I was so excited to speak to Ashley Brunner shortly before the holidays. I met her through Give a Mat, a not-for-project that connects donors to high school students in Bali, Indonesia.
Ashley’s story illustrates how quickly projects can be implemented from getting an idea to serve and putting it to action in a just a few months. In April of 2011, she was inspired to start the Give a Mat program and got it registered and set up online by late August. So in four short months she founded a not-for-profit with an international reach! How amazing is that?
So, listen to the entire interview with Ashley to learn about the following and more…
How giving may be the best way to heal
Where to get help, especially with the tech side of things, if you are thinking of starting a not-for-profit–(hint: here’s a link to Grassroots)
Challenges of running a not-for-profit with international reach
Ashley’s best advice if you want to start a similar project
If you have any questions or comments, get in touch with Ashley at giveamat at gmail dot com, on Facebook, and at Give A Mat’s website. Give a Mat is looking for donors, other schools to help, and volunteer yoga teachers.
So you want to practice simple yoga at home in 3-5 minutes?
Try one or more sun salutation A series, as it is a complete sequence that includes almost all the types of postures in yoga : standing, balancing, forward bending, backward bending, and inverting. Because the sun salute links these different types of postures together in a rhythmic sequence, it gives you almost all the benefits of yoga in a short and sweet package. It only lacks seated and twisting postures, as you can always do corpse pose / shavasana as a reclining posture at the end.
Don’t scoff at practicing yoga for just 3-5 minutes a day. Studies show that practicing 5 minutes of yoga daily is better than 35 minutes once a week.
Besides, you can really squeeze a sun salutation into your day no matter how busy you are. And because there’s minimal touching of the floor, perhaps you can also practice it almost anywhere–like in line at the post office or in a big elevator on your way up to the 80th floor. (If you get yourself on camera throwing down a sun salute in the middle of your day in a public place, let me know–I’ll be sure to feature you on my blog!)
Watch the video below to learn how you can practice yoga at home in three to five minutes:
1. Try the sun salute during your next break at work or at home.
2. If you like it, schedule it into your planning for 2012, just like any other project you want to do.
Any other questions about yoga, meditation, or healthy living keep you up at night?
Let me know and I’ll answer you in next Thursday’s Q and A.
I love looking forward to the year ahead and planning all my projects and experiences I want to live out. Instead of goals, I schedule projects and experiences because that’s how we get to include the fun parts–like travels, books to read, movies to watch–along with the projects we want to get done. So whether you categorize yoga as a project to do or a fun experience, scheduling it into your 2012 will ensure that you include it as a part of your life.
Watch the video below to learn how you too can plan your year in advance:
1. Set aside about half an hour to write down your list of 100 experiences you want to live in 2012. If you have trouble thinking of things, try thinking about the different sectors of your life–such as relationships, money, career, health, family, physical environment–and how you could improve them.
2. Then, figure out the 10-12 big projects you want to tackle and schedule them on a yearly calendar.
3. Break down the big projects into smaller steps and write these smaller steps as well as the rest of the experiences you’ll have in 2012 on monthly calendars, color-coding them as you go.
The monthly and annual calendars you can print directly from Microsoft Word, but you can also download and print an herbal wall calendar illustrated by a 14-year-old from Etsy seller Alice Cantrell.
In case you’re starting out new in yoga as a beginner, here are some cool tools for your yoga tool box including a set of practical and imminently wearable top and pants for women. Unfortunately, gentlemen, I could not find any performance wear that I could whole-heartedly recommend to you. But a T-shirt and some not-too-tight, not-too-loose shorts would be fine. You can catch my video on recommendations for what to wear to your first yoga class here.
But the non-wearables below can be used by anyone. I don’t believe you have to buy ANYTHING to practice yoga, however, not even a yoga mat. These tools can enhance your practice, but yoga is about your mind, breath and body–not how far you push your body or how deep you can stretch. No tools can replace your presence or your attention.
This Matt & Nat Satchel has enough space for your regular stuff and a change of clothes for yoga class. To boot, it’s vegan! Even though I feel like the vegan leather replacement materials are all made of plastic of one form or another, the lesser evil is still plastic, especially if you use it forever and never throw it away.
I use the Manduka PROlite Yoga Mat at home. Since my last mat lasted me about ten years, I wanted to find a mat that would stay with me for life. And Manduka has a lifetime guarantee for this mat, so I’ll have variations on this mat for the rest of my life. How many other objects in your life can lay claim to that?
My big caveat is that it’s not made of natural materials. The rubber mats may be less processed and thus better for your health, but the ones that were on the market when I bought my mat wore away after a year or two.
Not that you need a Yogitoes Skidless Yoga Towel. If your hands and feet slip all over, practicing using your core to hold yourself in your center–that’s part of yoga. But I know that sometimes it seems like you need just a bit more help or you sweat as soon as you step on your mat. So that’s where the skidless yoga towel comes in–to give you even more traction from slipping than your yoga mat.
If you’re looking for a yoga outfit that can pass for normal clothes, I recommend this Hyde Women’s Trieger Tank. You can layer over it in the winter and wear it out and about in the summer–no one would suspect that you were on your way to/from yoga class. Plus, it comes in a variety of colors.
I alternate between black stretchy yoga calf-length pants and long wool leggings that are meant to be long underwear like these Icebreaker Women’s Bodyfit 200 Leggings. Especially in this cold weather, I like the extra layer of warmth as well as coverage. What I love is that I already wear these under my clothes so I don’t need to pack an extra set of yoga clothes when I teach yoga in the middle of the day. If you are going to a super sweaty yoga class, I would not recommend these leggings for it because once they get wet with your sweat, it takes a bit longer than performance fabrics to wick the sweat away.
What do you consider indispensable for taking your yoga to the next level? As always, let me know in the comments.
Lately I’ve been reading books about the history of medieval and pre-medieval religion in India written by Professor David Gordon White. If you’ve ever wondered what the “5,000”-year-old history of yoga is about, read his books. He traces the usage of the word “yoga” from the earliest instance in texts up to medieval times.
Yoga was not always about being bendy or even calming your mind. For certain hatha yogis in medieval India, it was about becoming god-like or god’s equal while in your own body–whether through alchemical means or through hatha yoga practices we would recognize today as breath work / pranayama and physical postures / asanas.
Rather than a book review, I present here a few notes from his Alchemical Body that might be pertinent to our yoga practice today–because no one I know is going to get some cinnabar and try to turn base metals into gold these days. (And if you are, please do let me know how you’re making gold in the comments below.)
First off, White explains the functions of the three locks / bandhas in a way I hadn’t heard before:
1. Mula bandha / root lock draws apana vayu up through the medial channel.
2. Uddiyana bandha / ‘lock of the upward-flying [bird]’ : the emptying of the lungs and the contraction of the lungs and diaphragm into the upper thorax causes prana to fly up through the medial channel into the cranial vault.
3. Jalandhara bandha / ‘lock of the net bearer’ seals your head off from your torso by constricting the network of nadis in your throat and arrests the downward flow of nectar from your cranial vault.
If so, then that would explain why mula and uddiyana locks / bandhas are almost always taught first. If you have no nectar in your head, there is no point in preventing the nectar from flowing out.
White also says : “Steady breath leads to steady mind leads to steady semen leads to steady body,” in which the steadiness of the body comes last rather than first. Usually hatha yoga says that steady body leads to steady mind, but it goes both ways.
Furthermore, White elucidated why fire and heat are big symbols in yoga :
The yogic fire kindled at subtle body’s base burns up the fire of time, which is death (kulagni), via the filling of the shusumna channel. Yogic fire is sacrifice internalized : the inner fire of tapas fueled offerings of one’s vital breaths in an inner sacrifice.
So when you sacrificed your breaths internally, you were prolonging your life.
The following pranayama technique is said to give you mastery over disease and death. Need I say that you practice the following at your own risk?
1. First draw your subtle breath / prana in through your left nostril and into the lunar channel
2. Retain this breath as long as possible
3. Exhale through your right nostril via the solar channel
4. Inhale right and continue alternate nostril breathing
5. Continue to pump outer nadis like bellows: at one retention, the pressure will open the medial channel and empty the peripheral ones–which then become ‘swooned’.
Breath retention is the dangerous part as is the bellows breath, so you can get the milder version by just doing alternate nostril breathing without the breath retention.
And lastly, speaking of Siddhas, the perfected ones, White says that they embodied “carefree playfulness” — the Siddhas “always seem to be at play–playing with words, playing with other people’s minds, playing games with the world” (p.349). The phenomenal world is a field of play.
What do you think of White’s interpretation of hatha yoga? Do you want to transform your body into gold when you practice yoga or is this all just crazy talk?
As always, comments are always welcome and encouraged.
Because the last two stretching videos require that you move from your desk, this week I show you some arm stretches you can do sitting at your desk, in the subway, at the cafe waiting for your coffee, even standing in line.
Again, if you have any kind of pain, stretching may not help. Please go seek professional help, like a doctor, holistic or otherwise.
ACTION STEP: Set your timer until your next 5-minute work break. When the timer goes off, try these exercises. (If you’re wondering why I ask you to set a timer–have you ever done any kind of exercise without scheduling it in? Scheduling in breaks where you stretch is part of the solution!) Stay as long in the stretch as it feels good to do so, breathing slowly and evenly.
Do this every day for one week, and let me know if you notice any difference.
Any other questions about yoga, meditation, or healthy living keep you up at night?
Let me know and I’ll answer you in next Thursday’s Q and A.
If you’re like me, you’re starting to get presents ready for Christmas. Even though I personally don’t celebrate Christmas as a religious holiday, I love how it brings people together and gives me an opportunity to think about what people I care about might like as a present.
I love giving and getting books as presents because, chosen wisely, they can open a new world, spark new ideas, and maybe, just maybe, teach you something new. If you have a yogi or yogini in your life who loves to read, here are some books I’d suggest for them.
What I like and relate to in his research is that he focuses on practitioners of yoga. He doesn’t analyze texts about yoga or that have influenced yoga teachers. Rather, he looks at how yoga was practiced and understood by the people who practiced yoga and the people who came into contact with yogis. Yes, the yogis he writes about are mostly men. But the story he weaves about sinister yogis who steal people’s bodies is utterly compelling, even though this is an academic book complete with enough endnotes to make its own little book.
Most compelling for me as a yoga teacher is his analysis of the different meanings of the word yoga in different textual contexts and time periods. Yes, yoga as a word and concept has existed for billions of years–but it has not always meant the physical poses we practice in contemporary yoga classes. Otherwise, how could yogis have been sinister?
Skipping from medieval India to the twentieth-century, Mark Singleton’s Yoga Body: The Origins of Modern Posture Practice argues for the influence of Western bodybuilding and gymnastics on the development of the physical postural yoga classes we have today. Since Singleton’s research focuses on Krishnamacharya, whose students later founded Ashtanga yoga and Iyengar yoga styles, he doesn’t address all the different yoga styles currently practiced today. But for anyone interested in the roots of contemporary yoga, read this to find out more. Globalization has been happening for a long while longer than we thought.
And for those who read German, Mathias Tietke’s Yoga im Nationalsozialismus: Konzepte, Kontraste, Konsequenzen addresses the history of yoga in the 1930s in Germany. I haven’t read it yet, but from the reviews and my personal conversations with him, the book seems a vital cautionary tale. Even for those who don’t have a connection to Germany, his book addresses how the ideas of karma and discipline may be abused. These two ideas may not have anything to do with yoga but is a part of the context from which it can be taught.
Contemplating worldly gain and loss reveals that we spend part of our life trying to get it together, and the other part watching it fall apart. As soon as we have time-“I have a whole hour free”-we are losing it. As soon as we make a friend, we’re losing him. As soon as we have fame, it becomes tinged with notoriety. As soon as we have wealth, we’re losing it. Looking for something new to gain helps us forget to look but a few seconds back at the last thing that we lost. Fabricating this chain of desire is how we keep ourselves in samsara [the cycle of desire and suffering]. We are using instability to try to make stability. We’re investing in hope and fear, banking on denial of a simple truth: all the pleasure the world can offer eventually turns to pain. Everything we gain is subject to loss. Why do we put all that effort into gain when, in the end, we are going to lose it?
Or something practical, for those of you who are action-oriented:
When we want to pin the blame on somebody – even ourselves – the most creative thing we can do is wish that person happiness instead.
All the things you know that are true in your heart but have yet to really sit down and experience for yourself are in this book.
For the Yogi or Yogini who wants to eat healthier
Getting someone a book with the word ‘diet’ in the title might be asking for trouble, but Kris Carr’s Crazy Sexy Diet: Eat Your Veggies, Ignite Your Spark, and Live Like You Mean It! is different. It’s about feeling good and living well & sustainably rather than losing weight. She tells her awesome story of how she kicked cancer through lifestyle and eating changes. And she’s a lot of fun! Who else do you know would describe her cancer as a ‘shit pickle’? So if you know anyone who wants to make changes in what they eat, this book is a fun way to learn from someone who’s healed herself through diet changes.
For the DIY gift-giver
If you want to give a present that you make yourself, print out one of the free e-books on my Resources page. To save trees, print two pages to one sheet of paper as well as on the front and back sides of the sheet. Customize the cover with a drawing or design.
Any books on your wishlist this year that you think other yogis might like? Tell me in the comments below!
PS: And to be fully upfront, I do get a percentage of the sale from Amazon should you buy any of the books through my links.
Another one of my yoga students asked me, what to do for pain in his wrists?
First, if you have any pain, go see a doctor! Especially if it’s something that comes back over time.
Otherwise, if you’d like to strengthen your hands and wrists, try the following exercises:
ACTION STEP: Set your timer until your next 5-minute work break. When the timer goes off, try these exercises. In the video, I just show you how to do it, so when you do it alone, try to build up by first doing 5 of each and then increasing by 1 every time. That means, start with 5 of each, then 6 of each, then 7 of each. Do this every day for one week, and let me know if you notice any difference.
Any other questions about yoga, meditation, or healthy living running through your head all day? Let me know and I’ll answer you in next Thursday’s Q and A.