Thursday, March 27, 2014

Good morning!

So many of my posts are about morning rituals or general daily practices, I've found.  Whether it's about getting back to the basics with a simple seated meditation following the breath, finding joy by singing in the morning, or a variety of physical but not-necessarily-yogic practices, I've been struggling for the past year and a half with consistency in my home practice.  In my last entry two weeks ago (I took a week off for anniversary fun in PA!) I wrote about how there are so many Internet/iPhone resources that I've found helpful in my own home yoga practice outside of a studio.

Two of these resources together in particular, YogaGlo and my Insight Timer app, have been instrumental in helping me find a morning ritual that I've been pretty consistent with the past two weeks.  With the exception of a few lazy, yoga-less mornings on my anniversary weekend, there is a ritual from the amazing yoga teacher Amy Ippoliti called, "Set a Positive Tone for Your Entire Day" available for YogaGlo users.

It requires pen and paper, or maybe a journal if you're the journaling type, and a place to sit.  I won't go through the entire video, as I know YogaGlo is sometimes a little intense with copyrighting, and this is Amy's practice.  But I can say I've modified it a little bit to suit my needs, and have used the Interval Bell setting on my Insight Timer app so that I can be self guided through this practice without having to rely on a teacher telling me when to shift my focus or write things down.

It's essentially a very mindful way of having a "gratitude" journal or a "success" journal.  You take a few moments to connect with your breath, to reflect on what you're thankful for, and briefly come out of meditation to write down your top 3 or 5.  Going back into meditation, you then start to reflect on what went will for you the day before, and then coming out of it to write those down.

From there, the possibilities are endless.  You can throw in some pranayama (breath work) of any kind - I prefer kapalabhati - or a visual meditation where you can visualize the breath coming in through the third eye, through the heart, or through the crown of the head.  Or if that's a little too hippie-dippy for you or hard to connect with, just follow the breath as it travels in and out of the nose.  Amy is a big fan of heart breathing which is lovely, but as someone who tends to hold a lot of tension in my chest, I prefer to direct my focus elsewhere.

You can also end by imaging the qualities you want to bring in to today.  Or if you're practicing this in the evening, the qualities you want to bring to your day tomorrow or the kind of rest you'd like to have if you tend to have trouble sleeping.  If you're practicing in the evening, ending in legs up the wall or a few moments in child's pose can be really lovely.

This is a great practice if you struggle with meditation because your to-do list or other thoughts keep cropping up and distracting you - there's a pen and paper right there for you to get the thoughts out of your head so you can bring your attention back to what you'd like to bring it to.  I highly recommend checking the video out - YogaGlo allows you to watch a preview of it if you are not a member.

Happy Thursday morning, everyone, and I hope it's a beautiful day for you!

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Techno-Yoga

Scraping the bottom of the barrel for a post title this week, perhaps, but it hopefully conveys the topic.  I'm going to write today about ways technology help my yoga practice.

I'm hardly unique in utilizing the Internet and my iPhone when it comes to yoga - it seems every couple of months there are new articles and lists out there sharing with you the best apps to de-stress, unplug, meditate, work out - you name it.  There's a reason why, "There's an app for that" is a thing.

So this may not be totally revolutionary as a topic, but these four things I'll listen have been revolutionary for me personally.  I hope they, or one, can make a difference for you as well:

1. Karma Kids Yoga - Studio Live TV

This one is unique because although it's not a resource I utilize for myself as often as others, it's really special in that it allows me to connect with more students than just the ones in front of me on any given day.  Studio Live TV partnered with Karma Kids Yoga's Pre/Postnatal program to deliver classes on demand to our students who for whatever reason can't make it to the studio.  The most special thing about this for me is that my sister has been able to take classes not just from me but from teachers who I respect, admire, and learn from at our Peace In studio.  The classes are specifically geared toward Pre and Postnatal, but they're appropriate for anyone looking for a core-based class that will leave you feeling strong and calm afterward.

2. Yoga Journal - Videos

My classic, all-time go to when I need some quick yoga at home.  I'm sure I've plugged this before, and one video in particular.  I discovered this part of the site back in either 2008 or 2009, when one of my favorite free yoga websites suddenly stopped being free.  The videos only get up to about 35 minutes, but sometimes all I really want is 10 or 15, and they've got that too.  There are a wide variety of teachers and styles to choose from, and tons of really short tutorial videos on just one or two particular poses.  I really just have a few videos that I tend to do over and over here, but every so often I'll dip my toes into something new and I'm usually pleased with it.  For my money, though (and even though it's free, I would pay for this), the best on the site is Jason Crandell's Evening Relaxation Sequence.  I've done this off and on for over five years now, I never tire of it and it has not lost its blissful effect on me.  It's one of the oldest videos on the site, I think.  Jason Crandell is the bomb.

3. YogaGlo

Speaking of Jason Crandell (transition!), you can find a ton more from him and a ton more in general at YogaGlo.com.  The stunning Laura Frye (whose amazing yoga classes you can find on Studio Live) turned me on to this site.  It's not free, sadly, costing about $18 a month, but holy moly do you get your money's worth.  There are over 2,200 classes from dozens of teachers, and it grows every day.  Some I've seen or read about in YogaJournal, some I don't recognize, but everything I've tried and seen from it so far is amazing.  My man Jason Crandell blew my mind last night with a sequence called Yoga for Your Calves and Feet which is exactly what my body needs right now as I get ready to dip my toes into getting back into running in a couple of weeks (very, very, very, very slowly, mind you).  There are also meditation practices from meditation expert Sally Kempton, and classes that range from 5 minutes to two hours.  For $18 a month you get unlimited access to this, which is like having unlimited access to 100 yoga studios a month.  I highly recommend it, for yoga students as well as yoga teachers as it is an endless library of learning.

4. InsightTimer

Last but not least, my trusty (and free) meditation app.  Now I mentioned apps at the beginning of the post, but I haven't really done that much exploring.  Truth be told, I think it would just overwhelm me to go through all the options and I'd wind up not practicing at all but just being obsessed with which app would send me off into bliss with the tap of my finger.  Basically, I'm afraid it would send me down a rabbit hole.

There's not much fanciness to the InsightTimer app, although it has changed and expanded a bit since I first discovered it ages ago.  I downloaded it so I could set a timer on my meditation practice and be brought out from it with something other than Marimba.  There are a variety of Tibetan bowl tones you can choose from that will put you into it and take you out of it with a gentle, beautiful sound.  My favorite part is you can also put in interval bells which is perfect if I want to do 10 minutes of active yoga, 5 minutes of meditation - or even better, if I want to do a restorative practice.  10 minutes for restorative child's pose, 15 for legs up the wall...you get the idea.  A gentle little bell signals each transition, with a more distinct one signaling that time is up.  They've expanded and added some guided meditations, but I haven't tried any of them out yet.



So there you have it!  Four recommendations, four easy ways to bring yoga into your home.  Two are 100% free, and the other two are a bargain!  I'd love to hear feedback from anyone who has given them a try.

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Keep it Simple Stupid

I almost picked a blander name for this post (I think working with kids has made me a little overly sensitive) until I remembered that the phrase "Keep it simple stupid" originated from the US Navy, of which my Granddaddy was a Captain.  So yogic or not yogic, nice or not nice - whatever.  Today I just want to write about a very, very, very, very simple meditation principle.  (Also, according to Wikipedia, there should be no comma/implication that the person to whom you're speaking.  Although I think we can all agree we tend to use the comma and the implication these days...)

I didn't write last week, and for good reason.  I normally write on Thursday, my usual day off, but last week I spent Wednesday night through Sunday in Malvern, PA with my beloved hubby who made his fabulous debut as Mr. Darcy in People's Light and Theatre Company's excellent production of Pride and Prejudice.  It was a glorious four days of resting my foot, reading a phenomenal book, watching the show, making friends with the cast, and of course, soaking up every single second with Marc that I possibly could.

On Saturday, we ventured out of the theatre complex for brunch and to replenish our wine supply.  (I swear this is leading to meditation)  At the local liquor store - and by the way, alcohol is so much cheaper there! - we happened to run into the People's Light's Artistic Director, Abigail Adams.  Marc had told me about Abigail and really likes her a lot, so we chatted as we waited in the checkout line.  The topic somehow turned to yoga and meditation, and we asked her what meditation technique she practices.

With the laid back air of someone who has been practicing many moons longer than I have, she simply said, "Just follow the breath.  In and out."

That was it.  That's all she said, and I'm embarrassed to say it was a bit of a revelation.

I certainly teach this technique, and I practice it a little bit, but I also love exploring so much, and I'm always searching for "my" perfect mantra or visualization or crazy combination of whatever I can grasp at, that I so rarely just focus on my breath when I sit.  I'm always afraid it's not going to be compelling enough for me to keep myself from traveling down the road of my bazillion thoughts, or that it'll cause me to breathe in a stilted, artificial way.  In my early days of meditating, that always happened to me, so I sort of abandoned this most simple technique.

When I got into my morning routine on Monday, I decided to give it a try.  Lo and behold...it's really, really nice.  So simple, so focused.  It's brilliant if you're someone just getting into meditation, but some people - like me - might need something a little shinier to keep their interest, like a mantra.  Or like literally imagining something shiny.  If you're a practiced meditator or someone who is feeling at loose ends with what technique to latch on to, strip everything else away and give this bare-bones, simple technique another look.

My last little bit of advice is something I've been told a couple of times and so often forget to do, but now I'm making it mandatory - always keep some paper and a pen next to you when meditating.  So often I'll be nice and relaxed and then immediately remember something work related I have to do or tell someone.  Or I'll have some kind of brilliant idea I want to remember.

For instance, my sister and I are in an ongoing discussion about possible baby names for her twins (a boy and a girl!!!) and I've had a couple of ideas come to me while in meditation.  Instead of spending the rest of the 5 minutes I have left trying to make sure I don't forget the name, I just write it down.  Hence - hit the mental pause button, write it down, and come back to the breath.

So there we go.  Follow the breath, keep a notepad near by so all your genius gets recorded for when you come out of it.  Keep it simple - or as we'd say in kids yoga, "Easy peasy lemon-squeeze-y."