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Can You Handle the Truth? December 23, 2018

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in 108 Sun Salutations, 40-Day Challenge, Abhyasa, Bhakti, Buddhism, Changing Perspectives, Dharma, Faith, Fitness, Food, Gratitude, Hope, Japa, Japa-Ajapa, Karma, Kirtan, Life, Mala, Mantra, Meditation, Minneapolis, Minnesota, Music, Mysticism, New Year, Peace, Philosophy, Surya Namaskar, Tantra, Traditional Chinese Medicine, Twin Cities, Vairagya, Wisdom.
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This time last year I wrote, “2018 promises to be a year full of challenges.”

Little did I know how true that statement would be.

Oxford Dictionaries define “true” as an adjective meaning “in accordance with fact or reality…genuine…real or actual…accurate or exact…. in tune.” True can also be used as a verb when applied to something that is bringing “(an object, wheel, or other construction) into the exact shape or position required.” It originates from Old English words meaning “steadfast, loyal” and is related to a Dutch word meaning “faithful” and a German word meaning “loyal to.”

I could continue going down the rabbit hole, examining the meaning and origins of all the target words, but ultimately we know the truth when we see it…or hear it. Or do we?

Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking promotes the power of insight and intuition; of knowing without knowing why we know something is true. Yet, Malcolm Gladwell also points out that, “We have, as human beings, a storytelling problem. We’re a bit too quick to come up with explanations for things we don’t really have an explanation for.” In other words, the brain gets in the way of the heart.

Our brains make us humans notoriously bad witnesses. Our brains fill in the gaps to make sense of puzzles we’ve created and, theoretically, to preserve the idea that we are not ignorant about things we are supposed to know. We make up stories, even when we’re the only one paying attention to the story in our head. In Musicophilia: Tales of Music and the Brain, Dr. Oliver Sacks wrote, “The brain needed to stay incessantly active, and if it was not getting its usual stimulation…, it would create its own stimulation in the form of hallucinations.”

Oxford defines “hallucination” as “an experience involving the apparent perception of something not present.” This last year, really the last two – going on three – years, it’s felt a little like the quality and state of being true was a hallucination. People say one thing and do something completely opposite. People accuse one another of lying. Technology allows us to morph our faces, our voices, our words, and to create realistic holograms of people who are no longer living. More and more it seems that everything real is an illusion.

Of course, the idea that everything we are experiencing is a dream, an illusion, a delusion – or a computer generated program – is nothing new: It’s part of the foundation of many philosophies, including yoga. Another part of philosophies like yoga and Buddhism is that there is a path to seeing things clearly, and that seeing things clearly is liberation.

“To live on a day-to-day basis is insufficient for human beings; we need to transcend, transport, escape; we need meaning, understanding, and explanation; we need to see overall patterns in our lives. We need hope, the sense of a future. And we need freedom (or at least the illusion of freedom) to get beyond ourselves, whether with telescopes and microscopes and our ever-burgeoning technology or in states of mind which allow us to travel to other worlds, to transcend our immediate surroundings. We need detachment of this sort as much as we need engagement in our lives.”

– excerpt from Hallucinations by Dr. Oliver Sacks

The fourth and final section of the Yoga Sutras focuses on liberation. Liberation, as Patanjali describes it, involves lifting the veil of ignorance and seeing the truth about everything, including ourselves. Patanjali also explains that the barrier/veil of ignorance can be thinned and then dissolved by birth, herbs, mantra (ajapa-japa), tapas (practices of intense discipline/austerity), or meditation. (YS 4:1)

Clarity; right view; seeing the truth – whichever way you describe it, it seems to be lacking in our current version of reality. And, as the war on truth continues, more and more people will desire it. If you are longing for a new year where you are in tune with your core values and connected to your intuition, consider starting 2019 with a practice, like yoga, which fits into that final definition of truth (see above): something that is bringing (an object, wheel, or other construction) into the exact shape or position required.

The following practices include at least three of the liberating methods mentioned by Patanjali in the Yoga Sutras:

Monday, December 31st – New Year’s Eve:

7:30 PM – 12:15 AM, Annual New Year’s Eve Celebration and Potluck, Common Ground Meditation Center (PLEASE REGISTER HERE)


Tuesday, January 1st – New Year’s Day:

9:00 AM – 11:00 AM, 108 Solar Powered Sadhana with Susan Meyer, Yoga Center Retreat (Please register)

10:00 AM – 1:00 PM, 108 Sun Salutations with Myra (reservations required, THIS EVENT IS FULL)

10:00 AM – 11:30 AM, New Year’s Day – Restorative Yoga with Shelly Pagitt, Yoga Sanctuary (please register, only 2 spots left as I post this!)

10:00 AM – 12:00 PM, New Year’s Day – All-Humanity Class with Matthew Sanford, Mind Body Solutions (Please register)

10:30 AM – 1:00 PM, New Year’s Day Yoga with Nancy Boler (reservations required, THIS EVENT IS FULL)

10:30 AM – 12:30 PM, 108 Sun Salutations + Champagne with Meghan Foley, UP Yoga (please register)

11:00 AM – 12:15 PM, New Year’s Donation Class with Indu Arora, Devanadi Yoga (please register)

11:00 AM – 12:30 PM, Vinyasa, Minnehaha Yoga

12:00 PM – 2:00 PM, 108 Sun Salutations with Greg Hines & live Cello music by Cory Grossman, Yoga Sanctuary (please register)

12:00 PM – 1:30 PM, New Year’s Day Sankalpa with Justyn O’Neill, Radiant Life Yoga (please register)

12:15 PM – 2:15 PM, 108 Sun Salutations with Jennifer Davis, Blaisdell YMCA (open to YMCA  members and their guests)

12:30 PM – 3:00 PM, Sankalpa~New Year Intentions workshop with Shelley Pagitt (please register)

2:00 PM – 4:00 PM, Ganesha and New Beginnings for 2019 with Tara Cindy Sherman, Yoga Center Retreat (please register)

2:00 PM – 4:00 PM, Sankalpa Shakti: The Power of Inspired Intention with Ben Vincent, One Yoga (please register)

4:30 PM – 6:30 PM, Restorative + Yoga Nidra with Tara Cindy Sherman, Yoga Center Retreat (please register)

5:00 PM – 7:00 PM, YIN Yoga + Meditation with Myra, Nokomis Yoga (reservations required)


Saturday, January 5th:

1:00 PM – 3:30 PM, New Year’s Intention Setting Ritual with Amy Patee (please register)


Sunday, January 6th:

9:30 AM – 5:30 PM, Vincent Yoga New Year’s Retreat: A Day of Reflection, Illumination and Resolution


My apologies to any teachers or studios in the Twin Cities who are hosting an event that is not listed above.



2016 Kiss My Asana #23: This Yogi is No Slouch! February 25, 2016

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in 40-Day Challenge, Bhakti, Books, California, Changing Perspectives, Confessions, Dharma, Donate, Faith, Fitness, Food, Gratitude, Healing Stories, Health, Hope, Karma, Karma Yoga, Life, Mantra, Meditation, Men, Minneapolis, Minnesota, Music, Mysticism, One Hoop, Peace, Philosophy, Religion, Science, Sukkot, Twin Cities, Volunteer, Wisdom, Women, Writing, Yoga.
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“Be Yourself. Have Fun.”

Seane Corn on “the best advice she’s been given as a teacher


“Find your struggle, learn your lesson, and then know your purpose.”

– a “Monaism” (saying by Mona Miller, as quoted by Seane Corn)

People who come to my classes always talk about how the experience (of practicing asana with philosophy) is different from their other yoga experiences. From day one, my original teachers all included some aspect of the philosophy into their classes, so that’s the only practice I knew. It’s a practice that resonated with me, because even as a child I was preoccupied with the idea that we are connected to something more than ourselves, something divine.

Early in my life, I assumed everyone was a little preoccupied with issues of theology and existentialism. But, over time, I’ve realized everyone doesn’t consciously question and struggle with philosophical and spiritual matters – even when they crave the answers to that struggling and questioning.

In listening to feedback from people, I’ve now started to realize that every teacher doesn’t teach the way I teach. So, last year when I was ready to host my first yoga practice, I wanted someone who could teach the kind of classes I teach: alignment focused classes with spirit! Two teachers immediately came to mind – and Yogi #23 (Sandra) was one of those teachers.

“Ben Zoma would say: Who is wise? One who learns from every man. As is stated (Psalms 119:99): ‘From all my teachers I have grown wise, for Your testimonials are my meditation.’”

– Excerpt from Ethics of the Fathers (Pirkei Avot) 4:1


“The student is not above the teacher, but everyone who is fully trained will be like their teacher.”

– Luke 6:40

Sandra and I met almost five years ago at a Seane Corn vinyasa teacher training in Minneapolis. Unlike some of the other teachers in the training, we were already spirit-focused in our teaching. We had lunch together the first day, touched base throughout the week, and stayed in touch after she returned to California. One of the many reasons Sandra left such an impression on me is that she obviously teaches from her experiences – one of her specialties is Yoga for Scoliosis because she is a little curvy and has first-hand knowledge of how yoga benefits physical well-being. Another reason she left an impression on me is that she gave me her CD, “Morning Blessings”.

“The tent that houses you / houses your soul. / The Mischan, the hollow dwelling place / Be a vessel / for the love-song of God”

– Excerpt from “Morning Blessings” by Sandra Razieli (with reference to Hanna Tiferet)

“Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; … Therefore honor God with your bodies.”

– 1 Corinthians 6:19-20

I spent the week of Thanksgiving 2011 practicing with Sandra’s “Morning Blessings” CD. Even though my annual trip to Texas is always busy, that year it felt like a retreat. Years later, when I was thinking about the takeaway experience I wanted people to have on a retreat I hosted, I thought about how I felt after practicing with Sandra’s CD.

Sandra is an Iyengar teacher, as well as a certified Yoga for Scoliosis Trainer, as well as a Yoga and Jewish Spirituality teacher, as well as an Anthropologist, a spiritual leader, and…I could keep going with her accomplishments; because, bottom line, she’s no slouch. Sandra is a person of integrity and honor, a true mentsch.

A mentsch is someone who respects the needs and wishes of others—especially the desires of those in his care.

In the care of each of us is entrusted a divine soul. She has a terrible allergy to all those messy deeds that darken her world, and desires only those beautiful deeds that will bring in more light.”

Based on the teachings of the Rebbe, Rabbi M. M. Schneerson


I can only imagine what a delight it would be to practice with Sandra on a weekly basis. What I know first-hand is that every time I am in her presence I learn something. Sometimes what I learn is obviously information inside me, just waiting for a way to be articulated; however, sometimes it feels like the information is just outside of myself, waiting to be invited in. Sandra has a way of inviting inspiration, grace, and spirit in – and she does it in a way that even someone who has refused the information in the past, suddenly is open to the invitation.

There are two ways to hug somebody. The first is to grab them and draw them in, but the second, perhaps a more refined approach, is to open your arms and create space for the other person. This opening is a passive energy of Hod (humility/gratitude) that makes room for others.”

– Excerpt from The Kabbalah Sutras: 49 Steps to Enlightenment by Marcus J. Freed

(words in parenthesis are mine)

I will always be grateful for the lessons I learned from collaborating with Sandra last year. We definitely enhanced what we each already bring to the table – and, in the process, we strengthened each other’s weak spots. However, Sandra once again upped my game when (at the end of our Sukkot/Gratitude retreat) she gave me a copy of The Kabbalah Sutras: 49 Steps to Enlightenment. I started the practice during my annual Thanksgiving trip, finished on my birthday, and experience a transformation I am still processing.

“Rabbi Ishmael the son of Rabbi Yossei would say: One who learns Torah in order to teach, is given the opportunity to learn and teach. One who learns in order to do, is given the opportunity to learn, teach, observe and do.”

– Excerpt from Ethics of the Fathers (Pirkei Avot) 4:5

I get a little goose-pimply when I think about all the ways my life-journey and Sandra’s life-journey have mystically, energetically, and spiritually overlapped. Take this weekend for example: We’re both leading donation-based classes which benefit Mind Body Solutions and the adaptive yoga program. My KISS MY ASANA class is in Minneapolis on Saturday, February 27th; Sandra’s KISS MY ASANA class is in Oakland on Sunday, February 28th. (Click on each of the KISS MY ASANA links above to find out more information about each class, as well as information about my second Minneapolis class on Saturday, March 5th.)

Just in case you’re not convinced Sandra is no slouch, you can also see her here in another Kiss My Asana video.



Day Twenty-What?!?! February 1, 2011

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in 21-Day Challenge, 40-Day Challenge, Books, Buddhism, Changing Perspectives, Fitness, Health, Mantra, Meditation, Minneapolis, Minnesota, Movies, Music, Peace, Philosophy, Super Heroes, Texas, Twin Cities, Yoga.
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Day 22

My housemate has a way of saying, “What?!?” that embodies more astonishment, amazement, and awe than an adult male should be capable of mustering. It is incredulous. It is not, however, a childlike exclamation. It is one that can only be expressed by a person with a certain amount of knowledge, experience, and – yes – delight. It is the sound I hear when I think of Day 22.

During the 3rd week of the Yoga Journal 21-Day Challenge, I made several allusions to continuing the practice. After all, I had done 40-day challenges before and, as my housemate recently reminded me, 42 is “the answer to life, the universe, and everything.” So, on that level, it makes sense to do another 21 days.

Today was suppose to be a day off, but I had planned to sub a 50-minute class at the Y. It was a departure from the classes I normally teach, a super SPY class: Silent Power Yoga. In some ways it felt liberating to forgo music and my usual preparatory practice. I knew it was going to be a refining and aligning sequence; a tuning, if you will. After completing my 5-minute morning meditation and the Morning Sequence with Kate Holcombe, I knew today’s theme was going to be more super hero than super spy.

Able To, edited by Neil Ellis Orts, is an anthology of stories about people with super powers. These people, however, are not your typical superheroes. They’re more Zen then that. Like the girl whose words become flowers, some of these people have really cool powers for which we can all strive: being able to extend loving-kindness, compassion, to any one and everyone – in any situation. All of these stories make me think: what else could we do, if we tried?

In his book Power Yoga, Beryl Bender Birch refers to a zen koan that sounds like it was written especially for modern day yogis: Only when you can be extremely soft and pliable, can you be extremely hard and strong. Think Plastic Man, without the acid and the history of crime.

In today’s world, we sometimes think of being soft and pliable as being a bad thing. We imagine that bending will lead to breaking. In fact, the opposite holds true. Think of the way a palm tree and a pine tree react to strong wind. Both have strong roots, but the palm tree can hold up the longest, because it bends with the wind. The same thing is true in life: sometimes the only way to withstand the pressures around us is to give a little, bend a little. Being flexible, literally and figuratively, can be a super power for which we can all strive.

There are plenty of times in a yoga class when I see people struggling to hold or get into a pose. I encourage them to slow down their breath, and to relax…something. Sometimes I’ll even remind them that finding a deeper expression is, quite literally, finding a way to smile in the pose: inhale the corners of your mouth up to your ears, exhale and relax your jaw. See, instantly, you have a “deeper expression.”

Take a moment to consider a difficult situation in your life. Take a moment to consider how you react to even the thought of this difficult situation. Does your jaw clench? Do your shoulders move closer to your ears? What’s going on with the space between your eyebrows? What about the space between your fingers and toes? What about your breath and your heartbeat?

OK, now, consider how all these expressions of power serve you.

Take a moment, in the moment, to see what happens if you find a deeper expression, whatever that means to you. Maybe you relax your shoulders. Maybe you take a deep breath in, a deeper breath out. Maybe, just maybe, you soften your brow and smile.

Today, and the next 20 days, for me will be about finding ways to be more flexible. The funny thing is, on New Year’s Eve, when I was told (essentially) that I needed to be more flexible this year, I thought it was the most ludicrous suggestion in the world.

Little did I know.

Which is one of the great things about doing challenges like this. Not only do you give yourself the opportunity to embrace change and create space for change in your life, you also discover things you never knew you could know.


Day 21, The Perfect Time For A Tune Up February 1, 2011

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in 21-Day Challenge, 40-Day Challenge, Books, Changing Perspectives, Fitness, Health, Mantra, Meditation, Minneapolis, Minnesota, Music, Philosophy, Texas, Twin Cities, Yoga.
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Day 21

God grant me the serenity
to accept the things
I cannot change,
the courage to change the things I can,
and the wisdom to know the difference.
Serenity Prayer by Reinhold Niebuhr


Life happens. As long as you’re breathing, there’s no getting around it – life. As I said on Thursday, “Life is unexpected, surprising, and miraculous – it is full of the unexpected” The unexpected came in waves this past week and weekend and so, by Sunday, I felt lucky to get out of bed. Albeit, a little later than usual and with much more to do than normal. Playing catch-up meant I barely had time for my 5-minute meditation and a 20-minute asana practice. I was struggling; and, when I struggle I feel the need for a tune up.

When something mechanical – a car, for instance – needs a tune up, we take it to a professional. It’s a job that happens without us. But, when I think of tuning up as it relates to yoga, I think of a more personally interactive process. I think back to my years working for the ballet. Professional dancers take class every day; orchestra musicians start every performance by tuning up together. So, to me, tuning up means a bunch of people breathing together and running through the scales or the basics. Tuning up, is tuning in. Of course, sometimes other people are not available. So, you tune/turn to something elemental.

There is nothing more elemental than breath, and the sound of your breath. So, the first step is always to focus on the breathing. Then, to deepen the breath. Finally, when tuning, I find it’s nice to combine the breath with a mantra. Then, more often than not, I add a little movement. Asana, Pranayama, Dharana, Dhyana – half of the 8-limbs of yoga – are a great way to tune in and tune up.

Because it sounds like breathing and because I have some really great recordings of it, “So Hum/Hum Sa” is my default class mantra. My students may even say I over use it, but I’m not sure that’s possible. Still, when it came to Sunday’s practice and classes I ended up going with a mantra more in keeping with my current mindset: Om Namah Shivaya.

Om Namah Shivaya can be translated or interpreted in a lot of different ways. On a very basic level, it is considered a bhakti mantra, a devotional hymn. “Om” is the sound of the universe; the vibration under everything. “Namah” is honor or respect. “Shivaya” is a name for the divine. Of course, that last part can be the sticking part, because those of us in the West tend to view the divine in very different and conflicting ways – which is why I like to go deeper, look at it from a yoga perspective.

Yoga, on a basic level, is all about connecting the mind, the body, and the spirit. In the physical practice of yoga, we usually consider mind-body-spirit connection successful if we can be fully present and fully aware of what we’re doing at any given moment. But the ultimate connection is union with the divine. Samadhi, the 8th limb outlined in Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras, is considered enlightenment: the fundamental and conscious awareness that we are connected to all things, all people – and yes, to a divine spirit.

Breaking it down, “Om” represents an individual’s conscious, unconscious, and subconscious mind – it is the sound of our full awareness. “Namah Shivaya” represents the 5 elements that are inside of us and all around us: earth, water, fire, air, and ether (spirit). When we repeat this mantra on a personal level, we bring our full awareness to all we are, all that is around us, and all we are capable of creating or enduring. I usually correlate this mantra to the middle of the Serenity Prayer: the courage to change the things I can….However, the more I think about it – meditate on it – the more I realize it’s the whole enchilada. This mantra tunes you in to what is inside you and all around you; it wakes you up to what you can accept and what you can change.

On a physical level, Sunday’s practices became about being upside down. My students would probably say we did Standing Splits (Urdhva Prasarita Eka Padasana) 50 billion times. In reality (and 60 minutes), however, we could only do 3 on each side. Each time we came at it in a slightly different way and each time, theoretically, was an opportunity to take it deeper. On a subliminal level, each one was also an opportunity to accept, to change, and to distinguish the differences between what we could change and what we could accept.

In between my second and third class, I completed my 18-Minute So Hum Meditation. I was sitting in a chair, on top of a block, and at some point the motion detectors turned out the lights. It was peaceful, but more than anything it reinforced how tired I was. I planned to do one of the video practices when I first got home. However, after my third class, all I wanted was a nap.

My nap almost became a good night’s sleep. At 5 AM Monday morning, I woke up fully clothed and tried to do the Evening Sequence with Kate Holcombe. I lasted about 10 minutes. Normally, I would beat myself up about this, consider it a failure. But after the last 21 days, all I could do was accept it. And go back to bed.

The challenge that came in like a lion, went out like a lamb.

Or, so it would seem.

~ Om Namah Shivaya Om ~

A Day 20 Treat January 30, 2011

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in 21-Day Challenge, 40-Day Challenge, Changing Perspectives, Fitness, Health, Love, Mantra, Meditation, Minneapolis, Minnesota, Texas, Twin Cities, Yoga.
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Day 20

Two days of Jason Crandell in a row is a full mind-body-spirit treat. On some level, I knew it was coming. (My housemate and I had discussed it.) But, I wasn’t really prepared for how the continuity and integrity of the practice would leave me feeling…sated, satisfied, seriously relaxed.

I started the day with my 5 minute silent meditation and a condensed version of the practice I was going to lead at the Y. I’ll admit that the way my body (not to mention my mind and spirit) felt after these last few days encouraged me to get a little carried away on the mat. I wanted to do everything, put together bits and pieces from the previous day’s practice – and the previous weeks. I had to keep reminding myself that on we were getting ready for a in addition to “letting the love flow” I was headed towards a peak pose: Pincha Mayurasana.

By the time I made it downtown, I was more than a little distracted by some family news. Part of me really wanted to cancel class. Part of me really wanted to go home. But, I was in one of those situations where canceling class, and even going “home,” weren’t going to solve anything. I needed to breathe, and slow down. Turns out, reminding myself of the love all around helped too. The class was fun and, I think, illuminating for some. Even though a forearm stand is a pretty advanced inversion, doing it with a wall and props – or even sticking to one of the modifications, like Dolphin Dog – is accessible to almost anyone.

After class, I stayed in the studio and completed the 18 Minute So Hum meditation. My body felt good and my mind was fairly focused. Ultimately, it was very soothing for my spirit.

Saturday was a busy day leading up to a busy evening. My housemate says we all have cabin fever, and maybe that’s true. I just know it felt good, at the end of the day, to just sit still for a minute before rushing back into the fray. Eventually, I got around to finishing out my daily practice. I practiced the 30-Minute Tension Release Side Bends with Jason Crandell in the late afternoon/early evening. This was a perfect unwinding sequence. The poses were simply, easy to follow (even though some versions were a little unusual), and intense. In fact, the intensity of the stretches kind of surprised me given how “little” we seemed to be doing. I could easily see doing this sequence just before bed or combining it with another video, or two, for a more energetic practice. About midway through, I couldn’t help but wonder how this sequence would feel as a way to open the body up for Visvamitrasana.

Hmmm, something to look forward to doing in week 4. Smile.


27 Days Away From The Answer To Everything (Day 15 of Yoga Journal’s 21-Day Challenge) January 25, 2011

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in 21-Day Challenge, 40-Day Challenge, Books, Changing Perspectives, Fitness, Health, Mantra, Meditation, Minneapolis, Minnesota, Movies, Philosophy, Science, Texas, Twin Cities, Yoga.
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Day 15

“Neti, neti!”
– Ajatsatru describing the nature of the divine and telling Gargya how not to meditate. Often translated as, “Not this, not this.” (The Brihadaranyaka Upanishads)

My housemate and I have discussed the wisdom and reasoning behind which videos have been repeated during Yoga Journal’s 21-Day Challenge. I think I understand the reasoning, and I even appreciate the wisdom. Neither one of us, however, has been very interested in repeating the “Fun Flow” which appears on the first day of each week. Last night I went to bed thinking I would get up early and combine the Elise Lorimer video with another video. Or two. I even thought, since I was off, I would catch up on the audio streaming meditations featured during the challenge. Monday, however, turned out to be a good day to pay the piper.

As I mentioned yesterday, all the late nights and running around comes at a cost. Today was cold (yes, I know, that’s Minnesota in the winter) and since I had a day off I decided to catch up on some much needed sleep. I know plenty of people who wake up like clock work, even on their day off, and view a midday nap as a mortal sin. These people also tend to think of waking up at 9:30 AM as sleeping in. I am not one of these people. So, when I woke up this morning I thought nothing of putting off my very ambitious plans for the day and staying in bed to finish reading a book. I have no shame; I’ll even admit to taking a nap. In fact, I barely got out of bed to eat. I probably would have switched from pajamas to yoga gear and back again if a friend hadn’t asked me to go out for dinner. Like I said, today was the day to pay the piper – and the piper was very well paid.

Once I finally came out of hibernation mode, I sat for 5 minutes and then decided I wanted to complete a video practice and the 18-Minute So Hum Meditation before I left the house. I didn’t have the time or the inclination to do the 45-minute video sequence, which I also skipped last week. I used the 15-Minute Morning Sequence as my substitution. Granted, it was no longer morning – not by a long shot – but Kate Holcombe says this sequence could be done in the afternoon if you need a little energy. All in all, it’s a very light practice and it does a good job of clearing the cobwebs that linger in the brain after sleeping. Or napping. You could also do all or part of this sequence in your office instead of grabbing that fourth cup of coffee. Or that second doughnut. Think of it as continuing the momentum of a good habit.

Today was a day when I could have easily skipped a physical practice all together. There are a variety of reasons why someone might take a day away from asana. “Ashtang-is” may not practice during certain phases of the moon. Some traditions recommend not practicing at all during menstruation or at least not on a woman’s heavy flow days. Then there’s days, like today, when you’re tired. I firmly believe in listening to the mind-body-spirit. Yes, we have an odd way of communicating with ourselves. The mind-body has a tendency to send messages like, “I’m hungry” when it’s thirsty. Or, it doesn’t commit to doing an inversion because you might fall. In both cases, however, the mind-body is doing it’s job: it’s protecting and nurturing the case that holds the spirit. Sometimes, taking a complete break is a great way to protect and nurture. It creates balance. Sometimes, however, what we need is a little cross training. My overall practice is very active (yang), so occasionally doing a restorative practice (yin) – like the ones presented by Kate Holcombe – can be a nice alternative to not practicing.

Not practicing is not an option when you’re in the middle of a challenge like the Yoga Journal 21-Day Challenge, which creates a new habit or routine through momentum. Having made a commitment to the process, as opposed to a goal, you find a way to make it work, one day at a time.

During January, we see a lot of new faces at the gyms and studios, because people have made New Year’s resolutions. Some of those faces become familiar. Some, however, disappear after a few weeks. Most of the latter group tries committing to a goal, which rarely works. I’m not saying that visualizing the goal can’t be helpful. It can, in fact, be super motivating. You still, however, have to take the first step. And then, you have to take the second step. And so on. It’s easy, after all, to give up on some lofty idea that may never happen. Fitting into a different dress size; not smoking after 20 years; keeping in touch with friends who’ve moved; and spending quality time with our family are all things we’d like to do, but if doing it were so easy, we wouldn’t need the resolution. We’d just do it.

And that’s the key, the answer to everything: just do it. Then keep doing it. Instead of making a resolution, make a sankalpa (determination promise): a commitment to the process that brings you closer to your goal.

One of the goals of doing Yoga Journal’s 21-Day Challenge is to help people develop a home practice. Unfortunately, some people – even people with a regular practice – have to get passed the idea that having a home practice is a lofty goal. This becomes a little like the Upanishads conversation between Gargya and Ajatsatru. A home practice doesn’t have to be a super complicated sequence or even a simple 2-hour one. It doesn’t have to be a series requiring a lot of space and props. It doesn’t even have to be something you do at home, per se. It could be one pose; done every morning before you go to work, every afternoon before lunch, or every evening before bed. It could be a peak pose you do after every class you take at a studio or gym. The important thing is to find something that works, and to keep doing it – to keep practicing.

My housemate and I are not the only people who have expressed preferences about a particular sequence or teacher. We’re human, it happens. But, like so many people, we’ve both made a commitment to the process. So we’re finding ways to make it work. We’re finding what works for us, as individuals – which is a great reminder that, traditionally speaking, a personal practice should be as unique as the individual who practices it. The beauty of this challenge, the sequences, and these teachers is that people have the opportunity to try different styles, at different times, and to really see what’s going to work long term. By focusing on the process, we focus on the practice. Ultimately, the process becomes the goal. That’s the practice.

~ Be well, and be great ~

21 Days of Yoga (& Other Stuff) January 11, 2011

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in 21-Day Challenge, 40-Day Challenge, Changing Perspectives, Donate, Fitness, Health, Karma Yoga, Mantra, Meditation, Philosophy, Texas, Yoga.
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Day 0

We all begin somewhere. {Check back for link.}

Day 1

I’ve never done a 21-Day yoga challenge. I have, however, done several 40-Day yoga practices – and each one has changed my life. The fact that I have a fairly well established home practice (something I started with my first 40-Day practice) and teach yoga classes, may lead some to believe that the Yoga Journal event is a no-brainer for me. In fact, I’m looking at it as a true challenge. I’m also looking at it as an opportunity for change and growth. Finally, I’m looking at it as an opportunity to deepen my practice.

The funny thing is, we all have opportunities to change, grow, and deepen our yoga practice every day. But it’s easy to miss them. And, in some ways, teaching can create scenarios where we take these opportunities for granted – and, in doing so, miss them.

As a result of my teaching, I practice asana 5 – 7 days a week. However, a lot of my personal/home practice time is spent getting ready to teach, thinking about how various sequences will work with different groups, how I’ll cue them, and what modifications I can offer in a limited amount of time. More and more, I treasure the time I get on the mat and just focus on myself and what my body needs – and more and more, that treasured time seems to be decreasing. So, during these 3 weeks I want to re-focus and re-commit to my personal practice, while also finding a different kind of balance between how I practice as a student of yoga and how I practice as a teacher of yoga.

I’ve recommended the challenge to my students and, on the day before the challenge, I included a few poses featured in the most recent Yoga Journal in my personal practice and in my three regular Sunday classes (Day 0). In my personal practice, I did all of the recommended poses at the end of the practice. During the classes I taught, I worked in variations of almost all of the poses at the beginning or end of the practice. These poses, as well, as the accompanying article seemed like a perfect way for anyone to get started. It wasn’t super challenging (which can be perfect for a beginner or someone beginning a home practice), but it was also a good integrating or surrender series for someone wanting a more challenging sequence.

On Monday, I was very surprised to find that the “Fun Flow” featured as the first official sequence of the challenge was, well…challenging. Some people have commented that it was too much or too fast for a beginner, or even for someone who has been away from the mat for a while. I have to agree. I was also disappointed that there was no Savasana time included in the video. (You’re guided into the pose, but then the video ends – making it seem like Savasana doesn’t matter and giving no guidelines to a new practitioner. Grrr.) On the flip side, the sequence was put together well and Elise Lorimer gave clear, concise, and detailed instruction.

Yes, if you’re new to yoga it’s best to watch the video first – but that’s good advice for any non-classroom practice, regardless of your experience or fitness level. Unfortunately, that good advice is also part of the ultimate downside to the first day: given the need to preview the sequence (which I didn’t); the technical video difficulties a lot of people experienced (myself included); and the need for Savasana, completing the first day’s practice became a bigger time commitment than advertised.

While I waited for the download I did an 18-minute seated So Hum meditation that I originally planning to do afterward, and (after the flow sequence) I listened to the Nicolai Bachman audio feature on the Yoga Sutra-s (look under the video). The meditation, which I am also planning to do for the next 21 days, and the audio feature really fired me up to go deeper. While I’m glad I did the video sequence and I’m committed to doing the next 20-days worth, part of me wishes this was more like the World Yoga Project, the 40-Day program I completed several years ago. With WYP, each participant received a workbook with photos accompanying the sequence, which progressed over the 40 days. It wasn’t free, but part of the proceeds went to charity. Plus, you got to keep the workbook and could reference it whenever or where ever – no downloading required.

It’s easy to see the flaws in both methods. Neither is perfect. But then, something this big, involving this many people, can’t meet everyone’s definition of perfect. That doesn’t mean, however, that it’s not…perfect.

At the end of the day, I have the same questions I had before I started:

  1. For whom is this challenged really geared?
  2. What type of practitioner is going to finish?
  3. What are we all going to learn from this process?

I also have the same final thoughts:

This is going to get interesting, and
this is going to be fun.