A Journey

It is good to have an end to journey toward; but it is the journey that matters, in the end.

Ursula K. Le Guin, The Left Hand of Darkness

As a forever student, I am constantly going on learning quests. I constantly have a topic in mind that I want to know more about. I have an activity I want to participate in or a hobby to try. I am always wanting to do something. It’s never-ending but it does not sound as overwhelming as it sounds. It is exhilarating to learn something new or to come across an idea that is new to me. I am overjoyed when I make a commitment and keep it. And today, I am making a 90-day commitment to myself. A journey that I have not gone on before.

I am very nervous about this journey. I am committing to some type of physical movement for 90 days starting today. It does not have to be a hardcore gym routine or power yoga, it could be a 10-minute walk or 5-10 minutes of stretching. I just need to ensure I have some physical activity daily. Even with going to the gym almost daily and practicing yoga daily, I find myself still sitting for hours without moving. This is not good physically or mentally. It leads to stagnation. Not only am I focusing on physical movement, but I am also intermittent fasting. This I have already started and has been a challenge in itself. I have not modified my diet in any way, I just eat for less time in the day. For the next 90 days, I will change this as well, eating more whole foods and cooking more.

As part of this 90-day journey, I am also leaving Instagram. I have not been as active there as much as I used to anyway, so now I want to completely detox myself. It no longer adds the value that it once did. As I type this, I realize that this journey coincides with the new year approaching and I will finish this journey in the new year. That was not my intention but it works out. I would like to go in 2020 as a better version of myself. I would like to have a more solid foundation and a better understanding of myself. This week that will transition into a New Year, I truly want to appreciate who I am and what I can do for myself and others. I want to find my place.

An Honest Review of MyYogaPal

Yoga is the journey of the self, through the self, to the self.

The Bhagavad Gita

*Disclaimer: I am not being sponsored nor paid for this review.

I have been a home yoga practitioner for a little over three years now. When I first started, it was really nothing more than copying from a picture. I didn’t go to a studio, I just followed people on Instagram. One day, a mutual recommended Lesley Fightmaster on YouTube. She said that Lesley really helped her practice grow. So I went to check her out and didn’t last long at all! I thought she was too hard! So I went back to an “easier” very popular YouTube yoga teacher. After a while, I encouraged myself to try FightmasterYoga again and this time I was able to stick it out.

I started practicing more and more with Fightmaster, then joined her Patreon where she started discussing starting MyYogaPal. I knew I wanted to enroll once she opened it up. Patreon also gave us an opportunity to talk to Lesley on a more personal level and this is where Lesley started talking about MyYogaPal. I was very excited to give it a try and when she opened enrollment, after mulling around enrolling, I finally enrolled.

I started Lesley’s 90 day Thrive Program which is a 20 minute practice daily for intermediate yogis. At first I was hesitant as I do not consider myself at the intermediate level. However, I was impressed at the time that Lesley spent making this program because as each week progressed, I found that my strength and stamina was improving. Not only that, I found that I felt more peaceful and I was always proud of myself when I was done with a practice. I practice in the mornings so Thrive was my morning coffee. The program is repetitive, this is so that you can see your improvement and further your practice. This may not work for some but in the end, the benefit is seen because you realize that in that first week when you could barely balance, you do it almost with ease by day 90.

Lesley Fightmaster’s calm and soothing voice with the occasional interruption of a cat’s meow or crash into an object, one of her son’s making a noise that only she seems to hear lends authenticity and an honest touch to the home practice. When one practices at home with children, animals, and even adults, it’s not always a serene and peaceful practice as one would want. Lesley reminds us that yoga is not a cure but it helps a lot. I have seen my practice grow tremendously since starting MyYogaPal. I am learning so much about what my mind is willing to do and how far to take my body. Lesley is encouraging and always advises us to not push ourselves in a way that may hurt us. She reminds us that yoga is not about the pose and that some days, your body just will not be able to hold that Warrior III.

MyYogaPal has added additional programs which include a 30 day beginners’ yoga program,  Shine – a 90 day intermediate/advanced program that are hour long practices, daily meditations,  and Align (this is very helpful for home practitioners). There are also additional workshops that you can add like the Inversion Workshop and Ashtanga. There is also a community board where yoga pals can get together and talk about their practice as well as submit suggestions for future additions to the website.

MyYogaPal offers a topnotch yoga teacher in your home for a yearly subscription that costs less than a month at your local yoga studio. I really like that Lesley and Duke (Lesley’s husband) interact with all of the members. This shows to me that they really care about each YogaPal and are willing to help and make sure that our yoga practice is fulfilling. If there is one thing I would love to see from MyYogaPal is an app for Android and iPhone/iPad.  Right now it is website only and you do have the option to download videos for if you were to go somewhere without an internet connection. I have had no issues with quality or with the site. If there are any issues, they are resolved quickly.

I am happy that I joined MyYogaPal and feel that it could benefit a lot of people. Coincidentally, Lesley has opened up MyYogaPal for enrollment for this week and if you are interested,  you have 3 days as of this post to enroll. There are two membership options: monthly and yearly. So if you are not completely sold, the monthly might be the one for you! And there is a new program that will be added on Friday called “Ignite” which will be a 90 day program with 45 minute practices. I look forward to joining that new practice and seeing you at MyYogaPal!

 

No Yoga

Taking a break can lead to breakthroughs.

Russell Eric Dobda

Last week, I decided not to practice yoga. I thought I could use a break and see how my body responded to it. I practice yoga daily, it is part of my life but I had a lot going on last week so used that as an excuse to take a break. So from Tuesday until Sunday, I did not practice yoga. I do not plan on doing that again as long as I am physically able to move.

One of the reasons that yoga is recommended is because it helps the yoga student be mindful in their present moment and this helps regulate emotions. When I review my mood from last week, it was more anxious, and I found myself easily agitated. I practiced my breathing less and I went through each day on autopilot. I just did not feel like myself.

To add to the mental unease, I started feeling physical pain. My calf and hamstring started having sharp pains. It felt like there were knots in them. One morning, I actually woke up with a muscle cramp. This was highly unusual as I haven’t been awaken by a leg cramp since I started practicing yoga and stretching in the evenings.

After a week of this, I decided the experiment was over. Within a day of returning to my mat, my physical pains were gone. I started to feel more at ease in my physical self. The spiritual self took a little hit and has been more challenging to overcome. I realized that even when it felt like yoga was not doing anything, it was doing the most. What I had started taking for granted was because of my consistent practice. I will still take breaks but I will at least try to do five minutes a day. Yoga is like my apple a day.

Yoga and Friendship

In the sweetness of friendship let there be laughter, and sharing of pleasures. For in the dew of little things the heart finds its morning and is refreshed.

Khalil Gibran
Human hands forming heart

Yoga is a good friend of mines. It has walked, twisted, and breathed itself into my life and has not left. It goes with me everywhere, it is always in my heart, in my mind, and in my soul. It has taught me new things about myself that I had not known and needed to know. It has also taught me to remember what I had forgotten about myself. It has brought back some of my childhood wonder and joy.

After my best friend passed away four years ago, I found it more difficult to maintain or build friendships with others. I did not really want friends anymore. That is a realization that I have finally allowed myself to sit with and acknowledge. I no longer cared about going to events or parties because I could not share them with my best friend. Have you ever lost someone dear to you? How did that make you feel? How did you manage the grief that came with it? I do not believe the pain of loss ever heals but I do believe that it lessens with time especially if one does the grief work. Grief work is not enjoyable, it is not a fun party, it’s work.

As I have moved into my yoga practice, befriended it, and befriended myself, I have found myself becoming more open. I still have days where I want to completely cut myself off from the rest of the world outside of my immediate family. Those are the days that I check in with myself, look at what is going on around and within, sometimes a yoga practice works and sometimes it does not. It might be that I just need to sit still and breathe and that’s it. My good friend yoga has helped me understand that I need to be my own friend and some days it is okay to not do anything at all.

Breath is Life

We, humans, are a fantastic species. We take many things for granted and one of those things is our breath. We breathe involuntarily, we cannot force ourselves to not breathe. We can only hold our breath for a certain amount of time before we are forced to breathe again. We are not dolphins whose breath takes conscious effort. Dolphins can decide to stop breathing and will only breathe again if they choose to do so. However, we can make our breath conscious. We can focus on the breaths we take to change the quality of our breath.

The fourth limb of yoga is important: pranayama. Breath control is not an exercise that can be taken lightly. Done improperly it can cause harm. Done properly, some yogis believe that it can help us as humans live longer. For me, it helps in my practice to increase stability and balance. It also helps me to breathe through more challenging asanas. Initially, I struggle with pranayama and partly this was due to my not fully understanding what prana meant. Not fully grasping the importance of focusing on my breath even when told as a child to “count to ten and breathe”. That made no sense to me and it rarely, if ever, calmed me down.

What I have learned with yoga and the continued practice of breath control is just that, I have to practice! We are not taught how to breathe, we just breathe. This leads us to not understanding our level of control in regards to our breath. Off the mat, when I am feeling moments of anxiety, frustration, anger, or an emotion that threatens to take control of my behavior, if I am able to pause and breathe, I find that I am able to actually calm down! Not only calm down but also remove the fuzziness that comes into my head in high emotive states that lead to responses that are not the most productive. I am not saying this works all the time, it does not. Sometimes, I am unable to calm myself or relax. Yet, I believe that with continued practice, I will be able to achieve a firm grasp of breath control. Breath is life, to honor myself, I must also honor my breath (that also means brushing and flossing!).

5 Things I Wish I Knew when I started Yoga

1. You do not need special clothes to practice yoga in. One yogi is not better than the other because one yogi pays higher prices for a yoga name brand and another yogi chooses to wear affordable and comfortable clothing to practice yoga in. It is not a competition between who has the cutest yoga attire (okay, it is for some). However, this goes against the niyama: santosa. Santosa means contentment, if a yogi is focused on whether or not she has on the best yoga clothes, she is not content. If she is not content, she will not be able to be in the present and concentrate on her practice. This applies to life in general, when we focus on comparing ourselves to what others have or trying to get more (of what we do not need), we are not able to be in the present on focus on what we do need.

2. Yoga practice is best done in the morning on an empty stomach; particularly the more vigorous practices. The empty stomach is very important, trust me on this one. Initially, I balked at practice in the morning, I’m barely awake and my body is stiff. However, that is perfect, it is a great way to wake up mind and body. It allows for me to shake the cobwebs out from dreamworld, clear my mind so that it can be pure and fresh for the day. Śaucha is a niyama that means purity. An evening practice can also bring about this same level of mental purity by helping me release the strains of the day. In a yoga practice, we utilize pranayama which assists with physical cleansing, opening and aerating our lungs. This assists in purifying our body which for me in the mornings, means loosening the tightness that sleep brings and in the evening, letting go of the tightness that comes from sitting at a desk, typing on a computer, using my cell phone, or physical stress from interpersonal interactions.

3. Instagram yoga challenges should be done in moderation (if at all). There are many yogis who frown upon IG yoga challenges and see them as narcissistic grabs for free yoga swag from a company or focusing on the look of an asana rather than teaching people how to properly get into an asana, how to breathe, or even just focusing on the first step of the asana. This can lead to those who participate hurting themselves attempting an asana that is beyond their ability. In addition, those hosts running the challenges are not practicing tapas, a niyama that means working without a selfish motive. Not to mention, many are not licensed yoga teachers so potentially can cause harm because they are not providing safe instruction and guidance. When I initially began participating in yoga challenges, I stuck to the challenges that offered classes that focused on the asana of the day. This was most helpful and helped my practices. However, I started joining challenges because a friend was participating and there was no specific focus it seems outside of the asana was “cool” or had a silly theme like Game of Thrones. This did not help with svādhyāya or study of self, which is an integral part of yoga practice. There was no relationship between myself and the host(s) of the challenges so no mutual respect and comradeship. There was just me trying to copy a picture and not learning.

4. Start from the beginning and practice the foundations daily. Having a strong foundation will lead to growth. There is no need to push my body harder than necessary. No need to frustration and see reaching a level as a battle to be won. I was seeking personal gratification in getting myself in an asana rather than how my practice was enhancing my relationship with myself and my faith. I would find myself despairing when I could not do a certain asana. This happens in my daily life as well, if I made a mistake or if something did not go the way that I wanted, I despaired. I was not practicing the niyama: Īśvara pranidhāna, faith in a greater power than myself. In having faith in a higher power, there is no need to despair because all things will come through that power. Life should not be seen as a battle, its a journey, an adventure which means there will be mountains to climb, hills to fall down on, and as long as I am able, I will get back up and keep moving.

5. It’s way more to yoga than asanas and meditation. I thought yoga would be boring and have a lot of chanting. I was wrong in both aspects. Yes, some yoga methodologies do have chanting such as ashtanga. Speaking of ashtanga, I had no idea that there was diversity in yoga. I thought it was all the same, was not aware of the different types such as: kundalini, vinyasa, hatha, bhakti, and many more. It would have been helpful to do a little bit more research before jumping into yoga. It is okay that I did not as I am doing it now. I am a self-taught yogi, this is possible no matter what anyone tells you. One thing that I have taken from my yoga practice; a beautiful thing, is that I will continue to be a learner and there is always room for growth.

Less is More

When you put your house in order, you put your affairs and past in order, too.

Marie Kondo

Currently, I am reading multiple books simultaneously. This does not seem very mindful, does it? It is for me as they each serve a specific purpose but a the same time, one purpose. In fact, they work together, specifically Marie Kondo’s The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up and Light on Yoga by B. K. S. Iyengar. You may be asking yourself how right now. For the past month, I have been writing about the first limb of yoga: yama. I have now come to the fifth yama: Aparigraha which means to be free from hoarding and collecting.

Marie Kondo works to help people essentially declutter and she writes in her introduction that when people declutter their homes, this affects them in a myriad of ways including aspects outside of their homes. For me, clutter in my home also leads to clutter in my mind. I am not referring to the normal clutter that brings me joy such as my child’s toys scattered everywhere or my many books on my bookshelf. I am referring to the clutter of objects and things that I do not need. Kondo mentions those who are very good at prettily storing things are still essentially hoarders. Is what you are storing something you actually need? Iyengar connected aparigraha to another yama: asteya which is non-stealing. Just as I do not steal things that I need or do not need, there is no need to hoard and collect things that I do not need immediately or even in the future.

This does not only apply to items. Holding on to anger or hurt, allowing it to build within is the same thing. There is no need to hoard and collect anger and hurt. It serves no purpose besides causing further pain within and eventually without. Hoarding negative energy is stealing positivity from your life. This is not to say that you nor I will not experience negativity, this is to say, we do not need to collect it and carry it with us like extra luggage. Yoga helps me to release negative energy, not hold on to it, leaves me feeling lighter yet full. I practice yoga in a decluttered space because with clutter, I am focused on the clutter around me rather than tidying the clutter that is within. How often does your mind feel cluttered? When you look at your surroundings, what do you see? A tidied space or a space cluttered with items you have no use for? What about in your mind? Is it cluttered because you are hoarding thoughts that serve no purpose besides making you feel worse than you already do? Tidy up your mind just as you would tidy up your personal space.

Since its Earth Day, when you are tidying up, make sure you recycle and if possible repurpose items.