Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Happy Thanksgiving!

It would make sense to be hugely grateful for happiness.  Filled with a true deep happiness, how could one be anything other than grateful? That said, I believe it’s huge gratitude that engenders happiness in the first place.  To me, intentional gratitude is the seed and the soil and the sun and the rain. And happiness is what sprouts organically from that.

“Happiness cannot be traveled to, owned, earned, worn or consumed. Happiness is the spiritual experience of living every minute with love, grace and gratitude.” Denis Waitley

It’s my Yoga practice that showed me that the Gratitude State is both a choice and a cosmic wormhole to joy. And for that teaching, I’m so ridiculously grateful! It’s a delicious, recursive loop.

“Gratefulness is the key to a happy life that we hold in our hands, because if we are not grateful, then no matter how much we have we will not be happy… “ — Brother David Steindl-Rast

Gratitude is specific. We are ‘grateful for’ or ‘grateful to’. So let me be specific. I’m grateful for the gift of joy that the Yoga teachings has delivered to me. I’m grateful to my Yoga teachers, and to their teachers, and theirs - all the way back in time. I try to picture this ancient, teaching lineage right back to its roots.  It’s like contemplating the infinity of deep space; marvelous and totally unfathomable. 

“If you concentrate on finding whatever is good in every situation, you will discover that your life will suddenly be filled with gratitude, a feeling that nurtures the soul.” — Rabbi Harold Kushner

It is said that it’s a great blessing to encounter the Yoga teachings in one’s lifetime. And clearly I agree. Moreover I’m twice-blessed. I get to share these amazing teachings as my full time occupation. Sometimes, seriously, I just have to side hop and click my heels with delight.

“Both abundance and lack exist simultaneously in our lives, as parallel realities. It is always our conscious choice which secret garden we will tend… when we choose not to focus on what is missing from our lives but are grateful for the abundance that’s present — love, health, family, friends, work, the joys of nature and personal pursuits that bring us pleasure — the wasteland of illusion falls away and we experience Heaven on earth.” –Sarah Ban Breathnach

And so, from time to time, needing to take action on my gratitude for Yoga, I have trees planted in the names of my teachers and my teacher's teachers and my students -and very importantly! -  also in the names of the studios and the people who run those studios that make it possible for me to teach.

“If the only prayer you say in your life is thank you, that would suffice.” — Meister Eckhart

Recently, I arranged for 40 trees to be planted. They'll be planted in parts of the world that suffer from deforestation and they'll be fruit bearing trees which will get planted in areas that suffer from lack of food (my guess is they'll be planted in Haiti, but the organization that does the planting – www.treesforlife.org - will decide where it's needed most). So that's to say, some beautiful life-giving trees will go into the ground in the name of New York Yoga and my students here, in gratitude for enabling me to share the gift of Yoga.

And let me be clear, it’s a totally selfish act on my part. Because doing so brings me so much joy.

“Two kinds of gratitude: The sudden kind we feel for what we take; the larger kind we feel for what we give.” — Edwin Arlington Robinson

Monday, November 15, 2010

Meet the Teacher of the Month

Johnson Chong is a newer addition to New York Yoga’s schedule and has already wowed students with his vigorous vinyasa flow classes. This month, he has added the Wednesday 8:25am Power Hour All Levels, at the York studio, to his line up. Johnson also teaches the Friday 9:35am Vinyasa All Levels, at York, and the Sunday 11:00am 90 minute Hot Vinyasa Open.

 If you have not yet tried Johnson’s classes, be sure to check them out! Be prepared for fabulous alignment based cues and adjustments, music that supports your yoga groove and a teacher who will leave you with a stronger understanding of your body. This up-and-comer will keep you focused and encourage you to meet your highest, purest self on the mat.

Johnson, when did you first discover yoga?
I discovered yoga during my first year of college. A friend of mine started a yoga club and yoga  was also taught as one of the many movement courses through my acting conservatory training at SUNY Purchase.

How long have you been teaching?
Two years; I’m a young teacher.  I received my original training through Joschi Yoga Institute, and from there, embarked on a Thai Yoga Massage training with Lotus Palm Thai Massage School.  Now, I continue to study and teach the mind+body curriculum at Studio Anya, which is an in depth movement philosophy that incorporates yoga and pilates to facilitate profound change.

What makes your class unique?
I see what people are doing and adjust my cuing to who is taking class. Most of my cuing is anatomy based – lots of skeletal vocabulary to deepen people's spatial awareness in motion.  Muscular shifts are very temporary, and the more people can deepen their relationship to their bones, the more successful the integration of these postures will translate into real life.  My classes are also driven strongly through intention and dynamic meditation.  The whole asana practice is one big moving meditation after all, and the better people can be about counting, breathing and listening intently all the while, the more receptive the nervous system will be to welcome well earned openings.

What is your favorite pose to teach?
Savasana.  The best thing to teach bumbling and bustling New Yorkers on the go is how to be actively resting.  Instead of going into an unconscious slumber, Savasana is an opportunity to witness the body and mind in a state of assimilation and integration.  How does this help in real life?  Well, instead of someone going into a panicked fight or flight frenzy running late for work, wouldn't Savasana be a good friend to have?
What is you favorite pose to practice?
I love Savasana after a grueling and sometimes not so grueling class because that’s where it’s at for me. With the bodywork I do, there is quite a bit of energy manipulation, and transference.  I tend to be a vacuum cleaner for a lot of people's junk, so savasana is a very necessary practice of shedding what's  unnecessary. Every savasana is like a miniature unveiling of one piece of beautiful artwork that is hidden by gnarly cobwebs. 
Best advice for beginners?
One-on-one's are the way to go.  Private instruction sets a firm foundation for people with specific issues that may come up for any beginner.  In a private setting, a beginner eliminates the part of the ego that is trying to mimic everyone else in the group setting.  Beginner's also have to take responsibility for themselves and not be afraid to ask questions, which is why a private setting is a better environment to start.

Best advice for more advanced yogis?
This is my advice to myself quite often: “Be humble and listen.”  We all can fill in the blank and advise ourselves.  We already know the answers to some degree.

What is your biggest yoga pet peeve?
Students instructing other students or friends in a class, or even going as far as adjusting them.  We've all been the rogue high school student or at least have that rogue kid inside ready to go against the grain, which is fine, but it makes my job much more difficult. 

Reader questions…

What are your hobbies?
I'm also a performer.  I act, dance (modern) and do aerial silk work.  Recently, was  introduced to Budokon, which is yoga movement fused with martial arts movement.  I used to practice kung fu, so I miss that Yang energy in yoga movement, and Budokon definitely covers it. 

What is your favorite music to play in class and why?
It's hard for me to pick favorites because I switch in and out of states or moods so quickly.  So music-wise, my one golden rule is that it should compliment what is being taught in class. 

Why should a student from your York class come try your Hot class / and vice versa?
Any hot class is challenging, and I teach the “Open,” which is wicked intense but a great challenge for a York student if they want to put their sense of inner stillness to a test. How efficient can you be with your actions and breath? Can you still quell the excessive mind chatter in an extremes? These are all additional challenges if you feel like you’re plateauing. But of course everyone is different, so some nervous systems literally cannot handle the overheating of the hot studio, and should be mindful of just jumping into any random class. Again, taking responsibility is key.

People should come from Hot to York to really experience their asana practice. I think it’s good to notice that your practice doesn’t have to be this extreme sport. If Hot is yang, then York is yin, come experience more yin energy. Hot yogis are radical and extremists, sometimes overly so. Taking a restorative or gentle class will actually help tone your muscles by letting all that lactic acid pent up in the system to wash out a bit. Knowing when to pull back and finding softer hues on the palette is a good thing.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Standing in Sarvangasana

November Pose of the Month

The Sanskrit for Shoulder Stand, Sarvangasana, translates to “whole body” or “full-limbed” – and this is a pose that lives up to its name. It provides a good stretch for the head and neck, tones the legs and abdominals, promotes good circulation, strengthens the upper-back while relieving low-back pain, helps calm the nervous system and refresh the brain. Sarvangasana benefits the entire body by incorporating a little bit of everything – relaxation, inversion and revitalization – in one posture.

This November, as the holiday season approaches, let Shoulder Stand take some of the pressure off, relieve stress and refresh you. This pose also helps stimulate the thyroid gland to aid in digestion – Sarvangasana on Thanksgiving anyone?

Benefits of the pose include but are not limited to:

 • Relieves fatigue and helps to promote deep, restful sleep.

• Good for metabolism – helps the thyroid gland function more efficiently.

• Provides nutrient rich blood to brain.

• Benefits people with constipation, indigestion and asthma.

• Increases blood flow to aid headaches, congestion and sore throats.

How to:

1. Lie down with your back on a yoga mat. Arms rest by your side, palms flat on the mat.

2. Lift your hips off the floor and bring your legs up, over your head. Toes touch the mat above your head.

3. Straighten your spine, bend at the elbows and place your hands against your upper back - as near as possible to the shoulder blades.

4. Push your back upwards with your hands. Rest your weight on the back side of the shoulders. See to it that you do not bend the upper back and the chest.

5. Lift up your legs, one at a time. The pelvis is stacked straight over your back and hands.

6. Breathe deeply and find your balance – moving hands closer to shoulder blades to work towards straightening.

7. Hold for at least 30 seconds - or as long as comfortable.

8. When finished. Slowly bring your legs back to the mat over-head, one by one, stretch out your arms by your sides and slowly roll your back downward.