Twitter Updates

    Follow Me on Twitter!

    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.