a simple test to find out if you are ready for level 2/3 yoga classes…

So, some people think they are ready for a 2/3 yoga class…until they actually take one and the truth becomes readily apparent.

Here’s an easy test to determine whether you are 2/3 caliber:

Go to a Level 2/3 yoga class. If you can’t wait for the next one, you’re ready. If you can’t bear the thought, you’re not.

Simple as that.

Notice there’s no mention of “If you can do a handstand” or “If you can touch your toes” or even “If you can hold a plank for five minutes.” Because, ultimately none of that matters.

The real tests are “If you can try a handstand…even if it’s scary” and “If you can stretch towards your toes…until you can really feel it” and “If you can hold a plank to your edge…and maybe a breath past it.”

If you go to a Level 2/3 class and feel totally overwhelmed, paralyzed with fear, intimidated by everyone else’s skill set…not ready.

If you go and feel inspired by the possibilities, always try your best (even if you fall…a lot), and can even laugh at yourself a little (or a lot)…ready.

In my teaching, I come across so many people who want to do the fabulous stuff, they are entranced and enthralled by it, but they make two fatal errors that predetermine their failure.

1. They come to class and just sit there. They assume they can’t do any of the challenging stuff…and they’re right. FACT: you actually can’t do any of the hard stuff if you don’t even try. You want to prove yourself worthy of the 2/3 badge? Try everything. And try it hard. Baby steps, Mama Bear steps, or Papa Bears, it doesn’t matter. The only step that matters is the one that takes you out of  your comfort zone. No one ever got stronger by hiding in a comfort zone.

2. They decide they aren’t ready for 2/3, and so return to 1/2 to “get stronger” first. I put that in quotes for a reason. See #1. Going to a Level 1/2 class to get stronger for 2/3 is like going back to kindergarten to prepare for college. It just doesn’t make sense.

And the worst offenders of all…those who take 2/3 for a while, get stronger and stronger, more and more flexible, greater and greater balance and control…and then hit a wall. And instead of busting through it, they retreat away from it. They march back to 1/2 to regroup, fully expecting to return to 2/3 sooner than later. And then they get comfortable. And the very thought of returning to 2/3 is–well–overwhelming, paralyzing, and intimidating all over again. Maybe they come back to test the 2/3 waters once and realize just how much they lost…maybe they never come back at all. Ultimately, they probably were never ready for 2/3 in the first place–and never will be again.

Ultimately, all 2/3 means is ready for anything and never, ever giving up.

The real 2/3 Mama Bear…always ready for anything!

 

 

http://www.YOGAthletica.com

how to go to an awesome yoga workshop and get absolutely nothing out of it

one lovely day many years ago, i was lucky enough to attend an amazing, exclusive, private workshop with a world famous yogi who offered to teach a handful of people how to press into handstand.

for a few hours, the group of us pushed and pressed our way through the material. everyone in the room was hopping and jumping just to get off the $%&@# floor. except me. i was trying my damnedest just to press up.

as a result everyone in the room got off the floor. except me. my toes might as well have been glued to the earth at that point.

now, given the title of this post, you probably think i’m going to say that i went to an awesome yoga workshop and got absolutely nothing out of it.

wrong.

i’m going to say the exact opposite.

i went to an awesome yoga workshop and was the only one to get anything out of it.

you see, you can’t learn to press by jumping any more than you can learn to ride a bike by sewing.

but, people in general are stubborn. and impatient. the fine folks in the workshop didn’t want to learn how to press, they wanted to stroke their egos. hell if they were going to spend three hours standing in uttanasana, futilely pressing their hands into the floor and getting absolutely nowhere. hell if they were going to put in the actual work of the workshop. hell if they were going to admit “their way” just wasn’t working.

now, you know how this press into handstand story ends. these days i can press up in my sleep…but that skill was years in the making. years spent as a landlubber, getting pretty much nowhere. until…i got somewhere.

these days, i teach people all over the world how to handstand and in every workshop we have huge breakthroughs. we break barriers and demystify the process while still having a fun, fabulous time.

but just about every handstand workshop, i also have that one person who already “knows it all”. typically, it’s someone who can kick up to the wall and sort of pull their feet off the wall…but can’t actually balance.

s/he comes to my workshop (not sure why) and while i break down the pose step-by-step, building from the foundational baby steps up, that person is just doing his or her own thing. the same old trick over and over and over again. kick up, feet off wall, fall down. kick up, feet off wall, fall down. kick up…

i guess my first question is why would anyone bother coming to (and paying for) a workshop only to practice the same technique that hasn’t worked for them for the past however many years? they could do that in their bedroom.

ultimately, a lot of people come to workshops, but don’t want to do the baby steps. they don’t get the concept that unless you have a strong foundation, you can’t build a house. they think they are too advanced or maybe just too cool.

but here’s what happens…

at the end of the workshop everyone in the class has learned to be confident practicing handstand in the middle of the room. except one person. because s/he’s still stuck, kicking up to the wall, feet off the wall, falling down, kicking up to the wall, feet off the wall, falling down…

http://www.YOGAthletica.com

because i said you can…that’s why….

it’s funny. i mean not ha-ha funny, but funny nonetheless.

i work with a lot of special needs yoga students (that’s not the funny part), of every age and every challenge, be it mental, physical, or emotional. most of the time, i make tremendous strides. i’ve had a student come to me in a wheelchair because he didn’t feel comfortable walking…and we got him out of the chair. for good. i had a girl with add/adhd who could not get through ten seconds of meditation when we started…but eventually got up to a full hour. i had a mentally disabled woman who could only walk on the balls of her feet learn to balance on one foot…flat. and then–now here’s the funny part–i worked with a textbook.

well, he wasn’t literally a textbook, but his mother and entourage thought he was.

he had therapists and nutritionists and shadows galore…and a yoga teacher. and all but one treated him like a textbook.

although he was already in his late 20s, everyone coddled him because that’s what the textbooks said to do. despite struggling with his weight, his nutritionist thought that replacing his soda with fruit juice and sparkling water would be too jarring for him. so he stuck with big gulps and doritos as his snacks of choice. his therapist thought that challenge was too disruptive for him, so he kept him in his comfort zone…always. and then there was me. i don’t believe in comfort zones and i don’t believe in limitations.

even though this young man was fully physically capacitated, he suffered from asperger’s syndrome, which caused him to mentally function differently than most. every pose i offered him, he would back off, telling me he couldn’t do it. simple poses like cat/cow or tree with his hand on the wall. but i don’t allow the word “can’t”…just “i’ll try.” and i pressed on and guess what? he could do the poses. in fact, he could do every pose i asked him to. after i asked a few times.

first down dog i asked him to do, his mother jumped in to intervene that he absolutely can’t do that one! wonder where he got his ideas from. ’cause, guess what. he could do down dog, too. and he could do it for ten breaths. and through all the poses i gave him, nothing ever broke, nothing ever tore. we just worked on frustration tolerance. because with people with asperger’s, the real work in life is learning to work through life without stressing out. actually…i guess that’s everyone’s work, really…

anyway, as my student got more proficient, i challenged him more…and, by golly, he got stronger. and stronger.

but his team didn’t want him strong. they wanted their textbook. the book said that he is not capable of working beyond his comfort zone and he is not capable of change. his psychologist came down on me for pushing him too hard and said that i would need to cut out all challenging poses…which, according to my student, was every pose. and let me state an aside that this student loved coming to yoga and called it his “happy place”. so it wasn’t that he didn’t want to practice yoga. he just didn’t want to practice frustration tolerance.

anyway, despite what the textbooks may say, i disagree. i think that everyone grows through challenge. i’ve seen remarkable transformations through challenge. and i believe that without challenge we would all just die on the vine.

yes…the student quit yoga because his psychologist didn’t like my approach. and that’s the funny thing. my approach is that i push people because i believe in people. i believe people are capable of amazing things. i believe they can break boundaries and expectations and move beyond the studies and the means. i believe that all people of all needs can be remarkable. but they have to believe it, too.

funny, huh?

http://www.YOGAthletica.com

about last night…

so…about last night.

it wasn’t a great night.

as some of you know, i am pretty active in pro-israel politics (“pretty active” as in: it’s the single most important thing in my life) and the recent events in israel have been quite unsettling, to say the least.

it’s been a few days of conference call after conference call, punctuated with trying to get ahold of my little sister who lives in tel aviv and generally worrying about her and the whole country.

needless to say, there hasn’t been a lot of sleep involved.

and i am someone who needs her sleep.

but instead of catching my much needed zzzzzz’s last night, i found myself teaching my wednesday night class. and as my first teacher, bryan kest, would say “you bring your shit into yoga, you turn your yoga into shit.”

okay…so i did that.

my usually funny, fun, funky class was transformed into the yoga boot camp from hell. my smile was transformed into a scowl. and i felt like i was dying inside. not just because i had become so angry and upset (isn’t yoga supposed to be about non-reactivity? i said that about a hundred times during the class, so i hope it is…), but because even as i felt the anger creeping in, i felt helpless against its encroachment.

i guess, as a yoga teacher, i’m not supposed to succumb to such pedestrian emotions. but ultimately, yogis and yoginis do get angry…just like normal people. and, man, last night’s class was just shit.

oh…and yogis and yoginis cuss, too.

a universal sorry all around…

the spiritual handstand

So, here I am minding my own business, taking advantage of the awesome summer sun, practicing on the cliffs in Santa Monica. Runners run by, bikers bike, strollers stroll…and then there’s this one random guy who feels it is very important to take it upon himself, come over to me, yell that “That’s not yoga, you know!” and then continue along his merry way.

Now, I don’t know who this maharishi thought he was, interrupting my personal practice on one hand, and thinking himself the ultimate authority on yoga on the other, but on the off-chance that he is reading this post, let me set the record straight.

Yoga, literally translated, means yoke. To yoke together. As in, yoke together your mind, your body and your spirit.

Yoga does not have to take any particular form. It doesn’t have to be asana, or meditation, or sava/selfless service. Yoga can be running, writing, eating. Honestly, yoga can be picking your nose.

Any time your mind, body, and spirit are aligned with a singular intention, you are practicing yoga.

But let’s take it out of the esoteric and into the concrete. Let’s assume that this guru of yoga knowledge and spirituality was right…and only asana qualifies as real yoga.

First of all, I will concede that the ancient robed monks who invented this practice were not doing so in adho mukha vrksasana (Downward Facing Tree, i.e. Handstand). In fact, most accounts point to the fact that handstands are a relatively modern-day yoga practice borrowed from gymnasts perhaps around the turn of the 20th century.

But…here’s why I will defend my beloved yoga handstands to the death….

When someone is practicing handstands (or any truly challenging posture, really), his or her mind is 100% focused on the task at hand. If it isn’t, the pose will fail, the practitioner will fall, and the practice will completely fall apart.

And for those who believe that easier and simpler hatha yoga is the only truly spiritual yoga because of its slower pace and non-physically challenging focus, let me posit this…What happens if your mind drifts off in a stretching posture, in a mountain pose, or even in that warrior that you’ve done so many millions of times that you can do it in your sleep? The answer: nothing. In fact, the mind is much more likely to drift off when it is not being fully challenged than when it is.

Working on a handstand is to work in fully aligned intention. Your mind, your body, and your spirit all conspire to accomplish your goal. You are in your yoga.

Call it what you will, but these handstands are yoga in their purest and most literal form.

http://www.YOGAthletica.com

my million dollar baby moment

okay…i’ll admit it’s not the easiest transition in yoga, but honestly, it’s not the hardest one either. in fact, it’s pretty manageable…albeit perhaps a tad bit scary.

i’m talking about vrschikasana in adho mukha vrksasana to gandha behrundasana, silly! but of course!

oh…sound like sanskrit to you? basically, it’s going from scorpion in a handstand to scorpion on your chin (or, i guess, my chin, to be more exact).

i was able to do it the first time i tried it (it’s really not as hard as it looks)…and the 99 times after that. but that’s where this story begins.

so, i’m in a class working on this particular transition. mind you, again, i have done this 100 times before (give or take) without issues. but not this time. i had just arrived in chin-ville when i realized that my legs were too far over & beyond my head and i was going to flip.

now, flipping in handstand is one thing. you land in urdhva danurasana (upward bow) and all is okay in the world.

flipping in gandha behrundasana is a whole ‘nother story. your chin is on the floor, so you are basically rolling over your head with your neck fully extended, face first.

at that moment, everything got really slow and clear and i truly believed “this is where it all ends.” either i was going to die or be permanently paralyzed by severing my spine. if you’re old enough to know the movie, it was my “million dollar baby” moment…time stopped.

after the dramatic flip, i did a quick check in to see if i was still alive. unless i am writing to you right now from heaven unbeknownst to me (god, i hope this isn’t heaven!), i’m still alive. check.

and then…

i got up and i was fine. didn’t even hurt my neck or anything. like fine, as in perfectly fine.

not very dramatic, i know. no ambulances, no life-saving operations, in fact, i don’t even think a single person in the class even noticed. and class–and life–went on as usual.

but…i pretty much became petrified of this transition. never mind that it was old hat up until that moment…or that i didn’t even hurt myself when i fell…the possibility was there and it scared the crap out of me.

for the next few years, i avoided this transition and if someone asked me to do it, i would cheat my legs so far in front of me that not only was there no chance of my flipping over, but very little chance i would actually land the pose either.

it took a long time for me to finally buck up and put this transition back into my practice. i don’t have a lot of fears when it comes to yoga, but fear had definitely kidnapped this from my repertoire.

i’m a big believer that one of the biggest benefits of yoga is learning to face your fears…calmly. eventually, i did add this back into my practice. and even if it scared me, even if i had a deep and visceral reaction to it, i was determined not to let this silly challenge beat me.

now, it’s a part of my daily practice again. and every time i land it, i have to think…hey, i’m still alive and turns out, life is good!

om sweet om

so it took me a little while to foster a consistent home practice. a few years really…well, let’s be honest, a decade…

for the first few years, i would hunker down for a home practice, do a few sun salutations, a couple of poses, and ten minutes later, i was done. that was the end of the practice, i did everything i felt like doing. ten minutes.

it was a bit of a barrier for me, that ten minute mark. somehow, it was all i could muster before wandering off in boredom.

eventually, i bought a home with a dedicated yoga studio in it. certainly, that would provide the motivation i needed to practice at home. no more wedging between the bed and the bathroom looking for a space to put my mat. i’d have nice hardwood floors, empty walls, and plenty of room to experiment….but i didn’t.

it was just about two years ago when my favorite teacher skipped town and i decided at least on the two days a week i used to practice with her, i would home practice. it was like pulling teeth.

and once i was nothing but gums, it was do or die and i finally found my way. and here it is.

if you want to start  home practice of your own, maybe try this.

start with a fixed series of postures. now, let me be clear that i am not an ashtangi, but i personally recommend the ashtanga primary series. why? simply because it’s long. one-and-a-half to two hours, depending on how deeply you breathe. and one-and-a-half is the magic number.

only problem, there are no handstands in the series. :(

so, after a while, i started adding them in. i’m a non-conformist anyway.

and little by little, i started deleting the things i didn’t care for in the primary series and adding in the things that i did…until eventually, there was no way to discern that the ashtanga primary series ever existed in this room at all.

now, my practice is exactly what i want it to be. every day, i pick and choose whatever i’m in the mood for. i still have my sun salutations (kill me before i take those out!), but even those have certain deviations from the norm. no one has ever called me normal.

and the coolest thing? by working on what i want to work on when i want to work on it, my practice has soared to new levels. i’ve taught myself awesome things that were never taught to me in classes and, honestly, i can’t see myself ever returning to a studio practice. turns out, the best teacher was inside of me the whole time (cue some whitney houston song here)…

 

http://www.YOGAthletica.com

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