Music! Moby’s 4 hour yoga & meditation album

Moby’s 4 hour album has been out for awhile, but I wanted to cook it in my practice for a couple weeks before saying anything about it.

First, it’s an ambient album, so it was best on days I wanted to be really focused (sorry Drake, Views is great but my booty needs a break). It doesn’t have a sweet beat or an energy building flow, which means I used it to work on my alignment and pay attention to energetic lines and breath rather than to let creative movement flow.

Second, even though it’s good background music, I didn’t like it for meditation. It didn’t add to my mindfulness-based practice, and it didn’t take anything away either. I prefer to listen to the sounds around me or do a guided meditation session.

Overall, I recommend that you give his album a try (it’s free to download from the link above). It’s great for introspective or technical days and provides a seamless quality to your personal practice, especially if you want to study-jam for a couple hours.

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Common cues: “pull your shoulder blades down”

You hear it all the time. “Pull the shoulder blades down the spine”. For years I did this, but I felt like I was missing out on some range of motion. Then I watched this video by Bonnie Bainbridge Cohen (love her!), who developed physiologically-informed movement dubbed Body-Mind Centering. She explains the anatomy of shoulder blade movement and with one sentence changed how I approach lifting and reaching my arms.

Here it is: think of your shoulder blades as a wheel rotating around a pivot point.

Wow. *mind blown*

Here’s a comparison. Shoulder blades pulled down:

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Notice the curve in my arms and the width of my upper back as I try to pull down the lateral (outer) part of my shoulder blades down along with the medial part (towards the spine).

Now if I rotate my shoulder blades:

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The lateral edge of my shoulder blades are allowed to rotate upwards (to me it feels like a wrapping upward motion towards my front ribs) as the medial part of the shoulder blades come down. My arms are straighter and overall it feels like I’m working with my body, not against it.

Try it! Stand in tadasana (mountain pose) with a neutral pelvis (your ASIS and pubic bone are approximately on a vertical plane) and feet hip width apart. Take an inhale and swing both arms in front of you, then up and overhead. Now try the common cue and pull your shoulders down your back as if you had imaginary strings attached to the inferior (bottom) edge of your shoulder blade. Notice how this feels in your shoulders and upper back. Soften the front ribs (i.e. resist the urge to arch your back and puff out your chest), then on an exhale release your arms down by your sides.

Then try it with rotation. Check in with your tadasana. Imagine that your shoulder blade as a rotating piece about a “center of gravity” or pivot point. Then inhale and swing your arms overhead, allowing the the lateral edges of your shoulder blades to swing upwards. Notice how the medial part of the blades naturally glide down. Soften the front ribs. Stay for a few breaths and notice how this feels different than the first way. If you’ve got a full length mirror handy, try both ways again and see the difference.

This perspective shift was a game changer for me; I can’t count how many times I reach my arms overhead or away from by body even in one practice. It’s even helped my handstand practice, taking the forcing out of the tops of my shoulders and gliding into alignment instead.

 

 

Morning Yoga

This week, I’m in NYC visiting friends in the city I called home for 5 years. The neighborhood I lived in, Hamilton Heights, is growing quickly: new coffee shops and cafes have popped up every time I’ve visited this year. Columbia University continues to buy up property close to the Hudson River, inching their reach further uptown from the main campus on 116th to the medical campus on 168th. In this neighborhood and this city where people move quickly, where things change and places change and 8 minutes is a long time to wait for the next train, it’s even more important to find groundedness within.

That’s what I love about New York:  it challenges you and also gives you the freedom to be you — if you’ve got the conviction to. Yeah, anyone can find peace when meditating in a quiet candlelit room with incense burning, or at a retreat in the great outdoors. But what about finding it on the uptown D train at 59th st. when you’ve just heard someone yell “it’s showtime!” What about finding it at a crowded deli counter while you’re waiting for your turkey and egg on a hero? Even finding it on the mat in the city is something else. You might hear trucks downshifting to brake at the red light, ambulance and police sirens passing through, animated conversations in Spanish, Russian, Mandarin…all while you’re being told to move with your breath, not to rush from one pose to another.

That is precisely what I’ve learned to do. Only after I moved away from the city, spent a year going deeper into yoga, meditation and connecting with my breath was I able to come back and notice a change in my yoga practice. Besides being more confident in alignment, transitioning from one asana to another, and feeling the energy created by those around me, devoting time to look within myself this past year has uncovered a stillness and groundedness that I couldn’t see before. It was covered up by voices around me that I had internalized throughout life, telling me what I should be doing, who I should be in profession, in appearance, in having-my-shit-together.

So, when the yoga teacher this morning said “don’t rush”, I didn’t. I savored being in each pose, sensing how my body was feeling and what it needed today. I heard a semi drive by outside, noticed the toned back muscles of the guy behind me in adho mukha svanasana (downward facing dog), and felt the muted vibrations from the floor as someone below us climbed up the stairs. I wasn’t fazed. I was here. Exactly where I needed to be.

Dancing in the rain: accepting what life throws at you

Life’s not about waiting for the storms to pass. It’s about learning to dance in the rain.

–  Vivian Greene

On Saturday, I went to a physical therapist for the first time. I was curious about why I was unable to go deeper into certain open-hip poses such as pigeon, agnistambasana (fire log pose), gomukhasana (cow’s face pose), and eka pada koundinyasana. Though I practiced asana 4-5 times a week — sometimes more — I was not seeing improvement in those types of poses. Aghh!

At my appointment, I told Robert what my issue was and showed him the poses that I was having trouble with. He had me lie down on a bed and bent one of my legs, swinging my lower leg left and right. In two minutes, he had the answer. (He’s good.)

“Aha!” he said, “it’s your bones.”

He explained that my pelvic bones were slightly turned in at the hips: the articulation between my femur and hip sockets (i.e. where they meet) was turned inwards, which limited my range of motion. Therefore my bone structure was preventing me from opening up into the full expression of those poses.

It might be possible to increase flexibility at my hip joints, but not without decreasing stability or damaging the joints. No thanks.

So what now?

I went to my first class since the appointment on Monday. With new awareness of my body, I was able to do each pose more mindfully. I was discovering myself in a new way. And it felt great!

Do I feel remorse that I probably won’t be able to do some of those sweet looking arm balances, such as eka pada koundinyasana, bhuja pidasana (shoulder pressing pose), or titthibhasana (firefly)? Kinda. But on the flip side, poses such as mandukasana (frog pose) and upavista konasana (seated wide legged forward fold) come easily to me.

Obstacles like this one could prevent me from enjoying and growing in my yoga practice. It could make me feel incomplete, or unable to achieve the “real pose”. Or, it could make me a more compassionate and knowledgable teacher, and grow my practice in a direction I haven’t even imagined yet. I could wait for the storm to pass, and when the next one comes, wait for that to pass too. I could spend my life waiting for each storm to pass. Or, I could step outside and dance in the rain.

Music! For creative sequencing

On Saturday, I participated in a workshop on creative sequencing with Wade Gotwals, who’s a seasoned and intuitive practitioner and teacher of yoga based in Chicago. What’s creative sequencing, you ask? It’s the flow of poses in a vinyasa or hatha practice. The workshop focused on using your own creativity and playfulness to create your own flow.

Creative sequencing is a two-step process:

  1. Play on your own (or with a friend)!  Try new arm variations, twists, side stretches etc in your go-to poses.
  2. Write them down, then go back later to make sure that they make sense in terms of energy, muscles/joints strengthened or opened, and flow.

I think of creative sequencing as mindful dancing: you create new and interesting ways to flow from pose to pose, while mindfully designing the class to be cohesive.

Here’s a sweet playlist from the Beats for Nepal album to get your creative juices flowing! Happy playing!


Image Credit: Beats for Nepal

Are you attached to your yoga practice?

A few days ago I was working on my asana flashcards for yoga teacher training, and I realized it was almost time for meditation class. I was in a good work flow: I was feeling the music, knocking out the flashcards and feeling accomplished. But I felt the obligation of meditation pulling me. I didn’t want to go. But I felt guilty for not wanting to go.

Meditation is good for you. Asana practice is good for you. More of a good thing is always better, right?

I realized that I was feeling attached to my yoga practice. I was attached to the idea that more yoga would make me a better yogi. And that didn’t feel right. So I thought about it and realized…Saying no to asana or meditation is yoga too! Because yoga is about balance, self-awareness, and vairagya (non-attachment). Rather than following a set routine no matter what my situation or condition is, changing the routine based on what’s going on today allows me to live my life more fully and more true to myself.

So I skipped meditation practice that day, and enjoyed accomplishing my task at hand. No regrets 🙂

Yoga in the great outdoors: is it for you?

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Last weekend, my partner and I took a camping trip to Big Sur. Driving up the Pacific Coast Highway from Pismo Beach, we were in awe of the natural beauty along the coast. (And the size and number of elephant seals!)

Our campsite was surrounded by redwoods that seemed to graze the clouds and that provided cool, shaded shelter from the piercing sunlight. The presence of these trees was very grounding, and practicing yoga amongst them was awe inspiring and humbling.

How does being outdoors change my yoga practice?

First thing I noticed was the earth. No longer was I on a perfectly flat hardwood floor, but I could feel the bumps and grooves from the soil. This made a radical difference in what my poses felt like: was I grounding down with my root knuckles in adho mukha svanasana (downward facing dog)? Was I lifting my arches in tadasana (mountain pose)? I felt less certain in my stance and alignment, and realized how much information about my pose that I get from the earth.

Next thing that stood out was the surroundings and sky. Instead of being contained in a room with four walls and a ceiling, I was surrounded by trees, representing pillars of strength and resilience, and I felt the rays of sunshine that poked through the canopy. My practice felt limitless, my arms reaching towards the sky unimpeded, my nose touching and smelling earth when I lowered down.

The sounds of nature were its own soundtrack: the breeze rustling tree branches, the waves meeting the shore, birds vocalizing, the pitter patter of nuts falling to the earth. The sounds and rhythms were complex, but they complemented each other.

Finally, I saw many opportunities to practice. Some were very brief, like striking a tree pose by the ocean, and others were longer. But it was all playful, coming from a place of curiosity (Can I do a pose on a rock? How does this breeze inspire my flow?).

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Advice for practicing outdoors?

  • Use a good quality mat that won’t slip during your practice. Or practice directly on the earth!
  • Bring bug spray/sunscreen
  • Be open to the experience — it will feel different from an indoor practice, maybe in ways you don’t expect

Would I recommend practicing yoga outdoors?

Absolutely! It connects you with the aliveness of the earth, and opens your practice to new information. Maybe it will inspire your own flow sequence!

Whether you choose to practice yoga asanas outdoors or not, simply being outdoors can be a yoga practice in itself. Being in nature unites your individual self with the universal self — plus, who doesn’t love watching the sunset?

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Work meets play!

Playtime! 🙂🙃🙂🙏🏼 #yoga #homepractice #nofilter

A post shared by So Yee (@soyeemole) on

 

I was flowing at home a couple days ago. It started as creating a sequence for my teacher training video review, and ended with moving from my True Self. You know that inner voice? The one where your gut feeling comes from? That’s the one I explore when I practice at home; it’s the one I teach from.

In moments like this, when work really feels like play, I feel like I’m in my element, and I’m living my dharma. “I have a purpose!” shouts my True Self. It was a good day.

 

Yoga is for everyone (Yes, it is!)

recent blog post in the Harvard Health blog touts the many (scientifically backed) benefits of yoga: improvement of cardiovascular health, flexibility, and balance, for example.  But of the people that have not tried yoga, the most common reason they give is that it’s exclusive — to young women or people who are already flexible.

But of course.

How could they not think that? The media (yoga magazine covers and Instagram accounts for example) largely confirm this stereotype in the West. Sure, there are counter examples, such as Curvy Yoga and curvy girls doing poses, but those are few and far between in comparison. And when those examples are presented, it’s most often from the perspective being on the outside. As in, “here is a separate kind of yoga for us rebel yogis. We old, fat, unattractive, tight and inflexible bunch who feel left out of the game.”

I’m exaggerating — but only a little.

When I speak to people that don’t do yoga, almost all of them expressed a wish to start, and almost all of them cited “not being flexible” as a reason not to. “But no!” I cry, “that is exactly why you should start!” But they don’t believe me.

I confess: I am a young woman, flexible, and was already fairly athletic when I started yoga. But that’s not why I started doing yoga, nor is it why I love yoga.

I love it because it makes me happy, and it’s part of who I am. Connecting with yourself, your True Self, on and off the mat is bliss. Moving through asana, breathing through pranayama, sitting in meditation, and walking through life, it’s all connected. And I feel this joy and peace when I get to share it with other people.

When I teach beginner students who may have reservations about their ability or potential, I strive to help them see that they are yogis. Not rebel yogis, or outsiders looking in. Yogis, just like me. Because guess what? Everyone is capable of compassion, loving kindness, connecting with your breath and your True Self even when poses get challenging. So what if the pose that challenges you is tadasana (mountain pose) or balasana (child’s pose)?

The practice of yoga (and I can’t stress this enough: practice, NOT perfect!) is a continual coming back to the present, and being where you are now. I have “good” days where I can go further into a pose, and “bad” days where folding forward is tough, and I love them all.  Because “good” or “bad” day be damned, I’m still me.

As I finish up my teacher training in the next three months, I think about what kind of teacher I want to be. What style speaks to me? What kind of music will I play? How can I include poetry, song, maybe even dance into my classes? But the most important thing to me is inclusiveness. I want to change how we look at yoga. It is not only for the young, the physically fit and the spiritual, it is for everyone. So I invite you — yes you — to join me in breath, movement, and flow through this journey we call life. Namaste 🙂

Rage Yoga

If listening to your breath as you connect with your True Self sounds a little too kumbaya to you, there’s rage yoga. Featuring swearing, pints of beer, and heavy metal music, it shows that there is more than one way to your yoga practice. While some might argue that this is not real yoga and goes against some fundamental yoga principles, I love the idea of inclusiveness and diversity.  There is not one single path to yoga, and if swearing and drinking a pint can loosen you up and bring you to your heart space, then that’s a great place to begin.  Where you go from there is totally up to you 🙂

 


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