Locking the Door

It is Friday morning, at exactly 7am. The smell of incense is drifting across the small room where I have rolled my mat out on carpet. Block, strap, and towel laid out near by, the warmth of the room is coaxing my sleepy body into stretching. I alternate between seated forward bends. 

The sound of metal latching indicates that the studio is being locked.

The teacher walks into our classroom, and the students slowly rise to meet him at the top of their mats. 

This is how we begin. 

In a city like San Francisco, locking the studio at the start of class when no one will be watching the lobby is as much a guard against crime as it is a statement on timeliness. 

And yet - it is part of the reason I come to this studio: because I like the discipline and the finality of locking the door. There is something very reverent about starting a practice on time. It requires that you show up for yourself. It ensures that everyone inside that room is not distracted - that the slow or fast pace at which they start to look inward is not interrupted. There are many classes I attend and teach that let students in late. This class is not one of them. 

I feel oddly safe and cozy in this environment. And although the prevailing style here is stricter than my own, I love the protection of those doors. 

I attend many classes each week with less stringent policies, and the parade of latecomers can be overwhelming in its noise and distraction. I lose time and attention being bothered by the noise, and then even more time beating myself up for being bothered. Those people need their yoga, Abbie. You have no idea what kind of morning/evening/day they have had. Just let it go. The script goes on and on in my head. 

One of my earliest yoga teachers told me that a "true yogi" could do Savasana lying on the sidewalk in Times Square. That statement stays with me to this day. Does the potential exist for any one of us to reach that kind of peace in our practice - the ability to block out even the most incredible noise? 

Of course it does - AND - that isn't what makes us yogis. 

I have no intention of doing Savasana on a busy street in New York City. As an anxious person, I never quite know what I am going to get when I lay in corpse pose. There are days when I never want to get up and there are evenings when two minutes of "final resting pose" essentially results in a battle of wills. 

Lately, I just want to be quiet in my practice. I want to match my breath with movement and I want to hear that breath. I want my physical practice to be my protection from the crazy places my brain can take me. 

That doesn't mean testing myself in the middle of a busy city street. 

It means locking the door so that I can unlock something deeper. 

To the Yogi Next to Me

To the Yogi Next to Me: 

Thank you for rolling out your mat next to mine tonight.  

It has been a rough couple of weeks for me and my mat at some of my studio classes. Most of my regular yoga buddies have not been around; the crowds have been large and full of new faces. There have been plenty of latecomers and lots of rearranging of mats and feet in my face and more sweat than usual dripping from bodies and walls. I have felt a little bit like a stranger in a place that normally feels like a second home. As much as I try to let it go, I keep finding myself getting annoyed at the heat, the late start to class, and all of the other little things that I am usually able to soften around. 

Not that you knew any of these things when you randomly set up in my corner of the room today. 

When you introduced yourself (and after I had embarrassingly clarified twice that your name was in fact BRIAN and not RYAN), I asked if you typically come to this class, because I didn't recognize you. When you told me you had been a regular at the nearby studio that just closed its doors, I could see the sadness in your eyes. You looked down as you said the name of the old studio, and I knew in that instant how much you wished your mat could be back there tonight. 

And in that one moment, you changed my whole practice. 

I looked around the room, at the new faces that I didn't recognize, and it was like looking at them with new eyes. How many of them were looking for a new place to land? Although it has been several years, I remember the early days of finding a new yoga home here in San Francisco. Of going to classes where no one knows your name or your practice. The anticipation of how the class would be structured and whether you would like the teacher. Not knowing how the room is set up and laying your mat out like a fish swimming upstream. Maybe the parade of latecomers, I thought to myself, just hadn't yet figured out how to budget time for parking in the Mission on a Thursday night. It is really tough to be the new yogi, no matter how welcoming the community. 

I saw you, Brian, as you lifted your foot at odd times in the sequence, your body longing for a specific sequence that wasn't being taught - the one that you would have had at the old studio. I wanted to grab you blocks during pyramid pose, to make you more comfortable and tell you that, eventually, the abdominal exercises would stop and we would go on to other poses. 

I heard you chuckle at one of the teacher's regular jokes and realized that yes, it is pretty funny when you haven't heard it before. And that made me laugh, too. Not just a giggle, but a real laugh.

I had a good practice tonight. It was sweaty and crowded but I was happy to be there on my 71 inches of home. I was grateful for the unexpected, but necessary, attitude adjustment that I received. 

Thank you, Brian, for a humbling lesson in compassion, and a reminder that I am responsible for the energy that I bring on to my mat.

Please come back next week. I promise that someday soon, it will be home for you, too. 

With love,

the Yogi Next to You

Last Chance Dance

I have blogged in the past about my work with Lemonade, A Yoga Program. We provide yoga classes to each unit on SF’s juvenile hall every week. After serving on the board for several years, and having spent multiple days there over the course of the past 18 months, I recently decided to commit to spending one full day each week in the hall teaching yoga.

What does this look like? This looks like a jail. This looks like five classes, with anywhere from 8-20 kids per class, in uniforms, on mats placed about 15-20 feet away from their cells. This looks like depressed youth who have seen unspeakable violence. This also looks like your average group of teenagers – lanky, growing into their bodies, easily distracted, and shockingly vulnerable at times. Most importantly, this looks like a lot of faces that probably didn’t have much of a chance to break the cycle they inherited at birth. For the teachers, this looks like a very long day – with awesome highs when someone makes a breakthrough and disheartening lows when you find yourself feeling just a little bit hopeless: about the chances that these kids have to make a better life, or even survive. 

An empty unit at San Francisco Juvenile Hall. Yoga is done on the carpet or tile of each unit.
But this is where yoga comes in.

Yesterday, during one of our classes, we had a major disruption, and it shook me a little. It didn’t shake my commitment to these kids or our work – but it did shake my spirit in a way that makes me want to give up a little bit on humanity. How broken has life made some of these small souls?

In the midst of this situation, a little levity emerged, and kids that had been distracted were now active participants in class. Many yoga poses look similar to hip-hop dance (as they tell me, hands on hips: this yoga "stuff" is all "hip hop moves"). We were treated to a bit of a dance-off. A student that had complained for most of the class and seemed only slightly interested, was suddenly engaged and interactive as he danced in front of his peers. There were some small signs of a community rallying. And the victory of finishing a class - IN SPITE OF what had happened. A space that didn’t seem safe to them at first – had found a way to heal. 

In retelling the day's story to a friend, she wondered why we hadn’t called someone to help with the disruption. When you are on the maximum-security unit of juvenile hall, you have actually reached the end of the road. It isn't like a school. There isn’t an expulsion process here. 

This is the last chance dance for so many of these kids.

And so you breathe, and you keep going, and you put your hands on your students and you help them find their breath, too. 

You do your yoga. You leave the rest. 

Yes, I left feeling defeated. I took a few hours and practiced yoga with my community, and let it all settle. I took a shower. I turned off my electronics. And slowly, I remembered many other “wins” from my day. I successfully led my first complete class on one of the units (this is more daunting that it sounds), and another one of our teachers had a ton of wins when we were on the girls’ unit. We gave out mats to two staff members for their home practice. Several of the kids recognized me, gave me hugs, and thanked us for our work. 

The whole world looks at these kids and sees the one disruption that happened. Yoga helps me see the bigger picture – the better picture.

These kids are - hands down - the best students that I have ever had. 

My job is not to save them. My job is to teach them. 

My job is to be their dance partner. Even if it is just for an hour. 

Having a Little Faith

I am often asked by friends or students: what do I do when yoga doesn't seem to work?

My answer has always been the same:

Keep going. Keep showing up. Even when you don't want to go. Even when you just sit there and think through life or your to-do list while you move through poses. Whatever keeps you on your mat. Go to classes where you feel safe - but keep going. Even if you can't be present - go to a studio or to your bedroom, roll out your 72 inches of solitude, and DO.YOUR.YOGA. Have a little faith that your practice will come around again.

Over the past five years, I have definitely had weeks of very deep distance from my yoga, even though I practice daily. For me, yoga is like any long-term relationship, it has peaks and valleys, and is dynamic by nature. 

When I finally decided to take the leap and quit my job, my yoga practice started to fall apart as my support system. And I say that rather dramatically, of course. I still practiced daily, but it wasn't the refuge it always had been. I couldn't get out of my head. All I got was body movement and a lot of monkey mind. So much fear, and worry, and uncertainty. Here was my ultimate act of letting go - the act of leaving - and my practice seemed to buckle under the weight of it all. 

I went to class, I got on my mat, I did all the things that I had advised people to do when they struggled. And I waited. I waited all through May. I waited all through June. I went to class. I practiced at home. I stretched. I ran and hiked and did all sorts of other physical activity hoping to will the numbness away. I went on two yoga retreats, and found my happiness in cool lakes and hot springs, but rarely in our morning and afternoon yoga sessions. 

My entire practice began to feel like dealing with an injury, only I was trying to modify for what felt like my "broken yoga" in every class. Going to yoga was now an exhausting task. I started to get used to the fact that I couldn't anticipate the person I would be when I got on my mat. I would have a great day of writing, show up at an evening class, and have to modify every pose to down level because my mind wouldn't settle down. I cycled through emotions like a quick moving thunderstorm: anger, frustration, fear.

Every once in a while, a class would feel "good" or I would feel relief after going. Two months into grasping for my practice, these were my touchpoints.

I told my teacher on more than one occasion: I want my practice back.

That was the simplest way to put it. 

Sometimes, as Rumi tells us, what you seek is seeking you. I had committed to assisting an intensive, month-long teacher training starting in late July. This meant that instead of doing hours and hours of yoga as a student in the morning intensives, I would be assisting and co-facilitating, six days a week, 12+ hours per day for four weeks. I gave some thought to backing out, and trying to be a student instead, feeling that my practice simply wasn't accessible enough for me to be a good facilitator for a yoga training.

But I'm not really the backing out type. So I showed up ready to work on the first day of teacher training, and met seventeen amazing souls.

It was here that I found the missing link:

Inspiration. And a want for my practice to be for more than just myself. 

Being present every day for this group of individuals has given me back my practice.

Over the past two weeks, I have realized that I need to rebuild my practice the same way I am rebuilding my direction in life. Teacher training requires me to focus on yoga without a lot of frills. What are the basics? What are we doing here? Why are we doing it? Is our cue-ing clear? Are we looking at foundation first? 

It is vital as a teacher to practice what you preach. Right now, this means that I need to focus on doing the work, not on how strenuous, how beautiful, how advanced, and how cathartic my practice feels.

My practice is different than it used to be. And that's okay. I suffered through two months of gripping to what wasn't serving me, to realize that surrendering to serving a greater purpose would bring it right back in a different form. 

As yoga teachers and practitioners, we do a lot of messaging around "letting go" - and that is certainly relevant here. But so is staying and holding on. I would modify my advice in these situations now that I have lived through one of the longest periods of doubt. I would offer this:

Keep practicing. Keep showing up. 
Let it be different. Let it be uncomfortable. 
Look for inspiration. Look outside yourself. 

Have a little faith. Have a lot of faith.

In Medias Res

When I pictured what my first week away from corporate life would look like, I have to be honest: I imagined something a bit more dramatic. Perhaps a giant WOOSH that would sweep all of the gripping, fear, and anxiousness away, and replace it with a new, delightfully unscheduled and laid back “Writer Abbie.” 

I was so excited to meet her and get to know what the “new me” was like. Cue the city girl walking down the street with her laptop, and a fun independent movie-type soundtrack playing. 

Update: One week later. I am still the same me. And this still feels like transition. 

Additional update: My expectations might have been a little high. 

One week later: Writer Abbie looks a LOT like regular Abbie. 
These initial days don’t feel like a beginning. I have devoted more time to writing, but there are no large sweeping changes in my routine on that front. In the spirit of truth speaking, I have packed my days with activities to make sure that I stay relentlessly busy.

But this isn’t much of an ending, either. My decision to quit was not impulsive. My departure from work felt more like a slow burn than a final, explosive burst of flame. My nervous system also isn’t convinced that we aren’t returning to the office next week. 

I naively imagined that my physical body would also be experiencing sweeping changes in yoga, as my previously tight upper back and hips relaxed from being away from my desk. 

Update: I checked on this today in class and I can still report the same level of tightness in both of these areas. 

Additional update: I realize that I am writing this blog post hunched over a table. My expectations might have been a little high. 

As I moved into Warrior 3 this morning, staring into the grains of the wood floor beneath me, I found my eyes scanning, desperately trying to locate a suitable drishti, the spot for my gaze, as my foot wobbled and I fell out of the pose. 

This is what I am doing right now: looking for a center, even though I feel like I am already in the middle. 

The gift of transition will certainly be recognition of the drishtis in my life. My yoga practice. My village. Random emails and texts. The silence of an empty house as I sit and type and drink that first cup of morning coffee. The awesome conversation with my favorite server at the Pho place down the street, who upon hearing about my new adventure, told me to “bring a laptop and just write.”

Authors who start stories from the middle refer to this as In Medias Res which is latin for “in the midst of things.”

This is where I am going to start. This is where I am. 

Because “in the midst of things” sounds a lot like being present. It sounds a lot like being right here, right now. 

I am learning that my journey is not about starting over, but moving forward. 

Instead of looking for the new me - be me. Instead of looking for the perfect place to write - just write. 

This decision was about taking the authentic path. The real truth is that I have no idea where the path is leading or how far I have traveled.

My hunch is that I am probably somewhere in the middle. 

In medias res. 

On Leaving, Leaping, and Letting Go

I have never been much of a leaver.

I like things comfortable. I like things how they are. I like the false sense of safety and security that a tight grip offers.

I am also fiercely loyal. To family. To friends. To where I buy my groceries. And of course, to my employer.

And so it has been an incredibly difficult decision to make the break that I will officially make this week.

It still sounds weird to even say:

I am leaving my corporate job.

And I don't have another one lined up.

This is the part of life where you realize that your story isn't necessarily who you are, and it certainly doesn't have to be who you are growing into being.

Five years ago, I walked into a yoga class - thinking - knowing even - that I wasn't flexible enough to do yoga.

And we all know what happened there.

That lesson has changed the course of my life.

Yoga opened up the parts of me that had long been dormant; not just physically, but emotionally as well. And as this blog can attest to - yoga helped me tap the forgotten writer that had been buried under "doing the safe thing" for so long.

I have wanted to write a book since I was a little girl. I have been writing in my head and in my heart for as long as I can remember.

And now - at age 33 - I am going to try and realize that dream. Even if that realization involves only three people reading my work.

This is not a change without fear and very real risk. To walk away from a good income at a solid company is not something I take lightly. At the same time, however, we are offered no guarantees in this life beyond right now, in this moment.

Life is short. Terrifyingly, shockingly, achingly short. The beauty of life makes the ticking clock that much more imminent.

Our lives are a series of choices that direct our path. I am incredibly grateful to have this new path as a choice - and to have a partner behind me that has loved me and supported me in this and every other crazy adventure we have taken on across twelve years of marriage, sixteen years of togetherness, three states, and two continents.

Something magical has also happened with this choice. I feel like I don't just have my partner behind me - but a whole village. A village of forever friends and family and yoga friends and artist friends and soon to be former coworkers, and yes, even this city. This holy, crazy, larger than life, 7x7 place that I call home.

I have always wondered what a leap like this would feel like.

And standing here on the edge of the cliff - it feels a lot like you might expect: plenty of fear, some excitement, and a lot of anticipation for the relief of finally leaping. Because once you head out over, you've committed, and you are on your way.

This is the letting go moment.

And I'm finally here.

What Was Happening This Week: March 24th

Here's a little update on what struck me this week in class and on the mat! I split my time between lots of Forrest in the East Bay, a little happy hour yoga here in the city, and home practice.

Themes that Moved Me: Relaxed Confidence with Michelle on Monday night - my takeaway was the ability to stand strong in your power without gripping. 

Mantra I'm currently using: Less looking, more leaping. 

What I Taught: Themes: Making Space, Focus on Deep Hip Openers. No right answers, just feeling: Shoulder Exploration.

New Songs for the Playlist: Lanterns by Birds of Tokyo, Top of the World by Imagine Dragons, Peace by OAR, and Further On by Bronze Radio Return

Trending Poses: Twisting Scissors, Anything Hips, and Gate Opener Abs

Biggest Challenge: Working with my "seriously it's been three weeks and it doesn't feel much better" tailbone injury. 

Best Advice Received in Class: Using two blankets folded side by side with just a little bit of space in between to support my tailbone while seated on the mat. 

Victory Moments: Landing Twisting Scissors into Regular Scissors on the right side, practicing total softness in class on Thursday night, and working on breathing big without forcing this morning. Also, hitting day 300 in the Handstand Challenge:

Things That Inspired Me: Watching a private client find a new way of looking at challenges. Reconnecting with an old friend over a wonderful meal to realize that while our lives have traveled different directions, our paths are similar. 

Quote that's staying with me: (hint: It's my all-time favorite)

We're all just walking each other home. - Ram Dass

Beauty Moment: Driving home from yoga on the new span of the Bay Bridge.  

For the First Time...Yoga Class FAQ

Over the past two years, I have fielded many questions from friends and family members who want to try yoga but are concerned about how to start and what to expect. 

Grateful Yogi presents...

Yoga 101 FAQs: 

What type of class should I start with? 

I would suggest starting out with either a beginner class (or an "all levels" class if a beginner class doesn't fit your schedule). It is good to take several of these to get used to the way a class works, names of poses, and to see how the practice feels to you before stepping into a more advanced class. Some studios even require a few beginners classes before you can try anything else. This helps with safety, but also makes you feel more comfortable/confident. 

I heard it is, like, 130 degrees in the yoga studio. Am I going to pass out? 

Temperatures at studios vary, but let's go ahead and divide the studio population into three groups: Unheated, Warm and Hot. Unheated is exactly what it sounds like - no artificial heat beyond what a normal room would feel like. Warm is usually 80-95 degrees. HOT is usually 95-105 (or hotter). Humidity can be added as well depending on the studio. Why heat a room at all? Many practitioners (myself included) appreciate the fact that heat makes your muscles warm, so you can get deeper into poses. Additionally, it can flush out toxins from your body. The heat bothered me at first, and now I love it. I'm a WARM yoga kind of girl and I think 85 is a great temp. I actually get kind of cranky when I have to practice somewhere less than 80, but initially it was tough. 

Check the studio website or call to find out about temperature if you are concerned. Some studios add a note on their class descriptions as to the level of heat. 

Bring water. Hydrate. Hydrate before class. Hydrate after class. Hydrate all the time, regardless of whether you keep practicing yoga! 

So I get the water part but...what about eating? 

Try not to eat too close to when you attend a class. This is a physical activity. Most "people" (I am not actually sure who - experts? websites? studio owners? friends?) say 2 hours but to me that is a little strict. Think about how your body reacts to other types of physical exertion after you eat. Give it at least an hour to be safe and like all things, test out how your body does. The more you practice, the more you will get a sense from your body about what works. 

I'm nervous about everything. But mostly...the sweat. 

Important Note: You will think that you sweat more than anyone else in the whole world. Trust me when I tell you: this is not true. It is not even close to true. I have seen sweat. You will not be the sweatiest. 

BUT! Do bring a towel with you. Mats can get slippery as you sweat. And slippery mats are uncomfortable and can be dangerous. 

If you fall in love with the practice, there are mat towels that you can buy that are amazing for sopping up sweat, but for the first few weeks, a regular towel should do just fine.

Props - can be your best friend - at your first class - and ALWAYS

Can you explain what an "adjustment" is and an "assist."

Teachers will probably adjust you - either verbally or physically. Verbally would be: hey, put your foot here, or move this way. Physically, they might actually move you deeper or twist you further by touching your shoulder, arm, hip, etc.. It is always okay to say "no thanks" if it doesn't feel right or you are uncomfortable. It is also important to know that there is not a 100%, one size fits all "right way" to do a pose. I practice every day and I still don't take triangle pose the way that it often looks like in yoga magazines. I was born with hips that move slightly differently. So the purpose of an adjustment or an assist should be to help you feel the pose more fully based on your body. Good teachers will also be looking to make adjustments if they see that you might be taking a pose in a way that could be harmful to your body. An example of this would be tuning your knee in a way that could cause injury.  

I've heard that you don't breathe out of your mouth in yoga. What if I can't do that?

Ujjayi breathing is a common breathing style in yoga that involves an audible breath on the inhale and exhale, with lips closed. This is a skill that takes time to master, and is taught in many beginner classes. Like most things in life, it comes with practice. Do not worry about doing this in your first class. Listening to others around you is a great way to learn, though, so just being in class helps. 

My friend does yoga and she says that they pray and sing. I'm not sure about that.

Yoga - above all else - is what you want it to be.

It can be a purely physical workout. It can be a deeply spiritual practice. 

While I identify with yoga as a deeply spiritual part of my human experience, I frequently practice next to people who would put themselves all over the spectrum. The great thing about yoga is that you can decide as an individual how you want it to be for you. 

A teacher may ask you to bring your hands to heart center - in prayer. This is more to describe the pose and help you connect to breath than it is a prescription to pray. If this triggers you - another option is to cover your heart with your hands. 

You may here the sound of "Om" to start or end a class. Om is a chant, or mantra, and the best way that I can describe it is the sound of simply being. For me, it is a reminder to drop in and put aside everything going on in my head - and concentrate on the present moment. If you don't feel comfortable om-ing at first (or ever) - just listen. It can be a beautiful sound. 

You may hear the word "Namaste." This is a Sanskrit word that can be translated to mean: "the light within me honors the light that resides within you." If om is the sound of being, then namaste is the greeting of being - it is you telling your neighbor - whether stranger or friend - that you honor their being in the world, and their being in your present moment. 

You may hear chanting. Chants can be sung at the beginning or end of class - usually Sanskrit words and often call and response. This is another way of asking people to bring themselves into the present. The translated chants are often quite beautiful. At your comfort level, join in or simply listen. 

What is a prop? 

A prop is an item that helps you in a pose - the most common props are yoga blocks, straps, blankets, and bolsters (shaped pillows). I used to think that a student with fewer props was a more advanced student. This is not true in many cases. Props help our bodies get into shapes, and they help us with comfort while we practice. Bring on the props! 

I need to leave 5 minutes early from class to catch my train. Is that okay? 

This is a bit of a gray area, but my from-the-heart answer on this is: no. The final pose of a yoga class is Savasana. It is a pose that involves laying down, being still, and allowing your body to feel all of the work you have done. In the beginning, this pose might feel awkward and your mind might race. This feeling slowly dissipates as you practice more and savasana can often become one of the most blissful poses of your practice. Savasana is a quiet pose, and moving around to get your things, roll up your mat, and leaving the room can be extremely disruptive to other students and distracting to the teacher. 

If you must leave class early - leave before savasana. Do your best to stay. 

What else should I do when I get to the studio? 

Arrive Early
For your first class, I suggest arriving at least 15 minutes early. This allows you time to fill out waivers, navigate your way around the studio, lay your mat out, and take some deep breaths before class. 

Be respectful of etiquette - and know that it varies
All studios are different, but know that typically, you need to arrive before class starts to set up your mat, get props, and get settled. There may be a certain way that mats are lined up in a classroom, and depending on the location, studio, and class size, there could be 2 feet between mats or 1 inch. Yoga is a great place to practice follow the leader - take a glance around the studio to get a sense of what other students are doing. 

Two universal rules: Silence your phone. Be respectful of those around you. 

Introduce yourself and acknowledge injuries
When you go to your first few classes, definitely try and introduce yourself to the teacher, and let he/she know that you are new and if you have any injuries (particularly back/neck/shoulder stuff). For the first few classes as a beginner, the best place is actually middle or further back in the room - so that you can watch other people. This seems backwards, but the teacher doesn't normally stay in the front of the room - and you might want people to look at for a little help on where you should be/how you should look. 

Take breaks and breathe
When all else fails, or if you get into a tailspin in class: check in with your breath and breathe. Part of yoga is pushing through, but it is also knowing when to back off. It is always okay to take a break. If this happens and you need a rest - either sit in cross legged and just breathe up to your heart, or go into child's pose (one of the first poses you will learn). 

When in doubt during class, take child's pose, or simply sit and breathe. 

Trust yourself
You go to yoga with YOUR BODY. If a teacher asks you to do something that you know in your gut you shouldn't do - TRUST YOURSELF FIRST!!!! No yoga teacher can know your body better than you. Especially someone who met you 30 minutes ago! Say no politely. Be firm. If they don't listen or respect your request - leave. 

You might have firework explosions of bliss at your first class, but more likely it takes a few classes to know if it is right for you. I fell in love that first class but I didn't appreciate the love until months later. Sometimes, you need a little time to grow into it. 

What did I miss? What do you still want to know? If I didn't cover one of your burning questions about starting a yoga practice, feel free to email me at gratefulyogisf(at)gmail.com.

Home (Practice) for the Holidays...and any day

Just like that - the holidays have arrived. Schedules seem tighter at work and at home. There are fewer hours of daylight, and the cold has settled in for many places.

And perhaps, slipping just out of your grasp, is one of the mainstays of your sanity and peace: your yoga practice.

This might be a tougher time to get to class. But we were born with the only thing we need for yoga: our bodies.

To establish a home practice, or to add a home practice into our life, we have to get through the biggest hurdle first. Once we get it out of the way, everything becomes easier. I promise.

Time. You think you don't have any.

You DO have time. You may need to give something up, or cut back on something else, but you CAN choose to prioritize. How long and how often is up to you. We make space for our priorities.

As one of my favorite artists, Brian Andreas says: "Everything changed the day she figured out there was exactly enough time for the important things in her life."

Home practices in 2013

Maybe today is that day for you!  Here are some thoughts to get you started, or to help you along:

Your home practice doesn't need to be 90 minutes (initially or ever). If you are confused about where to start, or how to build a practice, my advice is to start small. Commit to 10 minutes on the days you practice and do some deep breathing and your favorite poses or simple sun salutations. Add a few minutes a day, or just continue with 10 minutes. Many long-time studio practitioners feel married to 60-90 minutes. Just remember that as a student, in a class where you are being taught -  there are natural pauses and breaks and late starts that you won't have when you are all by yourself. You can fit more in when you are on your own.

Dare to be different, or stick with the familiar. There are multiple ways to approach "what" you do during your home practice. Some people like to practice the same sequence each time. Others go with what they feel like that morning. If I am doing a longer home practice, I like to plan out the sequence to a peak pose, or work through a sequence that I am planning on teaching that week. If I have 30-45 minutes, I might just do what feels good, based on the parts of my body that feel tight. My awesome friend, Megan, shares her sequence notebook with EVERYONE - and you can check it out if you are looking for sequence ideas. She has themes and time estimates and they are my absolute go-to when I am looking for inspiration.

Buddy Up! Invite a friend or a partner to join you. Even a furry friend. Particularly around the holidays, it is an awesome way to spend time with someone and also allow time for your yoga. You can practice a sequence in tandem together, watch a yoga video, or choose a playlist and then do individual work.

When in doubt, use 5 as a breath count. It can be challenging without a teacher to cue breaths, so if this presents itself as an issue, use 5 deep breaths as a start. The more experience you have, the easier it will be to "feel" the breath count on both sides, but it is always good to have points of reference to fall back on.

You can have Hot Yoga at home. It will cost you $25 and perhaps a small $3-5 increase in your electric bill. Behold, the space heater. I will, as my insurance background dictates, remind you that these are dangerous if left on or plugged in near flammable objects. Please be smart, yogis - unplug after you heat up.

Your home practice doesn't have to be self directed. If the idea of practicing without an instructor intimidates you, first thank Ganesha that you are getting your asana on in 2013, and then log on to your computer for some action at one of the many yoga websites available. Most are even running holiday specials. I'll shout out Yoga VibesMy Yoga Online, and a new offering, Mat2Mat, because I've used them both and some of my favorite teachers are on there. There are lots of other options out there as well. Also close to my own heart are the Ana Forrest intensive CDs, which can be loaded onto an mp3 player and taken anywhere.

Set the mood.  Love the candles your teacher has, or yearn for the smell of sage or incense as you walk into the studio? Done and done. For $4 and $3, respectively. Totally worth it. Again, yogis, let's be careful with the fire. But do it up. The same is true for playlists. Set your iphone, your ipad, or your computer - go to Pandora or create an iTunes playlist to suit the type of mood you are setting for your practice (or the mood you are in). The more you put into the experience, the more you are likely to like it. And a DESIRE to do the practice is vital, especially in the beginning.

Candlelight home practice 

Get creative with props. If you get hooked on home yoga, you can invest in some props. But as you get started, remember that soup cans, pillows, books, towels, water bottles, and belts make great yoga props in the absence of the usual block, strap and roll. I could write a whole blog post on props I have made out of hotel room items.

Take Savasana. It is so easy to pop up after the last active pose and move on to the next scheduled item on the to-do list. Carve out two minutes in the time that you have allotted to give yourself even just a quick savasana. It truly allows your body to take in all that you have done. 

Don't give up. Home practice is a labor of love. It requires discipline and focus, which can take time to build. It might take a few fits and starts for a habit to be born.

By making space in our lives for yoga, we surrender to the space that yoga will make in our bodies and minds. And slowly, but surely, that newfound space becomes a sanctuary.

Hidden Beach Yoga, Marin County

photo by Scott Finsthwait

Hidden Beach, Marin
abbie dutterer 

Waves pushing and pulling
At earth’s gentle corners

Soft lap or thunderous crescendo,
Erasing all markings from the sand,
No imprint is safe from being caught
In the vast clearing of space.

These waves are meant for us.

Purpose often looks like chaos,
So we step onto the shore,
walking forward to catch our reflection,
frustrated by the fragility
of our own footprints.

we imagine ourselves as sand,
pummeled and driven.

only in surrender do we know

we are the force
that pulls
that pushes

our very being a vibration

we have always been the tide.

A Grinch Repost for the Holidays!

This post was originally published on November 30, 2011.

How the Grinch Found Yoga

The lesser known story of the Grinch. It wasn't just the Whos that made his heart grow three sizes. 

The Grinch 

The Grinch heard a sound rising over the snow.
It started in low, then it started to grow.



This sound wasn't sad!
This sound sounded glad!

Every yogi was oming, the tall and the small,
They were singing their presence - the om was the call!

No noise could stop them. The peace - it still came!
No matter what language, it sounded the same!

And the Grinch, with his grinch feet ice-cold in the snow,
Stood puzzling and puzzling. "How could it be so?

It came without mats! It came without clothing!
It came without jealousy, fighting and loathing.

He puzzled and puzzed till his puzzler was sore.
Then the Grinch thought of something he hadn't before.

Maybe yoga, he thought, doesn't come from a store.
Maybe yoga, perhaps, means a little bit more!

And what happened then? Well, most yogis say,
That the Grinch's small heart grew three sizes that day!

And then the true meaning of yoga came through,
And the Grinch found the strength of ten Grinches, plus two!

And now that his heart didn't feel quite so tight,
He could breathe into life and find peace day and night.

With a smile to his soul, he descended Mount Crumpit
Cheerily blowing "Just Breathe" on his trumpet.

He tried out the poses and did oujjii breathing.
He sampled yoga to music and all kinds of heating.

His heart started to grow, he made space all around,
He said "this place on my mat is the best place I've found."

His life started to change, though it started out slow.
Peace at home and at work, it all started to show.

Welcome Yogis. Bring your cheer,
Cheer to all people, far and near.

Peace and calm is in our grasp
So long as we have hands to clasp.

Our practice it will always be
Just as long as we have we.

Welcome yoga, while we stand
Heart to heart and hand in hand

The Grinch had it right. It is about standing heart to heart, and hand in hand. In yoga, and in life. 

No matter what you believe, we have a choice to make this holiday season one of peace and joy. 


With many thanks to the wise and wonderful Dr. Seuss, who has provided the outline for this post. Maybe he was a yogi. If not, I think he might still understand. He did after all, have a fantastic sense of humor. And if you look at his books, I think you might see quite a few arm balances in there!

On Being Brave

On January 23, 2003, the crowded metro car I was on stopped short between Arlington, VA and DC. This meant, effectively, that we were stuck under the Potomac River. Looking through the windows simply revealed a concrete tunnel. It was snowing heavily that day, and all around me was the press of winter jackets against my body. I felt the familiar heat of panic rising from my stomach to my throat. Why had I worn a turtleneck?? Why are we stopped? What if it's a terrorist attack? What if we never get out? What if? What if? What if? With each question, the twisting knot in my chest tightened.

I was 22 years old, and brought to my knees by panic. It was not the first time. It would not be the last. I wanted to rip off my clothing and sit down naked in the middle of the train car. Anything to stop the constriction in my chest. I grabbed the jacket of the man next to me and in a voice that would have been recognized as terrified in any language, asked him to help me make room because I thought I was going to pass out. I can still see his face. He made a small area for me to stand in while my fingers fumbled to rip off my jacket, and 8 agonizing minutes later, when the doors opened on the DC side of the river, he blocked traffic so that I could get out first. This wasn't my stop, but it didn't matter.

Last Stop: Foggy Bottom Metro Station, Washington, DC
I stood on the platform until it emptied, leaning my still-shaking body against a large map of the metro system so that I could catch my breath. A metro worker asked me if I needed directions.

These trains, he said, are always stopping when it snows. I mean really, it's like putting a hair dryer in a bathtub.

I walked the mile to my office from the station. Anxiety had won. 

I wouldn't ride on a subway again until 2005.

My third wedding anniversary fell on a warm summer night in June of that year, and my husband's company had scheduled a cooking class event in the North End of Boston. Now living hundreds of miles away from DC, I was determined that I would take the subway to meet him for dinner and beat the fear. 

I left our apartment early. I was relieved that I didn't have a jacket or turtleneck to worry about in the summer temperature. I had timed my ride to be before rush hour, so that the cars wouldn't be crowded. As the doors shut, I focused on how much I wanted to get to the dinner and how good it would feel to get there. And in an unlikely foreshadowing of my later path, I told myself to just keep breathing.

When I burst into the bright sunlight at the top of the escalator at my stop, I remember swallowing in the warm air and feeling just a slight breeze on my cheeks.

I also remember being immensely proud.

Everyone else was commuting. I was being brave.


My anxiety still lurks, almost always, below the surface. But I ride the BART all the time now in San Francisco, and rarely think about the close quarters. As I have forged a deeper mindfulness practice and a healthier relationship with how I address fear, I have also developed an arsenal of coping techniques for what used to be instant triggers to my nervous system. Among them, meditation, breathing, and simple resilience.

Plato is often quoted as saying: "be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle."

If this is true (and I believe that it is), than we are also living in the midst of constant acts of bravery by those around us. Triumph over fear does not have to look like an extreme gesture. Not a single soul but my husband knew what a brave act that subway ride was.

When I support people on their journeys, whether it be a personal friendship, a student, or a co-worker, I try to remember what it felt like that day to conquer a fear, however small it looked to those around me. Perhaps even harder, is remembering that same truth for myself when I struggle with fears that seem so difficult and insignificant at the same time.

It would be convenient if every courageous act looked like the summit of a mountain, with big smiles and photos and the accompanying "I made it" status updates on Facebook.

In truth, some of our biggest climbing is putting one foot out of our bed in the morning. And then following with the other.

Fear and anxiety have taught me to appreciate, celebrate, and applaud baby steps. These are the small openings in our wounded beings that invite us to heal ourselves.

Because every struggle we have is a gift. And the universe is a relentless giver.

Try to never forget that someone's bravest moment might look ordinary to you. Courage comes in all shapes and sizes.

Everybody has a subway ride. 


This post originally appeared as part of a series of blogs for Yoga Tree and Pete Guinosso

On the final day of training, our morning practice was heavy with anticipation and finality. As we moved through the day’s last asanas, I found myself glancing forward and backward, scanning the room, and taking in our final day together as trainees. 

And then it was over.

We moved into savasana, the familiar feeling of warmth rising and the cooling sensation of fresh air circulating just above us. I struggled, wiggled, and finally gave in to stillness as I let my breath go.

I felt a sweaty hand slip into mine as if it was meant to be there. And I felt my breath catch in my throat.

There is, perhaps, no pose as vulnerable as savasana – lying on your back, arms open wide, eyes closed, deep quiet and very little movement. It is a pose that acknowledges all of the work that the practice has done to open and make space.

The stillness of savasana has always challenged me.

And yet here I was, in this otherwise emotional last day, enjoying a place of calm and comfort.  

Loved, supported, and understood.

I squeezed the hand back gently and held on. I smiled as I recognized how comfortable it all truly was.

Community allows for togetherness and solitude all at once.  

I expected the yoga to change me, but it was the friendships that literally changed my whole world.

Lighting the Path Teacher Training is a slow, winding road to personal truth if you are willing to let yourself move from a place of vulnerability. Pete compassionately guides his trainees in confronting stories and conditioning and holds space for the community to support each other. These breakthroughs become the building blocks for strong, authentic teaching.

When you strip the old stories away, what is left is the broken open truth in each one of us. 

With that knowledge, the way forward is clearer. Not planned, or set, or even steady, but illuminated.

It gives us a way to step into our power - not with harshness, but with affirmation of our own value as human beings - with gifts to offer the world. 

Photo by Scott Finsthwait

 All this time, I thought it was yoga that was lighting the path. And it's not. 

It's us: individuals owning and speaking truth. 

That is the light.

Yoga is a tool to get you there, but we have to do the work. We have to go deeper.

The people that walked beside me as I did this deep personal work know the real me. We show up for each other. They are the first to support my adventures, but also the first to let me know when I am falling into old habits and choices. They know my family and can intuit my fears. I need that kind of truth in my life. In the months since we have finished our training, it is vulnerability that has allowed me to continue to grow my own light.

Community, to me, looks very much like savasana.

A celebration of making space and being open. Pockets of stillness. Peace.

The First Time

This post originally appeared as part of a series of blogs for Yoga Tree and Pete Guinosso

Three weeks after graduating from Lighting the Path Yoga Teacher Training, I found myself preparing to teach my first yoga class as a sub. I had taught co-workers, friends, and family many times. I had experience teaching to strangers who attended our public classes during teacher training.

But this was different. I was now a certified teacher, filling in for another teacher, at a regular class. And I was getting paid to do it. 

I arrived over 30 minutes early for the Sunday morning class – a hedge against traffic and nerves. I walked into the room (a large, multipurpose space at a rec center), and immediately wished that I had worn Ugg boots, gloves, and a wool hat. The temperature on the wall read 52 degrees.

My mind flashed briefly to the cozy and warm Yoga Tree Telegraph studio where I trained for this moment, and my heart ached to have my fellow trainees with me.  

I dug into my bag for a pair of socks, and put them on. I could hear Pete’s voice in my head:

You won’t always have a heated room. So you need to know how to get your students to build heat quickly.

I mentally doubled the number of abs and sun salutations that I had anticipated teaching.

It was the first of many I told you so moments that would occur during that first class, as if the universe was literally running a Pete said loop of everything that Pete prepared us for throughout training.

The regular students that the usual teacher raved about were noticeably absent. An elderly woman who had never done yoga chose that morning to start. My planned apex pose was too advanced for all but one student in the back of class, the same student that I worried would be bored throughout the entire 90 minutes.

Although I had planned and practiced the sequence several times (including early that same morning), I called a half dozen audibles on poses. I stopped the class for unplanned demos when I realized that the newer students needed more instruction.

I had made a point to inquire about injuries and pregnancies in the beginning of class, yet one of the students decided to tell me mid-assist in a twist that she had recently had a spinal fusion. Does that matter? She asked.

(Note to readers: It does matter.)

When I finished teaching, I felt like I had summited Mount Everest in one day.

But I had done it.

After we practiced teaching in class during training, Pete’s first question to us would always be: What kind of class did you give your students?

While the class had not gone exactly as I planned, I knew deep down that it had been a good class. I was prepared. I was competent. I handled the challenges like I had practiced during training.

I was a teacher.

Yoga is not easy. It requires discipline, heart, and perhaps most importantly, consistent practice. We don’t come to our mat the same way twice. We bring our injured muscles, our broken hearts, and our tired minds. We down dog our joy, laughter, and commitment.

Teaching yoga is no different.

When I stepped onto my mat that March morning, and asked my students to close their eyes, I realized as we took those first few breaths together that I was, in many ways, looking in a mirror.

I was staring at seven souls who rolled out their mats to practice yoga.

They didn’t come for perfect. And I didn’t come to be perfect.

Being a teacher is more about learning from mistakes than it is about demonstrating flawless asanas.

I am still in the early days of my teaching journey. Yet almost six months after graduation, I am delightfully comfortable as I make the walk to the front of the room to start my classes. If I make a mistake, I move on. I am most concerned about the space I am holding for the individuals who show up. I want them to feel the strength in that space. I want them to keep coming.

There are times when I can still hear Pete’s voice while I teach, as a circumstance presents a gentle nudge and reminder of training. But most days now I simply hear my own voice, calmer than I ever imagined it would be – asking people again and again to breathe.

To be themselves.

To practice.

On Assisting

This post originally appeared as part of a series of blogs for Yoga Tree and Pete Guinosso

At some point in life, we stop touching people like we did as children. We are less likely to gently put a hand on a friend, or greet a stranger with touch. I distinctly remember when it stopped being cool to hold hands on the playground with my girlfriends. In so many ways, we are a culture afraid of touch, terrified of liabilities and missed intentions and fear before need.

I am amazed that an individual practice like yoga has helped retrain my brain about the power of touch in community.

When I approached teacher training, assisting was at the top of my fear list. I was worried that I would hurt someone, or that I would never be able to master an assist that didn’t feel rough, creepy, or too soft (all assists that I have received at various stops on my yoga journey).  

Yet, strangely, it is assisting that brought me to training.

Before I started practicing with Pete, I tended to view assisting as a correction: a movement by a teacher that “fixed” me in a pose.  

Assists that left me wondering: Would I ever get it?

When Pete assisted me, it never felt like a “fix.” The intention of opening – to release, to feeling, to being more comfortable in my own skin - was always present.

Photo credit: Wendy Yalom Photography
As my practice has expanded, I now realize that a student “getting it” is not the point of assisting. The true purpose of adjusting someone in a pose is to help them experience a deeper, fuller version of the asana – in whatever way that means for them.

Pete does many things well as a teacher. He has strong sequencing, a kind but confident teaching voice, and he is well-informed on the anatomy of movement. But one of the main reasons I took Pete’s training was to learn how to assist like he does.  He knows how to move a student’s body in just the right way so that they breathe better, or feel a deeper release, or to move them from pain.  And while some of this comes from his innate abilities, it is also something that he has studied and practiced in order to become skilled.

Not all teacher trainings have the same focus, and it is important to align yourself with one that works for your goals as a teacher. Lighting the Path absolutely leans more towards assisting and adjusting students.

I wanted the deeper dive in how to move people deeper.

Teaching with purposeful, well-intentioned assists, can move students towards their own healing as a part of their practice.

Photo credit: Scott Finsthwait, Great Scott Photography

One of the greatest lessons I learned from my assisting training was that being a good teacher involves taking a hard look at yourself, and your own healing – and moving from that space of authenticity. 

Everyone has a different definition of healing. For me, it is finding peace in the places in my spirit that feel broken.  This is an act of bravery that much of our world sees as a weakness. Understanding what we feel is not an indulgent practice. Caring for ourselves and learning to help our future students is a step on a healing road.  This is the vulnerable place that we assist from and it is how we meet our students where they are.

The work is hard, but it's worth it. 

And in the midst of deep personal work, assisting also reminds you to keep a sense of humor and playfulness. When you are touching other people, and learning how to do it correctly, your hands will slip. You will grab someone accidentally, you will forget to watch where your body is in space, or you will simply mess up the adjustment. This is all part of the practice.

A few months after training, I was assisting a friend at a yoga class celebrating National Nurses Week at the hospital where she works.  I am not sure whether it was the warm environment, or the support of several friends who were there, or finally feeling comfortable with using my hands, but the class felt different.

I wasn’t worried or anxious, and I was able to focus 100% on helping students. I felt like a real teacher.

I sat down to give a savasana adjustment to a woman in the back of the class.  As I lifted her head from the floor, I noticed a small, silver pendant around her neck, with just a single word:


As yoga teachers, if we are lucky, we get to hold space for a group of souls for 60 to 90 minutes in our classes. Whether it is with touch, our words, or simply breathing, our highest goal should be to assist our students as they move through their practice and their life.

Assisting, not to fix the experience, but to expand it. 

Photo by Scott Finsthwait, Great Scott Photography

Humbled by Meditation

This post originally appeared as part of a series of blogs for Yoga Tree and Pete Guinosso

Remember the Trains

I was full of nervous and excited energy on the first day of Lighting the Path Yoga Teacher Training. I found a spot in the Peacock Room at Yoga Tree Telegraph, and grabbed a bolster,  knowing only that our day would start with an hour of meditation.

Pete started our morning with a Four Directions ceremony. Calling in the Four Directions is a way of grounding, physically and emotionally. The ceremony acknowledges the energy that comes from the air and the earth, as well as the important, vital elements of water and fire. Sage or sweet grass is burned and intentions for the day are set. When done in the intensive setting of training, the thoughtful solemnity of the process also highlights themes that will be tracked in the asana portion of class.

Pete Guinosso calls in the Four Directions. Photo Credit: Scott Finsthwait

 After the ceremony, we settled into our seats for the first meditation of training. That first morning, our focus was simply on feeling the breath coming in and out of our nose as we sat for “just 20 minutes.”

Twenty minutes. A cake walk, I thought. I can do yoga for hours! I have done Ana Forrest intensives and lived to tell about it. I am going to nail this meditation thing.

Pete started by asking those with experience in meditation to offer any advice that they could to this newly forming community.

A fellow trainee offered that we should think about meditation much like waiting at a train station. Passing thoughts were like watching trains come and go: We let them pass. We stay where we are. Another train comes by. We let it go.

I tried to keep this in mind as I closed my eyes to begin. I fidgeted with my hands. Palms up. Palms down. I immediately regretted keeping my long sleeve shirt on. I was already sweating in the heat of the room.

It seemed like it had been 40 minutes when I winked open my right eye, like a cartoon bear waking from hibernation, slowly looking around.

Thanks, Pete, for turning the clock towards you. My one lifeline – gone!

Everyone had their eyes closed, even Pete. Had Pete fallen asleep? What if he was asleep and didn’t wake up and we sat here for three hours?

The trains! Remember the trains!

I have never been so happy to hear the meditation bell ring three times – our signal to open our eyes, and reset the room for the two hour asana practice.

With just one meditation under my belt, I knew it was going to be a long six months.

The Drop It Method

Several weekends later, during a morning break, conversation turned to that morning’s meditation. I had really struggled, and didn’t feel like rehashing what I felt was my paltry attempt at clearing my mind.

But everyone else had already shared, so there were expectant faces waiting for my opinion.

Well, I’m working what I call the “Drop It Method.”

That was the name I had given to my current style of meditation. Much like when a dog has something it shouldn’t have in its mouth and a frustrated owner says: DROP IT!  When I’m holding on to thoughts, I tell myself the same thing: DROP IT!

In truth, I was alternating between mantra and dropping it. This amounted to the following soundtrack in my mind: Present. Possible. Peaceful. Positive. (the blissful mantra I wanted so badly to focus on), punctuated by “DROP IT!” when a thought would creep in. Thoughts that, on any given morning, ranged from wishing I had eaten more breakfast to elaborate, existential worries about my place in the universe.

It was a humbling experience to struggle. Much like my yoga practice had been for me in the beginning, meditation was awkward, hard, and frustrating.

But the structure of the training meant that I couldn’t give up on it. We were asked to do 5-10 minutes of meditation a day throughout the training, in addition to our weekend work.

Pete had been teaching us a new meditation method each week, getting progressively more advanced. We experimented with a wide variety of Buddhist meditations, including Tonglen and Metta Meditation. By week seven, I was able to sit with my thoughts (mostly) without flinching. But I was still using the Drop-It Method.

Letting Go on the Ground

It was on a business trip, during one of the last months of training, when I finally learned to really love meditation.

I had worked a full day that started with an early flight. I still had to do my meditation for the day, and it was well past my bedtime. My back was hurting and I knew that sitting up would frustrate me.

I was determined not to fall asleep. I positioned myself on the floor (yes, the hotel room floor) and I put a pillow under my back like a bolster. I set the time on my iPhone to 10 minutes. I put one hand on my heart, and one hand on my belly. I started breathing and pushed “play” on the mantra in my head.

And there, on a hotel room floor in Chicago, I finally let go.

I had dropped in, and I didn’t need to drop anything.

When the iPhone beeped, I wasn’t ready to stop.

I finally knew what it was like to hear the silence of my own clear mind. I was at the train station, sitting on the platform, and I didn’t even need to watch the trains.

Pete’s morning intensives taught me that there is no “right way” to meditate. Like most things in life, the practice of meditation takes just that – practice. It was the tools, and discipline, of Lighting the Path training that led me to this point.

I still meditate often, and I love to meditate while lying down. It is not a daily practice, but it is a frequent one. Meditation is a method of mindfulness that I employ with great intention in various settings.

The greatest gift that I received from the six month focus on meditation was permission to do what makes sense for me. 

There are times when I watch the trains, and there are times when I still need to tell myself to drop the thoughts as they pass.

Meditation doesn’t have to be a fight with our thoughts, when it can be a compassionate homecoming with who we really are.

It is worth every moment of practice to get closer to peace.

Don't Look!

For newcomers to yoga, looking around the studio or classroom to follow along with other students is absolutely a good idea. It provides a context in class that a teacher simply can't demonstrate all the time. Watching others in poses particularly helps visual learners, who are trying to help their brain make sense of verbal cues.

Left foot - where? Oh, my neighbor's got it! Phew!

What is triangle pose?  This woman to my right has that sh*t down...sweet.

Slowly but surely, though, we all leave the beginner stage of the practice. This often brings the focus inward.

And this is where looking around takes a bit of a dangerous turn.

99% of the time - I barely notice other bodies in class - unless someone near me is rocking out a particularly awesome arm balance or, alternatively, I'm worried that the neighbor to my right or left is going to take me out with a headstand gone wrong.

So what about the other 1% of the time?

Last Sunday I was reminded of how detrimental comparison can be in my practice.

After a weekend of yoga classes at the Wind Horse Conference, my last Sunday class was called "Pike Possibilities" and it was focused on learning how to pike into handstand. I had been nervous signing up for the class because it was billed as "intermediate to advanced." I hesitated to sign up but ultimately decided that I was game to try it. I don't consider my asana practice to be advanced, but I have a fairly strong handstand at the wall. I reasoned with myself that this would be good for me.

Well, I was game to try it until I actually got into the class. I was a little more sore than usual just given the intensity of the previous two morning classes with Ana Forrest. I was also having trouble binding with comfort in warrior, which isn't a super strong pose for me anyways.

Interlock warrior (the bind), should really be directing your chest upward, your head and neck relaxed. Even in half-bind, the pose I had taken instead, your gaze should be down, but not under your body, and your goal should still be to work your chest upward.

The "quick peek" bind.

Instead of focusing on my practice, I took this as an opportunity to drop my head, look through my legs and see what everyone behind me was doing. And everyone was binding - or at least that is what my thoughts were telling me. The truth was that I had a view of about 3 people out of 20. So - therefore - EVERYONE must have been doing it.

I caught myself and closed my eyes and got back into feeling. Your body. Your practice. Stop it.

And just 10 minutes later, we were at the wall, doing crazy variations of arm balances off handstand to practice the feeling of piking. I dropped into one and literally caught my neck craning to see what everyone else was doing.

STOP IT! I told myself. You are being ridiculous. The mental gymnastics continued for the next 30 to 45 minutes at the wall. Which, without question, was a long time to be doing wall work.

Frustrated, and laughing, I came off the wall and said to a few friends close by: this sh*t is HARD.

And everyone started laughing. And agreed. And as I have seen happen many times before in yoga practice, I realized I was not alone. I had been so married to thinking that I wasn't enough, that I hadn't realized that I wasn't the only one who thought it was tough, and that we were all roughly working the same edge in different ways.
A wise man (Theodore Roosevelt) once said that "comparison is the thief of joy."

So the moral of this story is that we are only ever seeing half a story when we start looking around in class. And the story we should be focusing on - at least in our personal practice - is our story. Sometimes our story will be about feelings of inadequacy and fear, and that's okay. As long as we are moving forward, and directing the gaze back within.

Yoga: it gets me every single time.

On Teacher Training: Lighting the Path with Pete Guinosso

In many ways, yoga has taught me how to live.

Committing to a yoga teacher training seemed like a natural progression in learning.

The six months of teacher training changed my life in ways that I never expected. It gave me the space and structure to channel everything that yoga had taught me into a new paradigm for how I approach the world.

A lot of life is simply showing up.But I have to give credit where credit is due. I had an amazing teacher for my training.

I have an amazing teacher.

Lighting the Path with Pete: His next training starts in September 2013!

Pete Guinosso is one of those rare people in life that makes room for everyone, and loves them all right where they are. With Pete, what you see is what you get.

I was drawn to Pete initially because he has a strong Forrest background and a sweet sense of humor, but I stayed because he has a beautiful heart.

Pete has given me a multitude of tools to face down the fears that have held me back for so long. Prior to training, it was more of a quiet nudging. Now it's a little more direct.

In the hundreds (quite literally) of classes that I have taken with Pete over the past three years - he has never once focused on a limitation. He has never said "you can't." He has acknowledged room to grow, has helped me back off or go deeper, and has watched me move from that girl in the back of class who was afraid to try everything - to someone who is embarking on a challenge to handstand in the middle of the room.

Post-training, I have realized that I have had the strength to do tough poses for a long time. I needed the confidence to trust myself. Now when I approach a new pose - I don't hesitate. If I'm afraid, I acknowledge it and move on. If it's tough, I try not to worry about how long it is going to take to get there. There is no longer if - it is simply a question of when. As a result of this shift, I no longer see falling as failure. I still get embarrassed, but I laugh about it more.

And imagine if you apply all of the above to something non-asana related. Because that's happening, too.

Lighting the Path made me a stronger practitioner of yoga and has made my home practice just as strong as my studio practice. I developed a new found confidence and feeling of worth. It gave me deep friendships that have fulfilled a need for understanding that I didn't know I had.

Oh, and I also learned how to teach yoga as a side benefit. I teach a weekly class now and I feel competent and capable. I still get nervous, of course, but when panic sets in, I just draw on what I was taught.

So the question is - what are you waiting for? Pete is running the training again starting on September 14th - and there are spots available!

You will learn anatomy and yogic history and you might be like me and squeal with delight when you finally figure out your radius from your ulna and name all the vertebrae. You will learn how to cue without saying "dropping" and "coming into" and somewhere along the line you will stop being so gut-wrenchingly nervous about standing up in the front of the room teaching yoga. You will lead a room full of strangers into a pose and realize that - they are doing what you told them to do. You will learn deep assists (only after you accidentally grab someone inappropriately a few times - that's why we call it PRACTICE). You will understand - at your core - that most people want and need to be touched - and that you can facilitate that in a healing way.

Perhaps most importantly, you will find an ever-expanding community. When I wake up most mornings, there are texts from fellow trainees who are as close as family. Checking in, geeking out on something related to yoga, sending love.

How did I get this lucky?

It's yoga. It's Pete. It's people who show up. It's showing up for yourself. We only have one chance to make a go at this path. And I'm happy to be on the one that is lit with beautiful people and experiences.

Yoga. Community. Love. LTP 2013 Graduates with Pete in Joshua Tree.

Find out more about the training on Facebook.

Take the plunge and just sign-up online with Yoga Tree.