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Friday, January 27, 2012

San Francisco Yoga Review

So I've just spent about a week in San Francisco. It really is amazing how much yoga is around in this town. I might venture so much as to say that there are more yoga studios here than Starbucks cafe's. Everyone here does yoga, everyone! From a Yogi point of view I loved that there were many teachers and studios I could choose from, the level of everyone's practice seems mostly advanced. Almost every yogi here can do handstands, head stands and 3 million push ups.
From a Yoga Teacher point of view, I was worried, very worried. The classes are intense, and there is no way the instructor can keep an eye on everyone and everyone is not built to hold every pose for as long as the instructor chooses. And the sad part is, we are constantly told to fight through the pain, just hold hold and hold some more. I feel there is this pressure to do what I call 'Superman Yoga'  and it simply cant be good for everyone. There was a man in his late fifties in front of me who was gorgeous in his practice but then we started doing some stuff on our knees and I had to fight myself from shoving blankets under his very obviously painful knees. The energy of a full class is great but we should not forget that its not just about the poses and how far you go into a pose. It's about how you realize you have reached your limit and you are okay with it. There will be another day and another moment to go further into that pose.

With all that being said, I tried a couple of yoga studios, I liked some, I didnt like some. I thought I should write reviews about the studios but I am finding it hard to air my critique about other yoga teachers. I mean, who am I to say I like him or her? Maybe they were having a bad day and class wasn't perfect. How many of us have had a perfect day every single day? I will therefore not discuss the classes or teachers I did not like. I will however tell you about two teachers whose classes I did enjoy.

Rusty Wells at Urban Flow Yoga had excellent energy in his class. There were about a 150 people in said class and I could not hear him half the time, however, I felt he was being real and I appreciated that. He also had two assistants who helped with adjustments. I think all studios that cater to such large numbers should have 2-3 people assisting the instructor. I also think chanting is a big thing out west, well probably in the east too but I know its not too big in Shreveport. I personally am not entirely comfortable with a lot of chanting. My reasons for it will be a completely different post :) Coming back to Rusty, he did do some chanting, but I appreciated that he did not chant too much about gods, it was a very general chant. Because I am Indian, I understand most of what they chant about, not that I am fluent in Sanskrit, but I can tell if they are talking about a person or if they are praying for world peace. He played the djembe with another guy and his voice was very soothing. The class was challenging, he pushed us far enough and healed our hearts just enough. My favorite part about the class? it was donation based! can yoga get better than that?

The second instructor I enjoyed was Darren Main at Yoga Tree. There were about 12 of us in class. He too had an authenticity and sincerity that I appreciated. He does Restorative Yoga and by the end of class I could have put my lazy cat to shame. However, this was supposed to be a 'Restorative Yoga with Hot Stones' and I expected more use of hot stones. Also, this class had a lot less people, so it was great not to be elbow to elbow with someone else who was dripping sweat onto my mat.

So if you go to SF, try out a whole lot of studios, don't forget to breathe, don't forget your strength and dont forget to eat at Marnee Thai :)  Do your own yoga no matter which studio it is in and then tell me about it! 


Friday, January 13, 2012

Monk-y Meditation

Most of us have a very romantic idea of meditation. Seated in lotus on a green mountain top, eyes closed, all knowing soft smile, and then everything finally clicks into place and all makes perfect sense...You hear that sound? listen, listen carefully, are you listening with your whole heart? POP! It's me breaking your bubble. Sorry love, but this idyllic fantasy is so far from the truth.

I am slowly coming to dislike the word 'meditation', it seems like so much pressure, too many cliches attached. When was the last time I even saw a green mountain?! And then there is the notion that meditating yogis are so detached from the real world, almost unfeeling. I think it might become a pet peeve of mine. Could anything be further from the truth? You have finally opened your eyes and your heart to the truth, your truth, and learned to accept everything exactly as it is. Acceptance does not mean detached or unfeeling. It means you understand that things are what they are and are not and you consciously  choose to move on.

I try to encourage my yogis to breathe and to work on being still. For people new to being still, 'guided meditations' are a good way to start. Imagine you are a tree or a leaf, maybe you are at the beach, and so on. But this has back fired on me. In a class full of people you don't know intimate details about, guided imagery can be tricky. 

I once tried to do this meditation where you imagine you are at the beach, and you hear the sounds, feel the breeze and you feel a wave come, caress your foot and as it slips back into the ocean, it takes away any tension from your foot, you proceed to do this with the whole body. Personally, I would not have liked this meditation because I don't know how to swim, yes! I admit it! I don't know how to swim!! There are people in existence who don't know how to swim! and I am one of them! And so water coming up to my neck is not a very relaxing thought! But since everyone seems to love the beach, I thought, what the hell. Well, one woman had a horrible time because she kept imagining the tsunami that hit Japan. As I said, group meditations can be tricky.

Another time, I got everyone into Savasana, towels with mint placed over eyes, my soothing voice guiding them to let go and one lady burst into tears. She could not contain herself, I had no idea what brought it on. I asked her to go to the next room and to wait for me. When I went over, she told me that the music I had playing, Yanni, reminded her of how she used to be a massage therapist. The spa she worked in played it all the time. Well, one day on her way back home from work, she got into a terrible car wreck and her injuries did not let her go back to being a masseuse. There is no way I could have known something like that.  

I seem to have drifted away from my point. Here is a good way to understand meditation, imagine this: You are sitting watching tv, you want to change the channel, you get up, walk to the tv, start rubbing at the screen, the image is not going to change. The image will change when you use the remote. So you sort of need to reset or change  your way of thinking, receiving, giving and accepting,. You need to change it all from the inside, your internal remote, it is only then that your life, will change.

So how do I stop thinking? is the next question I get asked. You don't! No one ever stops thinking, not even the Dalai Lama and if anyone knows meditation its probably him. If you are having a hard time getting focused, a good way to go about your thoughts is to imagine yourself laying on the earth and watching your thought 'clouds'. Just watch them pass by, you dont judge them for their shapes or sizes, for how good or bad they are, you simply watch them drift away, you are just an observer, letting go is easy, you know how to do this.

My point is this, there is no perfect 'meditation'.

You have meditated hundreds of times without realizing it. Every time your parents hugged you, every time you ate your favorite food, everytime you made love, everytime you hugged your pet, caressed its hair in your fingers, and every time you looked into your child's eyes, you have meditated. You were also mediating when you were angry, when you were hurt, when you thought you would not be whole again. You meditated when you decided to move on, when you got into crow pose for the first time, when you cut that person off on the road, (you know you did :) and when you lovingly cooked your family's favorite meal. In all those moments you were completely present, no masks or facade, letting everything else slip away, you accepted the perfect and the flawed,  and you were at peace, that is real meditation. 

So don't worry about finding every answer or even the perfect answer, work on stillness, fight the urge to move or the urge to change something and everything.  Tune into your heart and your heart will show you your truth and with that truth,you will have found peace.

Me meditating with my gorgeous lion head bunny. Sara is a part of my love and peace.


Monday, January 9, 2012

Unbreak your heart

It has been a very strange weekend. During my practice on Friday, I decided to do a few rounds of Chakrasana or the Wheel Pose. It didn't seem challenging enough, so I decided to practice a few rounds of one legged wheels.  All good, no problems. Come sunday morning, I had the worst headache and then Emre (the husband) and I had a small tiff. I couldn't take it, I started crying and I didnt stop until I fell asleep at night. I think I scared Emre with all my crying, but the truth is I had no idea why I was so bloody upset! I simply could not stop. It felt cathartic yet painful. I could not understand this heavy fist of sadness inside me.

Today I woke up, I'm tired from a day of crying, I am not sure how I will face students, will they be able to tell from looking at my face? But why was I so heartbroken, what was that? And then I started to think back, what happened? Had I taken any medicine? Done something different? And the only thing I  kept coming back to was the wheel pose. Did the wheel do something to me? 

I used to loathe back bends, I would arch back just a little and get dizzy, reach for my heels in camel and I'd see spots in front of my eyes. There was simply no way I would ever do a back bend, my body was just not built for it.  But is that really true? Is my body not built to do the pose or is my mind unwilling to do the pose?  Since those dizzying spells I have come a long way and I now see that it wasn't my body that stopped me from doing the poses, but the blocks I had created in my mind.

Anahata or the heart chakra is the fourth chakra.  In Sanskrit, the word anahata - means unhurt, un-struck and unbeaten (Source: Wikipedia) It is located at the center of the chest, behind the spine. Associated body parts are Lungs, Heart, Bronchi, Thymus Gland, Arms and Hands, Respiratory Systems, Muscles. It deals with balance and love.  It's psychological functions are Love, Acceptance, Self-Control, Compassion, Guilt, Forgiveness, Harmony, Peace, Renewal, Growth and Relationships (Source: It is seen as the bridge between the masculine and the feminine, the physical and the emotional. 

I believe that one of the main reasons we hunch is because we are subconsciously protecting our hearts. 'I will defend my heart to the end!', its almost like we take a boxer's stance against the world.  And each time we are hurt, our hopes crushed and our hearts let down, our shoulders have hunched a little more to protect our fragile soul. Our energy flow has been interrupted and we have built emotional barriers. Without realizing it, we have become less vital, more fearful, less alive, and more shut down.The pain has become part of our skin, muscles and organs.

There is also the whole 'bending or looking back aka, your past'. We all have events we'd like to forget or are not ready to revisit just yet. Some stories worse than the others. Have we dealt with every unpleasant thing from our past? No, backbends are not easy, it takes a strong spine and heart, but it also takes guts. 

You are trying to undo years of sadness that has built into your muscles. You have to unlearn holding in your breath and your emotions, know that it is okay to let go and let your heart shine. No, backbends are not easy, but once you do them, it is incredibly exhilarating. You untie every knot, every gasp, every tear. Unwire your brain's urge to lead you, and trust your heart to guide you into peace.  You become an explorer and develop a curiosity about your body and life. You become comfortable in your own skin.  You are finally home.

And so on that friday, when I did Chakrasana, I had released something that had become a part of my being, my very skin. Something I am sure I didn't need and I think I am glad to be rid of.  I am afraid to think about what it specifically was, I am scared to face that monster, but with doing wheel on that day, I have rolled a little closer to my home within.  

You and I are Anahata -  unhurt, un-struck and unbeaten.


Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Winter Glory

I was always a summer person. I was born in June in Kerala, in the season of the monsoons, lots of mangoes,coconuts and jackfruit. I grew up in Oman, a beautiful desert with gorgeous beaches. My stay in the US had me in Texas and  now Louisiana. Suffice it to say, I was comfortable with the heat and humidity. But over the last few years, I find myself waiting for fall, craving the crisp cold air. Its easy for winter to get us down. I mean everything is dying or going into hibernation. But right before that, there is all that color, apple picking, the bite in the air, cuddling in front of a roaring fire,and the flurry of animals readying their nest for the cold winter. 

Just like our yoga practice, which has a beginning, middle and end, Fall seems to be the middle, the height of our practice, where our bodies are warm and we gracefully come into the more complex poses. It has the a-ha! moments or highlights of our practice, we harvest the fruits of our labor and we shine in all the different colors of our personality and emotions just like nature around us. We feel yellow for happiness and contentment, orange balances our excitement and warmth, red reflects our cravings, passion and fire, green brings out our earthy, grounded side, all that gray in the sky shows your confidence and solitude and it makes every other color pop against your oh-so-sophisticated side. 

And then just like the end of our practice, fall becomes winter. You are spent, you have given it your all and now its time to rest. And just like the trees shedding its leaves, you shed all fears, inhibitions, anything weighing you down, anything that held you back, any doubts, and there you are; naked, bare and so strong, confident in your truth. You have a sense of clarity, so comfortable in your own skin. This is home, this is who you were meant to be all along. 

And when it is time, you will wake up, reborn into this new season, this new beginning, this new life, just like spring, you will start to blossom into your truth once more. So don't let the season get you down, see yourself in nature and you will know that the trees, the squirrels, the person who cut you off at the light, me and you; we are all the same just waiting to blossom.