how to practice daily.

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It’s time to make your own tradition. Something that YOU, here and now, can establish to bring you closer to enlightenment. Or at least make your day a little easier.

Sometimes, I feel like ‘doing yoga’ (aka, practicing weird and challenging asana poses that an Indian guy conjured up a few hundred years ago or that a random yoga teacher put on YouTube yesterday) is like eating caramel ribbon brownies and homemade ice cream every day.  It sounds like a good idea, until you do it every day.  I mean, don’t get me wrong, I absolutely love moving my body with my breath and finding a moment of complete flow with life, but sometimes I just want to sit down do nothing but watch robins hop around in my backyard. (Or more accurately, I want to sit with Russell Clive on the couch and watch The Office on Netflix.)

A few students reached out to me recently and asked for help structuring their yoga classes into their week and figuring out an attendance routine that works for them. (You can read my post here about how to stay accountable and make time for yoga.)  Unfortunately, their requests started off with apologetic/delirious guilt-talk:  They were feeling guilty and not like a ‘real yogi’ because they couldn’t practice the Ashtanga Primary Series every day because they had kids’ karate lessons to attend, low backs that felt pain after three consecutive days of practicing, animal shelter benefits to run, ailing parents to take care of, or generally had any semblance of a life outside of a yoga studio. (I think this life exists… I’m not sure, though. Actually, I was just at the airport and I noticed everyone wearing yoga pants except for the TSA agents. So maybe everyone does spend their entire day running between yoga classes. All signs point to yes.)

And then they had other questions about how to schedule their yoga practice: What if they just wanted to do something different???  What about a hard-core sweaty Vinyasa class?  What about a deep stretch yin yoga class?  What about a relaxing restorative yoga class?  What about a yoga sleeping-laughing-toad catching- metal forging-class set to a Pearl Jam soundtrack? Choices: endless.

So my advice?  Find something to do every single day that makes you HAPPY, HAPPY, HAPPY! (That’s three times, so you know it’s important.)

Tradition are great; they are evidence that some person, somewhere, at some time, made up a routine of doing something and found enlightenment. Or at least found their day to be easier.

Traditionally, yes, maybe the original Ashtanga Yogi’s practiced the Primary Series at 4:30 am 6 days a week and then took Saturdays off.  Traditionally, the original Ashtangi’s didn’t have 3 kids in elementary school, two fluffy dogs that never stopped shedding, an SUV that needed maintenance, Facebook accounts to keep updated, and a fulfilling career.  Traditionally, the original Ashtangi’s didn’t fly to work Monday through Thursday in Toledo and then jet back to KCMO for Friday Night Buck Night at the Royal’s with their grandkids.  So maybe their tradition isn’t very useful to you, to your low back, or to your happiness quotient.

It’s time to make your own tradition. Something that YOU, here and now, can establish to bring you closer to enlightenment. Or at least make your day a little easier.

Remember, yoga isn’t exercise.  Yoga is a study and a science of calming the mind waves in order to achieve freedom from our habits, our un-checked assumptions, and our fears.  It’s a calculated system of ethical living, breathing, attention, concentration, moving and meditation that just  makes your life happier. (There are a bajillion physical healing benefits to the poses as well: lowering blood pressure, healing nerve issues, strengthening bones and alleviating pain of all types, but that’s a different topic for a different day.)  So, whatever yoga you choose: Practice in a way that you can practice tomorrow and the next day and the next day.

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So, whatever yoga you choose: Practice in a way that you can practice tomorrow and the next day and the next day.

Practice asana gently to avoid intentional suffering  and do something that makes you feel happy.  Yesterday, my yoga was an hour spent weeding my neighborhood organic garden plot.  (Happy and dirty!)  Today, it was one hour of Ashtanga Second Series with fifteen minutes of pranayama followed by a walk with my Russell Clive through the Kansas City Rose Garden. (Happy and sunkissed!) Tomorrow, it may be two hours of sweaty asana practice at Maya Yoga followed by mindfully cleaning my kitchen. (Happy and clean!)  The next day it may be ten minutes of breath meditation before I teach followed by a road-trip to St. Louis during which I say hello to every cow we drive past and delight in the robust green of Midwest Spring.  Maybe I’ll get out of the car and ‘yoga-stretch’ at Quick Trip, but whatever, the point is: Your Yoga can be ANYTHING.  On the mat, off the mat, in the morning, in the evening, in your body or in your head.  Anything that brings you into mindful, present-moment, wonderful awareness and draws you to a place of stillness where you practice compassion and self-care is YOGA.

So, please do this every day.  You will feel happy, happy, happy!

(And, please, come to my classes. That too. You should definitely come to my classes.  As often as you can. You’ll be happy, trust me.)

Happy Practicing,

-lisa

how to start a home practice.

Berkeley, California

When it’s sunny I recommend taking your home practice outside. :)

 

Nearly every week I get a Facebook message from a friend saying, “Oh, I WISH I could come to your classes, Lisa, but…<enter any number of legitimate or not-so-legitimate reasons> so could you recommend yoga for me to practice at home?

I always try to be helpful, because I understand that attending a yoga class led by a teacher is not always feasible. Babies require babysitters, Kids need rides to gymnastics, co-workers schedule mandatory lunch meetings, work deadlines must be met, happy hour specials should be enjoyed.  Or, it’s snowing.  Or raining.  Or sunny.  Or hot.  Or just too stinking early in the morning to get to a 6:00 am class.

If any of these excuses ring a bell: you need a Home Practice.

Home Yoga Practice has benefits: I engage in home practice at least twice a week because I’m usually teaching my own classes at ‘yoga class times of the day.’  I also use this time as exploration of poses and sequences that I’m going to teach; my classes are always intentional and my lesson plans detailed.

However, I strongly believe you NEED A TEACHER.  The Yoga History is very clear on this subject: yoga was originally taught from teacher to pupil in a 1:1 ratio.  Teachers can offer you the appropriate modifications for injuries and for body type. Teachers can point out to you when a pose needs to be tweaked to avoid injury.  Teachers can offer pointers on breath control, guide you through meditation, and share their own wisdom regarding the philosophy of a yogic lifestyle. They may show you a few poses, but that’s not the important part. Teachers actually, um, teach you.

During your search for your yoga teacher (if you don’t already have one or live too far away from me to attend my classes) here are some tips for “Starting a Home Practice.”

  1. Find a space.

My home yoga space is actually a home office.  (And a ‘bike room’ a perk of living with an IronMan.)  It’s not a state-of-the-art bamboo-floored softly lit yoga haven like you would imagine a yoga teacher would own.  Actually, we don’t even own my office, we live in a 900 square foot rented house.  Read: there are a LOT of distractions in my ‘yoga space’ including my computer, my books, my to-do pile, a closet, a doggie bed, and an area rug always in need of a vacuum.  My point?  No space in your home is ever going to be ‘perfect’ but do not let that be an excuse.  Turn down the lights, clear away a space big enough for your mat (preferably not carpeted) and light some candles.  Commit to your space and invite the Sacred to meet you there.  In my yoga space are pictures of loved ones, landscapes of mountains, reminders of the beach, and a small altar.  Make the space meaningful to you.

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my home yoga space. please note the presence of Russell Clive, who cuddles with me in savasana.

  1. Outfit with Yoga Props.

You’ll need the following: your own yoga mat. Everything else is optional.  Seriously. But if you do want to buy props, here are my recommendations:

  • 2 Yoga Blocks.  I prefer foam blocks which can be purchased at retail outfitters such as Target and Sporting Goods Stores.
  • 1 Yoga Strap.  I prefer an 8 or 10 foot yoga strap with a plastic buckle available from Yoga Direct.
  • 1 Yoga Bolster for Meditation.  I love this “Sukasana Pillow” which helps me sit in ‘easy-pose’ for meditation.      
  • 1 Eye Pillow for Savasana. I love this Hugger Mugger Silk Eye-Bag with flaxseed filling.
  1. Choose a Guide.

Again, there is no substitute for the guidance and expertise of a teacher in the room with you. However, if you are looking for a guided session at home, here are my recommendations from trusted teachers.

Yoga Upload with Maris Aylward.  Maris teaches for me at Westport Yoga and is an excellent guide.  Her YouTube channel is free, but it is quality.  A unique class that caters to beginners is her “Wrist Free” Yoga Class which doesn’t require Downward Facing Dog or Yoga Push-ups. Ideal for strong beginners and anyone who has a wrist or shoulder injury.

YogaGlo is an online forum of yoga classes from some of the most popular and respected yoga teachers in the country.  YogaGlo requires a monthly fee of $18 but the first two-week trial is free. Classes can be sorted by class level (making it easy for beginners to find an appropriate pace) and time frame (for busy-bees!).  You can also add classes to your ‘que’ and for easy referencing. My teacher Tiffany Cruikshank of Yoga Medicine is featured on this website and her classes are super fun!

YogaVibes offers the option to purchase per-online-class.  If you are an Ashtanga Practioner and need to practice at home, you can download a Full Led Primary Series Class with my teacher Wade Mortenson here.

  1. Schedule it in your day.

Write it in your calendar and treat your Home Practice as an appointment that cannot be missed. It’s easy to become distracted during a home practice: you’ll suddenly notice your house needs cleaning or that the laundry isn’t done.  You’ll put it off until after your NetFlix original series ends. You’ll sit down to answer one email and end up on Facebook an hour later.  The key is discipline and commitment.  Set a time for your home practice every week and respect that time.  Make a schedule and stick to it!

No home practice is going to perfect, but then again, no yoga practice is ever perfect. That’s why it is called ‘practice.’  And it’s worth it, because yoga is the good life and can change your life in a million ways (or at least 10).  Remember: when it comes to yoga, there are 2 lessons to learn.

Go. Get learning. Let me know how I can help along the way.

-lisa

Ashtanga Alignment Workshop September 19-20

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Sept 2015 Ashtanga Alignment Workshop ASH

 

This workshop will focus on how to perform the Primary Series poses with alignment that is best for your body.  Whether you are a beginner or you have been practicing for many years, you will learn something new.  You may attend a single session or register for both sessions.  Classes will be primarily active asana.

Saturday September 19, 2:30- 5:00 pm and Sunday September 20, 2:30-5:00 pm

Please Register through Maya Yoga KC.  Email info@mayayoga.com or Sign Up in Person.  Please note: limited registration.

See you there!

Ashtanga Alignment Workshops: January 24 and January 31.

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Ashtanga Alignment: Primary Series Poses

Workshops: Saturdays January 25 and January 31

with Lisa Ash @ Maya Yoga

SOLD OUT

 Saturday January 25, 2015.  2:00-4:30: Standing Postures.

 Saturday January 31, 2015.  2:00-4:30: Seated Postures.

 Pricing: $35 for one workshop or $60 for both workshops (tax not included).

Do you have an Ashtanga Primary Series Practice but are still thinking: ‘I’m not sure where my body goes in this pose?’  This workshop is for YOU!

Are you new to the Ashtanga Primary Series Practice and still thinking: ‘I’m not sure where my body goes in this pose?’  This workshop is for YOU!

 In these two workshops, Ashtanga Yoga Teacher Lisa Ash will teach essential alignment of the essential Ashtanga Primary Series Poses with special focus on accommodations for your body and proper skeletal alignment for practicing with ease.

Recommended Reading: The Ashtanga Yoga Practice Manual by David Swenson.  Copies available for sale at Maya Yoga for $30.00 (tax not included).

 Location:

Maya Yoga

215 W 18th Street, KC MO

www.mayayoga.com

 

 Saturday January 25, 2015.  2:00-4:30: Standing Postures.

 Saturday January 31, 2015.  2:00-4:30: Seated Postures.

SOLD OUT

surrendering into a pose.

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Autumn leaves in Kansas City, Missouri

“Oh Autumn leaf, be still and yield

When the wind wants to take you away.

Do not resist, be a player in the game.

Surrender to the dancing changes.

Let yourself be broken, seized

And blown to your next home.”

– H. Hesse

‘Surrendering’ is one of the most elusive aspects of a yoga asana practice.  Teachers always say things like “Follow your breath… surrender to the pose” or “Let go of the tension in your hips…let yourself surrender”.  And I think: ‘Sure. Good idea. I’m breathing, and I’m trying to surrender to this pose, but my right hip is frozen like cement.  And also screaming so loudly that dogs are barking down the street”.  

I’d been working on the mother of all hip-openers: Eka Pada Sirsasna (also known as Good-Lord-why-is-her-leg-behind-her-head?-pose) diligently for almost one year, coaxing my right hip open after years of running and dancing related injuries.  So many days I struggled to find the discipline to practice. So many mornings I wanted to cozy up on my couch and read books or hang out in my kitchen and bake treats.  And so many mornings, I glanced at my ‘Resolve’ frame (where I write my monthly Resolutions, check it out here) and reluctantly dragged myself out the door and into the practice room.  And every day was different.  Sometimes my hips felt supple and sometimes I felt like the Tin Man. Sometimes I found myself dreading the Ashtanga Second Series postures of One-Leg-Behind-the-Head (there are a few of them…) and frustration crept in.  I added a few wrinkles to my forehead trying to yank those ankles behind my neck. (Lame. I’m too young for anything but smile-wrinkles!)

The left leg?  Easy.  The right leg?  A joke.  On an especially balmy day I kept my right leg behind my head for 4 postures in a row (ha! breakthrough! success!) and then the next day I could barely walk, let alone practice asana with ease.  This is lame, I thought. and I gave up.

Literally.  Gave Up.  I watched a few online yoga videos, looked at some Instagram photos of my friends with their legs behind their head, decided that wasn’t going to be me for a decade…and gave up. I stopped being attached to the results.  Basically, I stopped trying to achieve and I started doing yoga.

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i learned this! summer goal accomplished!

Finally, I experienced a breakthrough in July.  It worked!  It stayed!  I was so excited that I’d learned this new pose and met my summer goal that I shared it on social media.

And then I went on a epic journey to Peru (Peru travel-asana pictures can be found here) and I came home and jumped on my mat, feeling rested and excited, and… my hips were frozen in place.  My ego took a huge hit.  Then, slowly, patiently, my ankles tucked behind my head.  On a good day I would be able to find the full expression of this pose, at the expense of my shoulder and poor little neck.  Not yoga.  Just ego and effort, apparently.

So again, I gave up.  I began to surrender.  I read this poem by Herman Hesse and decided I could yield to the changing winds and the energy of the moment, adopting the philosophy of the autumn leaves now adorning my front porch.

“Oh Autumn leaf, be still and yield

When the wind wants to take you away.

Do not resist, be a player in the game.

Surrender to the dancing changes.

Let yourself be broken, seized

And blown to your next home.”

– H. Hesse

 

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yeah, that’s the left leg… but you get the idea

And, unsurprisingly, surrendering worked.  Letting go of my attachment to the result of my practice (which is the phrase from the Bhagavad Gita that I’ve been teaching in my classes recently) actually worked.  Surrendering is possible when my face is soft, my ego is checked, and my body is concentrating on breathing rather than moving.  (Practice what you preach, right?)

I mean, it’s not perfect, and I’ll probably be confronted with the same lesson again in a few months. But it’s getting there.

Most importantly, I learned to surrender: I realized I was gripping my perception of ‘success’ so tightly that my muscles could never surrender and let go.  It’s a humbling question to ask yourself:

What can you surrender?

defy gravity: arm balance workshop with Lisa

defy gravity workshop advert

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Defy Gravity Arm Balance Workshop : Saturday, September 20, 2014  3:00 pm – 5:00 pm

Special workshop with Lisa Ash. Learn the structural integrity of arm balances and benefit from personal attention to learn new variations of traditional arm balances.  Must have yoga experience, but proficiency in arm balances is not required.  Limit of 15 students.

You must pre-pay to reserve your spot in this workshop.

Cost:  $25 for Westport Yoga Members and $35 for non-members.  (tax not included)

Please E-mail lisa@westportyogakc.com to Sign-Up.  Visit Westport Yoga’s Site  for more details.

 

‘downward facing dog’ reduces diabetes?

So here’s good news: we all know that weight bearing exercise supports bone density and reduces body fat (stronger! leaner! yeah!) but finally researchers are counting strength-based yoga poses as ‘resistance training.’  A newly released study involving women aged 30-50 found that the women who routinely exercised– even doing non-aerobic activities like yoga– reduced the risk of diabetes.

A recap of the Harvard study can be found on NPR Health Shots.  It says that “for each 60 minutes of activity in a week, the women reduced their risk of diabetes by about 14 percent… Women who did muscle-strengthening and conditioning exercise more than 150 minutes a week lowered their diabetes risk by 40 percent.

And Downward Facing Dog counts!  That’s super good news for those of you who detest running and aren’t coordinated enough to bike for more than a few minutes. Aerobic activity is awesome for your cardiovascular health (Sun Salutations totally count– check out this video by Kino MacGregor for great instruction), but rest assured that the work you do in yoga class is contributing to your physical health on a level that you can’t always see and feel.

Celebrate your health!  Do some down dogs!

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photo courtesy of yogajournal.com

~lisa

best advice for wrist pain.

I would agree with blogger and yoga teacher Kristen Warren that wrist pain is the most common complaint for new-to-yoga students.  My first advice is always: stretch your shoulders!  Most wrist pain is due to tight shoulders… funny enough.  This article gives detailed explanations and advice regarding the dreaded wrist pain experienced in yoga asana sessions.  I’m reblogging from Kristen’s site:

How to avoid Wrist Pain, or deal with it if you’ve got it!

Wrist Range of Motion (ROM):

To start, it is very important to understand the ways in which a person’s wrist can move. To visualize, place your right arm in front of you with your palm facing away from you and move your wrist as I describe the ways to move it.

Bend right hand towards the inside of your forearm or radial bone (hand is moving left) – ABDUCTION

Bend right hand towards the outside of your forearm or ulna bone (hand is moving right) – ADDUCTION

Bend your hand down towards the floor so fingers point down – FLEXION

Bend your hand up towards the ceiling so your fingers point up – EXTENSION

Rotate your wrist so the thumb is midline to the body – PRONATION

Rotate your wrist so the thumb is away from the body – SUPINATION

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Now visualize the various poses offered in a typical yoga class: All 4’s, Crocodile, Cobra, Upward Facing Dog, Downward Facing Dog, Crow…just to name a few. Think about what the wrist is doing. With these poses, the wrist is often in a 90˚ “EXTENSION” and is this not when the complaints arise?

In yoga, many times wrist EXTENSION is pretty intense and new people aren’t used to this intensity so it hurts. Think about it, in general, how often do any of us have our wrists in full extension? Umm, not too often. So as long as person doesn’t have a wrist injury, past surgery, or even Carpal Tunnel Syndrome there are a lot of options out there to help alleviate the intensity and also to strengthen the wrist so you’ll be able to do those poses more comfortably.

Suggestions:

Props: Wedges, folded towels, or hands placed on edge of a folded mat, will lessen the angle of extension which can alleviate the intensity of the wrist’s pain. There are also “Wrist Assured Gloves” (WAG) which provide support like a brace. And recently these yoga eggs which are a hybrid between a ball and a block also lessen the angle. I’ve seen these eggs advertised in Yoga Journal, and YogaFit offers trainings which incorporate them. Other props change up the hand position. These include small (non-rounded) hand weights or Gripitz or even just creating fists vs. having the wrist in extension is another option. (I’ve found a great selection of these types of props at Dick’s Sporting Goods store).

Choosing Other Pose Options:

Sphinx vs. Cobra/Upward Facing Dog

Hovering Palms in Cobra vs. Cobra with hands pressed in the mat

Dolphin vs. Downward Facing Dog (or use props such as eggs, wedges or towels, straps or chairs)

Focus on Hand Placement and Pressure; Are You/They Actually Doing the Pose Correctly:

  1. Stack the joints (hands under shoulders) and spread fingers out like “starfish” –and ensure your index finger is pointed forward verses angled out. This distributes the pressure.
  2. Press down where the fingers join the palms and allow it to continue down towards fingertips with most weight being on the thumb side of the hand, ensure middle fingers are parallel to each other. The thumb side of the hand is stronger than the pinky finger side.
  3. Engage those leg muscles! When you are in Downward Facing Dog, you aren’t supposed to place all your body weight into the hands; however, lots of people are guilty. Pursue the pose correctly and/or instructors fix their alignment! Exhale as you enter into the pose, relax the head and neck, ears should be between the biceps, shoulders are relaxed and pulling towards the hips, not the ears. And of course, follow the above steps 1 and 2 for the hands.

Daily Strengthening Wrist Exercises:

  1. Place hands together at “Heart’s Center,” lower palms down as elbows lift.  This will help you get used to the “EXTENSION.”
  2. Make a fist, rotate your fist clockwise 10x and then 10x counterclockwise, end with stretching “Starfish Fingers.”
  3. Make a fist, palms up and do wrist curls. Rotate palm down, and do “upward” wrist curls. Try first alone and then with hand weight as the wrist strengthens.

Be kind to those wrists. Send them some love. Enlighten yourself and your participants! Enjoy the benefits of practice!

Namaste, Kristen

 

Let me know if this is helpful to you. ~lisa