April 12, 2012
Power yoga (a.k.a “Power Vinyasa Yoga”, a.k.a. “Power Flow”, a.k.a. “hot Power Yoga”, a.k.a “Baptiste Power Yoga”)
Power Yoga, the most popular style of yoga practiced in the United States, can be difficult to define and has more names than someone running from the law.
When I think of a Power Yoga practice, I think of an amped up class (think loud music), done in a hot environment (90 degrees F+, but not Bikram hot), characterized by lots of movement (or “flow”).
I have a lot of experience with Power Yoga. After completing my first 200- hour training with the founders of CorePower Yoga in Denver—now the largest power yoga teacher trainer in the United States—I taught power yoga for several years.
A power class has a heavy emphasis on standing postures because using your legs a lot gets your heart rate up—a key component of Power Yoga, cardio. Beryl Bender Birch, who coined the term (along with Bryan Kest), told About.com’s Ann Pizer:
Power Yoga was simply a name, the name I came up with in the late 80’s to let people know that this ashtanga yoga practice – unlike most of the yoga taught in the 70’s – was a serious workout…
Ah ha. So Power Yoga is another name for Ashtanga Yoga?
Hmm, sort of but not really. In Ashtanga you do the same groups of postures each time you practice. They are broken down into six series and you must complete one series fully before going on to the next. Power Yoga varies from class to class.
The important phrase that Beryl picked up on is “workout”. The creators of Power Yoga wanted to make the practice more accessible to everyone, (Ashtanga is tough stuff,) yet make it more athletic, sweaty and hot—who doesn’t want that? They removed yoga philosophy from the practice and made it primarily physical. Gone was the Sanskrit, Aums, and meditation—in was the “feel the burn” mentality. Uh oh.
Besides Beryl, Bryan Kest and Baron Baptiste (who calls his practice “Baptiste Power Yoga”) are credited with founding and popularizing Power Yoga. When you listen to them talk about the practice and read what they have written it is obvious all of them understand the philosophy of yoga on an intimate level.
Power Yoga is directed at creating the highest level of energy, vitality and freedom. The only way to do this is to work with yourself, not against yourself. By working hard sensitively, we create an environment that’s healing and that honors each individual, an environment that respects our boundaries and works within him or her. In this way, we create an atmosphere conducive to natural expansion and growth. We’re not interested in pushing past our edge to get to a place where we’ve been brainwashed into thinking we need to be in order to have happiness!
Yoga is ultimately a journey into truth: truth about who you are, what you are capable of, how your actions affect your life. Truth is the only medicine that ever “cures” us; it is the only means by which we can live at our full, incredible potential. Baron Baptiste
I’ve Got the Power!
If all of the founders of Power Yoga understand that yoga is intuitive and focused on revealing the truth [spoiler alert: The Truth is You are Incredible Exactly as you are right NOW] then how did Power Yoga get so Type A—frenetic, aggressive, over-the-top. Ohhh, should have been two spoilers alerts. Yes Power Yoga can be EXTREME. As Baron says, “You can use power for good or for evil.” (Or was it “With great power comes great responsibility”—I always get those confused.)
Factors for the Frenzy
Who is attracted to Power Yoga?
In my experience, competitive, athletic individuals are drawn to this practice—bringing their tools of competition with them. Only, yoga is not competitive. I have taught classes where we were in the closing sequence of the class—usually a quieter moment and there were people doing push-ups. (Someone grunting next to you can be unnerving in Savasana.)
Who is teaching Power Yoga?
Beryl, Bryan and Baron all had a significant background in various styles of yoga. They’ve studied, reflected and learned about the practice over a long period of time before ever arriving at the place where they taught Power Yoga. Contrast that to a lot of Power Yoga teachers whose only experience is Power Yoga. It’s the challenge that comes from being a copy of a copy—something gets a little distorted each time. How to address this? Choosing a teacher who has heard of, or even read the Bhagavad Gita can help.
What intention are you practicing with?
When we start to pay attention the physical practice becomes yoga. When we stop paying attention the yoga stops. I like to move it move it with the best of them, but I am always trying to focus on the breath and the experience. Gregor Maehle adds, “One of the greatest traps in physical yoga is to get identified with postures and preoccupied with the body.” “To perceive awareness that witnesses [being in the posture]—that is yoga.”
It’s a workout—right?
It’s ok to come to the practice because you want to have a fantastic looking butt. Start there. And while you’re at it, maybe tune in to what you hear inside of you. It might just surprise you. And btw, yoga is freakin’ hard when you do the postures properly. I’ve seen grown men sweat buckets in Tadasana when they are fully engaged and active in it.
More is Better
Deeper, harder, faster—words helpful in describing drilling a well for water—not so much in describing the physical practice or how it should be done. Being ambitious is something to be avoided in the practice of yoga. Always doing more can lead to injuries. So relax, take some rest and think about bringing balance to your time on the mat.
I fully believe yoga has and was always meant to evolve. Power Yoga has introduced millions of people to this practice that can affect their lives in a positive manner—and that’s amazing.
Personally, though I started out as a Power Yoga Teacher, today I teach Vinyasa Flow Yoga. (Rooted in Bhakti!) Just like yoga, I evolve as a teacher as I gain greater clarity and understanding about my journey in this world. “What is Vinyasa Yoga?” Great question and the topic of my next post (hint, it’s as challenging as any practice you’ve ever done—physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually). I’d love to hear about your experiences with Power Yoga.
Sacramento Yoga Teacher Kate Saal teaches Vinyasa Yoga classes daily in East Sacramento at One Flow Yoga Studio. She’s challenging, fun, inspirational and loves to move.
April 4, 2012
Ujjayi is the breath used in our Vinyasa yoga practice. While it’s the most critical element of the practice, it is often misunderstood and taught incorrectly.
To help you figure out exactly what Ujjayi is and how to do it, I consulted both the ancient texts of yoga as well as well-known, well-regarded modern teachers.
Ujjayi Sanskrit and What it Means
The pronunciation for Ujjayi is “ooh-JAI-yee”.
Jai means victory so sometimes it is called the “victorious breath”.
BKS Iyengar, in his book, Yoga, The Path to Holistic Health, breaks it down this way:
- Ut means “Expand”
- Jaya means “Conquest”
- Prana means “Life Force”
- Ayama is “distribution of that force or energy”
Leslie Kaminoff, author of “Yoga Anatomy” states that the “U” refers to Udana—the upward flowing prana in the throat region.
Gregor Maehle, author of “Ashtanga Yoga”, puts it all together this way. “[it is]the victorious extending of the breath.”
While some texts go on to say that it can destroy both decay and death, we’ll stick to breath extension for now.
Ujjayi Produces Sound
Ujjayi can be said to be softly audible. It makes a gentle hissing sound. Max Strom actually calls it “Ocean Breathing” and teaches it by first having students breathe in out of their mouths.
According to the Hatha Yoga Pradipika, it is also described as a sonorous sound, meaning it has a full, deep sound associated with it. The sound comes from the back of the throat. When you are inhaling think of breathing all the way to the back of the throat versus “sniffing up” air. Your nostrils are relaxed. The sound reminds me of wind going through a canyon.
The sound of Ujjayi is NOT like Darth Vadar. Darth Vadar wore a life support system that had a respirator and a microphone.
How do you do Ujjayi Breathing?
To learn the technique of Ujjayi begin by sitting down.
Take the palm of your hand up to your mouth. Imagine your hand is a mirror and that you are going to “fog” it up with your breath with your mouth open. When you do this it produces a clean “hollow” sound kind of like “haaaaaaaaaaa”. It feels warm against your skin.
The tricky part is making the same sound on the inhale. You can hold up a hand in front of your mouth and another at the back of your neck—two mirrors. Try to fog them both up—the exhale fogs up the front mirror, the inhale the back.
Once you are adept at fogging up the mirrors, create the same sound and sensation—by breathing through your nose only.
Breathe in a balanced manner in through the nose and out through the nose. The inhale and exhale are equal and the quality of sound is even.
Breathing in this way causes a slight constriction of the throat. The glottis partially closes just like when you whisper speech. As the air goes in and out it causes a slight “rubbing” sensation of the throat.
Now that you have the feel for the Ujjayi sound, it’s important to add diaphragmatic breathing.
Exhale completely by drawing your abdomen towards your spine. Inhale by gently releasing the abdomen. As it goes out it will automatically draw air in. Start the breath (inhale) as low as you can—the pelvic floor, and “fill” your entire torso full. The exhale empties the breath from the top down.
Now add chest breathing.
As you inhale, try to fill your chest. Notice how all four sides of your torso expand in opposite directions. You can feel this if you place your hands on the sides of your ribs. As you exhale the air from the chest, all four sides draw in.
Put the two together.
Exhale by drawing in your abdomen towards your spine. Inhale by releasing your abdomen. Air comes in. Begin the Ujjayi at this time. Direct the air towards your sternum, as this will expand your chest. As you continue to inhale fill the air all the way to the top of the chest and notice how it widens.
Exhale by relaxing and drawing the abdomen in. Breathe the air out slowly and rhythmically finishing the Ujjayi breath.
It is important the abdominals are relaxed and soft above your bellybutton, yet firm (not hard) below it. This allows your diaphragm to move freely.
The breath is never forced or done using strain. Both are a sign that you are “pushing” too hard and are moving from a place of ego instead of taking care of yourself.
Work to reduce the amount of effort the Ujjayi takes. It is a strong, deep breath done in a relaxed, even delicate manner.
The Upanishads (sacred ancient teachings yoga derives from—including the Bhagavad Gita) specify that the inhalation should be like drinking water through the stem of a blue water lily—unbroken as though you were drinking through a straw—as if your breath were liquid. The exhalation is compared to the flow of oil—smooth and uniform as when you poor oil from a ladle.1
The Hatha Yoga Pradipika says the breath is felt “from the throat to the heart.” (2.51) Ujjayi can be a specific practice but it happens spontaneously when concentration deepens.
How is Ujjayi used in Vinyasa yoga practice?
Vinyasa is characterized as being a “flowing” style of yoga where students move from posture to posture. What guides each movement is the Ujjayi breath.
Movement follows breath.
Gregor Maehle eloquently describes the marriage of breath and movement. “Let all movement be borne from the waves of the breath rather than allowing the movement to precede, dictate or arrest the breath.” Think of the waves of an ocean propelling a surfboard forward; if the wave (breath) ends, than the surfboard (movement) stops. The breath initiates all movement.
Ultimately the breath and movement will be united and move together as one.
Try to spread the breath evenly over the course of your entire movement. Two common missteps I see are students who run out of breath before the movement is over—because they are taking in the air too quickly—and students who run out of movement before air, indicating you are moving too fast.Slow down You move too fast You gotta make the Ujjayi last Just kicking down the cobblestones Looking for fun and feeling groovy Simon & Garfunkel
What are the benefits of Ujjayi?
Scientific studies have confirmed that breathing slowly tends to calm us and increase “raw awareness”.
- It lengthens your breath.
- It strengthens the lungs and diaphragm.
- It helps to warm to body.
Why is it used in yoga practice?
It is a simple breath that can be done in any position.
It gives you something to focus on.
It helps to keep you safe while practicing asana. If you stop breathing (holding your breath), you are no longer practicing yoga. Your concentration wanes and you risk injury.
It helps you to feel ease and relaxation in postures—bringing the quality of “sukha” Patanjali describes in “The Yoga Sutras”.
It happens in real time and thus keeps your awareness in the present. And isn’t that what the purpose of the physical practice is—to create awareness.
1 Srivatsa Ramaswami
Sacramento Yoga Teacher Kate Saal teaches Vinyasa Yoga classes daily in East Sacramento at One Flow Yoga Studio. She sometimes spends entire days breathing in and out.
March 22, 2012
When I first arrived on my mat years ago I knew nothing about yoga. This was before the boom of Yoga in America, let alone Sacramento Yoga. I went through the postures as the teacher presented them and did my best to keep up and “do yoga”. After all was said and done I felt calm, happy, even blissful (not a word in my vocabulary up until that moment.)
I don’t know what happened but I wanted to do it again and again and again. I’d get up for the early morning class, take the last class of the evening—do everything I could to get a practice in. (I didn’t know about a home-based practice back then and I certainly wouldn’t have known what to do if I had.)
A bit of relevant background about me. I’m a lifelong runner—24 years. I ran competitive cross-country in high school and played on our school’s soccer team as well. I mention this because I know well the perspective of pushing yourself to be “good” at something.
How do you get good at the practice of yoga? I figured maybe it was being able to do more postures, or more precisely, more difficult postures. I learned to do handstand, splits, and even get one foot behind my head. This took quite a bit of time, as you might imagine, and you know what happened—nothing. Heck, this was before Facebook so I couldn’t even publish a photo of my endeavors. (Quick aside—foot behind head photos are not flattering.)
After this experience I had a realization—maybe it’s not about the postures.
Why then do we do the postures and spend time—often several times a week—getting into challenging physical twists and gestures? What is the purpose of yoga?
You would think this would be an easy answer to find. After all, millions of people practice yoga in the United States alone. Surely most of them know what the purpose is for.
You’d be surprised. Some common answers of what people think the purpose is:
- To be flexible
- To connect your mind and your body
- To be bendy (a personal favorite of mine)
- To relax and calm yourself
- To meditate
Maybe there wasn’t really a purpose. Or maybe the purpose was different for everyone. But that didn’t make sense. I mean, how did a practice survive ostensibly for thousands of years without anyone really knowing why.
I was fortunate to run into the teachings of several great teachers, Krishna, Georg Feuerstein, Mark Stephens and Rusty Wells. They state the purpose of yoga plainly (ok not Georg who exhaustively addresses the subject of yoga—for our benefit.)
The purpose of yoga is for awareness.
The purpose of awareness is for acceptance.
Simple? Yes. Easy? No.
When I came to this truth, it shifted my practice, my approach and my life. If awareness is the purpose of the practice then I can be just as aware in tadasana, mountain posture, as in eka pada rajakapotasana. I can feel just as much.
How then does the physical practice work to create awareness?
It gives us a very tangible way to approach awareness. We start by feeling the physical body—your shaking leg for instance. You stay with the sensation of your leg. As you witness and observe your leg shaking, it’s natural to feel the thoughts and emotions that accompany a shaking leg. Worry, doubt, fear, vibrancy, tenacity, defiance, control—all of these things surface in your posture. Can you be in that space without trying to change, fix or run away? The physical practice, then, is a way to get into you on a deeper level.
There is a saying that people do not buy drills because they want a drill. They buy a drill because they want holes. We do not practice yoga to master the postures for the postures sake. We practice the postures to access the stuff inside of us—the ego and illusions, inner strength and resilience and the big one—Peace!
Now do people get enamored with drills? I’m sure they do. Someone, somewhere is getting all hot and heavy over the DeWalt 90210 drill or the Bosch 8675309 router. And I think that’s great. If you are able to get into a posture because of patience, perseverance, facing fear, resilience and hard work—congratulations. However I’ve also seen postures become another source of ego and distance from self and others instead of a place of connection. They can become a distraction that takes you out of your practice and moves you away from awareness; quite the opposite of the intent of yoga.
Today do I still do bird of paradise, headstand and flying crow? Yes. However, I don’t try to get anything from them. I try to have fun, work hard, be present and pay just as much attention to the fundamental postures such as Virabhadrasana B or child’s pose. The result has been more a greater sense of awareness and freedom throughout my entire practice. I feel more by doing less. I’m able to tune into the subtlety and nuance of the various asanas.
What about if you’ve been practicing in a way that resembles the compulsory round for the Olympic gymnastic team versus a refined, graceful practice? You can evolve your practice and more towards fluidity by changing your focus. This is the essence of wisdom in yoga manifesting in the physical form.
Sacramento Yoga Teacher Kate Saal teaches Vinyasa Yoga classes daily in East Sacramento at One Flow Yoga Studio. She is dangerous with a drill and can make holes in a variety of sizes.
January 17, 2012
On January 5, 2012, The New York Times published an article “How Yoga Can Wreck Your Body.” You can read it by clicking here. It discusses yoga injuries and is presented by a noted science writer, Bill Broad, in a well regarded newspaper.
If I didn’t know anything about yoga I might see the article as “scary”. However, I applaud it for beginning a very worthwhile discussion—how to practice yoga safely.
First off, Mr. Broad has a book coming out in February, 2012, The Science of Yoga: The Risks and the Rewards. Publishers Weekly says the book is, “”Dramatic…a flair for provocation…valuable.” Priscilla Warner, author of Learning to Breathe states, ““If this book doesn’t motivate you to practice yoga, nothing will.”
Though I have not read the book yet (I have pre-ordered it), it seems apparent that it must present a more balanced perspective than the Times article which was focused solely on injury and not benefits. And this makes sense…Bill wants to sell his book and creating controversy can help his cause.
Yes, yoga can injure you!
Surprised? I hope not.
A quick definition: In the context of this article, Bill is talking about the physical practice of yoga. He is not saying the meditative, breathing, reflective practices, which are all part of “yoga”, are wrecking your body.
Doing physical things, any physical things, can hurt you. Runners have their knees and hip issues, golfers their bad backs, tennis players their elbows and cyclists get hit by cars. (I speak from personal experience for the latter.) This doesn’t stop people from doing any of them.
I looked at the Centers for Disease Control statistics on sports related injuries for this blog post. You can truly freak yourself out going through all of their information.
Number and percentage of persons with nonfatal unintentional sports and recreation related injuries treated in emergency rooms in the U.S. July 2000-June 2001
Outside Magazine (see more resources below) called the Consumer Products Safety Commission which stated the number of yoga injuries as 4459 for 2006. This seems more reasonable than the 46 cited by the Times. And remember, almost 20 million people practice yoga in the United States.
The point of these numbers is to give yoga a frame of reference with other physical activities. The risk seems to be minimal while the reward is vast. It is the reason why doctors in ever increasing numbers are referring their patients to yoga—for therapeutic reasons—and why they are taking up the practice as well.
Yes there is risk and there is reward.
Minimizing the Risk
What is the purpose of the physical practice of yoga?
The purpose of yoga is to bring awareness.
This is why yoga exists.
It was never designed as a workout or a place to get an incredible body or lose weight. True, you may find yourself more “tight and toned”, stronger and lighter, but those are ancillary benefits. A bigger question is, “are you kinder”. Are you aware of how you treat others? Are you aware of how you treat yourself? Is how you are living your life serving you?
We use the physical body as a tool, as a way to foster awareness. It starts with physical sensations and moves into the emotional, mental and even spiritual. Yoga is about knowing yourself.
We move in a conscious way to bring consciousness to the rest of our lives. How you are on the mat is how you are off the mat. If you can notice how you push or try to achieve or even, ouch, force, a posture on the mat, perhaps you can see that in how you are at your work, or with your friends or significant others. And, through something known as the principle of reflection, what you do on the mat “reflects” and affects what you do in the rest of your life. By being patient in a posture you are setting the stage for you to be patient in other areas. (As one example.)
No one cares if you can get your foot behind your head.
Why do people get injured in yoga classes?
In my experience injuries happen for several reasons.
- Lack of education and understanding of basic yoga technique.
- Trying to push or force into a posture.
- Not listening
- An unwillingness to back off.
- Going too fast.
- Lack of awareness.
The major reason, according to yogic tradition is the idea of ego. We are focused on the outward instead of the inward. Often we are trying to prove or accomplish something through yoga (and everything else that we do) when the reality is there is nothing to accomplish or prove.
I can relate. We want people to like us. We want to feel worthy. We want to prove we are a good person.
You already are, though.
How to keep yourself safe in a yoga class
Yoga can be done in a way that is skillful, safe and fun.
Here are a few steps you can take to practice in a way that serves you.
- Practice Ahimsa
Ahimsa is a major tenet in yoga. It means “do no harm”. (It is the first of the Yamas, which are the first limb of the 8-Limb yoga path.) When we cite ahimsa in the physical practice what we are saying is practice in a way which does not harm you. Love and take care of yourself. This is ahimsa.
- Accept personal responsibility for your practice
Give yourself time to learn this practice. I always recommend 5-10 years. It takes time to build strength, flexibility and balance and to learn to move in a skillful way. Yes yoga, is a skill. Simply having a certain level of fitness does not mean you’ll be able to practice yoga skillfully. It takes time, effort and practice.
- Seek out reputable teachers
Finding a teacher and a studio you connect with is important. How do you do this?
- Ask around. Sample a class or two. Feel the vibe of the space.
- When you take a class listen to what the teacher is saying.
- Are they telling you to push? Red flag
- Do they give you options in your practice? Green flag
- Are they practicing at the same time you are? Red flag
- Are they paying attention to what is going on in the class? Green flag
A note on official “qualifications”. There is no such thing as a “certified” yoga teacher. The closest yoga has is a governing body called the Yoga Alliance which registers teachers. However, the industry in the U.S. does appear to have an informal, non-spoken agreement that 200 hours of teacher training is a minimum requirement for teaching.
- Learn the practice and postures
Take a workshop, such as a Beginner’s Series or Yoga 101. Workshops are great because you can ask questions and have more of a dialogue versus a class. Workshops are very common when taking up any physical endeavor such as when people take ski and golf lessons before going out on the slopes or the course. An investment of time and resources to learn the basics of the postures and philosophy can lead to a more fulfilling practice.
Are you trying to achieve something in the short term or cultivate a lifelong practice of health, consciousness and kindness? Every time you come to your mat it is helpful to remind yourself of your intention and purpose for being there.
- Listen to yourself
My favorite teacher, Rusty Wells, offers a simple, yet powerful guideline, “If it feels wrong, it is wrong.” You are the ultimate authority of what feels good and bad in your body. If you feel pain, stop what you are doing and carefully back out of the posture. In this practice we seek places that are uncomfortable, true, but discomfort and pain are not the same.
What about if the teacher is telling you to do something that does not work in your body? Again, if it feels wrong, it is wrong. You are the only one who knows what it feels like in your body. Trust yourself.
- Try Not to Compare
Unlike most physical activities, people with all kinds of experience and skill level practice in the same class. It is not unusual to have a new person next to someone who has been practicing for ten years. This can happen because each student takes responsibility for her practice. Yoga is an individual practice done in a group setting.
- Pay attention to your breath
Your breath can help to protect you. Often injuries happen when we stop breathing and when our awareness drifts. How many times have you heard, “I wasn’t paying attention,” when a friend tells you about how she got injured. In the Vinyasa practice at One Flow Yoga, if you stop breathing out of your nose and start breathing through your mouth, something is up. If you stop breathing entirely, something is up. (Do address the lack of breath right away.) Work to have a breath that is rhythmic and relaxed—like your practice.
- Be Aware of How You Leave
When you look at when people get injured it is not typically going into a posture or even during a posture, but when they are coming out. Why is this? Think about how you approach a posture. You are paying attention. You are careful in how you enter. During the posture you are focused on your breath, concentrating and maybe relaxing into the posture. And then the posture is over and you are so happy to be leaving it you might tend to exit quickly and without a lot of thought. Exiting is part of the posture, as is transitioning smoothly to the next posture.
I can’t think of another activity where you can simply stop and sit down while still participating. This happens all of the time in yoga. If you go back to the purpose of the practice, to develop awareness, then it’s easy to see how this can be done in a child’s pose or lying on your belly or even your back. Yoga begins the minute you start paying attention. As you rest, stay aware. Notice your breath. Pay attention to the sensation of lying on the mat. This is yoga.
Yes, yoga can be done safely. I look forward to continuing this discussion with you online and in class.
Leslie Kaminoff gives a thoughtful response to the Times article. He is the author of an extremely well done book “Yoga Anatomy” which all of our teachers use as reference at One Flow Yoga.
The podcast is for NPR’s Forum based in San Francisco and features a solid panel.
Jason is someone I have studied with and have a lot of respect for.
Glenn Black, the yoga teacher featured in the Times article joins the discussion later and describes how we hurt himself in yoga doing “extreme backbends.” Extreme anything might be best avoided.
Outside Magazine’s Take Click Here
January 5, 2012
There’s an entire branch of psychology, Sports Psychology, devoted to sports and the study of those who exercise. A clarification here, yoga is NOT an exercise. The physical benefits are fringe benefits…they are not the main reason for the practice.
However, here in the West we tend to lump yoga in with running, weight training and a myriad of other physical activities. I think it’s fair then, to look at some strategies psychology has to offer to “stick to” a physical exercise program.
The Association for Applied Sport Psychology has several such recommendations.
#1 Keep it Fun
Over and over again this recommendation comes up. You are more likely to do something you perceive as fun and pleasurable. If it feels like, or you view it as, torture, the odds are you are not likely to do it for very long. Most people don’t enjoy the dungeon experience. This is not a judgment on those who do.
What is fun? Michael is fun.
Michael Jackson makes my butt move. It’s true. Put on “Beat it” or “Billie Jean” or any of a plethora of PYT infused songs and my hips, legs and feet can’t help but dance.
And I’m not alone. Last week when I was in Disneyland’s Captain EO—Michael’s 1986 sci-fi film created for Walt’s company—people literally cheered, applauded and shouted when asked if they like Michael Jackson.
At One Flow we regularly play Michael, J.T. and Gaga. We honor the elements Earth, Wind and Fire. We know Beatles and Stones are uplifting and Beyonce and Britney are infectious. We do this to bring awareness and a sense of joy.
Yoga is the direct experience of life. Yes we have our challenges, our difficulties, our fears, worries and doubts. And we have an amazing capacity for joy…joy expressed through movement, laughter, dance and song.
“The Yogis and the Sufis, in their meditation, have always had music. Today music has been made a pastime, the means of forgetting…instead of realizing.” Hazrat Inayat Khan [Sufi Teacher]
#2 Begin Easy and Slowly Increase Your Effort
True story. I once had a man who was brand new to yoga sign up for all five classes offered that day. He did them…and I never saw him again.
Yes he’s at the extreme end but many people take their first yoga class, “overdo” it and then are out for the next week or worse, discouraged.
This practice takes time to learn. It takes time to build strength and to bring flexibility into rigid areas. Yes the basics come pretty quickly…maybe six months to a year. But nuance and subtlety take a commitment of years to discover. Give yourself the time. It’s not a linear path but again you are not really learning about a physical practice, you are learning about yourself.
My own approach to yoga is this. It is a practice I will do for the rest of my life. I feel better, more connected, more joyful, more loving, more grounded, more vibrant, more alive, when I practice. Why wouldn’t I want to keep practicing?
#3 Practice with Friends
I love practicing with my friends and highly recommend bringing yours with you when you practice. Somehow it makes humble warrior just a tiny bit easier when you look over and your BFF is making a face at you. Many people “discover yoga” though their friends. It may be one of the greatest gifts you ever offer.
And when you fly solo, know that you are a part of a community that cares about you. I have seen many beautiful, rich friendships develop among people who met at yoga.
Simple. Grab a mat (or borrow ours), bring a friend (or make one), and we’ll put on the MJ. The chaturangas are up to you.
Sacramento Yoga Teacher Kate Saal teaches Vinyasa Yoga classes daily in East Sacramento at One Flow Yoga Studio. When not teaching yoga or practicing, she likes to moonwalk in her living room.
November 7, 2011
We are thankful to Ashley Robinson of GirlsontheGrid.com who sat down to ask Kate about the One Flow experience. (Kind of like the Jimi Hendrix experience.)
Read the full interview: Click Here
February 28, 2011
If you are one of the people who think this, you are in great company. Many, many people have this notion. After all “yoga” encompasses so much and means many different things to different people.
It is impossible in the short span of this article to cover all of the ways yoga may be scary because people are highly creative. However, it might be helpful to go over what some of the more common thoughts of the practice are.
To help us I thought we’d play a game I’ll call “Yoga myth or Hawaiian”. Each number below is either a myth about yoga or a famous Hawaiian. See if you can figure which is which.
1. Nicole Kidman
Hawaiian. Famous for being Australian, Nicole was actually born in Honolulu.
2. You have to be very flexible to do yoga.
Myth. (While we’re at it, add strong and balanced.) What is needed to practice is the ability to breathe. Flexibility is something you develop over time as your body adapts.
3. Don Ho
Hawaiian. Famous for being Hawaiian and for singing “Tiny Bubbles”.
4. Everyone will look at, stare and judge me.
Myth. In reality most people think this. How, though, can they be staring at and judging you when they are worried about you staring at and judging them. Also yoga is a practice of compassion, kindness and love.
5. Jack Johnson
Hawaiian. Born and raised on the North Shore. His middle name is Hody and yes he was a professional surfer before being known as a musician.
6. I’m too (pick one or more) old, out-of-shape, overweight to do a class.
Myth. This is a breathing and awareness practice. Everything else is optional.
7. Bette Midler
Hawaiian. Actor. Singer. TV Star. Author. She does it all and was also born in Honolulu.
8. I’ll be the only one in the class that’s having a difficult time.
Myth. No matter how long someone has practiced, we all seek out places that challenge us.
Now that we’ve looked at a couple of the more prevalent thoughts let’s explore:
Things to help make your first yoga class in Sacramento easier.
Get there 15 minutes early.
You can get settled, figure out where the bathrooms are and fill out any paperwork necessary.
Set up in the middle of the room.
It might sound strange but the recommended place for someone who is new is right in the middle. This is so you can always have a person in front of you as a guide, no matter what direction you are facing.
Attend with a friend.
It’s always wonderful to have the support of a friend when doing something new.
Take a class that focuses on people who are new to yoga.
Ask the studio to recommend which classes are most suitable for people just starting out.
Introduce yourself to others.
Yoga is about community and it will help you to feel part of it when you get to know other students. You’ll find they are just like you.
February 19, 2011
It’s not hard enough…I want to get a workout
I love teaching people who are new to yoga. Yet, it has always puzzled me why people leave their first class saying, “That was hard—much harder than I expected.”
Where did people get the idea that this practice is easy?
It turns out that until the 1980s most of the yoga in the United States took the shape of “soft form” yoga. This is the gentle, quiet style that has become synonymous with “yoga”.
Pop quiz. Remember a woman on PBS who taught yoga? She always wore a unitard and seemed so peaceful? Her name is Lilias Folan, and her pioneering show called “Lilias Yoga”, ran from 1972 until 1992—20 years! I remember watching her when I was a child. Lilias almost single handedly introduced Americans to yoga.
See her show here.
Ahh, now you remember. Thank you Lilias for spreading yoga and heightening awareness.
After Lilias several practices bubbled up in the American consciousness quite rapidly—in the timeline of yoga—during the 80s and 90s.
- Bikram Yoga from Bikram Choudhury
- Ashtanga from K. Pattabhi Jois
- Jivamukti from Sharon Gannon and David Life
- And a practice called “Baptiste Power Vinyasa Yoga” from a guy named Baron. (By the way, Beryl Bender Birch coined the phrase “Power Yoga” along with Bryan Kest.)
All of these fall in the realm of the “hard form”. And each can be quite intense. It is these practices that have fueled the explosive growth and interest in yoga in America. They can feel more like work, in the American Puritan sense versus the Eastern idea of “work”, and we like that. (We do live to work.)
Even though they are physically demanding, Lilias influence runs deep and people still think “yoga is easy”.
I’ve had the honor to teach thousands and thousands of people, including professional ballet dancers, UFC fighters, motorcycle racers, triathletes—people with incredible levels of physical fitness and there is an overwhelming consensus that yoga is challenging.
(This really is one of the those situations where you just have to try it to experience it. Trying to explain to your friends how difficult it can be to raise your arms and legs will only elicit strange looks. Just invite them.)
But yoga is hard in a way we haven’t even brought up yet. Yoga asks you to dig deep physically AND mentally, emotionally and spiritually…but that’s a discussion for another time.
February 16, 2011
When people say this about yoga I believe they are speaking about the physical difficulty. It’s absolutely true that this can be a very demanding and challenging practice—but only if you want it to be.
I often share that this practice will be hard (difficult) until you decide to make it easy. You make the choice.
What you need in order to practice yoga physically is the ability to breathe. I have literally seen people practice with titanium rods in their backs. I have seen people who are considered severely overweight practice. I have also seen people practice when they are missing limbs. Whether recovering from an injury, experiencing a migraine or working through a plethora of life’s other challenges…the people who practice come from the gamut of experience.
But how can they physically get through a yoga class?
It helps to understand a few things about the practice. The first one is it really is about developing awareness through the practice of breathing. You don’t need to be able to stand on your head or touch your toes for that one. (Believe it or not it is still possible to be kind, loving and happy without ever touching your toes.)
Also, everyone practices yoga together in the same class. The only difference between a “Level 1” class and an “All Levels” is the Level 1 is slower—but only because people in an All Levels class are more apt to take care of themselves instead of trying to go through every single posture.
How can everyone practice together?
There is an idea in yoga called “Ahimsa” which is generally translated as non-harming but may also be translated as “Love”. Love one another. Love yourself.
Which brings us back to a class. If you take accountability to “love” yourself in a yoga class then you will do what’s best for you in each moment. Sometimes this means finding a full expression of a posture and sometimes it means resting or drinking water.
We use the physical postures to create awareness but it’s not really about the posture. It’s about the deeper experience of letting go and connecting. And you can do that just as easily sitting down as balancing on one leg.
In each class you will be given options to “modify” a practice. (And if ever need a specific modification please ask the teacher.) The posture is here to serve you. Make it work for you instead of contorting yourself to fit it. Again, the choice is yours.
February 15, 2011
One of the most common sentiments people express about trying yoga is, “I’m not flexible enough to do that.” And it got me to wonder….
“What do people think about yoga?” The comments seem to fall into a few categories.
1) I’m not flexible, or “stretchy” enough. I’m out of shape and have no sense of balance.
2) It’s too difficult
3) It’s not hard enough…I want to get a workout
4) It’s scary
5) It’s strange. Those people burn incense and chant.
6) It’s “new agey”, out there, in left field and doesn’t apply to my life.
I can absolutely appreciate these opinions and thought it might be helpful to explore each of them over the course of this week.
1) I’m not flexible, or “stretchy” enough. I’m out of shape and have no sense of balance.
I have a friend whose father regularly goes to the Himalayans to climb. He believes in being very prepared for his outdoor excursions. For instance, he flew to New Mexico from Louisiana to try out his new “bear proof” camping equipment. And who can blame him. If he makes a mistake up there he freezes, falls or has other unpleasant things happen to him.
Preparation can be a positive thing. There are many things in life, such as LSATs, board exams, the birth of your child, going out for an evening with friends, where planning is helpful. Yoga isn’t one of them.
Yoga is a practice of letting go rather than adding on. You already have everything you need to take a class.
A side note on equipment. A mat, towel and water bottle go a long way. However, you can always borrow a mat at One Flow. As for clothing—shorts or other workout pants and a t-shirt work just as well as designer yoga clothes—do avoid cotton though as it sticks to you when you sweat.
You will build and grow strength, flexibility and balance over time. The physical benefits are fringe benefits of the practice. In reality this is an internal practice.
However, we do use the physical postures or “asanas” to help us to be aware. Each asana is a tool to help you explore but it is not the ultimate goal. I mean no one really cares if you can get your foot behind your head. But when you are calm and kind and peaceful—deeper benefits of the practice—that they do notice.