Developing a home yoga practice

Last month I taught a workshop at Chi-Town Shakti about developing a home yoga practice and next month on Saturday, July 16th I’m sharing the same workshop (just slightly improved!) at Namaskar. Sign up here.

In the process of creating the workshop and diving into my own home practice I came up with a few tips and I hope they can help you. Tips, tricks, and perspectives can be helpful, but also know that your home practice will come together with time on your mat. There’s no replacement for trying things out to see what sticks and what fails.

Nonetheless, a few things to keep in mind:1234034_10100120416146882_755066529_n

  • Home practice is different from going to a class. Not better, not worse, just different. You will be more successful if you think about it as a whole different activity, not just a back up when you can’t go to class. The type of self-directed home practice I’m talking about is also different from doing a podcast or a yoga DVD, although those things can be lovely too. 
  • Remember, a home practice moves at your pace. You get to check in regularly. How
    many times have you heard a teacher talk about the impact/effects of a pose? Backbends are invigorating! Forward folds are relaxing! Side bends create more room for breath. This is your time to see if that’s true for you.
  • Pick at least one thing to be the same every session. It could be an having an object nearby like candles or crystals, using the same music, practicing at the same time of day, or for the same duration, or practicing the same asana, mantra, pranayama each time. My point is that your practice doesn’t need to be 100% identical every time you practice, but one touchstone can be helpful.
  • Use a timer for your practice so you don’t need to check your phone or the clock throughout your practice. I have an app on my phone call “Meditation Timer” that lets me set a prep time (which I use for meditation), meditation time (which I use for asana), and rest time (savasana).
  • Know your limits, practice carefully as you get to know yourself, and you’re unlikely to hurt yourself. Unless you have reason to believe you’re at a high risk of injury, don’t stress too much. Especially if you . . .
  • Schedule a few 1:1 sessions with a trusted teacher as you get your home practice going. It can be an opportunity to ask about poses to include, alignment you’re unsure about, or just get advice on how to stay engaged.

 

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Spring/Summer 2016

Roll out your mat, open a window, play these tunes. Just see what happens.

Your Hand In Mine, Explosions in the Sky
Halo, Beyoncé
Yeah, I Said It, Rihanna
Warm On A Cold Night, HONNE
Yoga, Janelle Monáe
Final Song, MØ
The Fall, Rhye
Feel So High, Des’ree
Lean On, Major Lazer
Existence, THEESatisfaction
What An Experience, Janelle Monáe
WerQ, THEESatisfaction
The Night, HONNE
Close To You, Rihanna

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Check in. Clean Sheets.

Remember that time I started writing this in January? lol. Happy March! The winter months have me relying more and more on my home practice and less on studio yoga classes. And it’s got me pondering how so much of my movement comes from outside stimulus.

I need a cup for coffee and I reach for it. I recoil from the possibility of a mouse (the is a very real thing in my home. I’m glad my cat catches them, but less glad that he thinks they are gifts to be brought to the bed in the middle of the night ..). I go through the motions of putting on boots, coat, hat, scarf because it’s friggin’ cold outside. Especially in the winter it can feel like movement is all about survival.

So the other day I thought about it–when do I move from internal stimulus? Not never. It’s when I see someone I love and the warm bubbly feeling from inside leads me to wrap them up. When I reach for something not for its utility, but because I want to examine it more closely out of interest, like the flowers I got for Valentine’s Day or a crystal I’m drawn to. It’s the unconscious stretch at my desk that turns into a mini-session of seated side stretches and or the kind of desire we don’t talk about in polite company. 😉

Yoga, the physical asana, certainly that must be a time for internally motivated movement. And yet, even as someone who teaches yoga, much of my own practice happens in the context of another teacher’s instruction. And, for the record, I LOVE so many of my teachers. They help me explore parts of myself that I may shy away from without a nudge. They make me laugh, they encourage me to go deeper. But. And. Also. If yoga is about (or can be about) moving energy in the body and discovering/transforming areas of stagnation then we owe it to ourselves to do more than respond to an instructor’s cues as outside stimulus.

I was laying in bed the other day thinking about this and an image came to me of checking in to my body as one would check into a hotel. It’s an image that’s been working for me both as a starting point for self-guided practice and as a reminder to follow myself first in the context of a guided class.

Perhaps it’s worth exploring for you too.

As you find a comfortable seat, begin to tune into your breath. Take 5-10 deep breathes as you quiet your mind. Imagine bits of your awareness, of your self, swirling around outside your body. Perhaps as you imagine these bits of yourself they inch closer to your physical body. Sometimes I even notice that bits of myself come in from the other room where I’ve been working or from other places I’ve visited. Now imagine all those parts of yourself “checking in” to your body. Not checking in like a doctor’s check up where you just see what’s up and then leave, but checking in like a hotel. With fresh sheets. You’re here. Breathe. Be. Notice if or how your breathe shifts in quantity or quality. Notice if specific parts of your body light up physically or energetically. Take 15-20 breaths here before you begin your physical practice.

Enjoy.

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Brief Survey re: Yoga at the Center on Halsted

As you may recall, I got a generous grant from Kripalu to purchase props for yoga at the Center on Halsted.

I’m quite late on this (shocking!), but I am writing a post/report to them about class at the Center. If you ever attended a yoga class with me at the Center (even one!), please fill out this brief survey.

Thank you!

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Thoughts As I Move Back

Earlier this month I made a difficult–and exciting!–decision to stop teaching yoga for the most part and take a full time job with UltraViolet to work on gender equity issues. As I transition, I’ve been thinking of how yoga has shaped (and continues to shape) me as an activist and as a person, and what I take from my practice to my work.

I often think of something one of my teachers, Devarshi Hartman, told me. He said that yoga has the potential to make people feel things at a higher degree than they feel in their day to day life. Many of us–intentionally or unintentionally, for helpful reasons of self-preservation, or due to avoidance–don’t experience intensity. We may avoid conflict, stay away from the bad news of the world, and steer clear of things that make our body uncomfortable (I’ve certainly done all of those things).

So yoga. Imagine: you’re in chair pose, or wheel pose, or a lunge and your body is feeling things – like, hard things, like quads shaking, brow furrowing, sweat prickling things – at a level 6 or a level 7. You’re asked to take a deep breath. Breath into the sensation. Yah – INTO the sensation – INTO that intensity. And then it’s a level 8 or 9. And then you start feeling other things, emotional things, at a level 8 or a level 9. Yoga asks you to stay with it as it bubbles up. To breath with it. To see your own depth and marvel at what you can hold, without judgement or expectation.

That – to me – has been a revelation. There are moments for DOING, marching, agitating, educating, organizing. But yoga can be a time for observing and feeling and being – something so many of us are missing.

A few weeks ago a woman walked into my class. I asked how she was doing and she said “fine” “but I have this ache and this pain” “and my friend called me the other day, she may have cancer” “and I just heard about another shooting in the neighborhood where I work” and the tears began to fall. Tears that she didn’t even know she was holding back until she stepped into the space we shared. Because those things are sad and frustrating. They can make you feel helpless. They are so hard to sit with and, unless they are directly affecting your life, easier to avoid (even if they are directly affecting your life – they may be easier to avoid).

I believe deeply in the power of sitting and moving with those hard things. Looking at them, feeling them, and allowing their depth to change you. 1 in 4 women will experience intimate partner violence in her life. It’s illegal to be gay in 80+ countries. A black person is shot by the police or vigilante in this country every 28 hours. We’re literally destroying this planet. Try as we may to ignore them, these realities of sexism, heterosexism, racism, colonialism – of our wildly unequal society – exist and shape how we experience the world.

Yoga, whether you like it or not, makes you feel things. Yoga, if you give it a half a chance, will change you. Because it’s a practice that has been developed (and continues to develop) by generations of deep individuals AND because it’s an invitation into your own body, the things you hold, the things you’ve pushed down.

I’m an organizer and a campaigner. I believe in building people power to combat injustice and in strategically winning victories. Since I was in high school I’ve had a sense for seeing how power is held by whom and, through my work, I’ve been fortunate to see how communities can come together to take it back. But until the last year and a half, I didn’t consider what that meant in my own body. My work was all external. This past year and a half of focusing on yoga has reminded me that we hold injustices in our own bodies – that our own bodies can be a site for resistance and for healing.

I share this because . . . well, because shallow yoga is all around us. Almost always skinny, almost always white, almost always feminine-presenting, almost always wearing Lululemon or other designer clothing yoga is ubiquitous. *Note: I’m not blind to the fact that I just described myself.* But that’s not all (or most, or much) of what yoga is to me or can be. I share as an invitation to breath into sensation, to feel uncomfortable, to sense the scary and powerful person you are, and to let it change you.

Thank you, thank you, thank you, omg, seriously thank you, to every student I’ve had, and every studio owner/space that let me teach. I have learned so very much. I will continue practicing, writing, and teaching on occasion. You can sign up for my newsletter to here about upcoming events.

Thank. You.

ThankYou

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Shakti Initiation

My Shakti sister Mally, created this wonderful video about our time together in Bali. Yours truly is featured at the beginning and, for better or worse, my fiance says that I really do sound like that . . . 0_O

If you happen to live in Boston, look for Mally! She is talented and intuitive as a yoga teacher as well as a singer/songwriter.

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Meet Blanca!

Due to exceptional interest in the Yoga Basics Series at Center on Halsted, I decided to bring on another yoga teacher to give students more individual attention.

Meet Blanca!blanca

A San Antonio native, Blanca has been practicing yoga since 2002. In 2009 she moved to Chicago. After bouncing around from neighborhood to neighborhood, yoga class to yoga class, she finally settled in Logan Square and made Tula her yoga home. 

As a yoga student Blanca had to relearn yoga to fit her plus-size body. Thankfully, her instinct along with the insight of teachers she not only made use of props and modifications she was also encouraged to become a certified yoga teacher through Global Yoga and Wellness Center in Chicago under the direction of Rhonda Kantor. 

Blanca strives to create an environment that cultivates positive body image, self-awareness, and compassion. Off the mat she teaches poetry and gives back through community outreach.

There are still a few spots to join me and Blanca. Class are held at the Center on Halsted, Sundays July 13-August 17th from 5-6:15pm.

This series is appropriate for beginners or anyone interested in a deliberate yoga practice at a slower pace. Each week will build upon material covered in the previous week as the class move move through standing poses for grounding, sun salutations to build heat, twists and hip openers to detoxify, backbends to open your heart, and even  inversions to gain new perspective.

Register and hold your spot by emailing me at susanvirginiayoga@gmail.com and pre-paying here. You can also pay by check or cash at the first class if that is better for you. 

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