Simple Ways to Stay Connected to your Practice this Holiday Season

Yoga Studios and gyms see the same pattern every year: between Thanksgiving and New Years, attendance drops sharply, and then in January, classes brim over and business booms.

That means that many of us struggle to stay connected to our practice and wellness routines over the holidays. Me too. I totally get it. I travel, overeat, take on too many obligations, and can sometimes find myself and my practice lost in the shuffle.

But not always. Traveling and times when our routines are changed can also be great opportunities to infuse more self-care into our lives. Here are some of the things that have worked for me:

1.     I use travel as an opportunity to explore new yoga studios and experience new teachers. I love to try out different classes when I travel. In towns large and small everywhere, local yoga teachers have been changing people’s lives in quiet and profound ways for decades. Go meet some of them! It might not be the master class of your dreams, but I guarantee you will get something out of it. Remember that you’re just there to practice.

2.     I often use the interruption in my routine to add to or restart my morning practice. Waking up in strange beds with subpar coffee and no office to report to is an opportunity to do something different. Enjoy a five-minute meditation between your hotel coffee and your trip to the nearest café. Add in a little journaling time, perhaps. The routine is already different. Why not mix it up in a positive way?

3.     I escape stressful situations by hitting the hotel gym, going for a walk, or practicing yoga. Even in the best of times, the obligations of being with family can become overwhelming. Pay close attention! If you’re like me, there is a window between feeling the strain and snapping that can work as an alarm bell. Grab your ear buds and find a treadmill if the weather is bad or take it outside if it’s not. I’m not usually a treadmill walker, but many times a quiet hotel gym has been just the respite I need. At least in my family, it’s unlikely anyone will join me, so I'm able to get some endorphins going while I recharge my introvert batteries. Everyone is happier in the end.

4.     It’s easy for me to focus on the lifelong annoyances of my family, and when I do, I miss their kindness, their love, and their endless efforts to be good, decent people. I don’t need to judge those efforts, even if they’re not what I would choose. Change the focus and look for what you love in the people you are with.

5.     If that’s not true that your family is generally trying to be kind, or if being with them is problematic for any reason, feel no guilt about making alternate arrangements. One Christmas I went to the Bahamas for a spiritual retreat Christmas week. It was exactly what I needed, a 100% self-care vacation. Above all, in ways big and small, take care of yourself first, whatever that means for you. In the end, everyone benefits.

6.     Finally, know that is extremely unlikely that your health will be destroyed by one overindulgent holiday, so ditch the guilt. Have fun, enjoy the ones you love, and we’ll see you on the mat soon!

Join our holiday challenge! Post a picture of what your practice looks like on Facebook and Instagram, tag squareoneyoga, and for each post, we’ll add your name to a raffle to win yoga and gear in the New Year. It’s a great way to stay connected with your Square One community and share what you love with others.

8 Sure Signs It’s Time to Do Yoga Teacher Training (or a Yoga Immersion or Retreat):

1. Something is happening to you, and you’re not sure what. You’re changing; sometimes it seems from head to toe. You float out of yoga class and the yoga high dissipates, but what sticks is that you are less reactive, happier, stronger, and feeling good all over. You are so curious. What exactly is happening to you? What’s behind that Sanskrit and silence and sweating that is so darn powerful?

 

2. You go to class all the time. You’re curious so you keep showing up and hanging onto every word your teacher says. You love class, but the tidbits you get leave you with more questions. How do your hamstrings connect to your happiness? Why savasana anyway? What does Om mean and who is Hanuman?

 

3. You wish your classes were longer. What you really might be looking for is continuity of curriculum, something you can’t get in drop-in classes. You need to learn yoga the way you learned content in college: methodically in a logical sequence, with experienced teachers who live and breathe the stuff.

 

4. You’re starting to practice at home. Your practice has become so important to you that you make time and space for it in your life, even when you can’t make it to class. You might not do this as much as you think you should, but a little bit goes a long way and shows a deep desire to take your practice to a new level.

 

5. Things in your life that used to seem super important are becoming less interesting to you. Friday night happy hour has lost its luster. You’d rather start your weekend with a strong Flow class and wind down with a good book after. Your desire to acquire more things and earn more money is softening. You may still want those things, but not quite as much as you used to. Going on a hike sounds better than putting in extra hours at work. Your practice is more appealing than more shoes in your closet.

 

6. You may have already felt a change because of your practice, or you may be looking for a change and you sense that yoga offers the kind of change you’re looking for. Perhaps you’re unsure about your profession, your relationship, or you just have a sense that it’s time for a shift. Maybe you’ve been struggling for awhile. We will not ever promise that yoga or a training will solve your problems. Just going to a training probably won’t. The one thing we can promise is that if you show up wholeheartedly and with an open mind, you will know yourself better as a result of the work. And nothing is more transformational than self-knowledge.

 

7. You’re longing to engage in a community of people who share your interests. Maybe small talk is not your thing or bridging the gap to more meaningful relationships doesn’t happen as easily as it once did. In yoga teacher training, you will spend 200 hours with other yogis learning, growing, practicing, making mistakes and doing lots of laughing. A community will develop among your cohort. One of the best things about Square One’s trainings is that we intentionally keep them small so that you really get to know each other and your teachers.

 

8. You want to share the benefits of yoga with others. If this is true for you, then regardless of how you feel about 1-7, you need to do a teacher training. There’s a lot to know about teaching groups safely and effectively, and we cover as much as we possibly can squeeze into the Yoga Teachers Professional Program. We strive to train teachers we want to hire: compassionate, informed individuals who teach excellent classes that are accessible for every body.


 

If any of this is true for you, please join us! We have all been where you are. We have four different yoga immersions that are offered throughout the year to accommodate anyone’s schedule. All four immersions together constitute a full 200-hour Yoga Teacher Training, and you can take them slowly over time or all at once. If you want, just take one or two that interest you. We want to make our programs as accessible as possible and will work out a payment plan that works for most budgets. Talk to us!

 

For more information about our Deep Studies Program, Teacher Trainings or Retreats, please email deepstudies@squareoneyoga.com or visit squareoneyoga.com/teacher-training.

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How to Accept the Unacceptable Part 1—Become Your Own Best Friend

I know I’m not alone when I say the great uncertainties that we now face have manifested in lots of less-than-pleasant emotions. Said simply and personally, I’m a little bit depressed. Others may be handling this differently. Maybe for you it looks like denial, indignation, anxiety or a return to escapist activities that you previously abandoned. Maybe the emotions are stronger, closer to rage and terror. Maybe, like me, you cycle through all of them. 

I want to acknowledge that the election results might not be hard for everyone. The president-elect has millions of supporters, some of whom may even do yoga. And there are lots of people who aren’t happy but aren’t unhappy either. They have the sense that ultimately everything will be okay. If this is you, I applaud you. 

For the rest of us, somehow we have to keep marching on. For one, there are practical actions to take to be sure we are heard. And we also need to continue to experience positive emotions in the face of very troubling times. We need a little spark of optimism or the pull of nihilism will collapse us. We must keep going, but not on a death march. We need our hearts to be warm and full, and we need to continue to find joy in our daily lives.

Your positive emotions are the medicines the world needs. Yoga may or may not heal the world. My guess is stronger medicine is required. But without it (or without whatever it is you do to care for yourself) we will not be able to do our part at all.

Last night, I taught my regular class and the theme was friendliness, particularly toward ourselves. And then the sequence that I designed got away from me. I repeatedly said right when I meant left. I lost my ability to mirror the class. I skipped a side. My students were confused, and it went on for what felt like forever. If you’re not a yoga teacher, these mistakes might not mean much to you. Imagine yourself at work doing something you’ve done hundreds of times before yet over and over you make various rookie mistakes. Imagine doing that with an audience. That was me last night.

I was embarrassed and remorseful. But when I remembered I was teaching maitri, the Sanskrit work for friendliness, I almost laughed aloud. The icky feelings and negative self talk didn’t go away, they're pretty sticky, but they coexisted with some hard-earned self love and the understanding that even with mistakes, I have lots to offer. The friendliness toward myself held me up and allowed to keep going and give what I had available, which is all anyone can ever do.

I believe that we have to be able to handle ourselves with love and care before we can do it for others. Yes, it’s true that we can be nice to others and unkind to ourselves. That happens all the time. But is “nice” the medicine we need? Superficial pleasantries are important but insufficient. We have to cozy up to our own suffering and joy before we can do that for others.

So now more than ever, we must not, as a friend put it, surrender our own well being. We must be our own best friend. We must be willing to care for ourselves so that those of us who are privileged enough to be safe and fed and healthy will be well enough to show up for those who aren’t safe or healthy or fed. Self care has become a moral imperative.

Please, today, be your own best friend. Be your top ally. Be on your own side. If we become firmly established in that, we will be ready for what comes. 

Be the Calm One on the Boat

When the crowded refugee boats met with storms or pirates, if every one panicked, all would be lost. But if even one person stayed calm, it was enough. It showed the way for everyone to survive.

–Thich Nhat Hanh

Here are some suggestions that are helping me navigate this complex, raw and unprecedented emotional and political landscape:

1.    Go to yoga class. Yes, practice at home if that’s what you do, but class is special. We get the benefits of practice, and we also get to share space with other like-minded people. We ease each other’s suffering when we practice in community. One of the refuges in Buddhism is Sangha, community. Find yours now.

2.    Several times a day, close your eyes and rest your awareness on five slow breaths. Pay particular attention to the exhalation. Let it be long, smooth and complete.

3.    Take a moment a few times a day to notice that right here, right now, everything is essentially ok. For most of us, our bodies are at least as healthy as they were when we woke up Tuesday morning. There is abundant oxygen, and again, for most of us, plenty of good food and clean water. Think of people who care about you and feel their love. Develop the understanding that right now our needs are met, including the need for love and connection.

4.    Get into nature. Pay attention to the beauty everywhere around us. Soak it up, absorb it. Leave your phone in the car.

5.    Practice noticing Buddha nature in passers-by. For me, neutral people are the easiest ones for this practice. With no emotional threads, it’s easier for me to see that we all carry the seeds of compassion, love and awakening. See if you can sense it in your barista or grocery clerk. It is impossible to be unkind while doing this practice, and kindness is what we all need more than ever.

6.    Try and find one thing about the group of people you feel in opposition to that you can feel compassionate about. For me, I feel real compassion toward fears of living in poverty. There is common ground here. There are common goals we can work toward.

7.    Be alert and ready to act. The world needs us now. Spirituality and passivity do not commingle. Yoga is action, and we must act. When the time comes, I believe we will know what to do if we are open and looking for it. Be ready. Our practice will prime us. Keep at it.

And no matter what, even if the worst happens and all our worst fears are realized, we will go on loving each other, petting our dogs and cats, and being amazed by sunsets and the kindness of strangers. Life will go on, with all its multifaceted and bittersweet beauty.

For now, let’s practice together so that we can be the calm one on the boat.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Yogini, Whether She Knows it or Not

Photograph of Leshia Evans by Jonathan Bachman for Reuter's. 

Photograph of Leshia Evans by Jonathan Bachman for Reuter's. 

I've been struck, like many of us, by this photo of an unarmed woman in Baton Rouge standing up to heavily armed, heavily armored men who intend to arrest her. But who is knocking over whom? Who has all the real power in the photo? Who stands steady and full of grace? Who, in her very vulnerability, displays infinite internal strength?

I'm not interested in debating here who is "right." What I'm really interested in is Leshia Evans' posture, this posture that I work so hard for by aligning my heels with my hips with my shoulders with the crown of my head in yoga class. 

I want the posture because I believe it's healthy and will prevent and cure back pain, but really what I want is the inner strength that the posture is an outer reflection of. 

What strikes me again and again is how the armor that the police wear, what is meant to protect them, is the very thing that is throwing them off. Leshia's wispy dress does nothing to protect her body. Yet nothing can touch her. Her heart is open. She is full of resolve. She knows she is fighting the good fight and, without raising a hand, she blows them all away.  

In yoga, we work from the outside in. We align our ankles and hips and shoulders and strengthen our legs and arms. But it's the softness of her pose that makes it so beautiful. It is her ability to stand simultaneously strong and wide open to the experience of the world that draws us to her. We understand viscerally, no matter how we feel about police and the black lives matter movement, that the person in the image with all of the real power is Leshia Evans.

The image perfectly encapsulates the message of the Bhagavad Gita, as I understand it. You cannot truly be harmed if you show up fully for your life with an open heart and complete willingness to do your unique job, to stand in your dharma, to not back away or cower.

It also brings to mind the one and only yoga sutra that addresses the asanas, our physical practice. The sutra is sthira sukham asanam. At the heart of the sutra is idea that for our posture to be a yoga asana, it has to have the qualities of both steadiness and ease simultaneously.

Steadiness without ease is rigidity. Like the officers in this image, if we are not supple, if we are overburdened with our literal or metaphoric armor, we will be knocked over easily by real power and grace. And ease without steadiness is collapse, is giving up and giving in. It's not showing up at all.

May we all show up today for our lives and our battles, large and small. May we stand as Leshia Evans does, strong and steady in our purpose, yet soft and open to life. May every pose be a yoga asana and, as my teacher says, may we live as the lotus flower, at home in the muddied waters.

Beginner's Mind

The best time of my yoga life was definitely when I was a beginner. Each pose was a mystery. Every cue by every teacher was an invitation to explore. The feelings that came up were largely new too: the cathartic cries in savasana, the blissful walk home after class when the birds sang a little louder, the wind blew warmer, and the sun shone brighter.

For the next year, I went to classes five or six times a week. I went on retreats. I read books about yoga. I found teachers that I really loved. My body changed and I accomplished things with my arms and legs and bones and muscles that I never dreamed I could do. I kicked into a handstand after a childhood of being the only girl who couldn't do a cartwheel. I was strong and full of enthusiasm. I was happy and excited. I was a beginner.

Then I became a teacher and I started to know a little bit. I developed opinions about what was safe and what was not. I had preferences about language and music and sequencing. I quit enjoying every class I went to, although I still enjoyed some. I practiced more at home and became more selective about my teachers. 

My opinions and preferences have only grown in severity and number since I was a new teacher.

Since then, I've auditioned hundreds of yoga teachers. My job is to judge them. I take groups of students through teacher training and attempt to pass along those preferences and beliefs that I hold most dear. I evaluate their teaching and offer feedback.

I live and work and breathe through the solidly crafted lens of what I think I know.

And when I take class, my brain is on. What the teacher says, the poses, the music, the sequence are all passed through a nauseating evaluation process as I try to enjoy a little yoga. 

Experience and "expertise" have, over several years, drained much of the pleasure out of taking yoga and turned it into work.

A student of mine showed up to class one day different. Her face was relaxed and smiling. She stood up straighter, yet her posture was full of ease and confidence. I mentioned the change to her and she said, "Well, I've been coming to your studio almost every day for about a month."

Right. That's what yoga does. I was very happy for her, and also a little sad for myself. I have really missed that.

So I'm back. My goal is 40 classes in 40 days. As it happens, I turn 40 next month, so it all seems fitting.

For all of these classes, my intention is the same. Beginner's mind. I am not there to evaluate, judge or defend anything. I'm just there to practice yoga and enjoy the benefits of the practice. And the benefits happen regardless of whether my mental checklist of preferences is ticked off to my liking.

As it turns out, all it takes is showing up.