickboxing. While I love practicing yoga, I was also feeling a bit blah with my practice. I view yoga as my spiritual practice, not as exercise. It’s definitely challenging for sure, but my body was calling for a workout.  I decided to check out a class. The first class is free and I also had a coupon for a pair of free gloves so I had nothing to lose except a lot of sweat.

It helped that I know the owner, Tara. Her daughter had taken one of my kids yoga series. I got there early and she gave me an orientation. Upper cuts, jabs, round house kicks….. It was all greek to me.

As class began, I truly felt out of my element. I found the combinations hard!  Side note: when I came home, I told my husband, a purple belt in karate,  how I found it challenging to remember the sequences. He kindly informed me the correct term was combination. In yoga, we call it a sequence.

Nevertheless, I loved it. I loved the sweat. I loved the fact that I was challenging my body and my mind with something new. I realized that it had been a very long time since I tried something new. While I do try new exercise classes here and there, this class was truly out of my comfort zone.

I also think this is a great yang to my yin yoga practice.

lulu water bottle

 

Karunamayi Part III: Another Unexpected Gift

karunamayi

I was introduced to Karunamayi, a living Saint from India, about two years ago. My meditation teacher was the one who told me about her. After my first darshan, or blessing, with her I became vegetarian. All desire to eat meat or fish was totally lifted from me. When I asked her a blessing, becoming a vegetarian was not on my list! I don’t know why this happened. All I can say is that ever since that day over two years, I have had a few bites of fish and none of meat or chicken.

When I received my second darshan last year, my husband joked and asked if I would become vegan. Nothing of the sort happened. I did cry for no apparent reason, which had happened the previous year. But aside from that, I didn’t feel anything drastic had happened or changed for me.

This year, I had family from Spain visiting me. I was not able to attend the darshan but the opportunity to participate in a half day meditation workshop opened up. One of my friends was curious about meeting her and decided to join me. As we drove there bright and early, we told each other that we didn’t have any expectations. We declared that we were fully open to experience and whatever would happen that day. We were so full of shit. Of course we had expectations!

The workshop started one hour later than what was on the website. We didn’t receive any instruction on how to meditate. We spent maybe 90 minutes in her presence which included one hour with our eyes closed meditating. Darshan wasn’t part of the program. We left disappointed.

However, the next morning I realized that I had, indeed, been given an unexpected gift. During the workshop, we practiced yoga. It was a special sequence that Amma developed. When we practiced it, I felt something. I don’t know what it was, but it was something. I did have an internal debate before purchasing the book, Yoga Is Union. The Yoga of Amma Sri Karunamayi. The book contained the sequence and also a lot more information. I have never been able to maintain a home yoga practice, despite a 300 hour Yoga Alliance certification and other workshops that I have taken focused on developing a home practice.

Shockingly enough to me, I have been practicing the sequence nearly every day. Even more shockingly, I have had the desire to teach the sequence to friends. I taught to two friends last week and will be teaching it again this week. I don’t think they have had the same experience with it as I have but they told me they have enjoyed it.

I’ve begun to read the book. The author Darin Somma, who was the one who led the practice at the workshop, writes “Everyone I have the fortune of sharing this practice with has told how profound their experience is, even yoga teachers with more than 60 years of experience have told me that Amma’s teachings revolutionized their practice!” I don’t know if my practice is revolutionized. I will keep you posted 🙂

 

It Never Goes Away

times square 1

I was fortunate to be one of 16,000 yogis who participated in yesterday’s Summer Solstice in Times Square. It was great fun. I grew up in the Bronx. I still remember when Times Square was filled with prostitutes outside the nude peep shows with my mom holding my hand and dragging me along. Times have really changed. And yet in some ways they haven’t.

I practiced behind a mother and daughter. The daughter appeared to be in her 20s. She may have been a yoga teacher or just had a regular practice. I couldn’t help but notice every time she adjusted her mother or looked at her form. It was so sweet. It made me wonder if my Mom would have practiced with me. Would I have dragged her to take a class with me?

This isn’t the first time this has happened. I see mother and daughter yogis all the time. When I was at Kripalu, I saw a few. Once, a mother and daughter took my class. During savasana, final relaxation pose, I walked around doing soothing adjustments. My heart stopped when I came to them. They were holding hands. The mom was crying. I cried too.

I thought about my Mom and sent her loving thoughts. I will never stop missing her. But I returned to the present moment and continued my practice.

times 2

toes

police

dancer in times square

 

 

 

 

More Than Words

nurture cards

I’ve been teaching yoga to children for nearly two years. I never imagined myself in this position and yet here I am, doing my best to serve my students. My intention when I teach kids is to get them to smile. It sounds easy, doesn’t it?  But that’s not always the case.

I teach four classes a week to children who have suffered trauma and now demonstrate severe emotional and behavioral issues. Most, if not all, do not live with both of their biological parents. Some are adopted but aren’t aware of that. Some have one or both of their parents incarnated. Some have been expelled or suspended from school at age 5. Most of my kids can’t sit still. They will tell me “Miss Judie, I can’t help myself. I can’t stop moving.” Of course sweetheart, I think, this is not your fault.

I do my best to introduce props, songs, books, whatever I can to brighten their day. I bring in my Tibetan healing bowl. I bring in essential oils and crystals. I give out coloring sheets and stickers.

I recently entered a contest to win a deck of Nurture Cards: Affirmation Cards for Children. OMazing Kids is an AMAZING website with fabulous resources for anyone who works with children. OMazing Kids offers contests on what seems like on a daily basis. I am so grateful to them!!!

I was SO HAPPY to have won the contest. Even though the cards were shipped from Australia, they arrived very quickly. I was able to use them in my classes this afternoon. I put a card on each mat. Most of the kids do not know how to read but the ones that did took pride in reading the affirmations. I read every single affirmation. As I expected, the kids loved the cards.

Some of the affirmations were “I love myself for all that I am” and “I enjoy doing my very best in all that I do” and “I am happy to forgive the people that I love.” When one of the students got that card, we spoke about forgiveness. It was such a sweet conversation.

I wish I could show you every card! I especially love how the cards feature faces of all different skin tones. I have used yoga cards with these kids before and they once asked me how come none of the kids in the cards had brown skin. Hmm, good question! Now I specifically search for cards that have all skin colorings.

Thank you Angela at OMazing Kids and Roxanne from Nurture Cards. The world is a better place because of you.