<note: I wrote this post back in July 2012 but forgot to post it!>
Today was our first big adventure into the city. After 3 months of being a Northern Californian, I decided it was time to venture into San Francisco for a trip with the kids. However, driving into San Francisco required me to really get out of my comfort zone.
First, I've been fairly terrified of bridges for years. (Back in 1992 I drove from Huntsville, AL to visit friends in Indiana and crossed the Mississippi during a HORRIBLE storm. Couldn't see much past the nose of my car - and have been afraid of bridges ever since.) So, a drive from North Bay to the city of course involves driving across at least one major bridge. In this case since we were going to SF rather than Oakland, it meant driving across the Golden Gate Bridge.
Our first trip across the Golden Gate was last month as we drove to the airport. But I wasn't driving, and it was a bright, sunny day. It was absolutely beautiful and I was too excited about being on the Golden Gate to be terrified about being on a bridge. But today was quite a different situation. First, I was the driver. Second, it was FOGGY. Thankfully visibility wasn't too bad at the bridge level, but about 15 feet in any direction, the bridge just disappeared. It was actually rather beautiful and I found myself wishing I were a passenger so I could just enjoy the view.
So, bridge conquered, we moved on to the next step in getting out of my comfort zone. And it was a big one. I am not a city driver. I'm a child of suburbia, and while I can deal with some traffic, city traffic plus city streets plus parallel parking combine to make my anxiety hit the top of Everest. I should clarify that a trip to the SF Zoo from where we live does not *normally* require driving in downtown. I had an errand to run that involved a brief visit to a Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) practitioner. San Francisco is a maze of narrow, one-way streets that alternate inclines and declines in varying degrees that would make driving a manual transmission impossible. <Mentally relieved I no longer have a manual!> The hardest part was the street before I turned on the street for the office - the incline was about 45 degrees and every block had a stop sign or stoplight, a solid row of cars parked along the side of the street, and delivery trucks swerving in and out of traffic. Despite my terror and the many challenges ("Just pull in the driveway and come on up" - the 'driveway' was about 5 ft wide and 3 ft deep - how exactly was I to fit a station wagon in there?), I finally managed to find our way to the office, make my delivery, and get us headed out of the driving nightmare with surprising ease. I had to calm myself down a few times in my head with counting and deep breathing. But I was able to maintain a calm demeanor, which anyone with children knows is critical to prevent them from spotting your panic and jumping on the frazzled bandwagon.
Prior to my yoga teacher training, I would not have had the strength to handle either the bridge or the downtown driving. It's amazing to me how much those 6 months changed - no, improved - me. While I am in no hurry to drive in downtown San Francisco again, I've done it now and know that I have the skills to handle that challenge, as well as whatever else might arise to bar me from reaching my goals. (Dare I make a Harry Potter reference on a yoga blog? “I knew I could do it all this time," said Harry,"because I'd already done it...does that make sense?)
Getting out of your comfort zone can lead to amazing things - it's thinking out of the box in a literal sense.You just might discover you are stronger than you knew, like I did. Or maybe you'll discover you love belly dancing (try it! it's fantastic!) - or perhaps that new thing you try, you'll know for certain is not for you. That's ok too. Stretching your limits isn't just about finding new things you enjoy - it's about the effort, the stretch. Being mentally flexible keeps you limber in a whole different way than the physical practice of yoga (though I'll admit, they are related ;). Once you've pushed yourself a little, it becomes easier the next time you want to try something new but feel a bit afraid or uncomfortable. You've done it once, you can do it again! Go on now. Try something new today that extends you a little past your comfort zone, and let me know how it turns out!
07 June 2012
My life has been a whirlwind of change the past several months. I have not always managed to maintain calmness during the madness of trying to move a family of four from Southern to Northern California. Now that we are mostly settled, I am regaining my focus on yoga and working to find my peace again.
My path to serenity begins here.
It's a trail nearby our new home. I went for a walk a few days ago, not really knowing where I would go when I left the apartment. There's a short path behind the apartment complex, but it only takes 5 minutes to walk. I'd had a rather frustrating day with the kids (nap strike) so I really needed to be away from the chaos for little longer than that. I crossed the bridge over the creek bed and discovered there is a parallel path on the other side. So, I took the path, here in a town I don't really know yet, unfamiliar with where it might lead. I could always turn back if anything looked ominous.
It turned out to be exactly what I needed. It formed a loop and took about 30 minutes at a slow/moderate pace. I'm not a fast walker, and not at all a runner. For the most part I walked comfortably, though about 20 minutes in I could tell it was going to loop, but was unsure exactly how long the loop would be. At that stage I pushed myself to walk a bit faster just to make sure I was home in the 30 minutes I intended.
Taking refuge in nature through walking outdoors has always helped me to still my mind. Which is after all, the primary goal of yoga. It's amazing how we can apply Patanjali's tenets to our lives off the mat. Reading his sutras was one of the most enlightening experiences I've ever had. For this and so many reasons, I am grateful to have had the opportunity to take yoga teacher training. It improved my life on many levels.
Go out and make someone smile today. Be gentle with anyone who seems distracted, grumpy, or rude. You never know what might be troubling them today, and your graciousness could give them a small amount of comfort that could help them to get through a challenging day.
22 April 2011
Saturday, April 30th
1:00 to 3:00 pm
Price per person:
$30 day of workshop
Couples Prenatal Yoga and Yoga for Childbirth
This workshop is an opportunity for you and your partner to experience a prenatal yoga class and connect to your inner wisdom as you experience the many changes of pregnancy and childbirth. You will learn to work with your changing body in a relaxing yoga practice that supports the needs of the pregnant woman. Developing the connection between mind and body during pregnancy will help to ease the fear of labor by empowering women to listen to their bodies and trust the natural process of childbirth.
This class covers breath work and gentle yoga practice, guided meditation to enhance relaxation, and comfortable positions for labor and childbirth. Please join Sandra Knoy, Prenatal Yoga Instructor, and other couples for 2 hours of fun, laughs and relaxation. No yoga experience required. Can’t get your significant other to attend? Bring your doula, a close friend, or just come on your own!
To preregister (including payment), contact Sandra via phone or email.
05 April 2011
Note: This was the teaching script I prepared for our final teaching session, which was a class in which each trainee taught 1-2 poses within a 5 minute time limit. It didn't all come out of my mouth quite like it was written, but I think it was fairly close. And most importantly, it was well-received by my fellow trainees as well as my trainers.
Opening, Ujjayi Breath, Child’s Pose
Lie on your back, knees bent, feet flat on the floor hips distance apart. Bring your attention to your natural breath and just observe. Is it smooth and slow, or is it uneven and quick? Just observe for a few cycles of breath.
Now begin to slow your breath down, breathing gently in and out through your nose. Make your inhales and exhales the same length – even breath. To create the Ujjayi breath, focus on keeping your belly soft during both inhale and exhale, gently constrict the back of the throat to create a soft sound. The ujjayi breath is often called ocean breath because the sound created is a soft hissing sound, similar to the sound of the ocean we hear when listening to the inside of a seashell. If you have trouble creating this sound, imagine you are trying to fog a mirror with your mouth closed (if it helps, actually open your mouth and “fog” a pretend mirror for a moment to get the idea). Ultimately our goal is to maintain the practice of ujjayi breath throughout our asana practice. If you notice your breath is strained in a pose – or even that you are holding your breath – it may be a sign to come out of the pose for a moment and rest – refocus on your breath, then try the pose again. It takes practice to continue ujjayi through an entire class, so if you feel frustrated because you keep ‘losing’ the breath, try to let the frustration go. It is ok, just refocus on your breath, and continue your practice. There is no time limit that says you must achieve perfect breathing techniques during your first class. It will come with time.
Move to your hands and knees, placing your hands directly beneath your shoulders and your knees directly beneath your hips. Take a moment to be aware of the neutral position of your spine. There should be even length from your neck to your tailbone, with the natural curves of your neck and lower back dipping toward the floor slightly. Press your hands in to the floor, making the index finger, thumb, and base of thumb the heaviest part of your hand. Check the creases of your wrists – they should be parallel to the front of your mat. On your next inhale, soften your belly slightly toward the floor, tipping your sit bones to the ceiling. At the same time, bring your gaze up to the ceiling if that is comfortable for your neck – if not, just gaze forward. On your exhale, reverse the curve, arching the middle of your back toward the ceiling like an angry cat. Draw your belly toward your spine, tipping your sit bones toward the floor, and relax your neck so your gaze comes inward to the floor beneath your or perhaps toward your navel if your neck is not strained. Inhale and repeat the belly sinking gently to the floor, sit bones and gaze rising to the ceiling. As you round on your next exhale, lower gently back onto your heels while keeping your hands firmly pressed into the ground. Inhale and come up and into the gentle backbend, sit bones and gaze to the ceiling. Exhale, round and lower, belly to spine, forehead to the floor. Do this two more times on your own breath, finishing with a neutral spine on your hands and knees.
Come to sukhasana, or any comfortable seated position. Close your eyes and bring your hands together in front of your heart in anjali mudra, also called prayer position. Leave a small space open at the center of your palms, allowing the space to signify the openness of your heart. Take a moment here to focus your intention for your practice today. Make it simple so that it is tightly focused: flexibility, freeing your back from pain, or something wider reaching such as peace and recovery those touched by the disasters in Japan. In the spirit of keeping our hearts open, I would like to share my intention with you today: to honor each woman in this room for sharing this experience with me. I have learned from all of you, and I am grateful for the gift of your presence as we all have grown and deepened our knowledge of yoga in its many forms. Take a deep breath for the OM. <chant>
04 April 2011
Tadasana for New Yogis
Come to the top of your mats and stand in Tadasana – Mountain Pose (demonstrate to give a general idea of the correct position). Tadasana is the foundation for standing poses – the actions you learn here will be repeated over and over throughout our practice. Place a block between your inner thighs. Your feet should be hip distance apart and parallel to the sides of your mat. Press down through all four corners of your feet. Lift your quadriceps – the front thigh muscles – as if you are trying to draw them upward toward your hips. This action secures the kneecap in place, protecting the knee joint from injury. Release your inner thighs to the back of the room – the block is there to help you feel this action, which opens up the sacral and lumbar areas of the spine (the low back). Draw the belly up and in, as if the abs were a rubber band stretching tightly from the front of your hipbones to your lower front ribs. Remember that firming your core muscles does not mean holding your breath! Continue to breathe slowly through your nose. Keeping your core strong will protect your lower back as well as build abdominal strength that you will need for more challenging poses. Lift your sternum, widen across the collarbones, and press your shoulder blades forward toward your chest. These actions help bring your shoulder into proper alignment and will reappear in every standing pose. Relax the tops of the shoulders away from the ears and find length through all sides of the neck. Arms hang loosely by your sides, palms forward. Inhale and grow taller, as if you could gain more length in your spine, feeling the spaces between each rib expand gently. Exhale and ground more firmly with your feet – strong as a mountain, unmovable, unshakable.
03 April 2011
It’s difficult to choose just one favorite sutra, as there are so many that are wonderful and applicable to everyday life. Perhaps the best choice is the beginning – Atha Yoga Anusasanam: The practice of yoga begins now.
I keep coming back to this sutra because it is a reminder that yoga encompasses far more than simply an asana practice. Yoga is something we can practice every day, in every moment of our lives, and this practice can bring peace and joy to our lives if we just allow it to do so.
While it’s difficult to weigh the true value of this yoga teacher training, I think it’s safe to say that this concept is definitely one of the most important things I have learned during YTT. I have never delved so deeply into yoga philosophy – in 13 years of practice the only sutras I’d read were those printed in Yoga Journal. And honestly I just skimmed the philosophic topics for the most part. It just wasn’t what I was seeking at that time for my yoga practice. For years my yoga has been about healing and injury prevention.
YTT has brought my understanding of yoga to a deeper level, which is invaluable to me not only as I start the journey to becoming a yoga teacher, but in my daily life as well. I have a long way to go, but already the effects of concentrating on the sutras, 1:1 in particular, have had an impact on my life and interactions with the people around me. Asana is a wonderful practice to draw people into yoga, but the philosophy has so much to offer us that it seems a shame to stop for too long with just one limb of Patanjali’s eight.
02 April 2011
Transition from Vira I to Vira II
In adho muhka svanasana, inhale and elongate your spine from neck to tailbone, exhale and let go of any tension in your neck. From the inner right heel, lift your right leg to hip level and bring it forward between your hands, making sure your knee is directly above your ankle and not extending in front of your foot. Let your back foot drop to the floor, angling the toes toward the front of your mat. Look at your feet – they should be in heel to heel alignment for Virabhadrasana I, and your right knee should be in line with your second toe. If you are pregnant or have any low back problems, take a moment to adjust your feet to a wider stance for more stability.
On your next inhale, lift up from your core, sweeping the arms overhead until the palms come together lightly. Allow your gaze to follow your hands. Hold the pose as we work from the ground up to square the hips to the front of the room. Press down strongly through both heels, especially the outer edge of your back heel. Exhale and sink deeper into the pose, bringing your right thigh parallel to the floor. Engage the quadriceps on your back leg and spiral the inner thigh toward the back of the room. Exhale and bring your hands to your hips.
To prepare for Virabhadrasana II, we need to adjust our foundation. Heel-toe your front foot to the left until your front heel is aligned with your back arch. Adjust your back foot if necessary – it may be more comfortable if you shift your toes back slightly – they should still angled toward the front of your mat, but a wider angle for the back foot will give your more stability in Virabhadrasana II and allow your front leg to open into external rotation. Adjust the position of your pelvis – it should no longer be squared to the front of the room, but open to the side wall. Look at your right knee and ensure it is in line with your second toe.
Inhale, get length through your waist, and lift your arms to come parallel to the floor as you turn your face to the front of the room (over the right arm). Lift your sternum, widen across your collarbones, and press your shoulder blades forward into your chest. Exhale and sink a little deeper, bringing the right thigh parallel to the floor if you can. Soften the face and let the shoulders drop away from the ears, finding stability and ease in the pose as you hold here for another breath. On your next exhale, windmill the arms to the floor and come through a vinyasa – chaturanga, urdhva mukha svanasana, and finish in adho mukha svanasana.