High Energy Fusion Yoga

Where tradition meets innovation

Stop, Drop, and Roll

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Stop, Drop, and Roll: Mindfulness Made Simple(r)

When I was introduced to meditation in my yoga practice, it was through a classical lens. Meditation was breathing, chanting, and mantra. It wasn’t difficult per say, but I did not feel any benefit from sitting and chanting in a language I did not understand while praying to a god a didn’t believe in. I am not writing this to spark debate about which form of meditation works better, I am trying to say that that classical yoga meditation did nothing for my peace of mind and that mindfulness meditation changes my life on a daily basis. One of the reasons that I made sure to include “Fusion” in High Energy Fusion Yoga, was so that we would have unfettered room to grow towards what best serves the highest self. I believe mindfulness is the evolution of what I have learned in classical yoga. Perhaps the best part of mindfulness is that it takes no fancy equipment or mantras, and because it is not faith based it is appropriate for people of all religious affiliations and non-affiliations. 

What is mindfulness?

Being present in our moment to moment experience in an interested way. Imagine living moment to moment and being completely focused on each moment as it passes instead of doing three things at once. Example: Drinking coffee, checking social media, and watching TV would be an example of not being mindful. Sitting at a table, with only your coffee, taking a sip, and focusing on the taste, aroma, and temperature. 

How do I start a mindfulness practice?

Set a timer for five minutes. (Most phones have them)

Stop: Just be still. Sit and notice how the simple act of stillness can be revolutionary in your non-stop life. Sitting in a chair, standing, and even lying down can be a completely new experience in an otherwise hectic day. 

Drop: Drop your attention into your body. Into the full experience of having a body. If closing your eyes is something that is accessible to you, see what comes to the foreground when your eyes are closed. How does it feel to fully experience your body in space. 

Roll: Roll out the welcome mat to see whats there. When you come to stillness and drop your attention into the body, many different thoughts and feelings might come to the foreground. Observe what comes up without judgement. Notice the thoughts and emotions as they pass. Practice kindness and compassion towards yourself. No matter what comes to the surface, you are “doing it right”. Understand that these are thoughts and emotions that are always there, you are just usually distracted. 

When the timer goes off, gently open your eyes. 

What was your experience like? Jot down a few thoughts in a journal and practice this exercise every day for a week. If the mind feels calmer, try it before bed. If you feel energized, try it as soon as you wake up. Five minutes a day is a great first step towards cultivating peace of mind. Questions? Email me and ask!

The Toolbox

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Crisis has hit us hard these past few weeks. We have suffered a mercury in retrograde, an eclipse, Hurricane Harvey, Hurricane Irma, a full moon, back to school, and (this morning) an earthquake!  Couple that with the constant bombardment of political turmoil, divisive rhetoric, and 24 hour news cycles and you have a perfect formula for anxiety and insomnia. For the past two years I have been actively building a toolbox full of techniques to help me through crisis level anxiety. You may be thinking, “wait, don’t you do yoga..like a lot?” Even though I do way more yoga than the average person, I am by no means buddha. In reality I have more issues than time life magazine, and so I am sharing my very own tool box of tricks that maybe you can find some relief if you need it. A disclaimer: put your toolbox together BEFORE crisis hits. Practice your techniques often and they will not fail you when its “go-time”. 

My toolbox consists of external and internal tools. External tools are excellent essentials to carry with you on trips, on flights, or anywhere you go that may cause you anxiety.  If you have trouble sleeping, keep your external tools on a nightstand and readily available. 

  1. A bottle of lavender oil. Lavender saves my buttasana in many situations. I ALWAYS carry lavender. My brain has built an association, lavender=relax. The effect of this scent is immediate and calming. Look for a high quality lavender oil. I recommend Young Living. Their oils are therapeutic grade and although they cost a little more, they are well worth it. The world of essential oils can be exciting, but overwhelming. If lavender does not sit well with you, I recommend vetiver for its grounding and anti-panic attack effect. If positivity is something that is missing from your life I recommend ylang-ylang (took me forever to learn to say it). Ylang Ylang soothes fear and promotes optimism. The last oil I would highly recommend adding to your external toolbox is bergamot. It is a citrus and is sun-reactive so don’t use it at the beach. It works very well to reduce anxiety and some people find it even more effective for inducing sleep. Don’t go overboard, start with one or two and keep them with you. You can purchase Young Living on Amazon now! Click here for a link to lavender.
  2. A lavender eye pillow. This has gotten me through traumatic flights, helped me to nap, and kept me calm in more situations than I can count. By blocking out light and providing gentle pressure to the eye and sinus area, an eye pillow can help you tune out the world and focus inward. Filling an eye pillow with lavender is just brilliance! By engaging touch and smell, the eye pillow can help ground you and pull you out of the insomnia or panic tailspin in your mind. 
  3. Music soothes the savage beast. Sometimes that beast is raging in your mind. I have a playlist with three hours of calming music dowloaded to my phone. I am providing a link to the list but if you want to make your own try to look for instrumental music with a calming feel. If you run a search for “meditation music” or “spa music” you will be directed to thousands of choices. **The last four or five on this playlist are my favorites**
  4. The Headspace Meditation App. Meditation is a practice that takes time to cultivate. Waiting until you are in crisis is not the optimal time to start, but if you only turn your app on when you are in crisis and it works, then go for it. On the app there is a sleep exercise that I use for everything. The headspace app helped me bridge the gap between the external tool box and the internal one. If you have another app that you like better, then use it. Whenever I hear Andy's (the narrator’s) voice, I instantly feel more at ease. This is a testament to practice and frequency. My brain now associates his voice with a sense of well being. Click here to go to the Headspace website
  5. Noise cancelling over the ear headphones.  They do not have to be expensive, but meditation, and listening to music, are greatly enhanced with comfortable over the earheadphones. They also cancel out the noise of screaming children and loud talkers on planes. If you are a light sleeper, the combination of the eye pillow, lavender oil, and soft music/guided meditation through headphones is an excellent anxiety busting combo.  

The internal toolbox is one I filled with exercises from the Headspace app. Unlike the external tools, my internal life lines are with me wherever I go. These tools take the most patience and practice but, in time, will yield you the longest lasting results. 

 

  1. The body scan. Closing your eyes wherever you are and mentally scan the body from the crown of your head to the tips of your toes. Try and focus only on each muscle group as you mentally pass over it. This helps remind you that you are in the present moment and that you are aware of your body in space. 
  2. Counting your breaths to ten. Focus on every inhale and exhale until ten. When you get to ten start over. If you get distracted start over. Try five or six cycles of this and focus your entire being on counting your breaths.
  3. Count backwards from 1000. This little gem is PRICELESS. If you lose count, go back to the top. With a little practice I am usually calm or asleep by 970. In severe moments I have gotten to 860. I have never reached zero, because this exercise is BOSS. In moments of panic I even will count backwards in Spanish. The extra concentration takes the edge of the anxiety. 

 

So there you have it! My tool box. Along the way, I have taken things out of my tool box as well.  Here are some of the things I had to remove because I needed to make room for more effective tools. 

  1. Social media and emails are not your friends in times of crisis or if you have insomnia. Do not pick up your phone unless you are turning on your relaxation playlist. The light from your phone is super bright and may wake you up even more. It sends the wrong signals to your brain and stirs up emotions and expectations. STAY OFF SOCIAL MEDIA and DON’T CHECK EMAIL! (Also in here I would like to say stay off online shopping;)
  2. Do not drink alcohol…like, at all if possible. That glass of wine (or two or three) at dinner is disturbing your sleep and making you anxious. If at all possible stay away from alcohol and other substances to induce a sense of artificial tranquility. Your brain needs time to form healthier habits and pathways. This was a tough one for me to learn. There is a difference between calming yourself and numbing yourself. Once you learn the difference you’ll see how you were contributing to your own anxiety levels with this common habit. 
  3. Falling asleep outside of your bedroom or with the television on. If it is near bed time, go to bed. Changing locations is a sure way to interrupt your sleep cycle and set yourself up for an episode of insomnia The light and noise from the TV will disturb you at some point in the night, especially when that comedy you started at 9PM turns into a horror movie at 3AM. 

Are you surprised that I did not mention yoga or exercise? While I believe that a healthy diet and consistent exercise routine play a huge role in managing stress and anxiety, in times of crisis or insomnia it is not always practical to go into a handstand, take a run, or eat a salad. Keep those healthy lifestyle choices for daily self care, but cultivate and use your crisis toolbox for when you need it. 

Why should I take an advanced teacher training?

High Energy Fusion Yoga started its 300 hour training program this month in Costa Rica. I have spent the last four years running and authoring teacher trainings for brand new teachers and I was curious and a bit anxious about what I would see from my trainees in an intensive module with more complex concepts. As with every training I have ever facilitated, I learned just as much as my students. While I was thrilled to see so much growth in my instructors from their 200 hour to now, I also become more keenly aware of the reasons we should all continue to invest in ourselves as yogis and yoga teachers. My mind likes to break thinks down into manageable chunks so here are the three reasons I think every yogi should invest in advanced training.

  1. You need the review. Your two hundred hour training was a fantastic peek into the world of teaching yoga. In that training you realized that you have a voice. With that voice you could help your students learn the very things that you love about yoga. It was a terrifying, exhausting, gratifying, and transformative experience. No matter what you think about the quality of your first training, you are never the same after. That being said, it is human nature to forget. Once you are out in the teaching world, you no longer have access to people who are evaluating you and correcting you when you need it. You are apt to develop habits, and not all of them good ones. You settle into a rhythm and become comfortable. Comfort breeds inertia, and it begins to show up in your teaching style. The first few sessions of advanced training are like a bucket of cold water poured over your head. They shock you back into action. They make you aware of things you might have let slide, including your personal practice.  Within a few sessions of advanced training your ideas begin to flow. You begin to think and move once again towards becoming the best version of your self. I cannot stress this enough, review is essential. 
  2. You need a reminder of just how much you don’t know. Whenever I sit down to write a new manual, I need to do months of research to pull relevant concepts from credible resources. It is always a humbling realization that there is so much about yoga that I constantly need to review (see bullet one) and learn. Now that you have a baseline knowledge of whatever yoga style you chose to study in your 200 hour program, it is time to recognize that you don't know all that much. What would you like to learn more about? Where do you see deficits in your knowledge base? Philosophy, gentle yoga, Yin yoga, aromatherapy, business courses (so important), and sequencing modules are all topics that get extra attention and analysis in the HEFY 300 hour training. Many trainings now offer an advanced certification in this type of modular design. It allows students to apply their new knowledge and bring it to their own students. The best part about knowledge is applying it! There is no major rush to complete an advanced training. The point of spending time to learn a new topic is to make yourself a well rounded teacher with your own UNIQUE voice. Learning a bit and then teaching a bit is a solid way to integrate your advanced training into your life. If you have already completed a 300 hour training, you should still invest in advanced training modules to fill in gaps in your technique and keep up with current topics and trends in the yoga world. 
  3. You need to spend time with like minded individuals and expand your professional network. It can be difficult to be a yogi living in a modern world where no one understands the work you are trying to do. Yoga people get it though, and there are a ton of them in trainings all over the world looking to connect and share ideas. It is refreshing to have other yogis around you so that you may bounce ideas around or debate the latest way to cue a chatturanga. As for expanding your professional network, remember that the people in advanced training with you are also (by and large) yoga teachers! Some of them are studio owners and entrepreneurs in the fitness industry. You cannot expand your business by yourself in a bubble. The saying “its not what you know, its who you know” is 100% true. Some teachers think that just because they are “good” that people will bang down their doors. You must be the one to bang on doors for yourself. Making connections will mean that one or two doors will open because the face behind it is a familiar one. I have made connections to teachers all over the world through my studies. Those connections have led to others, and on and on it goes. From offering you a place to stay, to putting you in contact with people who will give you work, networking opportunities alone are worth the effort to enroll yourself in a an advanced training. 

Education is never wasted. It may not translate into a dollar for dollar exchange right away, but over the long term it expresses its value many times over.

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Did I just take a good yoga class? The three things to consider...

There are so many yoga classes available today for every type of yoga athlete. Fast paced classes, slow classes, classes set to music and classes that offer only the music of the breath. In this last month alone I have visited three cities in two countries and have taken over 15 yoga classes. As a teacher trainer, I had my own critique of each and every class and wondered, do people know when they have taken a good yoga class? I have boiled the essence of a good class down into three concepts: consistency, content, and connection. 

The first line of defense in choosing a class that you will consider worthwhile is the website description of the class AND the teacher's biography and qualifications.  If you take a few extra minutes to read the class description, you should gain some insight into the pace and focus of the class. This is the first step in knowing if you took a good yoga class: is the class consistent with its description? This is where many studios find themselves in trouble. This past week I took a level 3 class focused on inversions and arm balances. The instructor could not properly execute nor explain a forearm stand, handstand, or single leg crow pose. The class was indeed fast paced and I was indeed sweating, but the main idea of the one inversion/arm balance class on the schedule was not accomplished. This was not a good yoga class. In a different city, I took a level 2/3 vinyasa flow class.  An instructor was subbing the class and it was really a pick and choose ashtanga sequence; not a good class. In fact, after the class I heard her ask the front desk to give her an idea of what a flow class should be like. (No bueno, and not professional) If you took the time to read the description, the teacher (even a sub!) should teach to the level of the class. There is a word to describe people when they try and do something that they don't know how to do: unqualified. If you are charging someone $25.00 for a class and don't deliver you should refund their money. It's like ordering vegan lasagna and getting a steak instead. 

The second thing to consider is this: what did you learn in this class? Did you know that as a public school teacher I must document a learning objective for each class I teach. I apply this concept to my yoga classes so that every class I write contains two types of learning objectives that I wish my students to grasp. The first is an idea that is not physical. These include the philosophy of yoga, personal development, and mindfulness. The second type of objective centers around a series of poses I wish them to become familiar with. This is where 99% of yoga teachers go wrong. To teach, you must plan. You must have a road map to somewhere. This is hard work. It takes hours and even years to deftly create relevant classes that actually teach skills and concepts. The worst thing I have ever heard before a class is "I have no idea what to teach today" and after that "what do you all want to work on today". Granted, it's one thing to add to an existing class plan, but my plans are so complete that I have no room to accommodate 25 separate suggestions. Planning is important! It helps a teacher avoid redundancy and helps students progress. If you leave a yoga class without learning something (and this should be a thing the teacher has purposefully crafted) then you did not take a good yoga class. Like the saying goes: if you fail to plan, then you plan to fail. 

Finally there comes connection. How did the teacher make you feel? Was the teacher kind? Did they connect with you? Did they seem to enjoy what they were doing? Yoga classes range from 5-25 people generally. A good teacher has great classroom management skills and can make you feel their love of yoga with the energy they put into the room. If a teacher was condescending, dismissive, egotistical, or angry during class, then you did not take a good yoga class. This is even true if the first two criteria are met. Being a teacher is not a license to be a bully! If anything, the first rule of yoga is do no harm. If your teacher cannot convey that, they should probably look for another line of work. 

So now that you know, you cannot un-know. If a class at your studio is missing these three basic concepts then speak up! Management needs to listen to you, the consumer, because without you there is no yoga class. That being said, if all of these criteria are met and you still aren't thrilled with the class then the studio culture may not be for you. Luckily in many areas there are a variety of styles. Do a little research and be open minded! Talk to the studio managers and tell them what you are looking for. They usually will have a great class recommendation for you. Community is a two way street, the more you participate, the stronger the community gets and the "good" classes will grow.  Finally, if you take a class that has been planned, where you learned something, and where the teacher was present and engaged thank them for being the rare unicorn that they are! Good teachers often work hard and get paid similar rates to poorer teachers. Your thanks for their hard work will make their day, trust me. 

 Funky twisted lizard. I built an entire 90 minute class around this pose. 

Funky twisted lizard. I built an entire 90 minute class around this pose. 

 

 

Yoga Shaming. Yeah, how about we stop that.

Every day when I log onto social media I am hit with with a slew of political articles, news clips, puppy videos (love those), and lately lots of yoga police posts. Posts that slam other types and styles of yoga as inauthentic and "wrong".  I even read the word "bastardization" as an adjective for people just doing their thing in this world.  In another post (that was liked and shared), another well known teacher ridiculed those who have the audacity to play music in their classes. Still another condemned the posting of yoga pictures in general. Why? What is with all the negativity? Why is there such a need to post something that shames other yogis.? Why do these people feel entitled to do that? 

The first rule of yoga is not handstand. (obvi that is the second, jk! ) The first rule is ahimsa. Ahimsa is often described as non-violence and is interpreted as a way to live your life without causing harm to others. There are many ways to do no harm. Some work on their diet, some on their interactions, and for this yogi...I work on the words that come out of my mouth. Words hurt. They can cause lasting damage when thrown about haphazardly. I have never been so aware of the weight of my words as I am now that I own a yoga studio. People often quote things i have said to them in class years after I have said them. YEARS! When the responsibility of speaking with mindfulness truly sunk in, I decided that I would measure my words. I critique when I need to, but I make sure I do so with kindness. I often send out my blogs to my closest friends for screening to make sure my words don't come across as unnecessarily negative. I understand the impact. Why don't others? Perhaps they feel like they are doing the world a service by imposing their opinions in the most critical and demoralizing way. Perhaps they feel, especially the yoga teachers out there who are the worst culprits, that they are teaching? A great phrase that we use here on the east coast is "stay in your lane". What doesn't affect you, doesn't concern you. Nobody is asking for your approval, BUT with your words you could be alienating someone and ruining their day/week/year/self esteem.  In short, you are harming them..intentionally. Is that feeling of being "right" worth it?

Changing the pattern is not that difficult and if you have been swept up in the middle school "mean girl" current of yoga shaming, there is a way out. Stop judging people who are just following their bliss. Live your life according to your ethical standards and you know what? People will follow your example. As you embrace that which is different than yourself, others will follow suit. Soon the world in general will have more positive energy and you will be able to be right without making sure others know they are wrong. Some of the greatest words I have ever read are:" you do not have to blow out someone else's candle so that yours can burn a little brighter". So go ahead you yogis who want to do yoga with goats, with bass thumping music, without your clothes, or with a beer in your hand. This world is big enough for all of us, and in my book you are all awesome!

 Call the yoga police! I dared to invert in a mask and silver unitard! 

Call the yoga police! I dared to invert in a mask and silver unitard!