Category Archives: Yoga

This is Your Brain on Meditation

I recently purchased an an audio book on Audible.com entitled “Meditations to Change Your Brain: Rewire Your Neural Pathways to Transform Your Life” by Rick Hanson and Rick Mendius. The authors, a neuropsychologist and neurologist respectively, have done extensive studies on the eastern traditions of Buddhism, meditation and yoga and how they impact the brain. I highly recommend this audio book, as it not only discusses the science behind these traditions, but it also incorporates several different guided meditations that are designed to change your brain. As you can imagine, this is a topic that resonates with me greatly, so I figured I’d try to distill some of the information that I’ve learned from their book and share it with my readers.


What is Suffering?

In Buddhism, there is a concept known as suffering or dukkha. The way I see it, “suffering” is synonymous with pain, anxiety or stress.  Anything that causes discomfort in our daily lives, be it conscious or unconscious.  But, as it turns out, we’re all hard wired to experience discomfort and suffering. Why? Because it’s one of the primary mechanisms through which life has been programmed to survive..

As human beings, there are six main reasons why were are biologically predisposed to this stress and anxiety.

Organism-World Distinction
Every organism needs to know the boundaries between itself and everything else. For most animals, it our skin. But even down at the cellular level, every cell must know the difference between itself and another cell. This creates a duality in our perception: there’s me and then there’s not me (or the rest of the world).

The existence of this boundary allows our brains to more quickly process information and threats.  It’s an easy way for our brain to cut tasks in half to make them more manageable: inside stimuli vs. outside stimuli.

But when you go down to the atomic level, this distinction doesn’t exist. The atoms in your skin are bumping right up next to the atoms in the air and on whatever it is you’re sitting on at this moment. At the same time, there’s a constant exchange of matter and energy. You eat food, which breaks it down into chemicals, to fuel your body with energy, to allow it to function and do all the tasks that we ask of ourselves every day. At the same time, your body is constantly trading oxygen for carbon dioxide. Atoms outside our bodies become part of us and our atoms become part of our environment through these processes. A year from now, 98% of the atoms in your body will not be the same ones that are in your body today.

But, as our brain tries to maintain the illusion that we are separate and distinct from “everything else”, we forget that deep down we’re not any different from our own environment, which creates suffering as a byproduct. It’s the conscious and unconscious fear of the unknown. The fear of things that are “not me.”

Identification with the body
Our brains not only have to monitor all of the internal and external activity, but there also has to be functions that are watching all of this activity and responding to it. There are circular circuits in the nervous system specifically designed to watch the function of other systems in the nervous system. Someone has to fly this ship, right?

So, let’s pretend for a moment that your body is a like a plane. The control panels in the cockpit  panel are like the insula portion of the brain monitoring all of the various activities: the RPM of the engine, the altitude, the internal temperature, etc. The pilot is the brain, helping to make decisions based on all of this data. In the same way that a pilot identifies with the ship as being part of himself:  “I’m comin’ in for a landing!”, “I’ve got a bogey on my tail,” etc. the brain does the same thing with our bodies. It creates a sense of self:  “I am my body.”

When you think about your body in this way, we begin to relate external experiences with ourselves, explaining why we take things personally. All of the various drama and stories that we witness, we envision it as happening to ourselves — causing suffering or stress.

Anxiety of Survival
All animals have it imprinted in their DNA that they have to do whatever is necessary to survive. Throughout human history we’ve been trying to protect ourselves from being the prey of some predator. Our brains are programmed to constantly scan our environment for potential threats. Even when we’re asleep, our brains are ready to act in a moment’s notice if there’s a threat. So much so, in fact, that our circadian rhythms cause us to wake up on average ten times a night to check the status of the outside environment.

This internal warning system is constantly engaged in measuring the risk of potential threats to our existence.

Maybe now you can start to see now why meditation and yoga are so beneficial. These activities allow us to focus solely on the internal stimuli and thus relieve the brain of some of its duties of worrying about external “threats”: things going on at your job, in your personal life, your grocery list, etc.  But, I think this also can help explain why we all find the practice of meditation so challenging.

Our Ever-changing World
Everything changes. The planet is constantly changing — rivers, tectonic plates, the wind, trees growing, etc. The same holds true for the rest of our universe — everything is always in a constant state of flux — up until the inevitable point at which, billions of years from now, Earth and our entire solar system will be consumed by the sun. So, if everything is always changing, that means that we always need to pay attention. Nothing will ever be still for one moment.

Maintaining Equilibrium
So at the same time that we’re trying to adjust to all of this external stimuli, we have the exact same thing going on internally. We encounter input all day, from all different sources that our brain constantly has to process. Neurons are constantly firing to perform different tasks, sending and receiving information from the other systems in our bodies. Then, add in the constant death and rebirth cycle of all of the neurons themselves. All the while our complex systems of the brain are trying calibrate itself to the equilibrium point from all this stimuli. Quite a Sisyphean task!

But while all of this helps us to survive, you can probably imagine how this might deter us from being able to quiet down our minds.

Seek Pleasure and Avoid Pain
Lastly, the most basic questions that any cellular organisms is faced with is: approach or retreat. Absorb or reject. For us humans, we view this behavior as the concept of likes and dislikes. It’s what motivates our species towards pleasure and makes us retreat from pain, anxiety, discomfort.

Dealing with Suffering or Stress
So.. how do we combat this? We need to take some time out each day to quiet our minds and reduce the inputs that our brain needs to try to register. But, just like any other activity that you do: doing a sport, writing, playing music, drawing, difficult conversations, selling cars, it requires practice. Practice makes perfect, right?  Meditation and yoga are just two examples of that focus on turning inwards on ourselves and allowing our brain to focus on the internal systems and thus temporarily reduce our suffering and stress.

From a physiological perspective when we meditate there are three main areas of the brain that are activated: The orbital frontal cortex, the anterior cingulate cortex and the insula.

The orbital frontal cortex is the portion of the brain located directly behind the eyes and it’s responsible for all the executive functions of the mind. It’s the CEO:  Evaluating tasks, Keeping everything on task, Making decisions, etc. It takes the lead in organizing the neurological activities required.

The ACC, or anterior cingulate cortex, is the portion of the brain that controls attention. It’s job is to keep your mind focused on the tasks you’ve assigned to yourself. Located just behind your “third eye” the ACC lights up during to keep your focus during meditation on the breath, your posture, your mantra. It’s the portion of the brain that keeps yelling “Shut Up, I’m trying to meditate!”

The insula is the located near the ACC, but it straddles the right and left hemispheres of the brain. It’s the internal monitor of the systems, but it also insula: Near the ACC on both sides of the brain. Senses the interior state of the body, but it is also the bridge between the thinking and feeling portions of the brain. If it sense pain somewhere, it sends this signal to the pre-frontal cortex to decide what to do with this information.

Scientists have observed other peole that perform similar inward-focused activities and they’ve seen similar patterns in brain activity. For example, in studies in which the brain activity was measured in monks and nuns during their spiritual activities, they found these same areas of the brain light up. So, if you think about it, religion is more connected through neurology and biochemistry than in the principles of the religion itself.

So, what does meditation do to your brain?

Just like muscles, when you use various parts of the brain for these tasks, they get stronger. Meditation trains our attention and interoception: our gut feelings and intuition. It improves our self-awareness and self-understanding.  Meditation also trains what’s known as our our meta-attention, which is how we attend to attention. This is particularly useful when trying to teach ourselves new things.

Brain activity in the insula has been linked to a human being’s capacity for empathy — a social skill to communicate with other people.  MRIs have shown that the more we experience empathy, the more our insula lights up. At its root, empathy is our sense of compassion, loving kindness and how relate to other human beings. It allows us to communicate with other beings because we can understand their wants and needs. This also allows us to connect to other people because we know what they’re going through. In fact, neuroscientists have found that some of the exact same cells in our insula activate just as if we, ourselves, were feeling that feeling.

Meditation is also found to release chemicals in our brain associated with pleasure such as dopamine and norepinephrine. It’s as though our own brain is rewarding us for doing this practice.

By working our ACC, we’re strengthening the ties between what we think and what we feel. The more we do this, the more we wire these connections together — which helps improve overall brain function. Deterioration in the ACC has been known to cause diseases such as Alzheimer’s and Dimentia.

Meditation also has more permanent effects on the brain. For example, people who meditate more frequently are often found to be sending out brain waves that signal that they are content and happy. It’s also been found to increase serotonin levels in the brain, which also leads to our overall happiness.

People who meditate often have more brain activity in the left frontal lobe of the brain which are generally used to promote positive feelings, compared to the right frontal lobe which promotes negative feelings. Regular practitioners are also found to have thicker brain layers in the areas that relate to attention (up to 1mm in some cases!). The thicker the brain matter in these regions, the more brain cells, the stronger they become.

Most importantly, the practice of meditation seems to have a “dosing” effect on the brain. What this means is that the more you meditate, the more these changes occur in the brain and the longer they last. Just like weight training, the more you work out the more muscle you’ll build, the longer it would take to lose it.

When scientists measure the brain states during meditation, what they’ve found is that it generally triggers the exact same portions of your brain that are associated with all of the other pleasurable activities that you enjoy in your daily life. So as you get better at meditation, you are thus strengthening your brain and teaching it how to deal with day-to-day stress, increase attention at work, and do more critical thinking. All this, while being rewarded at the same time.

So, what are you waiting for?

Teacher Training: Iyengar Class

As part of the Teacher Training requirements, we need to attend four basic types of Hatha Yoga classes: Anusara, Ashtanga Vinyasa, Restorative and Iyenger. I had saved the “best” for last, as we’ve talked quite a bit about the Iyengar style throughout much of the training and I have been somewhat nervous to try it. I decided to take the class at Yoga Garden on Divis this evening and it was an experience.

The focus of Iyengar yoga is alignment. You spend a lot of time in each pose, focusing on each body part and where it is supposed to be and act during each pose. I enjoyed this part of the class, however, I had a very hard time connecting with my breath and found it very difficult to find a rhythm because of all of the constant interruptions. In order to focus on the alignment, you end up using a ton of props and various “accessories” during the class to get the alignment just right. At one point, I looked around the room and each of the 7 students in the room had: 5 blankets, two blocks, 2 straps, 1 sand bag and one pole. You heard me right, a pole.

There was a lot of discussion in the class, asking about how to do something or what should I do with some body part. This is fairly unusual, as conversation and discussion with the teacher during a vinyasa class are generally not recommended. Each student is supposed to have their attention focused inward, not involved in discussion with the teacher about specific poses. I don’t disagree with this aspect of yoga — I think students should be able to ask the teacher questions about specific poses, but it’s usually a more one-on-one thing as opposed to disruption to the larger class.

Speaking of discussions, I’ve never been in a yoga class before where we had a 5 minute discussion on a philosophical topic about yoga. Again, I enjoyed it, but it was not something I’m accustomed to. The teacher had asked us if it was possible to find “God” in Asana, or yoga poses. A few people spoke up. Considering my mind state lately, I jumped at the opportunity to share my thoughts. I said most definitely. By focusing your attention inward, you can find your inner Self, which in my opinion, is God. The teacher countered by asking if you couldn’t do the same thing riding a bicycle or playing guitar. I said “Yes, but you didn’t ask that. You asked if it could be found in Asana, which it can — much like riding a bicycle or playing guitar. The difference being, though, that when you are in Asana you are focusing inward and looking for that quiet space. When you are riding a bike, I hope your attention is on the road ahead of you.”  He didn’t appreciate my answer. I didn’t appreciate his.

Needless to say, it was an interesting discussion and not part any other yoga class I’ve been to in the past few years. I think the most interesting point in the class came when he instructed us to use our poles and sit on them (legs perpendicular) so that our sits bones are balanced on the pole in Dandasana (Staff Pose). Not only was this challenging, but very uncomfortable. I had to remind myself that this was the point of yoga, as I breathed through it.

I don’t feel I got that great of a workout tonight. I don’t very grounded or centered. I wasn’t able to connect to my breath. The interruptions were annoying. But, it was a different experience. I really enjoyed some of the poses, including uttanasana (standing forward fold) as we really focused on each muscle being stretched in the forward bend. It was probably the deepest standing forward bend I’ve experienced, for sure.

I’d go back to an Iyengar class. I was expecting something much more harsh and serious — but it was fun. Would I choose it over a hatha flow or vinyasa class? Probably not. But it was fun for a change.

 

Teacher Training: Coming to an end

It’s Sunday. Today was our last full day of Yoga Teacher Training class. Next week, we’ve got our final exam on Saturday followed by the graduation ceremony on Sunday. And that’s it. Six months. Over.

I’ve learned so much in the past six months… about yoga. About myself. About my fellow students. It’s been an amazing experience. I loved every minute of it — even in those times when I didn’t. Our class has grown so close that the saddest thing is to say goodbye to everyone. Many of them I’ll see in classes here and there — but some of them are leaving to go back home.

Just like any other experience, these things have to come to an end. Burning man. Jam Cruise. A vacation. It’s time to say goodbye. It’s time to enjoy our last moments together as a group and to move on to whatever comes next in our lives. For many of us, we plan to teach. For others, it was more of a learning and self-discovery experience. Either way, it’s been great to getting to know everyone and while I’m looking forward to having my weekends back. At the same time, there’s so much I’m going to miss. Friday nights at waiting outside Stanyan Studio waiting for class to start.  The great conversations and discussions we had in class. The fear and excitement of learning to teach. The immense sense of calm I feel on Sundays, after spending nearly all of my waking weekend hours in the Yoga Studio.

Whatever happens, there will be something just as amazing for each of every one of us coming just around the corner. I’m just so fortunate and grateful to have shared this incredible experience with all my wonderful classmates and teachers. Thank you.

What’s next for me? I do plan on teaching. I’m setting up a weekly evening class at work. I’m also looking at various opportunities to rent a studio in SF to teach an evening or weekend class for my friends and classmates. I’m also going to continue my education and hope to assist one of my favorite teachers here in San Francisco. On top of that, I’m considering starting my “graduate” program with a one-week intensive class in October… But I’m still tossed up about that. Like most “graduate” programs, I might want to teach for a while before I embark on that journey.

So that’s it. My notebook’s full. My books are read. My homework’s turned in. All I have left to do is study for the final exam.

Teacher Training: The Powers of Pranayama

With only a few weekends left of Yoga Teacher Training, we’re entering the final stretch. This past weekend’s classes were a wonderful after our weekend off. It actually all started on Friday night, when Darren led our advanced pranayama class focused on pranic breathing. Pranic breathing is very similar to other techniques known as Kriya Yoga, Holotropic Breathing or Rebirthing. Earlier the training, Darren had mentioned a night when we’d have a very long meditation — though I don’t think any of us quite knew what to expect.

Earlier in the week, Darren sent us a list of instructions which resembled a pre-surgery checklist.  We not supposed to eat or drink anything several hours before class. We were not supposed to consume any intoxicants 24 hours before and after the class and caffeine should be avoided. I couldn’t imagine what this was going to entail.

Once we were settled in class, each of us had a blanket to lie on, a bolster to use as a pillow and an eye pillow to help block out the light. Darren taught us the basics of the breathing technique which we were going to use, which was very straightforward — deep breaths through the mouth, sighing on the exhalation.

By continuously focusing on this breath throughout the meditation, regardless of what happens, was the only other instruction. We did this breathing for about 5 minutes and then were told to do a breath retention technique known as Kumbaka until the moment it became uncomfortable. Immediately after this first hold, I had noticed a tingling in my arms and legs. We continued in this fashion for 2 more holds, each time I felt more and more relaxed when I regained my breath.

And when I say more and more relaxed, I literally felt as though things were getting even darker and I had less and less actual sensation in my body. Everything just let go a little more each time. After the third hold, we were then focusing our inhalations and exhalations on people we cared about in our lives for several breaths followed by another hold. At this point, I started to become somewhat emotional as did many other people in the class. You could hear that some people were starting cry.

This continued into the next hold and when I regained my breath I slipped even deeper and my eyes started to tear up without any real reason that I was consciously aware of. I then started to have a shortness of breath, as if I was balling — though the tears wouldn’t quite come. I could hear other people in the room become much more emotional, some people sobbing very loudly. I am fairly certain I was making some sort of noise myself. Keeping with the long slow breath was getting quite challenging, though I had known this was my sole task.

We then continued through several dedications of our breath which only got myself and others even more worked up. Once we were done with the breathing exercise, Darren guided us into savasana — or corpose pose — to help us relax from this intense journey.

It was at this point that I had noticed that there was music playing in the background. What was strange, though, was that I could hear a hissing in the background of the soundtrack. It was as if there was a blank cassette tape being played — just that quiet white hissing noise. The noise continued to get louder up to the point where it was actually louder than the music. I assumed this was part of the song, though I later learned I was the only one that heard this.

When we were guided back into consciousness, I remember sitting up with my eyes closed and practically falling over. We had been in this practice for about an hour, though it felt as though it was maybe 20-30 minutes at most. When we opened our eyes, I was in a state of shock — quite literally. I was confused and rattled. I looked at my friend Tiffany next to me, and I feel as though I gave her a “where am I?” type look — because she immediately gave me a very compassionate hug. Things didn’t make sense — though I wasn’t quite sure what I was trying to figure out. It was just this general haze. I had a hard time forming sentences.

I felt as though I had just been in a car accident or maybe woken up from surgery and was still under anesthesia. Several other people had experienced similar effects after waking up, and listening to everyone else’s experience was just as interesting yet completely different than mine. I had plans to go out that night — which were immediately canceled. I was trying to figure out if I was going to be able to drive home.

I felt out of sorts most the night and even the next morning was a little blurry. I don’t know what happened. I can’t explain it. But I know one thing for certain… There is something very powerful about the breath. You may be still be reading this and think this all mumbo jumbo. I would too. But having experienced this first hand, I now know for certain that pranayama, and even yoga as a whole, is incredibly powerful.

Teacher Training: Finding a Pose

Several times during our teacher training, I’ve been either practicing or in the class and have suddenly “found” a pose. Now, I know I’ve just talked about how you’re not supposed to focus on the achievements or doing things right.. you’re not. But sometimes, you just happen to get adjusted in such a way or hear a description of alignment in such a way that you’re body suddenly realizes “oh, this is what it’s supposed to _feel_ like.”

For me, this weekend, I actually discovered two things. Yesterday, I felt low lunge for the first time. For me, I’ve always felt the strengthening in the front leg, but I’ve never felt the stretch in the back quad. At Kerri Kelly’s class yesterday, I discovered where my back leg should go to get that stretch. Let me point out, though, that I’m focused on how to get the pose to feel right in my body.. and not what it looks like. It felt amazing.

The second, was the hop between downward dog and forward fold/uttanasa in the sun salutations. In the rare instances when I have hopped forward, my legs clump to the floor. But I realized that it’s actually all core if you’re doing it right. How did I miss this?! I love jumping back/forward now. Another trick that I learned from Kerri this weekend, just based on the way that she queued some of the transitions. Loved it.

After practicing with her twice this past weekend, I’ve decided that I really admire her teaching style. She’s very core-focused and isn’t afraid to make people work through challenging sequences — but teaches with enough off-the-mat philosophy that it helps you breath through it. I definitely plan to observe one of her classes in the next few weeks.

Despite not being in teacher training this weekend — I spent a lot of time focused on own practice. But it makes a huge difference when you can practice on your own schedule.

 

Teacher Training: What is Yoga?

On my drive down to SLO, I spent several hours listening some seminars by Amrit Desai as some make-up hours for my Yoga Teacher Training Program. My favorite two sessions were focused on the Wisdom of Yoga and of the power of intention. His philosophy makes so much sense to me, that the time flew by as I was driving back home today.

But, I think what struck me the most was his description of what Yoga is. I have hard time putting it into words, but this sums it up completely.

Yoga is not the physical practice of exercise. It’s true, this is a very important component and it’s great for people to do as a way to stay healthy. To do Yoga, you must establish your intention that you will integrate the principles in your life that prevent you from: comparing, self-judging, fighting or fleeing from what you encounter (what you’re afraid of), and learning to relax and breath to find new ways to cross the boundaries, to be released from your pre-programmed belief system that holds you back.

To do Asana, or to go through the poses, is only one part. But it’s the actual act of trying to not compare or judge yourself in a pose. You can hear it in your head: “Am I doing this right? Theirs looks better than mine. I’m not straight enough. I’m not strong enough. I can’t balance. ” All these thoughts are things we hear in our heads not only when we’re on the mat practicing yoga — but also in your day-to-day lives. At work. At home. Out shopping. Everywhere. We all judge ourselves and compare ourselves to others.

To put intetionally put yourself  in this situation, time again, it helps train your brain how to focus and deal with these thoughts. How to breath and relax in times of stress or discomfort — physical or mental. It’s the repetition of this technique that re-wires your brain and changes your habits.

Just like any other hobby or skill or craft — you have to rehearse and practice in order to do it well. To train your brain how just the right time to swing to hit a 95 mph fastball. To speak a foreign language. To  speak in public. After a while — your brain just knows how to handle these situations. You don’t think about it. You practiced it enough that it’s automatic.

So if  you can train your brain how to respond in these situations — why  can’t it work to handle the anxiety you encounter every day?

Teacher Training: Practice Teaching

A few weeks ago, Darren started picking out people to lead the warmup for our class each Saturday and Sunday. Missing the first weekend of the exercise, I watched the second group go two weeks ago before I volunteered to do this myself.

Last Saturday, it was my turn and I prepared throughout the week planning my 15 minute meditation and warmup sequence that I’d lead the class through. Of course, even the best-laid plans sometimes fall apart because I panicked at 2am on Friday night and ended up re-doing everything I was preparing to do and started from scratch.

That said, come Saturday, I was still ready (yet a little nervous) to teach 30-some students for 15 minutes. That morning, I was in the shower going over my game plan in my head and I was trying to rationalize that I often have to do large training at work in front of dozens or hundreds of people and it’s never a problem… I asked myself what the difference was and why I was getting nervous for this 15 minute “lesson.” I realized that the reason I am so confident at work is because I know the material so well, that I just felt comfortable with it… So when I thought about the class I was going to teach, I tried to put it in the same context. Sure, everyone knows the poses, but nobody knows better than I do the order or ways I’m going to teach each of them. I think this was just enough to fool my brain into being confident, because it worked.

I actually really enjoyed leading the class for my brief 15 minutes. Sure, there were things I could’ve done better and things I wish I had done differently, but it was a great experience. I wanted to get my first practice teaching session out of the way so I could move on and feel more comfortable with it… Again it worked.

To keep up the momentum, I emailed my coworkers this week and set up a quick 30 minute yoga class for this morning. A handful of people from my team volunteered and we ran through a quick little practice. It was fun, but I was a little more of a disaster. This disaster included a 3 minute dialog around which side to do for ardha matsyendrasana and I still dont know if all three students did it correctly. Oh well. I think I shouldve prepared a bit more, but live and learn. I wanted to try to be a bit more dynamic in the poses I chose rather than to have everything pre-planned, but I don’t feet as though that worked too well. Either way, it was a good experience and i’m slowly becoming more comfortable with my teaching voice.

I’m trying to schedule my full hour practice teach for mid-June, so I know a bit more now, how to handle it. It’s been a great week and even though I have the weekend off for Memorial Day, I am hoping to keep up the momentum through to next week!

Teacher Training: Meditation Part Two

This past week was a struggle. Coming back from Jazzfest in New Orleans, dealing with my birthday, trying to make my way back into Yoga. The highlight going into the weekend? The High Roller’s 3-2 victory in Kickball to go 6-0 on the season and potentially take back first place.

Friday night came along, and I was dreading going to class. Spending a full weekend in Yoga Teacher Training. Missing Bay to Breakers. I’ve had so much fun the past few weeks, it wasn’t top of my list of activities for the weekend. As soon as we started class, though, most of it dissipated. The topic for the two hours was meditation, the second of our two classes on the subject taught by Dina Amsterdam.

I was reminded of the concept of “ease,” helping my to find that ease in my daily life. We also did a great exercise involving a partner, where one person repeats four statements aloud about what’s going on in the mind and physical body at that moment. Doing this for several minutes helps you quickly see how much your mind flutters in a matter of moments. I did this exercise again today before class with my partner — and it really has helped me let go of things of all those troublesome thoughts throughout the day.

It was also my first exposure to doing physical assists to students, taught by the main instructor Darren Main. This was really interesting — I really enjoyed it. We learned how to assist a dozen or so poses, mostly standing/balancing poses. We also learned a fun assisting tricks, which were really neat.

Even though I didn’t hit Bay to Breakers, I had a great weekend. I’m feeling extraordinarily relaxed this evening, ready return to my regularly scheduled program. It’s Sunday night — Movie night.

Teacher Training: A Weekend Off in the Universe

In case you forgot, I was really looking forward to this coming weekend — a time off from teacher training. Well, I’ve realized that TT keeps me from indulging too much in the freedoms of the weekend and spending too much money.

I found myself going shopping on Saturday and spending more than I had planned on new clothes. There goes my April budget.

My muscles are also tweakier than normal this weekend: my right heel feels tight, my right shoulder is strained a bit from Kickball, and I took a minor tumble in class in a balancing pose bruising my hip / thigh.

Speaking of class, I did go to some great classes this past weekend! Les Leventhal‘s Saturday morning followed by Stephanie Snyder’s Sunday Level 2 class. I’ve heard rave reviews about Stephanie and have wanted to check her out — but the timing has been somewhat inconvenient with Teacher Training, but more than that, her classes are packed! A sign of a great teacher, obviously, but not something I want to deal with all the time.

I really liked her class though. Her alignment cues were very unique and thoughtful — and I ended up feeling quite emotional toward the end of savasana. I don’t think I’ve ever really processed the popular Namaste reading towards the end of class. I had a profound connection to it.

I honor the place in you
in which the entire universe dwells.
I honor the place in you
which is of love, of truth, of light, and of peace.
I honor the place in you where,
if you are in that place in you,
and I am in that place in me,
there is only one of us.
Namaste

I really like the idea that there really is some concept of the universe in all of us. I believe this. The place in me, where the entire univese dwells — I envision atman, this divine spark, within all of us. The spark being some kind of physical tie to the entire universe.

With all of the cosmology, spirituality and particle physics that I’ve been immersing myself in — I can’t help but think about our lives in this way. But, if this is the case,  you can take a moment to focus on that spark –realizing that every other person we meet has this same place inside them. Connecting every one of us. It’s a really comforting idea. Makes me glad to spend my weekend off in the universe enjoying my friends and the city that I love.

Teacher Training: A Weekend Off

Whew. I can’t believe that almost two months have gone by since I started teacher training. For the past several weeks we’ve spent most of our time studying philosophy on Friday nights followed by two alignment classes on Saturday and Sunday. The one exception being a functional anatomy weekend hosted by physical therapist extraordinaire, Harvey Deutch.

This past weekend marked the conclusion of the first segment of our training, with our final alignment classes with Chrisandra. We concluded with learning the intricacies of head and shoulder stand — as well as spent some time in small groups leading our own practice.

All-in-all, my alignment is much better than it was before I started. Poses that never felt like a stretch are now a challenge — even child’s pose feels like a brand new experience. Each time I practice in class, I discover a new sequence or a new way of taking my practice deeper. It’s exciting.

All that said, though, I’m very excited for my weekend off. It couldn’t come at a better time. Last month, we were told that we’d likely come to a point where we feel tired and frustrated with the training — I hit that point this past weekend. I’m glad that I can take some time to practice on my own or in class and not have to worry about readings, homework or spending next weekend in class. I’m not entirely sure what I’m going to do with myself — but it’ll probably include Yoga to some degree.

I am most definitely still enjoying it –I’m just looking forward to my weekend off.