WHAT MAKES YOGA, YOGA?

[OCTOBER, 2017]

We've all heard the word 'yoga' before (or maybe not) and have created some sort of idea of what yoga is... Some people might think of  it as chanting, meditation, or a bunch of hippies dancing around a yoga mat. Some people might define yoga as a workout class, others, an escape. The word yoga literally translates to "to yolk" or "union," and although the physical asana, or posture, practice can definitely be a workout, it is so much more than that.

Patanjali, who wrote the Yoga Sutras which are a guide that offers insight on how to find enlightenment, describes in the very first sutra (1.1) that yoga is now. Yoga is the practice of staying present- something we have not been taught in our fast paced society. This intense focus on the now is what people experience and describe as bliss, or freedom. This has certainly been the case for me. 

Patanjali then goes on to say that we see yoga when we still the mind. (1.2) Now something like 'stilling the mind' is much easier said than done. Why don't you try it right now? Take a deep breath in, hold, open your mouth and eeeeexhhhaaaale it all out. Now close your eyes with the intention to still your mind. Quiet your thoughts. 

How long did it last? For most of us, only seconds- if that. Thoughts of yesterday, or last week, or last year come pouring in. Things we should have done, things we have to do later today. The endless 'to do' list. Lunch plans. Dinner plans. Grocery lists. Regrets, anticipations, it goes on and on.

This is where the practice of yoga separates itself from so many other activities, forms of exercise, or really anything else I've ever experienced. This does not mean that for the first time you step onto your mat that you have to have already mastered quieting the mind. Luckily for us, the practice of yoga is just an effort to still the mind. It is trying to stay conscious of what is going on around you, from physical alignment to your breath, without the constant movement of the thoughts. It doesn't matter who you are, what your body is like, injured or not, young or old, anybody can practice yoga. It doesn't matter if you are in child's pose or a handstand, you can practice being conscious of the mind in any moment of your practice or the day. 

See what its like. Do a little experiment today and see how often you can keep track of your thoughts. Observe them. Now the average adult thinks some 50-70,000 thoughts a day, so monitoring them all could be quite exhausting! But just watch. Notice if your mood shifts from anything but happy, what are the thoughts going on in your mind? Have they moved to the past, repeating things that have already come and gone? Are you anticipating the future, worrying about something that may never even happen? Just watch. And know that at any point you have the power to change your thoughts. Focus on what is happening now. This moment is the only place life truly exists. 

Look at that! You're practicing yoga! See if you can take this with you into the rest of your day, or next time you step onto your mat. See if staying conscious helps you stay steady in your practice and life. It certainly has changed mine!

BECOMMING A YOGA TEACHER

[OCTOBER, 2017]

I was 18, and had barely lived in NYC for 3 months. At this point I was spending more time taking shots & being hungover in my dorm room bunk bed than being a productive human/ college student. (yes, I had a fake ID... rebel!) My roommate / high school BFF was always connected to the coolest people at the hottest clubs. We never waited in lines, and always drank for free. It was easy to escape. 

I didn't really know what I wanted to do. I moved to NY on a whim, chasing a boy that didn't want to be chased, setting myself up for heartbreak and drowning in toxicity. I was lost. I was unsure. I was avoiding myself at all costs. 

It was my friends mom who looked at us one day (I'm sure we we wreaked of booze) and said, "What are you girls doing to yourselves? You need to take care of your bodies. You need yoga." 

So we went to yoga. I'd done yoga in high school, purely because the thought of running a mile made me nauseous, and it was considered an easy A kind of class. But I was never, EVER, let me repeat, NEVER physically inclined. I tried to go out for different teams, but never made the cut. I didn't run, I didn't dance, I didn't surf or snowboard or play volleyball or soccer, or anything for that matter. I drew, and I sang, and I did theatre. Flexible? No. Hard no. Strong? ha! No. 

That first yoga class, I was a mess! I hated sweating and I was literally soaked, in my sweat and what felt like everyone else's sweat too. I couldn't breathe. I couldn't bear to hold my arms up in any warrior pose for more than a few seconds, and there was no way I was going to do another f'ing vinyasa. I crawled into a little ball, aka childs pose, and held back tears. I felt so useless. I wanted to roll up my mat, run out of the room, and never come back. Somehow, I made it through class. (I probably blacked out through the rest of it.)

A few months later, I was on a plane back to LA for what I believed would be my summer break, only for my dad to break the news that I would no longer be attending school in NY, or living there at all for that matter. It was too expensive, and I didn't even have a major, so why did I have to go to school there, and if I really wanted to, I could go to community college in Santa Monica. Immediately, my world collapsed. "NO, there was no way I was going to community college! All of my friends are in real schools, living in cool dorms, living college lives!!" Thats what the naive, rebellious, and lets be honest, clueless, 18 year old me was screaming (inside and outside.) 

I was devastated. I moved back into my mom's house after having lived on my own for almost a year, and I felt like a total failure. A real loser. I was no longer in that toxic relationship, but at the time it felt like it was my whole world. I hated my life and I hated myself. I had been struggling with depression and eating disorders for a couple years at that point (boy are my teenage journals dark and dismal) and honestly, all I wanted (dreamed of, hoped for) was to go to sleep, and never wake up. 

But every day, I woke up. I didn't know what to do with myself, but a small voice, somewhere inside of me whispered, "yoga." I didn't question it, I just found the closest donation studio and started practicing. 

I didn't have any money, and I remember pretending to put money in the donation box after classes and run out of the studio as quickly as possible so that no one would catch me and I could come back and practice. 

It was Dan Ward, a wonderfully kind teacher, who I connected with. I remember him trying to give me adjustments in forward folds, and my whole body rejecting the idea of my fingers ever reaching my toes. But he saw something in me and always encouraged me to come back. It didn't matter that I couldn't afford classes, he knew I needed yoga, even if I didn't know what yoga really was. 

Those classes became the only thing that pulled me out of my darkness. 

I have a distinct memory of walking out of class one afternoon, and feeling like my feet weren't even touching the ground. Like I was floating. I felt so free. I had the sudden and deep realization that happiness was not something that you can get from anyone or anything outside of yourself. Happiness is something you create within. 

I asked Dan, "So what is yoga? I mean... how can I be doing these poses, and feeling so good inside?" I was baffled, intrigued, and I needed to know more. He told me about something called a 'teacher training.' I asked where he did his, and I went straight home and signed up for the next one. 

I did my 200 hour YTT with Tamal Dodge that November, about 6 months after I started practicing regularly. I just wanted to know more. I didn't know if I wanted to be a teacher, I was barely 19 years old! But I dove in, because my intuition told me to, and I didn't question it. 

By the time I finished my training, I was fully immersed in the yoga community. I was working at the front desk of the studio, taking classes every day, and I even started teaching once a week. (Oh my gosh, I was so awful, I wore my glasses to teach and they would get all steamy and slide down my nose because I was nervously sweating / overheating... those were the days!!) 

Another 6 months of this passed by, and all of a sudden, the Universe was urging me to make some major life changes. The studio was going to close, among other things, and I ended up buying a one-way ticket to Costa Rica. Pure Vida!

I had reached out to a hotel and they needed staff! I couldn't have been more excited. I moved there and started teaching 2 classes every day, right away. This is where I began to find my voice as a teacher. Until that point, only teaching 1 class a week just wasn't enough for me to learn how to clearly convey my message, or even figure out what my message was. Practice. Practice. Practice. 

I learned how to teach 1 person, and I learned how to teach to a group of 20 people. All I did was teach. I read and studied philosophy and theory and anatomy, and I taught. 

I really felt like I had found my purpose. I knew I had to share this message with as many people as I could. This connection to self. This magic that is within and ready for us to tap into at any point, no matter what. This is what I aim to share. 

Now, its been almost 7 years! I've taught yoga all over the world. I've recorded classes online. I've taught yoga wearing a microphone to a hundred people. I've ever taught yoga on a yacht!

This journey, this practice, is ever evolving. Its humbling because one can never 'master' yoga, one can only embody it more and more. I have so much to learn, and so much to share, and this feels like it's only the beginning. I'm just getting started. 

Click here for my online yoga class bundle. Click here for my free youtube classes.