kids are changing the (yoga) world

the first time is an aberration. the second time is a trend.

unless you live under a social media rock, you have heard about tabay atkins by now. and if you are just crawling out from the rock, a quick primer…tabay is america’s youngest certified yoga instructor. eleven years old. he completed my YOGAthletica teacher training when he was ten.

it was pretty amazing. small boy. big hair. tons of passion for yoga. he breezed through training with “the big boys” (who all happened to be women) like a pro, navigating the mat like he was born on it…he practically was.

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the amazing thing about tabay is that inside that pint-sized yogi was an incredible wisdom that transcended his years and never ceased to amaze us all. in short time, we forgot there was even a kid in the room (but for the fact that he would slide around the room on his back telling everyone he was a slug going to get his slug babies…there was that…).

a few months after the tabay media circus began (and it’s still going strong!), i got a call from a mom saying her 12-year-old daughter saw tabay on the internet and also wanted to get certified. a number of other trainings had already turned her down due to her age and she was hoping i would take her in.

now, i have to admit i had a massive simon cowell moment where i assumed this girl saw tabay getting famous all over the world and she just wanted the same. i met with her and she said she loved yoga with stars in her eyes…i thought the stars were about fame. they were just an honest and true, deep love for the practice. this girl, it turns out, is an honest-to-goodness yogini.

meet natalie.

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you may or may not ever see her on the net beyond her mom’s and my posts because natalie’s goal is not to become famous, at all. it’s just to teach yoga. an instagram account was set up for her…she’s not interested.

can i tell you how impressed i am with this little indigo child? faced with the prospect of being all over tv, the internet, and print, she’s simply not interested. how many 12-year-olds, faced with the same opportunity, do you think would turn it down? (the media may find her anyway!)

let’s put natalie in perspective…on the last day of our intensive (this is FOURTEEN STRAIGHT 12-HOUR DAYS we’re talking about here!) everyone was pretty much dying or dead. i asked in our last philosophy discussion what was–by far–the most profound question of the entire training. everyone just stared at me, dumbfounded, and then she piped up exactly the correct answer in the clearest of terms. this was a question that i  don’t even know if i would have been able to answer myself had i not been the asker myself.

that’s natalie.

and i can’t wait to see which little guy or girl will grace our presence the next time around…stay tuned…

getting older without getting old

okay. i admit it. i have those days.

you know, the days where you (grudgingly) wake up and say to yourself “maybe i’ll just take this one day off my yoga practice.”

okay. i’ll admit it. i have them a lot. maybe because i never actually do take that day off (unless i am on travel…in the spirit of full disclosure). maybe because i’m getting older. but i have them more than i care to admit….i just admitted.

let me be clear, i don’t skip days because yoga practice is my drug, my addiction, or something i can’t live without. au contraire mon frere. i would happily spend the extra two hours languishing in bed if i thought it was an option.

but it’s not. and here’s why…

back in my early years, b.y. (before yoga), i was a total gym rat. practically lived at the gym. and every day at 4am (god help me for waking up at such an ungodly hour for a decade!), there was this guy in his 90s who would lift weights and walk the treadmill for at least an hour. oh…and he still had a full-time job, too!

it was because of him that i drew the conclusion that as long as you get up every single day and do your thing, there will never suddenly be a day when you wake up and cannot do your thing.

that idea has stuck with me literally every day for the last 20+ years.

i do get on my mat every day, no matter how reluctantly. and then there are the days when i think “i’m here. i’m on my mat. i did the hard part. i can skip my ________________ (fill in the blank…handstand series, backbend series, arm balance series, etc) and be fine.”

but…

i can’t.

skip my handstand series today (and it’s over 30 handstands of varying entries and exits each day) and it gives me permission to skip it tomorrow. and just a few more days (because what’s one more day?). until it’s gone.

i’m 45 years old and still practicing like a 25-year-old. some people think i’m crazy. some think i will seriously hurt myself. or kill myself. i’m just doing my best to keep myself strong and flexible and balanced and–quite frankly–young.

do things snap, crackle and pop more than they did ten years ago? yes. do they get exhausted, tight, or hurt more than before? hell, yes. but can i do things now i couldn’t even do back then? YES!  will i be doing bigger and better things in ten years than today? you can say i’m being naive, but i’m going to say i sure hope so.

one day at a time. every. single. damn. day.

i’m on a path and i have no plans on giving up. i’m getting older, but i have no plans of getting old.

 

living the life

whenever i have the awesome opportunity to teach in europe, i am always flooded with messages from friends and family telling me, “you sure live the life!”.

i will be the first to admit that i am blessed beyond my wildest imagination to be able to see the world the way i do, to meet the most amazing people along the way…and to actually get paid for it. believe me, i don’t need anyone to remind me of that.

here’s what’s interesting, though:

in america, people think you have to travel to europe to live the life.

in europe, they just live it.IMG_8879

i don’t mean this on the most obvious, basic level…that we think of their actual home as a vacation spot. heck, i live in l.a….on that level, i am also living the dream.

i mean it on a more fundamental level.

everyone in europe lives the life.

in europe, carpe diem isn’t a hip catch phrase, it’s a lifestyle. they don’t sweat the small stuff like we do. they eat well and eat big. they are passionate and loving and generous and gracious and they are happy. and when i’m there, i am happy, too. like crazy happy. insanely happy. over the moon happy.

granted, i am spending my time with yogis and yoginis, so, certainly the combination of yoga and europe is a potently happy one.

but when you look at the european culture, “the life” is built right in. siestas and long vacations, huge value in family and friends, and meals that never seem to end.

even look at the language. in american dialogue, we have life. in european languages, it’s never just life. it’s always the life. la vita, la vida, la vie…

we can probably learn a lot from the europeans. they can learn yoga from me, but i am more than happy to learn about the life from them.

i’m just…so…tired…

last year i launched my vimeo channel of full-length yoga classes (if you’re not already subscribed, you should be!) and something very unexpected happened.

i have been shooting short single-pose videos for years on youtube and it’s all been lollipops and rainbows. but when i started making full-length videos, i’ve found myself getting really, really tired. like, my-legs-and-arms-might-fall-right-off-my-body tired.

and it’s not because the classes are so very difficult.

in fact, every class i shoot is significantly less challenging than my daily personal practice…some very, very less. for example, despite doing 35 handstands of varying entries and exits every morning in my own practice without faltering, i find myself unable to do more than one or two in my videos before i start apologizing that “my handstands are off today” (again).

this exhaustion had baffled me for a long time and then the lightbulb went on: the reason that i am getting so tired filming these classes is that i am talking instead of breathing.

in my normal practice, the deep ujjayi breath underlies my every movement and carries me through the flow.

when you build any asana, you always start with the foundation, with what’s on the ground. feet for warriors, hands for handstands…but your physical foundation isn’t the real foundation of your work. your pranayama is.

pranayama (and i’m all about the ujjayi) is the foundation beneath your foundation. everything builds on top of it.

here’s the truth: if you are missing out on your breath, you are missing out on your practice. i preach it all the time, but now that i am experiencing practice without pranayama, i’m experiencing it firsthand.

so breathe, darn it! and breathe deeply. then watch how your whole practice changes.

depressing…

For a long time now, I have lamented how far the Western yoga industry has strayed from, well, yoga.

But this Instagram post by insta.yoga was the nail in the coffin for me (notice the 132 likes).

I hope that no further explanation is needed, but I will give one anyway…because you know I am not one to keep my mouth shut about just about anything.

This is just about as mean, judgemental, and un-yoga-like as any message I have ever seen in my life. Part of this is endemic to the whole yoga social media phenomenon where nothing (and particularly yoga) is more important than aesthetic beauty. Seriously. People worship whoever poses in their underwear or bathing suit and yoga has become little more than a sexier-than-thou competition. How dare anyone who claims to be a yogi or yogini judge someone just because they have a different size or shape of body than the one they idolize???

And how does a message like this make people feel who don’t fit the sexy yoga paradigm? Is this going to encourage them to try yoga? Or continue on their path, for that matter? This kind of ridicule has absolutely no place in the yoga community. Please don’t tell me to have a sense of humor or lighten up, by the way. Laughing at the expense of other people’s feelings is not funny. This shirt is shaming and shameful. There is nothing funny about it.

There are plenty of amazing yogis and yoginis out there who have truly committed themselves to their practices even if insta.yoga and their 132 likers think “their butts say McDonalds”. These people work hard, follow a yoga lifestyle, are proud of their accomplishments, and do not deserve to be embarrassed by social media messages like this one.

Everyone should be able to put on yoga pants, be proud of who they are, and have the freedom to work on themselves in the way that yoga promises…free of judgment and full of unconditional acceptance.

the yoga of football

you don’t have to be a football fan to appreciate this:

i’m not a football fan and i do.

i admit, i didn’t watch the big game yesterday. not even for the commercials.

in fact, i was on an airplane home from teaching all weekend in atlanta…which is the only reason i knew there was a super bowl at all.

anyway, watch or no watch, i have to assume you at least heard. the patriots came from a 28-3 deficit in the third quarter to win 34-28 in overtime. the first overtime in super bowl history.

and you’re probably thinking, how did this make its way into a yoga blog? at least semi-barbaric over-testosteroned men, tackling each other for fun and self-inducing concussions (did i mention i’m not a football fan?)…?

here’s how: there are tremendous yoga lessons to be learned from last night’s game. if you overlook the little things mentioned in the previous paragraph…

this is how i see it…

first and foremost, know the fat lady. until she sings the game has not ended. you may think it’s ended. maybe the fat lady spoke. or the thin lady sang. but it’s not over until it’s over. never give up. if you can’t nail that handstand, backbend, arm balance, twist, whatever today, it doesn’t mean you won’t get it tomorrow. don’t give up because you (think) you look stupid, because you fell (hard), or because you are sooooooooooo far from where you think you need to be. just…gain…yardage. every day. move forward a little and eventually you do find the end zone.

second, you can still catch a fumble. what may have been the greatest catch in super bowl history (or so i hear), started as a fumble. and ended as a catch. it doesn’t matter if you flip, if you trip, if you fumble or you stumble. there is always a second chance. when i am working on hard poses, my greatest successes are not the ones i get right away, but the ones i almost fall out of but somehow, some way manage to catch and save. when you are falling out of a pose, do you give up and just go with the fall? or do you fight to stay in it…to win it?

third, put in the overtime. a tie is as good as a tie. there’s no win in that. don’t rest on your laurels. don’t just fight the good fight. don’t get complacent with your effort. practice for greatness. if you really want something–say, a yoga pose–you have to work hard for it. you need to practice every day and many nights. tapas. eat it alive.

fourth, when things are going your way, continue on your way. don’t get rest on your laurels. being up 28-12 when there are less than ten minutes left in the game does not mean you won. it means the game is yours to lose. you have to always stay on your game 100% to keep your edge. i see so many people who give up on a pose or transition when they are 95% there and can’t understand why. it’s because they gave up at 95. 95 is not 100. you need 100. a pose is done when a pose is done. yoga is a practice of transitions. that means each pose has three parts: entry, posture, exit. 100% gets you to your goal.

and finally, a word about sundays. or six words to be exact: there is no day of rest.

make your practice your 24/7 life and just wait to see how many surprise victories come your way.

life hack: core strength

i will be the very first to admit that i don’t have those fabulous, flat, ripped abs that you see in sports illustrated…but i do have damn strong abs. damn strong.

as a result, people are always asking me what they should be doing to increase their own core strength.

okay…

so, in addition to my youtube core videos and my infamous ab challenge on vimeo–which will all give you insane core strength, i’m about to let you in on a little secret. a life hack.

ready?

you may want to sit down for this, because it will blow you away! but sit up straight!

the easiest, fastest way to a strong core is to sit up and stand up tall. always.

now, before you get pissed off, like i just ripped you off and tricked you into reading 150 words (about 250 if you get to the end of the post), try this:

got it?

now stand and sit like that all day. if you do it correctly, i guarantee that you will not only experience stronger abs, but also less back pain, as your core is the back of your lower back (you with me?), literally the wall that supports it.

most people don’t like to sit or stand tall because it’s uncomfortable. uncomfortable because it actually requires muscles…muscles that they have never developed. now you know–you can develop them without ever doing a single sit-up. though i do encourage you to do at least one of my ab challenges every day. 😉

oh…and one more benefit: core strength is “the secret to all of yoga”. once this engagement becomes second nature, watch how your entire yoga practice evolves, as well.

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