Safety Tips – Cross-Training with Yoga

Emily Seymour Cross Training With YogaCross-training with yoga is a popular discussion topic these days and people will sometimes ask me if I lift weights or do cardio. There are ways to effectively combine Eastern and Western forms of exercise but there are a few common mistakes to avoid.

To be clear, when I’m using the word yoga in this context I’m talking about the physical practice of asana, not the 5,000+ year old tradition. Asana-based yoga classes are the most recent evolution of the 1980’s aerobics fad and most YMCA’s, gyms and health clubs offer a variety of them. Yet many of these businesses do not educate their clientele on how to safely incorporate yoga into their work outs.

Contractive vs. expansive strength training.  

Free weight training is designed to build strength by repeatedly contracting the muscle towards the central axis of the body. Yoga poses such as Warrior 2 build strength by holding the posture and lengthening the muscles away from the central axis of the body. Contractive strength training shortens the muscle whereas expansive strengthening promotes a balance of strength and flexibility.

People who practice routine contractive strength training (such as bodybuilders) may have a tough time holding poses like Warrior 2. If you’ve been weightlifting regularly and want to start practicing yoga it can helpful to switch to lighter weights. There are some corporate yoga studios that offer classes that combine light weight training with yoga.

Asana and Cardio.

Any kind of joint impacting exercise should be done BEFORE practicing yoga. Asana opens the joints so it’s counterintuitive to run on a treadmill after practicing yoga. While there are cardio machines like exercise bikes and ellipticals that don’t impact the joints they do tighten the muscles. It’s a good idea to stretch for five minutes before doing cardio and then do an extended yoga practice afterwards.

A good warm up is key.

It’s worth mentioning another potential safety issue that frequently happens in gym settings. Oftentimes members arrive well after a class has started, sometimes as much as a half hour into the class, or else they might leave early. Many instructors don’t say anything as the success of a class is based on attendance numbers, but this can be quite dangerous.

For your safety you should plan on attending a group yoga class from start to finish. You wouldn’t jump on a treadmill and start out at peak speed, nor would you end a weight lifting session without a little stretching. Just like any other system of exercise there is a formula to a yoga class, and this formula is designed to give you optimal results.

Thinking about cross-training with yoga? I’d love to speak with you. Book a free no-obligation consultation today.

Self Teacher Study – Mind Body Tune Ups

Mind Body Tune Ups

Alignment. Chances are you’ve heard this term for describing the positioning of our bodies in yoga postures. But what is alignment, really? What is it for? Is it simply the organization of our muscles, bones, tendons and organs, or is it something else?

Alignment is a practice of fine tuning the body. All vehicles require tune ups from time to time. When we bring our cars to the mechanic they might perform a wheel alignment and check the suspension. These adjustments help to keep your car functioning at an optimal level.

It’s the same with our body-vehicles. Yoga poses help to improve the functioning of your body by reversing the effects of poor postural habits, and from overworking or underworking the body. As our alignment improves so does our state of mind. When we’re not distracted by physical discomforts we’re free to focus on other pursuits.

Alignment develops through consistent, comprehensive yoga practice. Over time, practitioners begin to develop an increased level of awareness of their bodies and minds. This heightened sensitivity permeates other aspects of their lives. American yoga master Erich Schiffman explains:

“The beauty of being more sensitive lies in the discovery that beneficial things naturally start feeling good, better than before, and therefore become more attractive to you. Things that are bad for you no longer hold the attraction they once may have had. Your diet, for example, may undergo an effortless change. Certain foods you previously enjoyed may no longer be so appealing, and previously uninteresting foods may now entice you. Lifestyle habits may also change without conscious determination.”

By exploring our alignment we can begin to understand the mind-body connection. As we unravel the layers of our being we may discover how our outer and inner state parallel one another. The peace of mind you feel after a good yoga practice is a reflection of the freedom you feel in your body.

When you’re in “the zone” life takes on a fluid quality. This occurs in our interactions, our daily tasks, and our ability to move seamlessly through our days. This level of impeccability is like driving a sports car through a series of green lights. As we begin to tap into the intelligent design of the bodymind our confidence improves.

As our sensitivity develops we’ll become more aware of the times when we’re not in the zone. There may be a noticeable dissonance in our bodies, minds and environments. Some tell tale signs of needing a tune up include:

  • Mental tape-loops
  • Aches and pains
  • Feeling distracted
  • Encountering technical “speed bumps”
  • Increased irritability
  • Spilling things
  • Dissatisfaction
  • Low energy levels
  • Anti-social tendencies
  • Wasting money
  • Rushing

The first step is to notice that something feels off. Then take a moment to pause and listen to your intuition. The answer will appear if you simply ask yourself “What do I need right now?” Exercise, a home cooked meal, a massage or a good night’s sleep? Some time in nature or a good laugh with a friend?

These are all good forms of mind body tune ups. Another tune up tool is saucha, one of the niyamas (observances) of yoga. Saucha refers to purity in mind, body, and speech. Practicing saucha is a holistic form of spring cleaning. Next time you’re feeling a little funky try taking a shower, washing your yoga mat, emptying your inbox, or freshening up your living space.

What sorts of mind body tune ups do you practice? Feel free to leave a comment in the box below.

Yogavotes is Spiritual Materialism in Action

YogavotesCo-authored with Christopher James Whitson.

Yogavotes, a national, nonpartisan campaign has petitioned an estimated 20 million American yoga practitioners to vote in 2012. Yogavotes claims that “yoga is voting,” which is a lie. Yoga was never intended to be political and should never become political. Yogavotes, or any political non-profit acting in the name of yoga is inherently unethical according to yoga’s clearly defined universal purpose.

For the record, we are libertarians and we respect your right to vote your conscience. Not all yoga teachers share this value and there is a growing trend where yoga teachers are endorsing candidates in their classes. While this tactic is not supported by Yogavotes, some of their ambassadors are publicly endorsing their chosen candidates.

There is nothing unethical about encouraging someone to vote or to vote for a particular candidate. But doing it in the name of yoga is a form of cultural genocide. It implies that yoga is something very different from what it is or was ever intended to be.

Telling someone to vote a certain way assumes that you know what is right. But what if you are wrong? Even if ONE person is hurt by those policies then what you have done can not be classified as karma yoga or seva because seva helps EVERYONE. In such a situation any action establishes further karma.

With all the hype about yogis “needing” to vote, is it any small wonder that the Yogavotes movement is being driven by propaganda? Yogavotes is attempting to change the stereotypical view of yogis as being “fluffy, spiritual people.” Yogavotes claims that certain yogic values of awareness, connection and participation are integral to the voting process. Yet they fail to offer a balanced perspective of the valid arguments that have been made against voting.

Despite Yogavotes’ claim of being non-partisan, they are appealing to a demographic that is predominantly comprised of Democrats. Since the 1960’s yoga has been branded a progressive or liberal practice in America, despite the many thousand year history of Sanatana dharma and the various schools of Indian philosophy (of which Yoga is only one). This is mostly due to the conservative slant toward Abrahammic religion and Christianity in particular. Many conservatives (though admittedly not all) view yoga as being outside of Vatican-approved practices and at worst from the devil.

Some may argue that hippies did significant work to popularize yoga in the West, thus implying that is a good thing. We disagree with the notion of this being a “good” thing. Some argue that the popularity of yoga exposes more people to it. This is faulty and inaccurate logic. What is commonly accepted and believed to be yoga is not yoga at all and never will be yoga.

Yoga, by its very definition, is “union” and “yoking.” Yoga can be illustrated by its single-minded aspiration and unifying purpose of Moksha (liberation) through Nirvikalpa Samadhi – the absolute ascension of one’s own intimate energy and consciousness. This and this alone is Yoga!

What does Yogavotes or voting have to do with Moksha? The idea of saving the world through a non-profit somehow continues to have a lot of curb appeal and non-profits pop up all the time. But despite the increasing numbers of non-profits the state of the world has become progressively worse.

Yoga was never intended to be political. If anything, it was intended as an escape from politics (if you define politics as karma). While the modern sage Aurobindo was politically active for much of his life, he had to give up his activity in politics in order to devote himself to spiritual pursuits. Aurobindo believed that for human society to reach its full potential and become enlightened, each individual had to undergo internal enlightenment: the unification of kundalini with the supermind.

Yogavotes is appropriating the power and authority of the word yoga for an aim that is not in any way a Yogic aspiration. The more people believe something the more that becomes their reality. If Yogavotes continues to influence people’s beliefs yoga will become nothing more than a political-social-marketing platform and an alternative to the bar scene.

Yogavotes is spiritual materialism (a phrase coined by Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche) in action. Not because it uses spirituality to sell something – it’s spiritual materialism because the ego is putting on a spirituality “suit” and is tricking you into thinking you are being spiritual by voting. And this ego-charade has infiltrated every aspect of the yoga community.

What is needed in the world today are more people who are willing to challenge their own egos, rather than making themselves look and feel good at the expense of true liberation (Moksha) and truth (Satya).

Yoga is intended to be completely non-partisan. How can ascension and liberation be partisan? Please, don’t put yet another stain on Yoga by condoning this Yoga Lobby.

Yogis Can Eat Meat (if They Want to)

Yogis Can Eat Meat
I’m a flexitarian, which means that I eat small amounts of healthy meat. As a yoga teacher, people tend to assume that I’m a vegetarian. I enjoy vegetarian cuisine and have experimented with vegetarianism, but it isn’t in my best interest to eat that way.

I could replace meat with supplements or food combining options (such as rice and beans) and would do so if I had no other options. I just know that my energy level and health is enhanced from animal proteins. I understand that every person’s body is unique and their diet should reflect that. This is just what works for me.

I grew up in an American home. My family belonged to a co-op for a while and supported the Maine organic farmers association. I experimented with vegetarianism when I was in high school, but quite honestly I had no idea what I was doing.

When I went to college I didn’t like the cafeteria food, so I wound up eating a lot of cereal, bagels and salads. My boyfriend came to visit and saw how depleted I was, so we bought a hotplate and we made pasta and sausage in my dorm room. That first home-cooked meal was like finding water in the desert.

After a year at college I decided to take a leave of absence and began apprenticing with my dance teacher. Being on the road and eating out a lot while teaching five days a week took a major toll on my body. During spring break I experimented with the Blood Type Diet. After just a week of eating according to my Type O recommendations I felt healthier than I had in years. I was eating sprouted grain breads, vegetables, fruits and small portions of healthy meats and fish. The higher cost of eating this way kept me from continuing, so I fell back into my old patterns.

After my dance teacher passed I became friends with a group of people who had a cooking tradition. Each week a different person would cook a shared meal. I was very nervous about cooking for a large group, and my first attempt was a failure. One of the older women shared some of her cookbooks with me. One was specifically for “starving artists” like myself.

I started teaching myself how to cook.

I began to integrate these books with what I’d been learning about food energetics. Cooking became a meditation for me as I practiced listening to my intuition while preparing simple meals.

I moved to New York where I met a Chinese doctor and martial artist. He taught me about cooking alchemy from an Oriental medicine perspective. I started to view my food as medicine. For the first time in my adult life I started relaxing my belly while I ate. As a dancer I’d always held it in out of fear of eating too much. I was exercising a lot and learned that in order to train effectively I had to have enough of the right kinds of fuel in my body.

I went on to study yoga and Ayurveda, and continued learning about food as medicine. Like any other food, meat has medicinal benefits. My yoga teacher (who eats fish and eggs) taught me about the importance of gratitude and the power of prayer when eating.

There’s a common misperception in New Age circles that eating meat is somehow less “spiritual” than vegetarianism or veganism. There are many yoga teachers who eat meat and even the Buddha ate meat. Apparently eating meat was what killed him though – the story goes that he died from being served contaminated pork, which is a great argument against mishandling.

Every person has the right to eat however they want.

This is just my story about food and I’m interested to hear yours. Feel free to leave a comment in the box below.

Is Power Yoga the Anti-Yoga?

Is Power Yoga the Anti-Yoga

A friend sent me a coupon for a week of free yoga classes so I decided to check out a studio in Manhattan. I’d heard good things about this place – that it’s one of the better studios in the city. On their website they describe their signature style as being based on the chakra system. I let go of any pre-conceived ideas of what this could mean and went with an open mind.

There was a strong MTV element.

The walls were painted with graffiti and one wall displayed a mural of Ganesha holding a boom box and a stack of dollar bills. The floor was covered in glitter and pink hearts that were arranged to help students align their mats so they wouldn’t kick one another in a packed room.

The studio owner came in sporting an Obama tee shirt and a half sleeve. I’d never seen such a blatant political advertisement by a teacher (yoga is not political BTW). The music was bumping from start to finish and the sequencing included some creative variations. The predominant theme of the class was fun, Fun, FUN! It must be what the student-clientele are willing to pay $18 a class for.

I had a hard time concentrating.

The over-stimulation was a stark contrast to my usual “studio” of parks and nature. It felt like I was in a dance class rather than a yoga class. I didn’t experience anything about the “signature style” to indicate a relationship with the chakras. It may have not been a part of the lesson that day (which I honestly don’t remember).

A few days later I received an email from a Buddhist Dharma teacher who shared his reflections on the benefits of Slow Yoga. He said that Slow Yoga helps his students with their meditation practices and that they believe that power yoga is the anti-yoga, or at least anti-enlightenment in the same way that guided meditation is anti-meditation.

With the MTV yoga experience still fresh in my mind, I had to agree that power yoga presents an obstacle. It’s not to say that power yoga can’t be used as a stepping stone but its primary function is aerobic entertainment. I wouldn’t go so far as to say that guided meditation is anti-meditation though…

What do you think? Is power yoga the anti-yoga? Feel free to leave a comment in the box below.

Tandem Yoga FAQs

Yuki BirdWhat is Tandem Yoga?

Tandem Yoga is an umbrella term for partner, contact and acrobatic Yoga.  Tandem means a group working together, and Yoga means union, as in a pair of opposite forces uniting.  In Tandem Yoga we work together to understand and experience this balance of opposition through our shared Yoga practices.  This playful, heart-centered practice takes yoga to the next level.

What are the benefits of Tandem Yoga?

There are many benefits, some of which I talk about in a previous article (read: Tandem Yoga – Inversions).

Do I need a partner?

No, it really isn’t necessary.  Many practitioners claim that it can actually be more challenging to practice with their significant other.  It’s best to come with the idea that you’re going to have fun playing with friends.  Of course, if you and your partner want to attend together that’s fine, but you should know in advance that you’ll have the opportunity to practice with a variety of people.  Tandem practices are a great way to get to know a person for the first time.

Are there any Tandem Workshops just for couples?

Yes and they are advertised that way – example: Valentine’s Day.  I also offer private Tandem Yoga sessions.

Can you recommend any videos?  

Yes, you’ll find that there’s a lot of free material online if you search for ‘partner’, ‘acro’, ‘contact’, etc.  For our purposes, I’d recommend that you start by watching the video “108 Seconds of Aero Yoga.”  This includes a lot of the basic floor poses that are taught in Tandem Workshops:

 

Other questions?

Feel free to post them here or send an email to mindbodymandala@gmail.com

Neo Yogis

Neo YogisSo I’ve had this idea lately. It’s still developing, but I’ve been thinking a lot about the “McYoga” epidemic and how the neo yogis can survive it.

Consumerism and materialism have done a number on watering yoga down. The evolutionary force of yoga is being overshadowed by the superficial results. The many recent innovations are wonderful but at this point it’s yesterday’s news. You wouldn’t know that from looking at a copy of Yoga Journal. Speaking of which, I flipped through one recently and didn’t find a single thing of interest in it.

Not even one.

I see gifted teachers falling into step with the politically correct monoculture (hey, everyone has bills to pay). The teachers who have stayed true to the call are widely dispersed. Some of them stay well underneath the radar. I can understand why.

The yoga market is a slippery slope.

On the flip side the iron is hot right now. Yoga has become a household word and people are ready to dive in. But they don’t necessarily know which pitfalls to avoid. These are revolutionary times and there have been some recent explosions in the yoga world.

It’s easy to get disillusioned and cynical but I do believe that within the widespread interest lies a seed of greater possibility. We are experiencing a resurgence of ancient wisdom in a technological era. It’s a blessing to be alive in this information age. We are part of a shift in the collective consciousness and people are waking up.

The potential for personal evolution is mind blowing and it’s all the more reason to meditate. But we have to shed the extraneous distractions and resist segregating ourselves.

Let go of the petty story lines.

It doesn’t matter whether or not you eat meat.

The greatest style is no style.

Enough with the New Age elevator music.

You’re not your fucking lululemons.

Let yoga be the discipline of freedom that it IS.

Tandem Yoga Benefit

 

Tandem Yoga BenefitOn Saturday I had the opportunity to teach a Tandem Yoga benefit class at the Yoga House in Kingston, NY. I’m so appreciative of the group that came together for this community event at the Yoga House. Special thanks to studio owners Jacqui Potente and Leigha Butler for hosting such a fun experience.

This fundraiser was part of the LuvMat Yoga Empowers Project with all proceeds going to Off the Mat Into the World’s Global Seva Fundraiser for Haiti. Seva is the spiritual practice of selfless service, stemming from the Bhakti and Karma paths of yoga. The essence of seva is part of why I enjoy Tandem Yoga, as it naturally illuminates the heart and inspires compassionate action.

Tandem Yoga Benefit AssistTandem Yoga is an umbrella term for partner, contact and acrobatic yoga. Through the practice of “balancing Earth and Sky” we explored the relationship of opposition within ourselves and our shared yoga practices. We created a solid foundation through clear communication, safety and support, and balanced this with lighthearted laughter, playfulness and enjoyment of sharing our yoga practices.

This was an all-levels class and I was especially honored to work with people who were new to Tandem Yoga.  The questions and insights that everyone shared were amazing! We talked about the importance of trust and learning to let go, as well as the adventure of “playing the edge” or challenging our sense of limitations.

One lady suggested how this practice is great for parties. She reminded me of when I first started teaching partner yoga some ten years ago. To this day I still enjoy “climbing” my friends at parties. I loved hearing about how some of the students plan to share these Tandem Yoga practices with their friends.

Thanks again to everyone who helped make this benefit such a great success!

Tandem Yoga Benefit Basics

St. John USVI

Sunny and Emily St. John Yoga
March 9, 2011

Chi is my Co-Pilot

 

“A genuine smile distributes the cosmic current, Prana to every body cell. The happy man is less subject to disease, for happiness actually attracts into the body a greater supply of the Universal life energy.” – Paramhansa Yogananda

 

I’ve never seen the ocean turn purple before. The sky is a lighter shade of violet smeared with gray clouds and the final sweep of the sunset. Across the bay the islands are beginning to light up. As I’m writing this entry the color of the water changes to indigo.

I’m sitting in my friend Sunny’s apartment on St. John. It’s been almost a week since I arrived in the Virgin Islands. The energy of this place is tangible. A few hours ago I ate a bowl of potato leek soup that I helped Sunny prepare. It left me feeling totally buzzed. She asked me if I wanted to go to a party with her.

“Will there be people there who I can do Tandem yoga with?”

Probably not. So here I am, writing to you and enjoying the sunset. I have to say it’s pretty awesome here. I’ve been practicing yoga every day in Sunny’s kitchen that sits high up overlooking the water. We sit on her porch in the mornings watching the basil and tomatoes grow. Sunny tells me the names of every island in the bay. Hummingbirds and iguanas come to visit us.

I am happy… being… here.

This is the perfect place to write about chi. I’ve been working as a freelance writer on a book about health and energy practices. One of my assignments is to write about what chi (life energy) means to me.

Chi is all around me. It’s inside of me. It’s the feeling of looking at clear turquoise water. It’s the after-effects of hiking up the incredibly steep (!!!) hills. It’s in the sensations in my body when I meditate. It’s the fresh juice from Sunny’s Champion juicer, a sunset swirl of carrot, beet, apple, ginger, lemon. I feel it when I’m laughing.

The sky and the water have turned to black. In the distance the hills are glowing orange and white. The crickets are singing and the evening air is soft and inviting.

I wish I could practice yoga here with all of you.

Anna and Emily Tandem Yoga St. John

 

March 28, 2011

Reflections

 
“Thirty spokes converge upon a single hub;  
It is on the hole in the center that the use of the cart hinges.
 
We make a vessel from a lump of clay;
It is the empty space within the vessel that makes it useful.
 
We make doors and windows for a room;
But it is these empty spaces that make the room livable.
 
Thus, while the tangible has advantages,
It is the intangible that makes it useful.”
 
– Lao Tzu, The Tao Teh Ching
 

I’m inhaling another sunset here in the City of Love. For the past month I’ve been awake at dawn almost every morning. This is what happens whenever I’m in the tropics. Before coming here I received a Reiki treatment from my friend Mandy. She predicted that this place would feel like home to me. It has in ways that I didn’t expect. St. John feels like a hybrid of Maine, Hawaii and Colorado.

It’s another world here. People drive on the left side of the road which does a number on my dyslexia. There are no fast food restaurants or strip malls. The internet is limited here so I’ve been reading a wonderful book called “The Enzyme Factor – How to Live Long and Never be Sick” by Hiromi Shinya.

Very rich food for thought.

I’ve taken to calling this trip Sunny’s Island Boot Camp Adventure. We’ve been hiking, snorkeling and stand-up paddle boarding. We practiced yoga with friends and went dancing. Every night is Friday here.

Sunny has been teaching me about the history of the island and about the slavery uprisings. One morning we hiked to a sacred pool on Reef Bay which sits below the largest waterfall on the island. On the rocks surrounding the pool are petroglyph carvings made by the Taino, the early inhabitants of St. John.

This was a place of ancestor worship. The petroglyph symbols are positioned to reflect in the water so as to represent the inter-dependency of the spiritual and physical worlds. I wanted to meditate there and will go back sometime when there are less tourists.

Three more days until my gypsy caravan moves on. I’m looking forward to coming back. There is an amazing retreat center here and a wonderful community who I would love to continue practicing with.