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    Thursday, November 12, 2009

    You Can Change Your Mind--How yoga taught me to find joy in failure

    When I first started this blog, I thought I'd be posting up posture techniques for adventurous types to apply to their asana practice, but I keep writing about the mind techniques. I will get around to some poses and tips eventually, but my yoga practice has evolved over the years from focusing on the physical to focusing on the mental. So much of life is mental, esp. our approach to sports and the outdoors.

    Yoga is more than about postures--there are many other tools to help us overcome suffering in our lives. The second branch of yoga is the Niyamas, or "rules of personal behavior." The fourth niyama is Svadhyana, or self-study, and Deepak Chopra describes it as this in The Seven Spiritual Laws of Yoga: "When svadhyana is lively in your awareness, joy arises from within rather than being dependent upon outer accomplishments or acquisitions."

    When I began my life as a whitewater junkie back in 1997, I was full of self doubt, negativity, and fear. But I loved being out on the water, so I was determined to overcome those obstacles. I entered a whitewater race the other day that showed me just how far I have come in overcoming these obstacles, and the practice of svadhyana is the reason.

    When I first got into whitewater, I was lured into the aspect of how good it made me feel about myself. I had had so many years of low self esteem and now this new sport was giving me tons and tons of self esteem as I became better and better. But the more involved I became in the sport, the more my self esteem became enmeshed in how good I performed. I would become devastated at one little failure and then slip into a deep dark depression that made me want to revert to my former self destructive life. One of the number one no-no's of sports psychology is to have your self esteem dependent upon your performance. I knew this, yet I couldn't help how I was feeling.

    I had a number of key things happen over these years--I attended my yoga teacher training and became a yoga teacher, found my one true love, and suffered a debilitating back injury. My yoga study delved me deeper and deeper into the why of my being. My (now) husband who is a brilliant amateur sports psychologist taught me how to replace negative thoughts with positive ones. And my back injury laid me out on my back for almost a full year unable to kayak or to "do" yoga. After the crying fits of "why me?" and "who am I without kayaking and teaching yoga," I decided to delve even more into the non-physical aspects of yoga.

    I laid on the floor and visualized for months--it was all I could do. And guess what? I found out that I could be happy just lying there! There was so much to explore in my mind, I became fascinated. Ever since, my yoga practice has centered around mind training. I learned to fully turn my life around by just changing the way that I think. What an amazing and basic concept that had eluded me for so long!

    So, what does all of this have to do with the kayak race? Coming up to the race, I was extremely busy, and did not have the option to get out and train as much as I needed. Then a week prior, I got a cold, which sabotaged the week that I had saved to get out and train my lines on the creek. I know what you'd like to hear is that I visualized my lines and then competed and won--that is because our society reveres numbers and winners. But something even more profound than that happened--I completely wrecked and instead of self pity, I found happiness. Finding happiness in winning is easy, but finding happiness in complete and utter failure is amazing.
    How? Because I have trained myself to only see the positive in this situation. Yes, I tried the visualizations and it worked in all but one place. Race day came, and I was not that nervous--I felt completely solid inside knowing that I could handle whatever happens. As I sat in the start eddy, I was delirious from sickness and I knew this was not a good idea, but I was compelled to be there racing in my favorite race. Like Arjuna in the battlefield in the Bhagavad Gita, I needed to perform to the best of my ability without being attached to the results. I peeled out and absolutely aced every rapid with amazing speed and style until I got to the one move that I was just going to trust myself to make because I couldn't remember it enough to visualize--in kayaking when you cannot visualize a line on the river, but you run it anyway, it is called oblivion charc (from The Squirt Book by Jim Snyder), and this is not a good thing. I flipped over in the worst part of the rapid. I was completely out of breath because the cold I had was in my lungs and I just didn't have the juice in me to deal with the crash. I barely eeked out a roll above the "Notch," the real real crux, flipped again, and my technique went out the window and caused me to fail to roll up again. Completely exhausted, I swam out of my kayak in front of 1000 people and cameras.

    It all worked out--I got all of my gear back from the river and only got a couple of scratches. And I can honestly say that I am happy (although more ill) even though I crashed and burned. In years past, I would not have even tried to race without practicing or being sick--and then I would have beat myself up for not trying. Also, in years past, I would have been devastated by the swim and all of those people watching and I would have been relentless on myself for "failing." But now as I write this, instead I feel more confident than I ever have about myself as a kayaker and as a person, because I am focused on the many successes I had that day rather than on the one failure. I am so grateful for this sport that has given me a zest for life, but I am even more grateful to not be imprisoned by results. In my own mind, I have won. I beat self doubt, negativity, and fear just by changing my thinking. I have come full circle with my sport. First I used it to feel good about myself, and now I am free from that entrapment. The practice of yoga is what freed me and allows me the full benefit of the sport. And now I feel so enthused to get out on the river and kayak more--more enthused than ever! Could it be because there are no expectations? I feel so free! I am now even closer to freedom as Tich Nhat Hanh describes it, "Freedom is, above all else, freedom from our own notions and concepts."

    *If you are into an adventure sport, pushing yourself outside of comfort is imperative to progress. But you have to remember to apply equanimity--balance your enthusiasm with restraint. By this I mean that decide to push yourself in smart places. For instance, I would not have gone out and kayaked in a remote river gorge that day while I was sick. The Green is a class V river, yes, but I know it extremely well and that was my 3rd race. Use the "self study" (Svadhyana, the Fourth Niyama) tool of yoga to know when its appropriate to push yourself and when to be conservative.

    The purpose of yoga is unite you with You. This can only happen by overcoming the suffering of the body and the mind. Life is so short and there is so much suffering that will happen due to terrible circumstances, don't waste your time creating even more suffering over petty things like how you perform in one event or what people think about you. To free yourself to live in joy is the true gift of enlightenment, of yoga.

    Action photo by Chris Bell of
    After race photo by Brad Roberts

    Thursday, October 15, 2009

    Yoga Meets You Where You Are

    Recently I read a couple of other blogs by yoga teachers and their thoughts on what yoga is. Here are the links to them--they are great quick reads if you want to learn more:

    I like these blogs and I agree with these teachers on some points, but I hear a sense of frustration in their voices. They are frustrated about what yoga has become in Western culture and wondering if students are "getting it."

    First of all, I love our culture! I have learned to embrace it and I see more and more beauty everywhere around me the longer I practice. Our culture has taken yoga and created a beautiful thing. There is nothing wrong with evolution. The evolution of yoga and everything is inevitable--I am not a traditionalist at all though. When I look around and see how yoga has blossomed through this country, I am uplifted. I see that people are becoming more open-minded and more into taking care of their minds and bodies--its a beautiful thing. Those people could be out there doing all sorts of things in life, but they are practicing yoga! How wonderful. Whether they ever "get it" or not is up to them.

    Secondly, who are we to judge what others are getting out of yoga? Here is my story for example:

    I started practicing yoga when I was 19 (that was in 1991)--I was basically a mess, and something in the yoga classes was working on me. At the time, I had no idea what I was searching for in yoga--all I knew was that I felt better. I did not practice anything in yoga except the postures and I did not seek answers--somehow I trusted that they would come to me one day if I just did the postures. Years went by and slowly, very slowly, I began to see things differently and to change. After a final bout with a crazy drug addiction, the yoga really started to work--I kicked the drug addiction and anorexia and completely turned my life around. You know, I guess some people would have scoffed at me coming to yoga class appearing to get nothing out of it--maybe they wondered why I bothered--maybe they judged me. But you see, all I could do at the time was the postures, and slowly, oh so slowly, over time the lessons seeped into my being and today I enjoy the benefits of this wonderful practice that gave me my life back.

    So, I have experienced first hand that yoga can work on you wherever you are--don't exasperate yourself worrying about if you or others are "getting it" or not. If you want it, you'll get it eventually and if you don't then noone can make you. Just know you are beautiful wherever you are in life and whatever culture you come from. Believe me, I have spent my time hating this and judging that, but over time, I am learning to let that go and spend more time loving myself, life, and others. As a teacher, when I watch my students just blindly show up for class and go through the motions of the poses appearing to get nothing out of it, I have to remind myself of this journey that I had. I know that as long as you keep practicing, you will find what you are looking for, and if you aren't looking for anything except for more flexible hamstrings, that is fine too. But if you keep practicing, you will be blown away. Just be patient.

    Wednesday, September 23, 2009

    River Lessons, Life Lessons

    Life is awesome--I am super busy working on a book project and I am getting out kayaking when I can. I recently read this article by my friend Anna Levesque--she is a great kayaking and yoga instructor and an awesome business woman. She stole the words right from my mouth on this one--even if you are not a kayaker, this is a great read. And maybe it will inspire you to get out there and go kayaking, climbing, adventuring in some way to help you discover your true self, your true strengths, and how amazing life is:


    Thursday, September 3, 2009

    Finding Love Down By the River

    I entered this outdoor romance story contest on one of my favorite blogs, Rock Climber Its a fun romantic read about how I met my husband and how we started down this crazy path together.

    Read our story here.

    Check out all of the romance storied if you are there and want more--there are 4 total.

    Monday, August 17, 2009

    Jedi Mind Training

    Recently I went on a whitewater kayaking trip to Washington and BC. Normally my husband and I like to run very difficult whitewater (steep class V) when we go on these trips. On the months preceding this trip, we were working full time in our office on an upcoming guidebook (The River Gypsies' Guide to North America). The rivers around where we live weren't running all that much and we really didn't have the time to go out and chase the water (they are rain dependent) anyway. Every day I felt exhausted and my brain felt dull. When I would do my yoga practice, I just couldn't focus and it faltered as well. We thought we would just get it all together once we got on the road. What we found out was that when we would put on these difficult rivers, really any river, we had a lot of trouble focusing and it caused some bad lines and poor decisions. We just weren't as sharp as we are used to being. We knew that it was our lack of kayaking preceding the trip and that our brains had become tired and dull from all of the work.

    What I also know now is that I could have used yoga to train my brain to focus during this time that I couldn't kayak. When I began my yoga practice each day, I could have taken the time to discipline myself during my yoga practice. One of my teachers says, "Lazy feet, lazy mind." during classes all the time, and I would just get so irritated if I was tired--I didn't want to put that energy in my toes, but I would do it anyway--she would give us plenty of opportunity to relax in Savasana (the ending relaxation pose). The active physical practice of yoga has a purpose and the purpose is not to just flop around on the floor completely disconnected from my body and mind--that is not yoga.

    Yoga is a mindfulness practice. This is one of the main reasons that it works for athletes. We can use our yoga sessions to train our brains to focus, and one of the ways this works is to slow down and pay attention to how we are doing the poses. By slowing down your yoga practice, you will learn to focus your mind on what you are doing to an even greater level. Eventually you will also begin to notice exactly what you are thinking during your sport and you will begin to know where your body is at all times.

    Click here to read more about using yoga as a cross training tool for the mind.

    Yoga is experiential, so, this is your homework: I encourage you in your yoga practice to learn to slow down and pay attention to what you are doing. Do this by beginning each yoga session by sitting or lying down. Let all of your thoughts flood your mind. Begin to just pay attention to your thoughts without becoming involved in the drama—watch them like clouds. Then bring your awareness into your breath…and then bring your awareness into your body. Feel the breath in the body. Notice how it feels on your nostrils as you breathe in and out. Relax your face. Now take your awareness to your throat and feel the breath and releasing tension if necessary. Next feel your shoulder girdle—your collarbones, arm bones, and shoulderblades—let the breath move these bones. Now your ribcage—let the entire rib cage—top, middle, bottom, front, back and sides undulate as you breath. Feel your belly—let the belly move and imagine the breath moving through your organs. Now feel your pelvis—let the breath move through the pelvic bones. See if you can feel the breath in your legs and all the way to your toes.These movements and sensations are very subtle, so you have to really pay attention. Feel you whole body breathe. Bathe in it.

    Next, as you move into your physical practice, only do half of the amount of postures you were going to do in the same amount of time. As you practice the poses, slow down and notice where your breath is free and where it is restricted. In each pose, either feel or look in a mirror--where are your shoulders, arms, hands, fingers? Your rib cage—is it poking forward? How is your pelvis situated? How is it moving—restricted or freely? Where are you thighs? Your lower legs? Your feet, ankles, each of your toes? What is your spine doing? Is there pain or sensations anywhere? Where are your eyes focused? Where is your mind? After each pose, return to a neutral pose such as Mountain Pose and take a few breaths and noticed any sensations in the body and mind.

    Then you take it with you "out there." Slow down and notice as you ride, climb, or paddle—where is your breath? Where are your shoulders? Your rib cage? Your pelvis? Your eyes focused? Your mind?

    The road to awareness is never-ending. There is so much for you to discover about yourself and the world. Learning to slow down and pay attention is the foundation of discovery.

    Tuesday, August 11, 2009

    Simply Yoga

    I get asked the question "What type of yoga do you teach?" often and I hear that people are sometimes confused about what yoga is and what types of classes they should take. First of all, yoga is not a religion and it did not come from religion--its just about creating awareness, that's all. Its really not that difficult to understand and the less you try to understand it intellectually, the less confused you will be--yoga is more about experiencing it. For a cool brief history of yoga click here.

    Next, practicing yoga is not necessarily sedentary. Active people are often not drawn to yoga because they say they can't sit still for that long. How active or sedentary yoga is depends on the teacher and what kind of class you go to. Also, how spiritual and chanty class is depends again on the type of yoga and the teacher. So, here is a super basic run down:

    Hatha Yoga--all of the following are Hatha Yoga--Hatha Yoga means that a practice is made up of postures (asanas), meditation, and breathwork (pranayama).

    Iyengar, Anusara--work for long periods of time with alignment in poses. Classes are good for those with injuries or a super active lifestyle.

    Ashtanga, Power, Vinyasa, Flow--move from pose to pose, sometimes quickly. Class is good for those who have a sedentary lifestyle and need some movement. Does tend to be more difficult.

    Bikram and Hot--like the flow classes, but done in a hot room. Good for winter time, those who are more sedentary, and those who need to detox. Not good for people who are sensitive to heat, or I would imagine not good for menopausal women.

    Yin--slow moving and more passive approach to poses. Therapeutic.

    ViniYoga--Therapeutic, usually one on one to restore postural problems.

    Kundalini--works with the breath, can be vigorous or slow moving, has more chanting.

    You can read a more in depth article about yoga styles here and here.

    Most classes and DVDs will explain what kind of yoga they are, but keep in mind, that classes can vary depending on the teacher and the mood of the teacher. I recommend trying different classes and different teachers. Same with DVDs--get lots of different kinds and try them out. Some teachers you will love, some will get on your nerves. Some DVDs you will reach for on low energy days and some you will reach for on high energy days. One day the teacher who once got on your nerves might even be your favorite--don't be afraid to try different styles and different teachers--variety is the spice of life. Yes, you might waste you money on a class or DVD you don't like sometimes, but you will never learn about yourself if you don't take risks. Don't pigeon hole yourself to be one type of person and so never try something because you don't think you would like it. You might be surprised.

    To learn about me and the style of yoga that I teach click here--Andria Davis.

    One big word of caution is if you are an athlete and you work out alot, you probably need to stay away from the super vigorous styles of yoga. I did this mistakenly thinking that the yoga was restoring my body and instead, I got overuse injuries. I ended up having to take time off of yoga postures, working out, and all sports. It was maddening. So, now, since I work out pretty vigorously, I use yoga as a more restorative practice. Although, when I am in a more sedentary period in life, I do still practice some vigorous styles--I just have learned to pay better attention to what my body needs.

    And last, don't be afraid to be still...what is it that you are afraid of anyway? I have learned to slow down and pay attention more to the details of life because I learned to sit down and meditate sometimes (although I lie down to meditate since I have endured so many back injuries due to extreme sports). I will get more into this later, but learning to move slowly, do breathwork and meditate have made me better in my activities and have just made life, well, more lively.

    Wednesday, June 3, 2009


    I just came home from a visit with my Grandparents for my Grandfather's 90th birthday.  It was amazing to be there.  But also difficult.  I was around family for an entire 2 1/2 days. Whew!  In my youth, put in this situation, I would have spent the entire time preaching about politics, environmentalism, and social issues.  I would have yelled and gotten myself and everyone else upset and fighting.  Luckily the practice of yoga has taught me to be a more loving, compassionate, and non-judgemental person.  I have learned that when someone says something that seems ignorant that just downright pisses me off,  to just listen.  Listen to what other people have to say--maybe I can learn something.  Also, if I just smile and give love back, I feel better and everyone feels better.  My Grandparents will leave this world soon and I want the thing that they remember is how they felt loved and accepted.  I want them to leave in peace--they have done alot for this world and for our family.  

    I am learning a valuable lesson from my family--the practice of non-judgement.  I have very different views on just about everything, but I love them all dearly.  They teach me that it doesn't really matter what people believe about this or that, its their essence that is the only thing real.  I love who they are beyond their beliefs.  I have also learned that I should only visit for about 2 1/2 days. 

    Sunday, May 24, 2009

    Speaking of Competitions!

    My husband and I have entered our company into a grant competition.  We made the top 50 out of  thousands of entries!  So how can you help?  Well, we had to make a movie about our company's story and part of the judging comes from how many votes we can get.  So, please help us out and vote for us--we are running a bit behind b/c we're not very good at competitions (read previous post).  

    Go to this website to get to know us.  To vote, click on the icon, ("inspiring," "useful," and/or "funny") and then create a username and password (to prevent voting fraud), then vote!!

    If you do, we will be so grateful and good things will come to you!

    Friday, May 22, 2009


    It has always baffled me the way humans are so hung up in competition.  Maybe its just genetic, but this is what I observe.  I see that people are obsessively caught up in results and image.  Everyone wants to be the best.  I have to say, I love competition in its pure form--I love pushing myself to do something that maybe I wouldn't have done otherwise.  But insert other people into the equation and it becomes ugly.  All of a sudden, people are comparing themselves, maybe saying negative things about their competition--they end up being against each other rather than supportive of one another.  And in the world of an extreme sport such as whitewater kayaking, its not good--we need each other for survival.  

    I went to a comp last weekend and there were so many bad vibes--I got caught up in it--thus the drama in the previous post.  I got angry and frustrated, and I was surprised by how people acted when I thought it was going to be a fun and lighthearted event for girls to get together and support each other.  But in the end, it helped me because I decided to take a good hard look inside.  

    Like I said, I love competition because I love to push myself, but I don't like the game playing.  I also don't like to be confined by rules--in order to compete, you have to be somewhere at a certain time and then you have to play by the rules--all things that I am not good at and really don't like--its not for me, so why have I been expecting it of myself?  The expectations on myself and subsequent guilt when I would always inevitably not show up for the event that I signed up for seemed to be the real issue here.  I realized that I have been made to believe by media and the thoughts of the herd that somehow I needed to be in competitions when its really not my thing.  So, I have decided to channel my energy in life to the things that I do well and the things that bring me joy because in the end, that is what matters.  I no longer need to feel guilty for being original.  So, my energies are redirected at creating yoga routines for athletes, going kayaking for pure joy, taking pictures and video and sharing my travel, joy, and viewpoints with the world through our blogs, books, and videos.  I will stay fit in mind in body  so that I can participate fully in the sports that I love doing--and I can do it my own way--with my own original twist (the judges on American Idol love and encourage that!) and it will be more effective that way because its real.  

    Thursday, May 21, 2009


    Well, I did it--I created drama in a community for one of the first times in my adult life.  I have tended to avoid it.  But, I think all situations can be an opportunity for self growth.  It really is so important to turn each and everything into something positive.  So, remember if you get mad at someone or you are judging someone or something bad happens to you, turn it around and look inward.  Figure out what inside you created it.  Self inquiry is the magic of life.  Don't bury yourself in it, though--remember to balance.  Figure it out, see it, then let it go, and move on. Inner strength is created through your ability to see yourself as you are and your ability to forgive yourself, change it, and move forward with your life.  

    Who am I?

    It's the ultimate question and one I have been pondering since I was too young to wonder about such things.  I have always been very philosophical and spiritual, yet also very physical and outdoorzy.  As I grew, my life and interests took me in many directions, but one day stands out in particular.  In my first yoga class, I knew that was my calling in life--to teach yoga.  It took me many more years and adventures to come back around to it, but here I am today living my dream.  But my dream has evolved--in the process of life, I have also found a love for outdoor adventures, whitewater kayaking in particular.  I never would have dreamed I would be strong and confident enough to be the athlete that I am today.  But it was all made possible through the self inquiry and growth that is available to us through a yoga practice.  It doesn't matter where you are in a practice--don't let all the hype get to you.  All you have to do is observe yourself from wherever you are.  Think about your toes and know that you will have found enlightenment when you are no longer looking for it, but you are truly intrigued by your toes--or if you don't have those--substitute something else, like maybe, lightening bugs.