Monday, December 24, 2012


It's that time of year when we feel a sense of winding down.  One calendar ends and we anticipate, often with a sense of relief, the start of something new.  But really, isn't it just a new calendar -- out with that old and in with that new?  Is there really such a shift from December 31st to January 1st?  What has actually changed?  What is actually beginning?  Why is this new month so much more significant than the start of any other month?  We celebrate the fading of one year and the start of a new one -- it's the pinnacle of the rushed and feverish holiday season.  New Year's Eve is the star on top of the annual tree.  We close our eyes and count down the seconds until it's New Year's Day.  Let us begin again.

I am a big believer in reflection.  It's important to take stock of where we are now in comparison to where we have come from or where we might go next.  But as I have learned from yoga, nothing much matters besides now.  Learn from the past, yes, and use it to project a bright future, but if I'm not cherishing this moment, what's the point?  Human beings are actually quite fond of this question -- what is the point?  Why are we all here, what's the meaning of any of this?  This is part of the reason we become obsessed with history and the boomerang effect of the future.  And when it comes to the start of a new year, we humans love nothing more than to stop, really stop, and decide that we're going to resolve to change each and every unfortunate behavior or fix every broken run in our figurative ladders by declaring that, starting January 1st, we will do x, y, and z differently.  We will eat better, work out more, finish a project, reach a goal, etc.  As someone who regularly practices yoga four to seven days any given week, there is absolutely no more annoying time of year to get on my mat than the first two or three weeks in January when classes become overrun with people who have added "Try yoga" to their list of New Year's To Do list.  I breath a sigh of relief when February rolls around and class sizes become more manageable and are comprised of people who are there to practice because it's what they do, not what they think they should be doing.  

I've never been a big fan of New Year's Resolutions because they are almost assuredly going to fade into a forgotten sphere until the anxiety of another new calendar rears its ugly head during the next holiday season.  What about the meantime?  What about all of those wasted months when we don't eat well or exercise or work towards goals?  What about those months when newly purchased yoga mats stay rolled up and ignored?  Isn't it better to decide to do things because you want to do them, not because there's a social cue for you to declare you're making a change?

All that said, I did actually make a New Year's Resolution in 2011 to write every day, a goal that I achieved and then re-set for 2012 and again for 2013.  But writing is also something I have a strong passion for and a long history of doing so using the start of a new calendar gave each of these blog projects a framework and an easy accountability.  Did I write today?  Well, check and see.  Would I have been as successful doing this project without the internet and Facebook and Blogger to aid me?  I honestly don't know.  But I am a woman of my word, so when I say I will do something, I do it.  This, I resolve.  Maybe New Year's Resolutions work like this for other people, too.  But most people I know make their list, check it twice, and forget about it in less than a fortnight.

Yes, 2012 is ending, but it's simply a benchmark in a long and hilly timeline.  Make resolutions if they help you refine your ideal self for the coming year, but think about this, also:  resolve to be your best self in every moment that's to come.  It's a lofty goal and it might not be possible, but the higher you aim, the more likely you'll be to succeed.  That might even mean I'll see you roll out your mat next to mine for the first few weeks in January and then disappear until 2014, and that's OK as long as you take the time to appreciate the efforts you make every day to achieve your fullest expression of every pose, both on and off your mat.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Yoga Weather

Dedication Yoga's weekly class on Prospect Hill in Somerville, MA has been suspended for the long, cold New England winter for the obvious reason -- this is a heat-building practice, yes, but the atmosphere in which we practice has to be accommodating.  I miss my time outside with all of my dedicated yogis, many of whom had near-perfect attendance all summer.  I wonder what they're doing now -- if they've found a place to practice indoors.  Because, in all honesty, this brisk chill and early nightfall makes for perfect yoga weather.  Just think of it -- dimly lit studio, heat cranked to 80-degrees, skilled teacher leading a room full of practioners through a sweaty sequence.  I love my evenings on the mat and I make my practice happen nearly seven days a week.  What else would I rather be doing?  I always make the time for this.

It's especially easy for me to do because I work for a yoga studio, the very same where I did my teacher training last spring, so I spend a lot of my time in that environment.  How did I ever get so lucky?  And while I do not teach at this studio, I do still treat it as an education -- a way to learn about my practice and learn from it, too.  I love being a student -- I always have -- but I love it even more now that I have the background in teaching.  It adds a creative layer, a new perspective, a way to see things in a fresh way.  Yoga keeps my learning active and I want to participate in every class.  It's a wonderful thing.

Friday, September 28, 2012

Cool Yoga Stuff # 3: The Less Tangible Aspects of Yoga

There are so many layers to a yoga practice.  There’s the tangible asana or postures – the flow of a sequence with the vinyasa transitions/re-sets.  There’s the balance of achieving the same depth or expression of a posture from right side to left side.  There’s literally balancing on one leg or on the backs of your arms.  There’s flexibility and strength and finding consistency between these two separate-but-equal aspects of practice.  These are all visible, touchable, explainable things that are fleshed out, focused on, and progress-measured for any given yogi.

And then there are the less tangible aspects of practice.  There are mental and emotional challenges or releases; there are energetic realizations.  It’s often said, and is true for me, too, that time on the mat teaches a degree of letting go, of surrendering the mind to the physical awareness of being in this moment only, not dwelling in the past or pushing for the future.  Depending on the dogma of any given yoga teacher or studio or individual practioner, even, the unseen inner progress (which, granted, eventually does morph into a tangible outer result, like it or not – to quote O2 Yoga founder Mimi Loureiro:  “I teach yoga because it makes people nicer.”) is often the most beneficial part of a complete yoga practice.  Yoga almost gives you permission to stop, breathe, and discover the best version of yourself there is. 

The energetics piece of yoga is truly interesting to me and is the next layer I’m exploring.  Does it make a difference if I flip my palms up towards the sky as I sit cross-legged versus flipping my palms down on my knees?  One is said to be a lifting energy, the other grounding.  Does that work?  Is it placebo?  Does it matter either way?  What about mudras like gyan mudra (connecting your thumb and forefinger when the arm is extended) or taking a chin lock in various seated positions – what does that actually do?  It feels more yogic to employ these things, so I do them and I think they make my practice feel more complete, but who knows?  To me, using them is almost like learning correct grammar – if you want to seem less pedestrian, you will take gyan mudra in your twist.

Where I have noticed an actual difference, however, is with my savasana mantra, of all things.  I’ve written about this several times, but it’s something I definitely think is worth repeating as often as humanly possible.  O2 Yoga instructor Carol Ciaravino closed a practice once by asking the class to think “I am” on the inhale and “here now” on the exhale.  So simple.  So revolutionary.  This mantra completely changed my practice.  I started using it in every class and the next thing I knew, I was leaving every class feeling as if I were literally an improved human being.  I felt focused, grounded, and renewed.  And all I did was remind myself to remain present for five minutes at the end of class.  How could anything be this easy?

I discussed this mantra with anyone who would stand still long enough to listen and had some especially interesting conversations with my friend Tom about this topic.  He suggested an alternative to “I am/here now” by thinking “I” on the inhale and “Am” on the exhale.  I experimented with this, too, and for me, “I/Am” was a much louder, bolder statement than “I am/here now.”  My mantra felt grounding, calming, and restorative.  His felt empowering, bold, and energizing.  So when I taught Dedication Yoga last Sunday, this was the energetics option I gave the students – instead of asking them to flip palms up or down, I asked them to pick one mantra or the other, depending on what their energetic needs for the day were.  It’s kind of like a yoga revolution – or a yoga evolution.  The options – the variations – the modifications – are endless.  Do what works best for you and your practice, that’s the bottom line, right?  Simply breathing works wonders for me.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

The Guru Inside

Kumare is a social experiment.  Filmmaker Vikram Gandhi wanted to see if he could impersonate a guru, invent a bunch of phony rituals, and find a following.  This film, now playing at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, is an amazing experience and ripe with debatable topics.  Is this just a cruel trick he plays on people looking for something genuine?  Does he prove that his theory that the guru inside is all the spiritual leader you need?  Is this man simply a sociopathic genius?

I loved this film.  I loved how awkward it was and how frankly honest this fake guru was about his "true self" and how he seemed to be proving unequivocally that people hear what they want to hear and see what they want to see.  His thesis seems to check out -- many of his followers do learn to believe enough in their inner voices to live by their own code instead of seeking validation and blind guidance from an external source.  But what about the people who simply feel duped?  Was the experiment worth exploiting these "innocent bystanders" -- were they actually innocent bystanders?  The moral, social, and ethical ramifications of the Kumare experiment are beyond fascinating.  

Please go see this film so we can discuss it.  Thank you for your cooperation.

Sarah W.

p.s. Blue Light meditation anyone???  KABAM!

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Conquering the Dolphin Vinyasa

A couple of weeks ago I went to a class at Samara Yoga that focused on upper body strengthening and reconceptualizing the "vinyasa" with that goal in mind. Pretty interesting, not to mention tough, stuff. Lately my own practice and my thoughts about teaching have wandered away from the traditional way of doing things. I have been, you might say, testing my "yoga wings" by learning from new teachers and trying to push myself to think outside the box.

I brought this sense of experimentation to Dedication Yoga on Sunday, where I taught something I'll call the Dolphin Vinyasa.

A full vinyasa from standing is pretty much the same as a Sun A:

Inhale as you sweep up to urdhva hastasana
Exhale as you fold forward to uttanasana*
Inhale to lengthen and then step back to plank
Exhale to chaturanga (pushup)
Inhale to urdhva mukha svansanasa (up dog)
Exhale to adho mukha svanasana (down dog)

*Some teachers will add another inhale to ardha uttanasana (emphasizing the flat back), followed by an exhale back to uttanasana.

Often we cue a "half" vinyasa between in between doing a sequence on the right and left sides. This starts with a shift forward to plank from down dog and then moves through the chaturanga pushup and up dog before returning to down dog.

The Dolphin Vinyasa starts from down dog.

1. First, internally rotate your arms, scooping your elbows in and spinning the creases up to the sky (ideally this action is also at work in down dog; get a feel for it by bringing your elbows wider than your shoulders and noticing what it feels like when you hug them in close to your body in proper alignment) while gently lowering to your forearms to the ground (it takes a lot of strength and control to get the left and right forearm to land at the same time!). Hips stay high.

2. Now you should be in dolphin pose.

3. Unlike when you kick up to a forearm stand, you'll want your Dolphin to be long, like a down dog. If you want to get a feel for the right "length," start in a forearm plank and just shift your hips straight up and back (instead of coming into the pose from down dog).

4. On your inhale, come up onto the balls of your feet (think forward motion).

5. On the exhale, shift forward to chaturanga. This sounds, and initially feels, like an impossible transition! But it's just a matter of keeping your elbows bend and closely hugging your ribcage and then shifting the weight forward and moving it from your forearms to your hands. Elbows begin bent and remain bent as you transition from dolphin to chaturanga.

6. Inhale through up dog.

7. Exhale to down dog.

We had an interesting time playing with this Sunday. Both the chaturanga pushup and dolphin are great preparation for other challenging poses, like headstand. Plus, it's always nice to switch things up a bit, if only to remind ourselves why we like our routines.


Friday, August 31, 2012

Cool Yoga Stuff #2: It starts with a Full Moon...

This sequence was part of Karen Caiazzo's class at O2 Yoga yesterday and I really dug it.

Students started in Samsasthiti (equal standing) at the back of the mat.  With hands spread out from the shoulders in a T-position, right toes pointed off the side of the mat before flexing into the foot and teeter-tottering into a Full Moon balance (couldn't find an image of this one).  Then she cued us back through center without lowering the right foot to the mat and instead had us swing our right legs back into Virabhadrasana Three (Warrior Three):

Then she had us return our hands to the mat and walk out to Downward Dog.

As always, we did the same sequence on the left side to balance things out.  I really enjoyed this and will definitely infuse it in a future class!

Sarah W.

Cool Yoga Stuff #1: Yoga Mandala

A mandala translates as "circle" and are meant to create a visual sense of balance.  These are often found in pictorial forms such as these:

They are used in many different religious or spiritual practices to aid meditation and find a centralizing focus.

Recently, I took a yoga class where we created a physical mandala by stringing together a sequence of postures, similar to a Sun Salutation.  We started by breaking down several basic postures -- Utkatasana (chair pose), Virabhadrasana One (Warrior one), and  Virabhadrasana Two and incorporating each of these postures with variations, such as twists and lateral stretches before stringing the basic postures together in a real-time continuous vinyasa movement that starts you facing forward, spins you around, and then returns you where you started.  It was too cool, so I taught it on Sunday.

Variation options are, of course, limitless.  But what I did was start with Utkatasana:

Then took a vinyasa and then came up through Warrior One:

Before opening out to Warrior Two:
From here, students straighten into the front leg, square off, and then bend into the back knee as they take Warrior Two, now facing towards the back of the mat.  And then it's all repeated again until the students end in Utkatasana (and then Samasthiti or equal standing) facing the front once more.

It's so fun to do -- and builds an insane amount of heat.  Thank you to Kim Freeman from O2 Yoga for introducing me to this challenging sequence!

Sarah W.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

"Focus" and "Territory"

A few poems written during Dedication Yoga


My intention is just,
well, what is yours?
Lifting from the dark
shadows of this walled
creation I've constructed
to preserve a sense
of chaos in this arena,
the internal voice of reason --
what is the reason
for all of this -- saying
I love the wrong way.  I don't
know why or how but
I do, consistently, end up
this way (crushed) -- decayed
from the inside out:
so shiny and brilliantly flawless
until the surface splits
wide and that gangrenous
spirit is revealed
as the hero within.


There's a circle to this
strategy, a before-and-after-
and-in-between.  I fall
in step in the sideshow
of it all, not up or down
but neutrally eye-level.
Hi.  I see you
clearly.  Do you see me
in this silent cacophony
of sight and sound, a disorder
of order so vibrant I want to call it
by a formal name, like Arnie
or Clementine, both real and bogus
enough to get your attention.
I want you to see the method
to this madness -- how richly preserved
I am in this place.  There is no need
for blessings anymore --
there is only a result.
This is that.  Unheard.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Yoga Makes the Sun Come Out

One of my favorite life moments happened in January 2010 on a St. John beach where I was vacationing with a dozen or so dear friends.  We were giddy to be splashing around in the crystal clear water when our native Boston was buried under another ice storm -- this was the life.  The only thing that would have made it perfect was if the clouds would part, the drizzle would stop, and the sun would shine.  But even with the light rain, we were still having the time of our lives.  

Then something happened -- spontaneous yoga on the beach.

I'm not entirely sure how it got started.  All I know is it my friend Kathryn and I stood side-by-side on the beach doing a Sun A and we were quickly joined by half a dozen more of our friends until we were a line of yogis moving through a combination of warrior postures and Sun A's for ten or fifteen solid minutes -- only stopping when we suddenly realized that a new friend had finally joined us on this unreal beach -- THE SUN!  One of us pointed at the sky and said, "LOOK WHAT WE DID!"

Everyone on the beach, we realized at that moment, had stopped what they were doing to watch us salute our warming star and they were all part of the experience as we broke our formation and celebrated in a group hug.  

Yes, it's true -- yoga makes the sun come out.

That was before I was an RYT and was likely my first concrete experience with the true magic of yoga.  Since that January day on Cinnamon Bay, I've encountered this magic again and again.  I am a believer.

Fast forward to yesterday -- a Sunday in August in Somerville, Massachusetts on a hill overlooking the city of Boston.  This is the site of Dedication Yoga and the only thing keeping the day from perfection was the 60% threat of storms hidden in the clouds above our heads.  But we gathered for class, anyway -- a slightly smaller group than normal, but a wonderful group, nonetheless.  The focus for class was setting your intention -- what brought you to the mat today -- what did you hope to achieve either on the mat or off -- and after a few moments meditating on this, class was underway.  And by the time we came to the final vinyasa -- wouldn't you know it?  The sun came out.  I'm not sure I could contort my face into a bigger grin.

And after twenty minutes or so of writing and reflecting on our intention for the day's practice, we went our separate ways with the knowledge that no goal is impossible to achieve -- even a threat of probable rain can be overcome.


Sarah W.

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Week 5: An Energetics Washout

A few weeks ago, I decided I wanted the focus of my final Pilot Program class to be the energetic body.  This started with me toying with the idea of having a color focus (Everyone think about the color yellow) and grew into one of the more esoteric aspects of yoga:  a chakra meditation.  Wouldn't that be fun??  My home studio is O2 Yoga, a place whose motto is "Up Dog, Down Dog, No Dogma." You don't go to O2 to talk about your feelings or release emotion from your tight hips -- you go to practice asanas or postures -- you go to achieve a physical center, not for a therapy session.  Of course, anyone who practices yoga on a regular basis will likely tell you that you have emotional or psychological experiences even if that's not what the teacher is cuing you to do, but a studio like O2 lets students explore that less tangible result on an individual basis.  That doesn't mean that we don't do our fair share of oming or engage mudras (or spiritual/energetic seals) -- we certainly do -- but students aren't forced to battle demons on their mats. Just show up, do your practice to the best of your ability, and see ya next time.  It's something I appreciate as a yoga student -- my practice is truly my own that way.

While Sarah B and I were doing our teacher training, however, we did participate in a two-hour class/workshop at O2 that focused on the energetic body -- and part of that class was the before-mentioned chakra meditation.  Chakras are believed to be the centers in the body that generate our auras.  Literally translating from Sanskrit as "wheels," these invisible beams of light project out and swirl together to make us who we are.  I really loved this class -- a standout for me in teacher training -- and thought it might work as a nice compliment to Dedication Yoga's premise of focusing each practice on a specific goal.

As soon as I made this decision, it seemed like the universe got right in my face with all kinds of chakra talk.  A dear friend of mine was about to embark on a teacher training of her own with Kripalu's JourneyDance, a chakra-centric, empowering-your-inner-goddess dance form, and the day before she set out, we were lost in conversation about energy and how it's shared and how the impact is felt.  Shortly after that, a group of friends learned about the healing power of Shamballa, whose main belief is the power of love.  And then after that I attended my first Kundalini class, a yoga practice that is 100% in line with aligning your chakras to reach a state of enlightenment.  It was a very unusual and unforgettable couple of days.

And in case you're curious, I took an online quiz once and learned I was 47% hippie.  So that means that 53% of me leaned over these conversations and experiences with a skeptical eye.  I don't live my life by any of these philosophies or ideals -- but I find them interesting and conversation-worthy.  And I was VERY excited to share the chakra concept with the Dedication Yoga community.

Then Sunday morning arrived -- and it was raining.  The sky was heavy and gray and so was my attitude.  I had so looked forward to this -- I had gushed about it to so many people -- and now it was all ruined (cue the dramatic music).  I got up anyway and cut through Prospect Hill Park on my way to class at O2 and deemed the ground a little wet but not a total swamp, so I sighed and wondered what it would be like a few hours when it was class time.  To cancel class or not to cancel class -- that became the question.  I was so incredibly bummed.

But that's the best time to get on my mat -- when I feel defeated.  Yoga brings me back to myself, it revs me up, it reminds me.  So after an incredibly stellar practice, I left O2 and felt bouncy and hopeful -- the sky was still full of clouds but perhaps lightening in color and the rain had stopped.  It was even warmer.  So I called Sarah B and said I would go to the hill and see who came.  

There were just three of us-- one student, Sarah B, and me -- but we practiced anyway under that relentlessly gray sky.  I opted to save the chakra mediation for another time when the sun was in attendance and, instead, let the two students choose their own focus.  It was actually very lovely to have such a small group and my students were both so in-sync, it was beautiful to watch and instruct them.  And when the asana part of class was over, both students asked for time to write -- something that literally warmed my heart.  And afterwards as the three of us sat and shared a meal and talked about our lives, the sun came out, even if just for a few minutes.

I guess it was a class on energetics after all.

The light in me honors the light in you --

Sarah W.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

I am, here now

This Sunday many of our "regular" students were away for the weekend and I expected a small class, but by the time my iPhone struck noon, we had more than 10 yogis expectantly waiting for the practice to begin.

I learned the "I am, here now" mantra from Sarah W. She had borrowed it from another yoga teacher and made it her own, and I liked the idea of doing the same, of bringing my own interpretation to the simple phrase. One of my biggest challenges, both teaching and practicing, is to stay present. Breaking down the huge task of living in the moment into one phrase paired with one inhale and one exhale was wonderfully manageable. As a type A, it's easy for me to get caught up not only in multitasking and dispersing my attention, but also in berating myself for doing so. It's a vicious cycle, and I wanted to take the opportunity of teaching this class to escape it, at least temporarily.

I looked out at the class, their legs crossed, their hands by their sides, and their eyes gently shut, and I felt inspired. The words "I am, here now," along with their studied focus, swept me along smoothly through the 60-minute class, and as we came to a close, heads bowed, watching the rise and fall of our own breath, I felt present too. I felt like we were all in it together. I don't often consciously think about the priority we place on our individuality, but moments of community like this remind me that it's importance to find a counter balance. 

Sarah B.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Being Present

Sarah B. taught Week 4 where the theme was being present, using the mantra "I Am/Here Now."  This is what I wrote!

- Sarah W.

Sarah said something during class today that I made a mental note to remember and then promptly forgot.  That's how brilliance works sometimes.  Subtly. Invading the bloodstream as anonymous cells that keep things moving.  I know what she said was a play on words about being in the moment.  The Dependable Now.  That's not it, though.  Someday it'll manifest itself as a thought in my head and I'll think of Sarah and smile, perhaps without fully understanding why.

Take right now.  I have Kelly Clarkson's voice in my head singing, "I forgive you, I forgive me.  Now do I start feeling again?"  What brings this song to my head?  Why these words on relentless repeat on a beautiful day on a hill overlooking the city, surrounded by the peace bestowed by yoga?  This is my moment.  This is how it's being absorbed by my bloodstream.  A murmur of conversation floats nearby and I think of earlier when Sarah and I walked around administering savasana adjustments on the group as a family of five wandered by, their conversation replaced by slack-jawed staring as they solemnly strolled by our concluding practice.  They didn't know what they were witnessing, but they knew enough to witness it without the laughter and competitive hear me hear me hear me tone of voice they'd used only moments before passing by.  Intuition plays an instrumental role in defining now, even for people who are out with an intention different than your own.  There can be solidarity in this gray space, this fleeting moment.

For me, it's a song about forgiveness.  If I went around and asked every practioner, a different answer would be given.  It adds perspective to this place.

There is a subtle influence in the way we breathe and how that breath is inevitably mingled.  There is a lesson being learned, even if we don't know what it is until later.  


Ahimsa:   (Sanskrit:  अहिंसा) is a term meaning to do no harm (literally: the avoidance of violence – himsa). The word is derived from the Sanskrit root hims – to strike; himsa is injury or harm, a-himsa is the opposite of this, i.e. non harming or nonviolence.

These are a few poems written during the ahimsa-focused class from Week 2.


When everyone else retreats
to the shade, I move to the sun,
like the heat of nature is where
I literally can shine.  This is a kindness
to myself, a way to let my solstice
come to life.  Without this choice --
light or dark -- I don't know
what I'd be.  Maybe a swirl
of hot and cold, like
the nature of it all.

Ahimsa B

You won't understand
why I'm crying
so I put on sunglasses
and fall in line.
There is no easy way
to tell this story
of self-punishment
for a crime I didn't know
I committed until someone said,
Hey, hey you, you fucked
this up.  I did, I guess, I did.
Why else would the words
be said?  My wounds
aren't exactly self-inflicted --
they're more like absent
until you rip away the scabs.
All this time, I thought it was solid
flesh but now I know it's not.
And that's probably my fault, too.
This is a kindness -- it is a wake up
call, it is a dawning of the day
as it is, as it should be, as it always
will be from this moment on.
If you could see my eyes,
you'd know the depth of this truth.

But I will keep my sunglasses on
and do my best to conceal
the aftermath of me, ripped apart,
but healing from the inside out.

Ahimsa C

There are so many variations
on this pose, so many opportunities
to shine in a new way.  Say,
did you ever take the time to say
thank you for being here today?
And when I say here, I mean
in this literal limited moment
on this pinpointed spot
just as you are, no more,
no less.  It's hard to know
when you've done enough --
being grateful for the splitting seconds
is a full time job where the deadlines
burn you out and then build you up,
the proverbial phoenix, the conduit
of momentary bliss followed
by momentary bliss on repeat.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Week 3 -- All About Balance

 I chose balance as the theme for this week's class for a number of reasons.  Most cosmetically, I'd had a series of conversations with one of our regular Dedication Yoga participants about his work towards finding balance in his own life and through that dialogue, I started to think about balance in my own life and how I worked towards achieving it.  The answer, for me, traced easily back to my yoga practice.  So it seemed like a good focus for class, both in a literal and more interpretive sense.  I asked students to think "Yellow Sun" on the inhale and "Grey Moon" on the exhale -- stark contrasts between day and night, hot and cold, vibrant and dull.  And what is in the middle to even those ends of the spectrum out?  Why, today's practice, of course.

During the writing time, I wrote this piece about why balance that I would like to share.

I chose the theme of balance for today's class because it's fundamental to a strong practice of yoga but also to a strong grounding in life.  Being able to stand in tree pose for an hour is only beneficial if I can do so on the other side as well.  Otherwise, why do it?  If there is anything I've learned from yoga, it's that achieving the same effort on both sides yields a practice that's both physically and mentally rewarding.  Catering to your "more flexible side" isn't doing anyone any favors.  You should be considering why the less flexible side is so and how you might work to bring the two sides to the same level.  And you should also feel free to read into this as metaphor.  I thought about the differences between day and night (yellow sun, grey moon) and how these extremes can equal vastly different aspects of life -- different personalities, even.  Professional versus recreational.  Sober versus intoxicated.  Calm versus rowdy.  We all house the capabilities of being these extremes.  Through the practice of yoga, I have seen a change in how I approach these external things.  It is clearer to me what is necessary and what is not and how to best spend my time.  Yoga pushes me to be In This Moment Only for a manageable length of time ("This will be a seventy-five minute intermediate class...") and then frees me to try and apply that momentum to life off my mat.  Much like yoga is the stepping stone towards mediation, it is also the reverse -- it's the guide to stabilizing what is likely a chaotic or unfocused life.  Yoga is all of these things in one.  It is what balances me most of all.

Thanks again to everyone who's come to practice with us. 

Sarah W.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Second Time Out at Prospect Hill

Sarah W. taught DY last week, and although I was nervous about attendance and how people would react to the practice, overall the pressure was off. After all, I wasn't in charge! She had to remember the sequence. She had to keep her lefts and rights straight. She had to speak clearly. I was able to participate as much or as little as I wanted to, and despite feeling a bit tentative, I wound up enjoying demonstrating and adjusting.

As this week's class approached, however, I started to tense up. My right-hand woman (Sarah W., obviously! keep up, kids) was away visiting family, so I wasn't able to cue her through the class and get feedback. I coerced two loyal friends into being guinea pigs for an abbreviated version of DY, and although nothing went grossly wrong, I left their house feeling inadequate. Yoga teachers--any experienced teachers, really--making teaching look easy. But the truth of the matter is that teaching is very different from practicing, and it's extremely difficult. It takes a lot of thought and preparation, and no matter how many times you go over the class in your head (and believe me, I put in some hours), you don't really know what a class is going to be like until you get there.

Today was a beautiful, sunny, and HOT July day. I had my doubts about how many people would actually show up. But when I got to Prospect Hill a half hour before class started, Sarah W. and two friendly yoginis were already there waiting. As it got closer to noon, more people arrived. A woman I went to college with who I hadn't seen in years surprised me by showing up, with a bright orange mat and an awesome attitude. A couple I met just last week, one of whom has trouble bending his knees, pulled up their mats and jumped right in. I don't know what the final head count was, but there were more than 10 students by noon, and they all made the experience positive.

It was a focused group, but the atmosphere was chill. People laughed and smiled. Some of them even pretended to laugh at my jokes (and they all took pity on me and ignored the fact that I had sunscreen dripping into my eyes and looked like I was crying for a good portion of the hour class).

We dedicated our practice to ahimsa, the concept of doing no harm in the world. It's a way of interacting with people and our environment, but it's also internal. You can practice ahimsa by having compassion for yourself. I think we all did that in our practice today. The students had compassion for the me as a new teacher (they didn't get frustrated when I missed a part of the sequence and backtracked), and for themselves as students (they didn't sigh or give up when they couldn't "land" a pose, something you see more frequently in yoga than you'd think).

I think the physical setting (the park), the tone of the class (instructive but not too serious), and the fact that we focus on a specific concept (the dedication) are all factors that come together to build a unique sense of community. Getting an ID card in the mail that pronounced me an official RYT didn't make me feel like I was a teacher. It really took everyone coming out today to DY and practicing with me and Sarah W. to feel like this teaching thing is real. That's an incredible feeling. I am very thankful for it, and I can't wait until next Sunday, and the Sunday after that.

Namaste, yogis.

-Sarah B

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Pilot Program, Take One!

Today, the "studio" was a hot-and-sweaty ninety-plus degrees but with a lovely breeze and a wide blue sky above -- perfect for the start of our Dedication Yoga pilot program.  We had six practioners of varying skill levels join us for the one hour practice plus twenty minutes of writing on Prospect Hill in Somerville, Mass.  For those of you who don't know, this spot offers a gorgeous view of the Boston skyline.  Sarah and I had snuck up there last week to do a trial run and I'd been pleasantly surprised by how quiet and peaceful that corner of Somerville turned out to be.  Today was no different as our students arrived with yoga mats and water bottles in hand.  Sarah and I decided to rotate teaching, so I was on deck for the first class (she'll take the reins next week).  As I taught, Sarah did some adjusting as well as demonstrating and before either of us knew it, I was cuing the group into savasana, the final resting posture.  Then everyone found a spot in the shade (or if they were crazy like me, in the sun) and got to work writing or drawing about this week's dedication, the mantra "I am/here now."  Even though I taught, I opted to write as well, finding myself writing a few poems, a genre that I love but rarely write these days.  

Here are some samples of what I wrote:

Untitled Poem 

A conversation for another day:
sparks fly off of rooftops,
nerves frayed and worn.
What could complete this cycle?
What could seal this fate?
I sit in the full stare
of the sun, shining with hard 
earned sweat, and I barely remember
the cold of winter as the welcome
breeze strolls by.  Here, I am face to face
with bees at work and I think
how pretty the weeds are, even, on this day.
I know there's a change in season
and a time for it all to be so clear,
but as I flick away the buzzing
near my ear, I don't even pretend to care
about what will come when it will come

Prospect Hill

It's a sleepy hill and an active town --
why, just down these cement steps
is a square full of bars and cars with people
in them.  Seems funny here, though,
where the only sound is a flag flapping
in the breeze and the occasional song
from a bird.  It's like they all forgot 
about this place.  But I never could.

Some prose:

I haven't written poetry for a few months now.  I'm all about fiction these days.  But the idea of "I am/here now" draws my focus to lyric verses and line breaks and well cadenced word choices.  Poetry for me is about simultaneously looking out and looking in.  It is simple and reflective.  It's creating a life that's already established, just making it arty.  Fiction writing is a labor of love -- it's starting from scratch -- it's building flesh and bone from the first dividing cell.  So when I decided to focus on fiction this year, I subsequently lost sight of poetry.  I barely write it anymore.  My creativity is already stretched so thin.  But when asking a class to think about the phrase "I am/here now," it brings my mind immediately to poetry.  It brings me into my verse.

Today was simply amazing.  Thank you to everyone who came out and who shared their practice, their art, and their time with us.  We'll see you next week.

Sarah W.

Monday, June 25, 2012

Experimenting with DY in Costa Rica

This is the view from the open air yoga studio at The Yoga Farm in Punta Banco, Costa Rica, where I traveled last week to learn about, well, yoga and farming. Punta Banco is a small community located about 10 hours south (by car or bus) from San Jose. There are less than 200 residents in this rainforest-beach paradise. It is one of the most remote, rural regions of the country. Computers and cell phones are out of place or inaccessible. There is no multi-tasking. Life is simple. 

Most days me and my fellow traveler rose at dawn, awakened by macaws, toucans, and the Farm's rooster. We'd change our clothes (or not - "clean clothing" is a relative term when you're living in the rainforest), tie back our mosquito nets so that no bugs got trapped in during the day, wash our faces at the outdoor sink, and skip upstairs to the yoga deck. The main structure on the Farm looks a little bit like a grown-up's fantasy tree house. It is set at a high elevation in the rainforest, and from the deck, where people spend hours reading and listening to music on hammocks during the day, you can see all the way out to the ocean below. Monkeys swing from the trees and birds call out to each other. Bright red/pink hibiscus and deep greens of all kinds surround. 

The teacher-in-residence at the Farm was blissfully open-minded, experimenting each class with different forms of yoga. Everything from Yin to Ashtanga (sometimes in the same class). I had been trained to teach in a very specific way, and witnessing someone whose teaching style was so broad was very, very cool (at least dorky-yoga-teacher cool)! When someone interrupted class to point at a monkey, she reacted with a smile, turning her gaze too rather than getting flustered by the interruption. Class had no rules, and I felt no judgment or pressure. After the first day, I decided I wanted to teach during my stay. I shared the idea of DY with the other yogis, and it was greeted with enthusiasm.

The first morning I taught, I was completely unprepared (I hang my head in shame as I write this, Sarah W, I really do!). I just took my printout of Sarah's class upstairs to the deck and did the best I could to explain the concept and improvise, looking down every so often at her notes, not necessarily knowing myself where the sequence would lead! My four students were troopers, doing their best to follow along, and journaling and drawing after the practice. Holland, who I went to the Farm with, shared her drawing, inspired by the surroundings (sorry, I am too jet-lagged to figure out how to rotate this photo).

Despite the fact that the class was less than perfect, I was inspired enough to try again. The second time, I created my own class (instead of using Sarah W's). I felt more comfortable teaching something I created, and one of the women on the farm let me do a test run with her in preparation. I had fallen down a hill that felt like a mountain and been "attacked" by an angry wasp the day before, but I still felt good about DY Take 2. In fact, because my hand hurt too much to demonstrate all the poses, I was forced to move around the floor more. I managed to remember some adjustments, andit was a much more fluid class.

One of the yogis had suggested DY would be more effective if students wrote down a phrase before the class started (which I hadn't thought to instruct them to do the first time), so I had them do that. They reported after class that they had found it helpful, and most could maintain the connection from the beginning at the end during the drawing/writing portion. They gave me positive feedback. They all knew I was a green teacher, so perhaps some of the feedback was couched in kinder terms than the teaching deserved, but I think we all at least enjoyed practicing. And Holland drew something that sent shivers up my spine. She wrote some beautiful prose as well, but it felt private, so I didn't photograph it. 

My experience in Costa Rica, both experimenting with teaching DY and living in a community of open, honest and kind individuals, reminded me that yoga is not just about the asanas. Yoga is a way of life, a lens through which you can see the world. And there is no one "right" way to see it. Perfectionist that I can be, this was a revelation, something that hadn't truly sunk in during my 200 hours of training. But the best revelations, I find, are those that you subconsciously meditate on, and come to slowly.

I am really looking forward to taking this mindset into the DY pilot. We'll all be there to learn from each other, and not just to experience yoga, but to experience simplicity, being present, and building a community. In New England, it's easy to become bitter and jaded. People elbow you in the subway, they cut you in line, they look away on the street. I think it's really important to counter that by coming together with people you trust and enjoy spending time with. 

I hope all you brave yogis coming to the pilot for DY will find it a useful counterbalance to the busy, hectic lives we all lead. There won't be a tree house or an ocean view, but Prospect Hill's not too shabby, and as I always like to say, two Sarahs are better than one (this, by the way, is a global truism - the teacher-in-residence was a Sarah as well, and she made me smile all the time!).  


-Sarah B.

Friday, June 15, 2012

The Other Sarah

Like Sarah Wolf, I saw yoga teacher training as an unexpected gift from the universe, or as she so perfectly captured it, a "care package" at a time when I was seriously in need of care. Also like Sarah W., I was unsure what to do with the training once our 10 weeks ended. I followed through and completed the rest of the steps to get my RYT, but I had come to peace with the decision that I was more of a student than a teacher. Until I heard from Sarah. Her concept of Dedication Yoga felt like home. I believe it offers as much, if not more, opportunity for us to learn as for us to teach.

I'm excited to share that I'm bringing Sarah Wolf's class to Costa Rica, where I will study it, experiment with teaching it to others, and hopefully gain some insight to share with her and the rest of you upon my return.

Our teacher training experience was a unique and surprising experience. I can't wait to go on this next adventure. I look forward to the day we all get to lunge, twist, bend, and balance on Prospect Hill.

Until then,

- Sarah B.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Hi, My Name is Sarah!

This is an experiment.

Hi, my name is Sarah and I'm from Ohio.  Now I live in Somerville, Massachusetts, but I still walk around town wearing my Cleveland Indians hat, even after a decade here and two Boston Red Sox World Series victories.  I love what I love -- it's as simple as that.  And besides baseball, there are two things I love tremendously in life:  writing and yoga.  I've been writing stories and poems since I was able to hold a pencil and its my love of the art that brought me to Emerson College to earn an MFA in Creative Writing, a degree I completed in 2005.  Moving to Boston opened my life up to a world of new opportunities, including a wonderful community of artists, musicians, and free-thinkers as well as the beautiful practice of yoga.  I fell hard and fast for this athletic yet meditative form of total mind/body exercise and have prioritized my time on my mat for the last five or six years.

Life is a wild and crazy adventure sometimes and I have no idea why it took the idea so long to form in my brain, but early in 2012, I started to daydream about an experience that would combine yoga and writing.  This idea grew out of a series of conversations I had with a dear friend who was combining his own meditation practice with journaling.  I thought to myself, why can't there be a yoga class that did the same thing?  I wasn't a yoga teacher, though, so I let the idea pass pleasantly through my mind as "maybe someday."

And then, with little warning, the opportunity for me to train to be a yoga teacher fell out of the sky -- a little care package from the Universe, if you will.  The teacher training was an unexplainable, wonderful, irreplaceable, unexpected adventure.  But once the training was complete, I was uncertain how I wanted to utilize what I'd learned.  And then my "maybe someday" floated through my brain once more and I knew this was something I had to try.  I shared the idea with friends and fellow yogis, really anyone who would listen, and after receiving so much warm feedback, I decided to get this project off the ground.  My wonderful friend and fellow RYT* Sarah Bayle is working with me now to develop the pilot program for what I am calling Dedication Yoga.  Between the two Sarahs, we've got lots of ideas and are incredibly excited to see this get started.

We will update you as we go...

Sarah Wolf

*RYT = Registered Yoga Teacher