Tag: practice

Use Your Glutes… or Stop Hiding Your Strength

Your body is like a Porsche: the engine is in the trunk. Your glutes are the largest and strongest muscles in the body, but how do you harness their power? The magic of Bowspring is in using your glutes.

After creating a Radiant Heart by filling the ribcage, the second instruction of the Bowspring is to mound and lift the base glutes. By engaging the lower fibers of the gluteus maximus, the pelvis goes into anterior tilt (the top of the hips move forward and down, the tail and sit bones moving back and up).

The primary results: a toned, lifted tush; a soft sway in the low back; a long, full, curved belly; and lots and lots of sweat.

[Sidenote: This action cured my hamstring attachment overuse injury in 2 hours. After a year of pain in my hamstring attachment, I had no pain after Two. Hours. And it’s never come back.]

Growing up in the modern fitness industry – including years ballet and yoga – I was encouraged to hug in, pull back, and tighten. That always made intuitive sense: when you hug muscle to bone, it tones. Muscles shorten when they contract. So for years I tucked my “popo” (listening to a favorite ballet teacher), pulled my belly button back and up, and kept as many muscles toned as possible.

And generally, both on and off the mat, I tried to hide my guts and butt. This posture is now the picture of physical beauty: flat, compressed abs, and a tight butt.

Animal wisdom in the body helps unpack the symbol of this tucked tail. My dog only tucks his tail in two circumstances: when he sleeps curled in a ball and relaxed, and when he’s afraid – guarding his sensitive bits from bigger dogs and thunder. (Don’t ask me about the thunder thing.) As humans, we pull our belly back and tuck our tail to brace for impact — whether physical or emotional.

Let’s be clear: the cover of fitness magazines celebrates health and beauty in a tucked tail with a tense body.

Our culture’s picture of beauty is a picture of fear.

I dare you, right now (while sitting) to untuck your tail and let your belly be full, and then lengthen it along a curve from the base of your ribcage all the way down to the pubic bone and hip creases. Notice a few things:

1. How hard is that to do? How many sentences can you read before any habit of “belly back, tail down” sneaks back? (Don’t worry, me too.)

2. What part of your body lets go as you do that? What part hardens?

3. What happens to your breathing?

4. How does it feel? As you get used to the shape, what’s your emotional intuition?

I Want to be Seen.

As a woman who grew up just a little too large — this shape feels radical. In the beginning, it felt wrong. I was terrified someone would see me. For 30 years, I thought I was supposed to get rid of my belly — or at least hide it. Letting it be full and long was terrifying. What if someone saw?

And now I’ve realized, that is what I desperately long for: to be seen. My greatest hope is for someone to see me, exactly as I am, and accept me for that. I do not want to squeeze myself into someone else’s ideal, I don’t want to have to lose or gain or fix or change — but simply to be loved as who I am.

And that, my loves, is radical.

I have to do that for myself first. I have to be willing to use all the gifts of my body, without hiding, without shrinking, and to find the strength that’s already here. Bowspring helps me do just that.

This is the second in a series of posts about the Bowspring practice. Read more here.

If you’d like to experience Bowspring for yourself, join me in class or in Bowspring Immersion beginning August 29.


Coffee and Change

The heat of the summer brings madness. Heat so heavy it seems inescapable. Pressure so intense it’s suffocating.

This summer is no different. The world is a little upside down lately. The political situation in the US is the most watched reality show in history. The Brexit vote signaled a dismantling of the European Union, based entirely on ignorance and xenophobia. And truly unfathomable acts of violence have torn spirits from Orlando to Minneapolis, Turkey to Taipei, Bangladesh to South Sudan.


I love coffee.

Iced, drip, cappuccino, latte, mocha, cortado. I’ll drink it brewed with dishwater, tamped into espresso machines that cost more than fine cars, or cold brewed overnight. I love coffee so much that even when I give up caffeine, I still drink decaf. There’s something about the warm, nutty flavor of coffee, subtle bitterness, coating of crema, slight buzz — it makes me feel like myself again.

Coffee beans are seeds that grow inside a cherry-like berry. They grow on the sides of mountains in subtropical climates. The berries are hand-picked, seeds separated and soaked, then dried. The beans are roasted, rested, ground, tamped, heated, soaked, steamed, brewed.

It takes a lot of hot, hard work to make me feel like myself again.

Perhaps the heat of summer is bringing us to a boiling point. Perhaps this steam is whistling to us as shouts of “Black Lives Matter,” “Obama can’t take my guns,” and “No Bigots, No Borders.” Perhaps the pressure of violence is pushing us closer to each other. Perhaps we’re about to be transformed into ourselves again.

Compassion and empathy ask us to see ourselves in others. It asks us to see ourselves in young men so angry they take the innocent lives of 48. To feel the overflowing frustration of an Army vet whom snipers men in blue. To feel the fear of men in uniform, facing violence every day, make assumptions based on the color of someone’s skin. To witness the ill-advised votes of people so afraid of someone encroaching on our homes.

We are all angry. We all make assumptions. We are all afraid.

Until we see our own anger, until we humble our assumptions, until we can sit with our own fear, nothing will change. If we can’t see ourselves in the faces of others, hear our voices in their shouts for justice, feel their hearts breaking inside our own chests: we will never be transformed.

The heat of this summer is bringing us to a boiling point: heat rises, bringing everything to the surface. Under the right heat and the right pressure, we transform simple green seeds into rich coffee beans, tiny beans to grounds rich like soil, add heat and pressure: coffee.

The heat of this summer – the pressure in our system – has the potential to transform us. With wisdom, with patience, and with artistry — let’s use the heat of this summer to make something beautiful. Let’s become ourselves again.


Yoga and the Twelve Steps: We’re Powerless Over Our Monkey Mind

I teach yoga to recovering alcoholics and addicts at a residential treatment facility. I also owe my happiness — if not my sanity and my life — to the Twelve Steps. I’ve learned as much in 12-step meetings about yoga as I have in the studio, and vice versa.

This is the first in a series of my personal* insights about the parallel and complementary practices of yoga and the twelve steps.

*I am in no way representing any of the 12-step conferences, their literature, or their traditions. I am not advocating you join a 12-step fellowship. These are my personal thoughts; and I’m curious about yours.

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Step One: We admitted we were powerless…and that our lives had become unmanageable.

For most of us, our mind has spun in a thousand directions for so long that we take the spinning for granted. We’ve accepted the “monkey mind” or “hamster wheel” as a fact of life. We may already believe we’re powerless over this constant insanity… and yet, we try anything and everything we can to distract ourselves, to ease the discomfort of the laundry list of to-dos, resentments, annoyances and shame triggers that we live with on a day-to-day basis.

We eat. We drink. We tweet. We Facebook. We judge other people. We judge ourselves. We buy. We collect pins of things we might want to buy one day on an imaginary internet pinboard. We diet. We work. We get so busy — unassailably, unforgivably busy — so busy that even if we WANTED to slow down and look at this stuff (which we don’t), we wouldn’t be able to.

We’re trying to escape the constant spin of our mind by making it spin faster. We run away so fast that the running just fuels the spin.

And if someone suggests we slow down? Do less? HA! Fuck that guy. We’ve painted ourselves into a corner to believe that we don’t have another choice. When someone tells us “Happiness is a choice,” we resist the urge to punch them in the face. We think they just don’t understand. This isn’t a choice, this is just the way it is.

The addicts and alcoholics I work with are the lucky ones. Their brains got so twisted up that they no longer had a choice — they were forced to stop, drop everything, and slow down. They leave their homes, their jobs, their families, their phones, their email. For 24 days (fingers crossed), their days are scheduled from 6am to 10pm, right down to six cigarette breaks a day. And they begin to learn a new way to live.

For many of us, life never gets so bad that we fall off the hamster wheel. We keep accruing frequent flier miles, credit card points, and transferring our debt to the next 0% APR credit card. We binge on king cake, crawfish bread, and Popeye’s, and then spend all of Lent on Whole30, avoiding sugar, caffeine, alcohol, flour, and food. (In places that aren’t New Orleans, we drink quad-breve extra-pump cinnaspice lattes, deep-fried cheese, half-pound burgers, egg rolls, and Frozen margaritas, and then get on the wagon on New Year’s Day.) We leave CNN/Fox News/CNBC/ESPN/NPR on in the background, follow mass shootings live on twitter, read as much as possible about ISIL, Syria, Obamacare, gun control, and the 2016 Presidential election, and still somehow manage to stay one step ahead of a nervous breakdown. We’re secretly afraid that someone will realize we have no idea what we’re doing and revoke our Adult Card. And we’re also secretly hopeful that someone might do exactly that.

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The second line of Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras (a fourth century yoga text often quoted in modern yoga studios) defines yoga as the “stilling of the mind into silence.” I have yet to meet someone who doesn’t want that. I have yet to meet someone who has achieved it. Go ahead, try it. Right now, stop thinking. No reasoning, no feelings, no memories, no plans, no judging, no stories, no evaluation of sensory perception.


Even if we could, I think we’re terrified of what might happen if we were to stop distracting ourselves and actually look at what’s inside that never-ending whirlwind of thoughts, feelings, judgments, fears, anxieties and regrets.

A 2014 University of Virginia study suggests we’d rather receive electric shock therapy than be alone with our thoughts. Two-thirds of men and a quarter of women. Let me say that again: a significant percentage of adults self-administered electric shocks instead of being alone with their thoughts for fifteen minutes.

So maybe we take that first step, as yogis or friends in recovery. We admit we’re powerless over that spinning mind, and that it’s making our lives unmanageable. That admission gives us permission to separate ourselves from the mind, to see the mind as not us, and to get some perspective about what’s happening. It’s the tiniest shift, the very beginning of the practice. Paradoxically, this admission of powerlessness gives us the power to do it differently. The power to change.

For the next week, when your own mind starts to spin off its axle, practice this thought: “I am powerless over this spinning mind, this monkey mind, this mental hamster wheel. The brain is just doing what it does.” Find a phrase to describe your own whirling mind that makes sense to you. And if saying you’re powerless troubles you, phrase it as a question: “What if I’m powerless over this spinning mind? What if the brain is just doing what it does?”

See what happens and let me know how it goes.


A Short History of Yoga, or How The Hell Did We Get Here?

When you look at the cover of Yoga Journal and see a skinny white lady in $100 yoga pants doing acrobatics, you are looking at a very modern, very American version of yoga. Which is not to say that asana (postures) aren’t yoga.

Instagram yoga is yoga. Ashtanga yoga is yoga. Iyengar yoga is yoga. Chanting is yoga. Reading and studying sacred texts is yoga. Writing poetry is yoga. Meditation is yoga.

Sometimes I think that my definition of yoga looks a little like the congressional definition of pornography: I can’t exactly define it, but I know it when I see it.

I do think it’s useful to know a little about the very beginning, because sometimes that helps us understand where we are now.

This is not meant to be an exhaustive, exact, academic history of the timeline of yoga. I will get things wrong, but this gives us a through-line of the practice right until today on your mat.

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So, let’s do it this way:

Why Do Yoga Every Damn Day

I’ll be honest, I didn’t intend to become a yoga teacher. I enrolled in teacher training very selfishly because I loved yoga, and I wanted to do more of it, and more deeply. I had no interest in sharing that with any of you, thank you very much.

Then, much to my surprise, it turns out that nothing makes me happier than teaching yoga.

I teach yoga because it changed me. It changed my body, but it also changed my perspective, my worldview, my understanding of myself, my concept of God, and my general opinion of wearing tights in public. With very, very few exceptions, my yoga practice has vastly changed my life for the better.

Now, let me clear: I don’t believe that I can change you, your perspective, or your worldview. In fact, I try to live and work under the assumption that I can’t do any of those things. But I do feel a great privilege of sharing the practice that has been shared with me, exploring and explaining it in a way that I hope is useful to you.

Because I do believe that yoga will change you.

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In January 2014 — after I quit my “real” job — I knew I needed structure so I signed up for an Iyengar Yoga Intensive at Yoga Bywater. All my favorite yoga friends raved about Heide, her teaching, and the practice. They also warned me how much it sucked. How much they hated waking up that early, and how hard it was.

I’ve come to believe that often the best things are also the worst things – so that seemingly mixed endorsement was exactly what I needed to be sold.

For nearly eight months, I woke up to practice from 7:30-9:30 am, five days a week. Ten hours a week of yoga changed my body, and quickly. I knelt with wooden wedges pushed into my knee creases, did backbends over wooden blocks, through metal folding chairs, and in ropes tied to a wall. I did handstands every single morning. I held downward facing dog for five straight minutes (eventually). I did 153,000 leg lifts. I did most of it without complaining, griping, or whining. Mostly.

The level of precision required in Iyengar practice is immense and impressive. After ten years of vinyasa yoga, and two years of teaching, I thought I knew some things about my body and alignment. In those eight months, my alignment was fine tuned — it was like before I was only spinning the Big Radio Dial to get into the general vicinity. Now I was spinning the Little Dial, getting clearer and clearer and clearer.

“My right hip is tight,” became “My anterior inner left groin is restricted, my posterior inner right groin is stuck, my right sacrum pulls to the left, and my piriformis is hypertonic.”  I can differentiate between the heads of all three hamstrings, and know which one is being pulled by my hyper-lordotic pelvis, and which one makes my knee hurt. I became acutely aware of which ribs were moving and which weren’t. I can now feel exactly where my 7th rib pulls away from my spine. My body awareness skyrocketed.

I learned the first four lines of the yoga sutras by heart. I chanted the invocation to Patanjali. I began to understand the value of this text by putting it into practice in my body.

But perhaps most important? Where I used to think I didn’t even enough “will power,” I now know my tendency is to work so hard that I injure myself. I never think what I’m doing is enough. I’m a show-off. And I hate how I look when I walk.

I learned that a teacher who sees me every morning learns what I can see about myself – and what I can’t see. She lovingly reminds me that “you think you’re doing it, but you’re not doing it.” She’s my accountability. She’s a balanced view of my practice. She shows me when to work harder and when to ease up.

And the difference between how she sees me and how I see myself is a direct measure of how much I still have to learn.

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A year ago, I started offering the same kind of short-form, intense practice in my own bhakti-infused vinyasa style. And I discovered how magical it is to watch people change in such a short period of time. To push people harder than they think they can be pushed, and also to empower them go easier on themselves. I do my best to see people lovingly yet honestly, and share what I see.

I cannot change you and I cannot make you see about yourself what you don’t see yet. But I can share what I see, lovingly and honestly. I can be a witness to your transformation. Sometimes, when I’m lucky, I can offer useful feedback that will enable you to change yourself. And I will always learn from you, I will always be inspired when you show up every morning at 6:30am, and I will always be grateful that you let me share the beauty of this privilege of teaching you. Every. Single. Morning.

If you have questions about practicing this way, send me an email.  Or bite the bullet and try it. We start Monday, January 4th at 6:30am.

I dare you.


Does Practice Matter?

“You get good at what you show up for.”

My teacher Mitchel shared this with us in my teacher training, and it has stuck in my craw ever since. It’s not just my craw – I’ve shared it with my students, and my friend Tracey Duncan even wrote a great post about it.

It’s a gem almost so obvious that it hides in plain sight: you get good at what you show up for. So if you want to get good at something, show up for it. Again and again.

Perhaps the more painful realization is what we’re getting good at through repetition. For me, it’s watching Nurse Jackie and hitting snooze on my alarm 5 times every morning. But it’s also showing up to teach, voraciously researching music for practice, and studying the human body.

The hardest part about this is showing up — instead of being partially present, or half-invested, to commit yourself totally to one task. In our society this is almost impossible. Phone notifications, emails, texts binging, constant noise of TV or radio in the background — how could you be fully present with any one thing for even five minutes? It seems almost superhuman!

Showing up asks us for humility. It asks us to come to a task – whether it’s washing the dishes or sitting for meditation – with an open mind. It asks us to participate fully and receive all the information that we’re being given. To show up, we have to see our strengths and weaknesses with equal attention. We have to release our expectation of what might happen, surrender our demands of a particular task. Two days ago, you ran three miles effortlessly? Today, just one will be a slog and a struggle.

Showing up requires we surrender our evaluation, because we’ll never fully understand why balance comes so easily one day and is elusive the next. In fact, trying to “figure it out” is just another distraction — our sneaky brain’s way of short circuiting the power of focus.

Animals are great teachers of showing up. My dog Bodhi and my cats are fully committed to everything they do. Watch a dog focused on a squirrel — this is the guidepost for practice — total commitment, dedication, focus; the rest of the world fades away. In thousands of walks, my dog has never once caught a squirrel. But every time he sees one, he is just as committed, just as dedicated, just as focused. He doesn’t lose hope. He doesn’t lose sight of what he’s after. He’s simply showing up to get that damn squirrel.

I aspire to show up that way, even though it’s incredibly scary. All my notifications and distractions are there because I’m afraid I might miss something: the perfect text from the guy I like, the next big media disaster about a gun rampage, a storm coming. I am reinforcing my constant fear that I might miss something, and somehow be left out, left behind, or left for dead. I’m afraid I’ll be left.

I undermine my practice by questioning, constantly, “Do I really want to get good at this?” or “Does it matter?” I saw a great meme the other day: the greatest question every artist asks himself is not “will they like it” or “will they understand” but instead “Does it matter?”

Does practice matter?

In the end, what we practice is irrelevant [sidenote: pick something you like]. What we’re really practicing is showing up. Committing ourselves to something or someone, dedicating ourselves to something bigger, and staying focused even when the going gets tough or it seems hopeless. To keep at it, keep moving, even when it’s uncomfortable or frustrating, disappointing or even painful. To stay in a relationship even when we’re terrified. To keep writing even when we think the novel is shit. Keep working, keep practicing. Keep showing up.

What we learn is that the JOY is in the practice. The fulfillment is in the commitment. We wake up in our focus. We transform in our attention. We show up.

Confessions of a Size 12 Yoga Teacher

I’m a yoga teacher and I have a dirty little secret. I’m a size 12. The last time I weighed myself, it was in the 180s. (Ugh. It hurts just to write.)

I’ve been practicing yoga for 15 years, and teaching for four. I’m in the lucky 10% of yoga teachers who teaches full-time – it’s not just a hobby.

I practice four to six hours a week. I teach ten to twelve hours a week. I eat whole, healthy foods.

I am a size 12 yoga teacher.

I have an almost schizophrenic attitude about my body and my weight. On one hand, I’m proud to sit at the front of the room, reinforcing that yoga is for everyone – for every body. On the other hand, I’m terrified that students walk in and think, “What is she doing teaching?” or worse: “If practicing yoga will make me look like that, I’m going for a run.”

I’m proud my body can do things that some skinny bodies can’t do. And I’m ashamed there are poses I don’t do because my body gets in the way or makes balance impossible.

I’ve been overweight my whole life. When I graduated from high school, I weighed 215 pounds. I was muffin-topping out of size 18s. I was miserable. I was embarrassed. I was deeply ashamed. I lived in denial.

I was hiding inside my body. I desperately wanted to be seen, and yet I was terrified of being seen.

After years of dieting and… not dieting, I joined Weight Watchers in my early 20s. I lost 40+ pounds, and at my lightest I was a size 6, weighing somewhere in the 150s.  I was running half-marathons, going to the gym, and writing down everything that went in my mouth. After I hit my goal weight, I went on a cruise. I ate so much in Puerto Vallarta that I literally made myself sick. I promised myself I would never do that again.

Shortly afterwards, Hurricane Katrina hit. I went from whole foods to fast foods in about 24 hours. In the grand scheme of things, gaining 20 pounds did not seem like a big deal. And honestly? In the grand scheme of things? It wasn’t.

For me, becoming a yoga teacher has been a process of self-acceptance. I had to accept how much I loved teaching — and that I was pretty good at it. I had to accept that I hated my day job — and I was getting worse at it by the day. I stopped telling myself there were poses I couldn’t do because of my body — and just started trying to do them. I began to accept that my body is shaped the way its shaped.

I try to make food choices that are healthy for me, without disrespecting my environment or fellow beings. I eat as little processed and packaged food as possible. I eat meat, but aim for sustainably and locally sourced options. I consume full-fat dairy, and if I could get raw milk I would. I drink way too much coffee, but choose locally owned, fair-trade when I can.

I am a size 12 yoga teacher.

I recently started writing down everything I was eating again — but for a completely different reason. I have found my energy to be stagnant and heavy, my brain not as clear as I need it to be. To be a yoga teacher my brain must be sharp. My energy is critical to the quality of my work. After 20 years of dieting and… not dieting, I finally found a loving reason to keep track of what I was eating.

Finally, I feel ready to start looking at what’s really going on — what are the consequences of my habits, and what am I willing to change? And how much difference does a difference make?

Yoga taught me a lot. It taught me how to get comfortable being uncomfortable. It taught me that I am not my body, although this body is the only one I’ll get (so I take care of it). It gave me the physical strength to do hand stands, and the emotional strength to survive disasters — from hurricanes to heartbreaks.

I teach yoga because I want other people to feel the way I feel: strong, flexible, balanced, and grateful for every day.

I came to yoga for a physical workout. I got that, but I also got something better: Peace of mind. Self-acceptance. Both a willingness and a curiosity for whatever happens next.

I am a size 12 yoga teacher.

Lately I’m experimenting with avoiding all added sugars. So far, I wake up easier and my energy feels steadier — but I’d be lying if I told you I wasn’t hoping to lose a few pounds. Because who trusts a size 12 yoga teacher?

Why I Stopped Caring if My Yoga Was Right

Some yoga teachers claim authenticity of their practice because of how old it is. I’ve practiced with teachers who say their yoga is the “real yoga,” because their teacher taught them the “real teachings.”

Why do we need age or exclusivity to authenticate our personal experience in yoga?

I’ve been exploring a new approach to alignment called “The Bowspring.” It flies in the face what many of us were told and have believed for years that a strong core was “the belly pulled back and up,” and that an anatomical neutral pelvis was the safest and healthiest way to work. I have taught hundreds, if not thousands, of students these same principles: keep the tail moving down towards the heels (but don’t tuck it!), pull the belly back to protect the lower back, front shoulders back, shoulder blades flat on your back!

It’s a rigid shape. It feels hard to me, especially now.

The Bowspring alignment echoes an article circulating recently from NPR about why indigenous cultures don’t have back pain. When the base of the buttocks lifts, the belly is full, the lumbar curve is greater than “anatomical neutral,” and the whole ribcage expands out and back. I’ll be the first to say I am not an anatomy expert (just an anatomy nerd) — but in my body, that feels better. It feels stronger, fluid, and dynamic. My body feels soft AND strong at the same time, and not at all rigid.

I was talking to a student about this after my lunchtime class today, and I’m beginning to wonder: Why do we care so much about which yoga practice(s) are “authentic”? Why do we care how old the poses are? Which sequence or alignment is the best? How could we say that anyone (or any country, or any religion) owns yoga? Does it matter that the vinyasa we all love is probably only 150 years old, and was influenced by British calisthenics?

I suddenly realized: Who owns love? Which love is the best? What love is the most authentic?

The answer, of course: none of us, and all of us, all at once. All love is the best, but none is better than another. To paraphrase my teacher’s teacher, “How can you compare infinites?”

That’s the kind of yoga I’m interested in. I want yoga that makes me curious. I want yoga that nurtures change and growth, and doesn’t elevate something static. I want yoga that helps me explore my body, my thought patterns, my emotional hang ups, and leaves me feeling more myself.

So I’ve been practicing the Bowspring. I might teach it in class or online somewhere down the line. But it doesn’t matter.  

If your practice leaves you feeling stifled, restricted, pent up, or somehow less than… I’m curious: what kind of yoga are you interested in?