Are you Still Growing? The Power of Intention

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“The only difference between a flower that is alive and one that is dead is that the live flower is still growing.”
~ Dr. Wayne Dyer

Intention is defined as setting an expectation for yourself, an expectation for your personal evolution. Going to yoga class helps us reconnect to our commitment to grow by giving us time to focus on our key intentions known as sankalpa. The consistency of the yogic practice (sadhana) supports us to keep these promises. When we come to the mat we inherently contract with ourselves to continue to expand our range. Therefore, we do not stop aspiring to spiritual development even once we’ve attained an intention.  

When I was little my Mama measured us (me and my brother) against the door in our house and marked the little lines proving I was actually growing physically.  I loved that!  I was sad the day she stopped measuring at five foot two and a half and I stopped physically growing because I liked seeing my progress.

As adults, more important than physical growth, is our spiritual and emotional growth–that has no chronological limit.  In the practice of “Yoga Cikitsa,” Yoga as Therapy, we always ask ourselves in the words of Gary Kraftsow, “Am I making things better?”  This gets to the heart of an important question:  ARE YOU STILL GROWING?

You can manifest growth in many ways, for instance:

  • Are you challenging yourself to learn new poses?
  • Are you deepening a conscious relationship? (Finding better ways to solve problems, creating a fresh vision)
  • Are you trying new types of food?
  • Are you going new places? (Maybe its time for a yoga retreat? The Dalai Lama says, “Once a year go someplace you’ve never been before.”)
  • Are you learning another language?
  • Are you expanding your range of read books? (Promise to read at least 4 books this year. According to the Pew Research Center, only 14 percent of Americans read at least 2-3 books last year.) 
  • Are you making new friends?
  • Are you going deeper in familiar poses?
  • Are you learning a new skill, developing a new hobby, trying new things?
  • Instead of going to work today, what would you really want to be doing?

It was as a result of meditating on “Am I Still Growing?” that some years ago I made the commitment to start leading worldwide yoga retreats combined with other ways to express one’s vitality like surfing, zip lining, cycling, kayaking and hiking. I sold my successful nine year old Yoga Studio to develop a new way to hold space and create opportunities for others to invest in their own personal development off the mat. I believe that for most, going to a new country and trying new things creates discomfort and yet it is always outside of our comfort zone that we experience the most growth and evolution.

We all deserve to keep expanding in order to mature spiritually and emotionally. Most of all, I certainly want us to consciously flourish into a kinder, more patient, and more loving world.  And I wholeheartedly believe we feel most inspired when we’re still growing. Today, recommit to affirm your best intentions through growth!

Love yourself, love your day, love your life!
Silvia

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Screen Shot Front Silvia CardEditor’s note: This is a guest post by Daily Cup of Yoga contributor Silvia Mordini, E-RYT, retreat leader, happiness coach, and yogipreneur. Enthusiasm to love your life is contagious around Silvia. Her expert passion connects people to their own joyful potential. Silvia lives her happiness in such a big way that you can’t help but leave her classes, workshops, trainings and retreats spiritually uplifted! Born in Ecuador, raised traveling around the globe, she is an enthusiastic citizen of the world and spiritual adventurer. She has over 10,000 hours and 15 years of teaching experience, owned a yoga studio for 9 years and after being run over by a car used yoga to recover physically and emotionally. Silvia leads Alchemy Tours Yoga Retreats and Alchemy of Yoga RYT200 Yoga Teacher Training.

Silvia can be reached on the Web at www.alchemytours.com or www.silviamordini.com, or via email at silvia@alchemytours.com. Twitter: @alchemytours@inspiredyogagal; Facebook: Silvia Mordini; YouTube: lovingyourday; Pinterest: Silvia Mordini; Intagram: alchemytours.

Photo credit: bohemian_heart on instagram

A.U.M…(Almighty Universal Magnetic)…by MC Yogi…definitely going on repeat

aum - mc yogi - 2Time to turn up the volume! MC Yogi just released a sweet new music video that has me pumped about his new album, Mantras, Beats & Meditations, set to release on April 1. His videos always have great visuals, but A.U.M. may be my new favorite. It’s tough to beat the combination of great lyrics, thumping beat, and some impressive yoga poses.

Happy weekend!

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A Yoga Hug to the Midline

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I had another weekend of teacher training at the start of the new year, and on top of all of the challenging and inspiring information that I received, something from our anatomy module is what stood out to me, far and beyond the rest. It was on Saturday afternoon, toward the end of our eight-hour day, and a difficult time to sit and talk about the intricacies of the human body. However, one of the first pieces of information that my teacher, Christina Sell, shared with us stayed with me.  She said that during fetal development in utero, the spinal cord is the first thing to form: a sheet of cells on the back of the embryo folds in the middle to form a tube, which becomes the baby’s spinal cord.

This was interesting to me for a couple of reasons. If you’ve been in a few public yoga classes, you may have heard the energetic cue to “hug toward the midline.” Coined by John Friend, founder of Anusara Yoga (and now Sridaiva Yoga), and meant to cultivate muscular energy by accessing the strength of your core energy to support a pose from within, rather than simply replying on the outermost muscles to hold the pose.

I like to explain it to my classes like this: imagine there is an energetic line drawn from the crown of your head all the way down between your heels, as if the spinal cord were extended from head to floor. This energetic cue is meant to tone the inner muscles to support the more delicate and often over-stretched parts of the anatomy, like the hips, hamstrings and back. The midline acts as our backbone, then, creating a steady and firm foundation on which to build each asana, or posture.

There are various ways to draw toward the midline in our physical bodies during asana practice. Take a standing pose like Tadasana (Mountain Pose), for instance. Standing at the top of your mat, spread your toes wide and then plant them firmly to your mat. Hug shins and thighs in toward your midline, hug heels energetically toward hips, and squeeze your knees (lifting your knees by engaging your quadricep muscles). Your belly button hugs toward your spine, engaging your low belly (or uddiyana bandha). Slide your shoulder blades together on to your back, and then from there you can confidently shine energy out of your heart, the crown of your head, and all 10 of your fingertips.

However, practicing asana is just the tip of the yoga iceberg. Once we begin to open up the energetic blockages in our physical body, we enter a state of receptivity from which we can begin to learn and grow.

Just like the energetic midline holds space for our muscular energy to support the more fragile parts of our physical bodies, drawing closer to our center in difficult times help us to support ourselves and make us stronger from the inside, out.

One way that I practice drawing to the midline, not physically, but intellectually, emotionally, and spiritually, is by journaling. When you begin to open up your body through the practice of asana, the energy begins to flow, and you open yourself up to the emotions and experiences that can come pouring out of your body, right out in to the open. If you’re not prepared to deal with whatever comes up during your practice, it can get messy. Journaling allows a way to take all of that energy, all of those thoughts and feelings, and have a place to put them.

Think of it this way – if you have kind of a small house like I do, space can get cluttered pretty easily. If you come home from work every day, throw your pair of shoes off to the side, throw your jacket and your bag on the floor, and then you continue to repeat this process with different items each day for a couple of days, your space is going to get cluttered – quickly! If there isn’t a specific place for your belongings to be placed every day when you get home from work, then you have no way to effectively deal with them, and then what happens? The mess comes crashing down around you. Sound familiar?

If we continue our asana practice, releasing all of our past hurts, current regrets and disappointments, but don’t create any way to deal with what comes up for us from inside, we’re creating an impending implosion of epic proportions. Write in a journal after class, meditate, or talk to someone you love and can trust. Hug back to your center. Find out what’s important to you, and then stick with it! Hold firm. Be strong. The entire light of the universe shines from within you.

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Editor’s note: This is a guest post from DCOY contributor Sean Devenport. She is currently completing her 500-hour RYT.

540217_698781320137845_1802831051_nA quiet and curious observer by nature, Sean was drawn to human psychology as an undergraduate at Ripon College. Determined to learn just what it is that makes people “tick”, she travelled the globe studying some of the ways we, as humans, can be – spending a semester on the golden beaches of Australia, and another in the Blue Mountains of Jamaica, Sean returned home to discover the key ingredient  to understanding others was first to understand the Self. Since 2009, Sean has been a dedicated practitioner of yoga and life, dabbling in every style from Bikram to Kripalu. As a former dancer and dance enthusiast to this day, the fluidity and dance-like quality of Vinyasa was what really spoke to her soul. After studying under Gioconda Parker in 2011, Sean began teaching her own personal style of Hatha Flow, a melding of Vinyasa, the dedication to precision and alignment of Anusara, and Iyengar, and the core teachings of Hatha Yoga. Sean was highly influenced by William J Broad’s 2011 best seller The Science of Yoga, and strives to offer a safe and judgement-free environment for practitioners of every level to seek higher understanding of themSelves. Sean encourages students to pour the compassion and love that they cultivate for themselves on their mats, in to their every day interactions with others. Under the guidance of Gioconda and Christina Sell, Sean is currently pursuing her 500-hour teaching certification, The Alchemy of Flow and Form, at the San Marcos School of Yoga. Connect with Sean on FacebookTwitter and Instagram.

Photo credit: lululemon on Instagram

Less Yoga Pop, More Yoga Culture: Yoga and Visual Culture Symposium Lectures

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If you’re looking for a little less yoga pop and a little more yoga culture, the Freer and Sackler Youtube page has some lectures up from the Yoga and Visual Culture symposium held in November 2013.

H/T to The Confluence Countdown

Fitting In is Overrated: Living Your Sva Dharma

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“I think fitting in is highly overrated. I’d rather just fit out… Fitting out means being who you are, even when people insist that you have to change. Fitting out means taking up space, not apologizing for yourself, and not agreeing with those who seek to label you with stereotypes.” ― Golda Poretsky

Fitting in is overrated. I finally embraced my terminal weirdness when a friend told me frankly that I will always stand out. I suddenly liked the sound of that. In the past, I would have rebelled against it because I was trying valiantly to fit in. What I discovered is even if you get really good at fitting in, whatever you think you win as a result isn’t worth it. The chameleon quality I developed was just a way to hide from the truth of who I am. And it was exhausting. So let me say this. Fitting out is hard, but fitting in is harder.

I understand what it means to stand out. It started early for me. My mom and dad—from Ecuador and Italy respectively, spoke with accents. Automatically I was weird in Midwest America’s eyes. I was raised in a conservative, homogeneous town where my perpetually olive skin made me stand out. I mostly just wanted to look like everyone else. Being soft-spoken and lacking the ironic retorts and snappy put downs didn’t help. I learned some slang at school, but my parents spoke textbook-perfect English, and demanded the same of me, so I lagged behind on common vernacular. I tired of trying to be perfect, which was often my underlying motivation for pretending to fit in. Then, I got tired of being tired. This happens when we edit away our most authentic selves. As Charles de Lint says in Happily Ever After, “We’re so quick to cut away pieces of ourselves to suit a particular relationship, a job, a circle of friends, incessantly editing who we are until we fit in.” I was a master editor.

Removing a little bit of your unique personality may not seem harmful at first. But it is a slippery slope. Soon, we have eliminated so much of who we are, that we become what I call Spiritual Amnesiacs. Unless we do the self-work of uncovering our true core identity we will feel chaotic.

Spiritual practice has taught me that a clear self-identity is an essential foundation for a happy life. Pretending to be “normal” is a formula for disappointment and unhappiness. As Maya Angelou puts it, “If you’re always trying to be normal, you will never know how amazing you can be.” The more authentic we are, the more we give others permission to be themselves. Ultimately, we discover that “Happiness is found in loving the truth in people.” (Robert Holden) However, we can only accept others as they are once we respect our authenticity. Finding the answer to “Who Am I” must always begin with radical self-acceptance.

The Bhagavad Ghita states that a happy person follows their own path:  “One’s own duty, performed imperfectly, is better than doing another’s duty perfectly.” (3.35) This means it is our responsibility to live our Sva Dharma. It is criminal to live being generic because it implies following someone else’s expectations of your Dharma. Sustainable happiness depends upon your Sva Dharma.

Love yourself, love your day, love your life!
Silvia

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Screen Shot Front Silvia CardEditor’s note: This is a guest post by Daily Cup of Yoga contributor Silvia Mordini, E-RYT, retreat leader, happiness coach, and yogipreneur. Enthusiasm to love your life is contagious around Silvia. Her expert passion connects people to their own joyful potential. Silvia lives her happiness in such a big way that you can’t help but leave her classes, workshops, trainings and retreats spiritually uplifted! Born in Ecuador, raised traveling around the globe, she is an enthusiastic citizen of the world and spiritual adventurer. She has over 10,000 hours and 15 years of teaching experience, owned a yoga studio for 9 years and after being run over by a car used yoga to recover physically and emotionally. Silvia leads Alchemy Tours Yoga Retreats and Alchemy of Yoga RYT200 Yoga Teacher Training.

Silvia can be reached on the Web at www.alchemytours.com or www.silviamordini.com, or via email at silvia@alchemytours.com. Twitter: @alchemytours@inspiredyogagal; Facebook: Silvia Mordini; YouTube: lovingyourday; Pinterest: Silvia Mordini; Intagram: alchemytours.

Going Creative – Meditation and Creative Consciousness

7097958115_c89680128f_bHumans are conscious beings. We are able to both analyze the creative spirit, discuss it intellectually — and also experience it.

When we meditate, we come home to our own creative fount, a sense of oneness that evaporates the ego-centred perception that we are separate beings adrift in a phenomenal world, doomed to die.

In meditation, we experience how humans are both creations and creators, and also how creator and the created are inseparable, one and the same. That we are about as separate from the rest of the world as a wave is separate from the sea.

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Creativity and The Con-Mind

To create, we need to overcome convention — the prior creations of what is usually called the ego mind. I call it “con”-mind, short for conventional, conceptual, conditioned and conformist (and, alas, a bit conceited, thinking it’s in charge of everything and a bit confrontational, seeing itself as separate and essentially alone, needing to defend itself. On the plus side, it’s good at construction and consistency, both essential to good creation.).

We all have a con-mind and we all have a creative mind and they inter-are.

Con-mind’s motivations are a desire to gain, reluctance to lose, or fear of choosing wrongly. In this mode, our mind is focused on the future outcomes of our present actions. If the outcomes are not achieved, we are disappointed and dissatisfied; if they are, we worry about losing them. Fear is the underlying driver and the inevitable outcome and what fear creates, mostly, is more of itself.

We are all more creative when we pay less attention to our con minds. When we take our attention away from the surface, our going and doing, and give it to the depth of our knowing and being. Or, deeper again, to the nothingness that interpenetrates everything.

This is where meditation comes in. When we take silent time to meditate, a shift happens, from thingness to nothingness. Our consciousness expands, our awareness deepens, we come into the presence of what the physicist Albert Einstein once described as “the most beautiful emotion we can experience… the [underlying] power of all true art and science.”

This power — our creative intelligence — is in us all. We don’t acquire it, any more than we acquire our fingers or our feet. Accessing it is largely a matter of removing the barriers we place between ourselves and this innate, powerful potential, allowing it to flow more freely.

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Dissolving Barriers through Meditation

Meditation dissolves those barriers. All meditation traditions hold that our conceptual mind is mainly driven by fear and wanting. Viewing and interpreting the world through those lenses leads us into a confused state. Patanjali, who wrote The Yoga Sutras, one of the oldest surviving guides to meditation, called the state avidya (ignorance) and speaks of it as a kind of veil that blocks spiritual and creative light from the mind. The object of meditation is to dissolve the veil, so conceptual mind and creative spirit are in direct and clear communication. Avidya disintegrates, the fog disperses, we can see clearly, at multiple levels, with our big mind.

This is very different approach to that taken by Western philosophy, which constantly explores the external world for information and knowledge, to discover practical answers to the fundamental questions. The eastern mind, the meditative traditions have always searched inwards, not for information for its own sake but for the sake of awakening not just knowledge but knowing. Creative consciousness.

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Creativity as Consciousness

Today, new technologies and understandings are confirming some, and changing other, long-held ideas about what those words mean. “Creative” is no longer applied only to a particular set of activities — writing, drawing, singing. It is now being understood as a condition of consciousness, a type of attention and awareness. You can paint or sing or draw or write in a conventional way. You can mop the floor, cook the dinner, do the filing or mow the lawn in a creative way. It’s an attitude, an inner condition brought to the present moment and the task in hand.

To “go creative” is to wake up, to allow your inner and outer senses to perceive, and thereby partake in, what is unfolding in a given moment. Creation is the act of turning up to the moment and, in so doing, making it new, fresh, alive and alert. It cannot be a creative activity, a creative moment without your creative presence.

You don’t have to do anything. On the contrary, in order for creative inspiration to arise, a part of your mind has to be in a state of “being” rather than “doing.” Guatama Buddha, sitting still under the bodhi tree, apparently doing nothing, was as creative as it is ever possible for a human being to be.

In order for a moment in your universe to be creative, it needs your presence, your alive, alert, awake attention. Then you have fulfilled your purpose in that moment. You have become a creative conduit, one of the conditions through which creative consciousness expands and spreads in our world. Though we are not always there for it, this creative consciousness is always there for us.

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Inspiration-Meditation-CoverEditor’s note: This is an extract from Inspiration Meditation, a “How To Meditate” Guide from novelist, poet, and Director of The Alliance of Independent Authors, Orna Ross. Inspiration Meditation explains the theory and practice of meditation — and introduces Inspiration Meditation, Orna’s own meditation method, which she practices daily and has taught to thousands of people through her Go Creative! books and blog.

Inspiration Meditation is designed to cultivate creativity, ideas and insights. It is not just for writers and artists — though they will find it intensely useful. Inspiration Meditation is for anyone who wants to master the art of conscious creation and apply it to any aspect of life.

A long-time teacher of creative and imaginative practice, Orna lives in London and writes, publishes and teaches around the globe. She has a dedicated belief in the power of the published word to transform and liberate. When she’s not writing, you’ll probably find her reading.

As for the photos, I took them in the early spring of 2012 on a trip to Kyoto, one of my favorite cities because of its contemplative beauty. Hope you don’t mind my walk down memory lane…

Kyoto-Meditation

Defeating Unhappiness

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At times I have felt defeated by life.

All I ever wanted was to be peaceful, happy, and free. I went about attaining it by deconstructing myself and my life and seeking spirituality to bring about peace and happiness. With spirituality figured out and practiced daily I waited for the immediate result that failed to appear. It wasn’t until some years later that I realized I was attempting to cheat the system. I was trying to become enlightened to see the light. Unfortunately that’s not how life works, you cannot get the answers to life’s challenges in advance. The act of waiting for happiness to be happy, or happiness procrastination as I refer to it, can be paralyzing. If we have a prerequisite of a certain condition taking place to facilitate happiness then we’ll always be waiting as opposed to being happy in the moment. If we fool ourselves into believing that we have to understand the reasons why we’re unhappy, the result will be getting stuck in that state of unhappiness. Instead, focus on forgiving the past without over intellectualizing it and bypass your way into the present.

What is the best way to defeat unhappiness?

Stop procrastinating by coming up with excuses to not be happy. This is not only self-defeating to you but does a disservice to the world, your family, and community at large. Life is about learning from your trials, failures, and misjudgments, so don’t lose any more time trying to solve the mystery of unhappiness and just live in the now.

How, you ask? The first step is to free all of your emotions fully whether it be sadness, anger, love, joy, or frustration. The more you feel the less you fight against the feeling, which deepens your capacity and potential for happiness. Step number two is to love yourself as you are and without apology. Stop putting prerequisites on your self-love and acceptance and continuing the self-defeating dialogue of, if only I could lose 10 pounds, get a new job, run a marathon, etc… Spiritual growth is not about self-improvement so don’t treat yourself as a home improvement project that is never quite good enough or finished. Embody spiritual maturity as unconditional love toward the life you are currently being offered.

I used to be a destination junky before I read Jon Kabat Zinn’s book Wherever You Go, There You Are. It woke me up to the fact that waiting to be happy until I was somewhere new and exotic was never the right solution. I still had myself and how I felt about me to deal with no matter how exotic the location or the distance from my office. I had to face myself with truth and honesty and admit that I was hungry for love. Just as Mother Teresa said, The hunger for love is much more difficult to remove than the hunger for bread.” I felt that hunger.

The hunger cannot be quenched by material things, other people loving you, or going to exotic places–it has to be an internal shift of self-recognition that moves you to self-acceptance. As soon as that shift happened for me and I started loving myself I wasn’t starving anymore. That was the first day I made the commitment to my own healing. I ask you, how strong is your desire to live a healing lifestyle? Only you can make the choice to choose love and happiness each and every moment of every day.

From my heart to yours I wish the practice of yoga saves your life today as it does mine daily. I want you to love yourself more and in turn feel how loved you are by the universe herself. As Sutra 11.42 reads, “When at peace and content with oneself and others, santosha, supreme joy is celebrated.” You hold the key to your own happiness. The question is, do you have the courage to take the time today without delay to defeat unhappiness? You are everything and you have all you need to be happy so don’t waste another moment procrastinating.

Love yourself, love your day, love your life! ~Silvia

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Screen Shot Front Silvia CardEditor’s note: This is a guest post by Daily Cup of Yoga contributor Silvia Mordini, E-RYT, retreat leader, happiness coach, and yogipreneur. Enthusiasm to love your life is contagious around Silvia. Her expert passion connects people to their own joyful potential. Silvia lives her happiness in such a big way that you can’t help but leave her classes, workshops, trainings and retreats spiritually uplifted! Born in Ecuador, raised traveling around the globe, she is an enthusiastic citizen of the world and spiritual adventurer. She has over 10,000 hours and 15 years of teaching experience, owned a yoga studio for 9 years and after being run over by a car used yoga to recover physically and emotionally. Silvia leads Alchemy Tours Yoga Retreats and Alchemy of Yoga RYT200 Yoga Teacher Training.

Silvia can be reached on the Web at www.alchemytours.com or www.silviamordini.com, or via email at silvia@alchemytours.com. Twitter: @alchemytours@inspiredyogagal; Facebook: Silvia Mordini; YouTube: lovingyourday; Pinterest: Silvia Mordini; Intagram: alchemytours.

Photo credit: Silvia Mordini

 

Another Kick in the Pants from the Universe

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I love it when the universe sends me messages. But sometimes I can be a little dense, and it takes a few repeats or beats over the head for the lesson to finally soak in.

The perfect example of this occurred a few weeks ago in my Wednesday yoga class as I was sharing a few passages from the book Soul to Soul by John Mundahl and read this quote by Anthony DeMello:

“There’s only one reason why you’re not experiencing bliss at this present moment, and it’s because you’re thinking or focusing on what you don’t have.”

After reading this quote for the third time, it finally hit home. “Duh, Maria, think about what you are saying; you are the one not fully experiencing your bliss.”

It caused me to take a step back and realize that a good portion of my time I focus on what I don’t have – worrying about things like where I’m hoping to take my career, when I will ever be able to retire, when I will find stability in a few areas of my life, and during the winter, when I can move to a warmer climate already. All this forward thinking, worry, regret, and warm-weather envy is keeping me from living my bliss. And I don’t know about you, but I want to live in bliss!

Kick in the butt received. Message processed. And though it seems like it should be easy to change, I’m striving to not obsess over the things I don’t have right now and focus instead on all the wonderful gifts that I do possess.

I’d rather be in bliss working on the things I want to achieve in life than drowning in all the worry and fear of what I need to do to get there.

I’m ready to pitch my tent over at Camp Bliss, light a fire, get to work, and bask in blissfulness. Who wants to join me?

Thank you, universe! I’ll keep listening if you keep talking. Just please be patient with me.

Have you received any messages from the universe recently? If so, I’d love to hear about the kick in the caboose you received and how it’s helped you to live more mindfully.

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Maria Santoferraro Bio PicEditor’s note: This is a guest post by Maria Santoferraro, RYT. She is first and foremost a student of yoga and hails from the beautiful shores of Lake Erie, Ohio. A former marketing executive with a ‘Crackberry’ addiction, she now enjoys spending her time teaching yoga on the beach, building yoga brands, and creating meditation videos for HangTen Meditation. Go from stressed out to blissed out on her blog The Daily Downward Dog , Twitter, and Facebook.  Join Maria for one of her Beach Yoga Bliss Retreats.

Photo credit: TeenyTinyOm.com 

 

Yoga Myths: Don’t Let These 3 Common Misconceptions Keep You Off the Mat

webeka_pada_rajakoptasana_iiIt’s fair to say that yoga has been around for a while and has come a long way since its hippie days of the 60s and 70s. I remember taking my first class when I was twelve years old, I went with my grandma and fell asleep. I thought yoga was for older ladies in leotards and didn’t take another class until after college. I had no idea the practice could be so dynamic and physical. Luckily yoga has gained a lot more attention and most people have a good idea of what yoga is all about as well as its benefits — still, there are a few common misconceptions worth addressing. So here we go: Debunking the top three yoga myths and reasons for not practicing.

YOGA MYTH #1: All Yoga is Created Equal

At first glance it may seem like yoga is yoga is yoga, but take a second look and you’ll discover that there are many different ways of practicing yoga being offered in the States. According to the American Yoga Association, there are more than 100 styles of yoga. And while yoga is for everyone, not every style of yoga is. Meaning, the yoga offered at your gym might not be the best yoga for you.

PickYourYoga_cvr.inddThat’s why I wrote my book Pick Your Yoga Practice, to help newbies and experienced practitioners alike understand the sometimes subtle differences between styles of yoga. In the book you’ll find seven popular yoga styles discussed in-depth, including teaching methodology, elements of practice, philosophical and spiritual underpinnings, class structure, physical exertion, and personal attention, as well as ten more styles in the “Best of the Rest” chapter.

You should also be aware that not all yoga teachers are created equal either. Yoga’s popularity grew at such an exponential rate here in the U.S. that yoga’s professional standards and governing bodies are just now catching up. Some current teachers completed their training over a weekend while others have spent years studying to become a yoga teacher. Different styles of yoga have different requirements, expectations and standards for certifying yoga teachers. Spend a short amount of time checking out the teacher’s bio and trainings before jumping into class, and always do what feels best for your body.

YOGA MYTH #2: Yoga is for the Flexy-Bendy Type

Whenever I tell someone that I teach yoga, they either tell me they practice yoga and love it or share with the me the reasons they don’t practice yoga: the most often being “I’m not flexible.”

While I understand that from the looks of it yoga is only for those blessed with the ability to fold themselves in half, that couldn’t be further from the truth. Yoga is meant to help you become more comfortable, gain strength, and increase range of motion in the body you have. The benefits are the same regardless of how far you can bend. Besides, you aren’t strong before you started strength training and you don’t have endurance before you start cardio workouts—does that mean you aren’t going to lift weights or go for a run… ever? Don’t be silly. When I started practicing yoga I couldn’t even touch my toes.

Everyone has to start somewhere, and if you’re uncomfortable with your inflexibility or at all intimidated by the class environment, you may want to think about taking a more compassionate style of yoga, like Kripalu yoga, or a beginners class where you’ll learn the how to use props to modify the poses to compensate for tight hips, shoulders, and hamstrings. Many styles preference function over form, meaning that the shape of the yoga postures are modified to meet the needs of the individual. A skilled teacher will be able to show you, with the use of props, how to adjust yourself to make the poses more comfortable for your body.

I’ll also have you know that it is better to come to yoga with less flexibility and gain it gradually than to start practicing as a wet noodle. It’s the flexible people who are more likely to injure themselves. Yoga requires equal flexibility and strength, and the hope is that you’ll balance the two. Flexibility without the strength to match is much more hazardous than strength without being flexible.

YOGA MYTH #3: Yoga is for the Spiritual

Not true. Yoga is for anyone. The great thing about the practice is that you can take it as far as you want to go. You may just like the physical exercise combined with the breathing and leave it at that. You may become a monk. Point being, yoga doesn’t care. The more people stretching, breathing, and moving their spine the better! All are welcome.

You can continue with the same lifestyle you have now and practice yoga. However, don’t be surprised if you start to preference healthy lifestyle choices over unhealthy ones. Yoga has a way of working itself into your life off the mat. Yoga puts you more in touch with your body—the way you feel. By practicing yoga, you will start to notice what makes you feel your best and when you’re not feeling quite your best. Without forcing yourself, you simply start making decisions that help you feel good all the way around.

The fantastic part about having so many styles of yoga available to us is that you have some choice as far as personal preference. If you want a more overtly spiritual yoga practice then you can choose a style that incorporates more chanting and meditation, if you’re looking for a straightforward yet mindful workout then take a class focused on producing sweat. There is of course a lot of crossover, and each style has much more to offer than what initially meets the eye, but with this many variations on the market you’re sure to find the right combination for you. 

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[webMeaganheadshotEditor's note: This is a guest post by Meagan McCrary. Meagan is a Los Angeles based yoga teacher and the author of Pick Your Yoga Practice. She teaches for Equinox Sports Clubs, works one-on-one with some of the entertainment industry's leading professionals, and holds workshops and retreats nationally and internationally.  Visit her online at http://www.meaganmccrary.com.]   

The above post is based on the book Pick Your Yoga Practice © 2013 by Meagan McCrary. Printed with permission of New World Library www.newworldlibrary.com.  If you’d like to hear more from Meagan about the inspiration for her new book, check out the interview below.

Santa’s Christmas Yoga Routine

A fun little Christmas e-book for kids and those still young at heart… I posted this a few years ago, but it’s still enjoyable to look at this time of year.

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