The word 'alignment' by now makes me cringe, as it has evolved into one of the most overburdened words in yoga lexicon. Still, alignment matters. Not because of what a posture looks like, but more importantly because of the energetic effects that alignment can induce.
In modern yoga culture 'alignment' seems to have been defined as an aesthetic ideal, a rigorous concept that implies skill, superiority, and physical accomplishment. It can also become a term of injury-shaming as obviously injury is impossible when one maintains proper 'alignment'.
Merriam-Webster defines 'alignment' as follows:
especially : the proper positioning or state of adjustment of parts (as of a mechanical or electronic device) in relation to each other
2a: a forming in line
b: the line thus formed
3: the ground plan (as of a railroad or highway) in distinction from the profile
4: an arrangement of...
I’ve seen a lot of yoga students come and go over the years. This can be for a variety of reasons—schedules change, people have babies, jobs relocate. But the truth is, most often, people just don’t want to stick with the practice or the practice doesn’t stick to them. A lot of people want to have a yoga practice, but don’t really want to do what it takes when it comes down to it. This isn’t a judgment—part of what’s so beneficial about a yoga practice is also what can make it so difficult to begin with: it’s a habit you have to build. Over the years, one of the biggest commonalities I’ve noticed in the people who stick with it is that they make the practice a habit.
I think most people who are successful in any long-term discipline, by whatever metric you view success, will tell you that good habits are key to making it work. Once a practice is a habit, it stops being something you need to think about. You wake up, you...
It can seem challenging to narrow anything down to five key points, especially something with as much depth as the Ashtanga system of yoga. But when I take a step back to look at the practice, it all becomes remarkably clear. The keys aren’t about any one thing in particular—not the body, not the mind, not the spirit; rather, like Ashtanga itself, they’re about all three. They’re about opening the door, about creating the ideal circumstances for your practice to work for you and your life, about holding space for yourself. They aren’t always easy, but they’re undeniably simple. And they start, as all things do, with the breath.
I said this during practice recently to a student I’ve been working with for years, as I watched her do a posture that would have felt impossible just a year ago. But if I’ve learned one thing in my years of teaching and practicing yoga, it’s that things that seem impossible are just feats waiting to be accomplished.
From the vantage point of the present moment, it’s easy to lose sight of how far we have come. When we reach our goals, they eventually become our new normal as we settle into our new lives, our new practices, our new whatever, and forget just what an accomplishment it is to be where we are now.
Looking back at the end of a year, it can be all too easy to overlook one’s progress—over one year, or many years. The truth is, a lot of active change can be made in a year (even a year like 2020). The individual days may feel monotonous, but when you put them all together you can still see the cumulative effect.
It’s easy to forget how...
Most of us know what Om is. It’s likely you’ve been chanting it since your first yoga class. You’ll find the Om symbol on bumper stickers, t-shirts and ankles. But when we ask what Om means, we have a question with no answer.
Sutra 1.27, tasya vācakaḥ praṇavaḥ, says that Om is a symbol for Ishvara. Om is called praṇavaḥ— “prana carried forward.” It is movement, breath, life carried forward. What this suggests is that Om exists as the first sound outside of time, and all other sounds are like an echo of an echo of an echo of it. Om is analogous to the big bang. Everything that is ongoing comes out of it, and there isn’t a moment in time that corresponds to it.
The concept of Om takes us away from the idea of God as the creator. And so, if Om is a symbol for Ishvara, the repetition of the Om sound in our meditation can be a way of understanding ourselves here in this moment in relation to ourselves as higher spiritual beings.
Next week will be the start of my tenth month of home practice. And like many of you, this will likely continue for a while longer.
Quarantine has revealed to me many of the things in my life that weren't truly sustainable for my practice, let alone my lifestyle. My travel schedule had gotten to be too much for me. It often left me more tired than it did fulfilled. This, of course, plays out in my practice and in the rest of my life.
Quarantine is also revealing to me the parts of my life that I value the most. Topping that list is my family, who I miss like crazy and am saddened not knowing when I'll see them again. I miss teaching in person every day and connecting with students. I miss my community - which I'm doing my best to recreate online. And of course my practice - which like you, provides me with routine, strength, and stability, in more ways than one.
Now, I'm no stranger to self practice, I did it for a decade. But even I am finding...
In the last few years, my ideas of the importance of having a yoga teacher have shifted. I still think it's an important part of the learning process, but I also realize the importance of not giving too much power away to the teacher, the value of waiting a long time and really getting to know a teacher before having them be your teacher, and the need for a teacher to learn from the student.
In yoga the teacher has historically played an important role. The teacher not only sheds light on the subject of yoga - but the relationship itself is foundational. The specifics of the teaching such as techniques and beliefs are not as important as the love and relationship established between student and teacher. Yoga, to yoke, is about connectedness, and that begins with the connection between two beings. Connection is the driving force in transformation.
Good teachers remain heavy in their experience and not swayed. One of the definitions of Guru is heavy.
I think as students we seek...
There are a lot of reasons people get into teaching yoga, but for me? I started teaching because it felt like I couldn’t do anything else. Not that I wasn’t able to do anything else with my life, because I knew I was. It was that I couldn’t. Once I started teaching, I knew it was my calling, and I knew that making it my livelihood was crucial to my happiness.
Like many, I teetered at the edge at first. I was teaching part-time and spending the rest of my time working a job I hated. I was enthusiastic about my practice, I loved studying, and I enjoyed the classes that I did teach. I didn’t want to jump in halfway, but I was scared like many of us are at the start of a huge new journey.
Then, as things do sometimes, everything came together all at once. I was in Shasta when Tim asked me when I was going to start teaching Ashtanga and I didn’t have an answer. When I returned to DC, Deb (the owner of the studio I worked at) told me that if I...
One recurring theme I’ve noticed, both in my own experience and in conversations with others, is the issue of injury in an Ashtanga practice. It’s something we all experience sooner or later, because it really is part of the process, but knowing that doesn’t necessarily make it feel any better in the moment.
Recognize that Ashtanga yoga is a rigorous practice with extreme and demanding postures early in the sequence, for example, standing half lotus. Some degree of pain or discomfort is unavoidable when people start their practice. It takes a long time to learn what your body can safely do on any given day. It takes most students months, if not years, of daily practice to acclimate to their practice.
It’s important to know that experiencing pain doesn’t mean you’re doing anything wrong. Pain is also not necessarily something that someone can fix. Listen to the signals your body is sending in the moment. There is a big difference between...
What exactly IS the difference between Ashtanga and Vinyasa yoga? It’s a commonly asked question. To answer this question, let’s start with what the word Vinyasa means in Sanskrit.
‘Vi’ is the prefix of the word ; it means an intensification. ‘Nyas’ is the root and translates as “to put” or “to place”. ‘Vinyasa’ then means “to place something in a special or ritualized way, or a set of actions done in a prescribed order”.
The concept of vinyasa extends well beyond the context of yoga. In India people circumambulate temples in a ritualized set of actions that may look random to an onlooker, but their prostrations are themselves a vinyasa.
In Ashtanga Yoga asanas are performed in a fixed sequence. Every movement, breath, and gaze is counted and prescribed. Every movement of the entire practice has a correlating inhale or exhale. There is a certain way to get into and out of each posture....