Long time – no see! Back again! Visiting Luxembourg.

Dear Yogis,

after quite a break I am back. To sum it up: After being in Tasmania and Phuket I came back to Germany and quit teaching at my “old” Yoga school for several reasons: I had made up my mind that good work should be honored accordingly and so, since we couldn´t agree on that point (and several others), our ways parted.

I chose to travel to different studios in order to teach in a healthy environment, meet new people and see how different studio owners work their studios.

I went to the US to be mentored by a great senior Bikram teacher, Teri Almquist, who had given the workshop in Tasmania. I learned so much there! Great time, fabulous students, incredible spirit. In October I went to a 10 day Vipassana meditation in Triebel, in the East of Germany. What an experience. Very inspiring and I am amazed how Yoga and meditation compliment each other. So there is a lot to talk about in the next posts.

Right now I am in Luxemburg at Polly Edwards`studio. Small studio but very dedicated the students are focused and determined. A maximum of 14 people fit in the room, but that means mat to mat and high humidity for this little room. Nevertheless it gives the opportunity for individual corrections which isn´t always possible in larger groups. She will be moving into a bigger and new studio in May 2015. Can´t wait to come back and see it.

What inspires me about Polly is that she is constantly trying out new things, going to different Yoga classes and trainings (pregnancy Yoga, pre-/postnatal Trainings, Jivamukti, Forest Yoga…). She seems to have endless energy. She has a full time job and runs her little studio. In class she has a wonderful tone of voice that is both demanding but soothing at the same time. Always warm and cheering you on. And her practice… Wow. So, if you ever are in Luxembourg, check out BYLU and get hot!

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Posture of the month of April: Full Locust Pose – Poorna Salabhasana

Posture-of-the-Month_April_2014Lie on your stomach, chin on the floor. Bring your arms out to the side like airplane wings, five fingers together and palms facing the floor. Your legs together, feet together, engage your leg and hip muscles. Make them tight. A tight body is a light body. Inhale breathing and arms, body, head, legs, lift everything off the floor like an airplane taking off. Look up, chest up, arms up and arms back. Fingertips same level as your head. Only the hip bones are touching the floor, the rest of your body in the air. Chest up, look up, come up and go up, exhale breathing come up one more time – and slowly, with style and grace, come down. Chin on the towel, arms by your side, left ear on the towel, relax. Then 2nd set, other side.

This posture is working your thoracic spine. Buttocks and legs are being trained as well. This is the only posture where you don´t have leverage. Arms and legs are like weights hanging off your body. You are working against those weights to lift up. Thus it is a resistance training for your thoracic spine. Kind of hard to see improvement in this posture.

Stretch your eyes back as much as you can. Don´t stop looking in the mirror. Look up to the ceiling, even back towards the windows or back wall. Just the imagination of looking at the back wall will help you to come up more. Again, your eyes are the elongation of your spine. Where they go, your body will follow.

Use 80/20 breathing in this posture. Inhale 100 % when you go in the posture, then keep 80% in your lungs and only exhale 20% until you hit the 80. Then back to 100%. This way you keep tension in your thorax, your lungs and it will be much easier to do this posture. In the end be sure to exhale and come up one more time. This will help you to strengthen the muscles and increase the flexibility in your middle spine. It is this one millimeter that makes the difference the next time you do this posture.

Another back bend. Not a very long posture so make up your mind to hold it and come up in the end.

Yoga competition

Yesterday there was the 1st Yoga Asana Championship in Austria. I really wanted to go but it didn´t work out unfortunately. Not participating, just watching. Cannot wait to see the pictures of all these great performing Yogis and Yoginis.

Now some people may say: Yoga – competition? Well, that doesn’t go together. It is against the spirit of Yoga.

Mmh. I can see where that´s coming from. But here´s the other side of the story.

Yoga is no sport. It is a physical workout to bring body and mind together. You should´t compare yourself with anybody else when you practice Yoga. So why competitions? ChauKei (last year´s World Champion) commented on this issue. And I found it made sense. You work towards a goal – the competition. You practice hard and dedicate your time to something that you love. Then you show it at the competition (it´s a platform), thus inspiring many people. Showing them what is possible if you set your mind to it.

It also demands tremendous focus and strength of mind to perform in front of a public audience. You might be able to do each posture graciously and looking great on a daily basis. But on the podium it is a different story. So you have to find that peace of mind and quiet place within you in order to perform your routine. Knowing that you can do it, trusting yourself, no matter what happens.

There is a community of Yogis going to these events and the atmosphere is an uplifting one. You wish each other the best. Sounds weird but it is not so much of a competition amongst the Yogis. It is upon YOU to do your best and you don´t want to get ahead because the other person DIDN`T perform but because you DID perform.

It also helps making Yoga more known to the public. The goal is to even make it to the Olympics in order to make it known world wide. The younger you start with this Yoga the more benefits you can gain from it in the long run. Incorporate it in your life, make it a part of it. The younger kids start, the easier it will be for them. Just like brushing your teeth. You don´t question it, you do it. (Doesn´t mean you should say yes and amen to everything). But creating awareness of the power of Yoga, seeing these people giving their best on stage, cheering for each other and showing their hard work and effort truly is inspiring. Imagine if kids did this in school, the breathing exercise alone, creating awareness for your body and its needs. Having a connection to yourself is the foundation of having a connection to another person. It would balance stress and how these young people feel. They could deal with feelings much better thus creating a better society…

I went to a competition myself once – yes, participating. I surely wasn`t ready for it. Let`s say I was thrown in the cold water for various reasons, not prepared or trained for it properly – to make a long story short. Basically, I had no idea what I was going for. But even though in my opinion later on it wasn´t the right time, I saw what is possible and met a lot of inspiring people. Maybe one day I will participate in one of these competitions again. Who knows. But I hope it spreads wider and wider around the globe and more and more people get to see these demonstrations of strength, flexibility, focus, peace of mind, grace and dedication. In order to be inspired and get on the mat!

Every journey starts with the first step. So go ahead, take that step! Be inspired!

It´s about stretching – not bending!

Yesterday, I took part in a workshop with ChauKei Ngai, World Yoga Champion of 2013. The one sentence that really stayed with me from the workshop is this one: it´s about stretching, not bending.

It´s so simple but not easy. I am pretty flexible so half moon or back bends are fairly “easy” for me. But the challenge is NOT to just fold to the side or back and hang out there, but to reach over and stretch. It is a completely different approach and it is so much more challenging.

If you just fold into a back bend, you crunch the lumbar vertebrae, which might not hurt in the beginning, but in the long run you could damage them. If you stretch back, taking your arms with you (your STRAIGHT arms!) you might not get into the posture as deeply as you are used to (but remember, form is more important than depth!). Taking your straight arms back will lift your chest up more, thus opening the upper part of your spine, your cervical and thoracic spine, which are harder to get flexible. The arch in your lower back becomes bigger. Strong legs and engaged glutei maximi (butt muscles) will support you.

So here, taking a step back is actually going to get you more forward in the long run.

I also like another comparison: If you mention Yoga to people, you often get the answer “oh, I am not flexible enough”. You don´t have to be flexible to do Yoga. You practice Yoga to become flexible. It´s like saying: I am too dirty to take a bath. But ChauKei said: “Imagine you have a rubber band in your hand. You need strength to pull on that rubber band, thus making it flexible.” So you always need both: Strength and flexibility and you work on both in a Yoga class. It´s about the balance of the two. Flexibility is a skill you learn – it´s not a requirement.

So, no more excuses! Get to class and become more flexible! 😉

 

Posture of the month of March: Kapalabhati Breathing

Posture-of-the-Month_Maerz_2014

Sit down Japanese style, hips on your heels. Put your hands on your knees, elbows locked, spine straight, shoulders relaxed, belly relaxed. Blow out through your lips. Only exhale, inhale will happen automatically. Your belly goes in and out like a bellows when you exhale and inhale. So relax it completely. Not too fast in the first set. The 2nd set is a bit faster. This final breathing exercise is good for your abdominal muscles, the organs in your abdomen. They are stimulated. Literally translated it means: The Pranayama that makes the forehead and entire face lustrous“. It helps clean the sinuses and all other respiratory passages. You might experience a sense of exhilaration. Forcefully and vigorously you exhale your breath, using the diaphragm and abdominal muscles, followed by a relaxation of the abdominal muscles. This results in a passive inhalation. You repeat this cycle in quick succession.

Now you are ready to enjoy and relax into your final Savasana. So turn around and keep on breathing!

Bikram Hot Yoga Stuttgart

Özlem Yildirim, owner of Bikram Hot Yoga Stuttgart, started practicing Yoga when she was 22.

She lived in the US then, when a yoga studio opened up in her neighborhood. In The HOOD! It was a cool thing in that kind of hood. She went there for a year, trying to go twice a week. But it didn´t really change her body. It wasn’t active enough. She tried Iyengar and Vinyasa. She tried but Yoga wasn´t for her. When she took on another job in Washington DC, Sep 2004- a colleague dragged her to class. You need to go. It´s not regular yoga. You would like this. Ok, she would do it. Give it another try. Her only info was to stay in the room and bring water. It was a packed room, 6pm, mat to mat. After 10 minutes she felt like throwing up. Half moon seemed impossible. She had 2 panic attacks, went through it, laid on the floor and hated the colleague for a week. The colleague was gone after class by the way…:-)

That was Oz’s first Bikram experience. But Oz went back. Because there were so many different body types and ages. They apparently had the endurance to live through this. That intrigued her and made her curious. Oz had low blood pressure and it really was challenging. But: After 6 years she decided to go to TT (Teacher Training). Her mental stage had developed by then so she was strong enough to go through class and work on her postures. Now she wanted to know more about this Yoga. Also her private life was kind of leading towards it, change was knocking on the door and it all started from there.

Then in 2013, March 16th it happened. Even though the studio wasn´t completely finished by then, she opened up to actually be able to practice yoga. And it all got just better and more beautiful from there. Now the studio is quite flourishing and so many enthusiastic people are coming to take class, a lot of dancers and actors from the musicals in Stuttgart, but also all different kinds of people, some even traveling quite a long distance in order to be able to take class. The discipline and dedication again are so nice to witness. For Oz it is a pleasure to teach and to guide through class. Everybody is so eager to do their best and to feel great. A beautiful community and the hardware (room, showers, interior) is so nicely done with an eye for detail and you just feel that Oz is really putting her heart into it. So if you are ever in Stuttgart, check it out and enjoy!!!!!!!

Stuttgart RezeptionChanging roomChanging roomWay to the hot roomHot room

Breathing continued: Abdominal breathing

So we talked about thoracic breathing. Now the opposite: abdominal breathing.

Slow and quiet breathing influences the autonomic circuits that slow the heart beat, reduce blood pressure and create a sense of calmness and stability. Just the opposite of chest and superficial breathing. Breathing into the belly, lengthening the diaphragm will calm you down and create a balance to the stressful situations you face during the day. But you have to take time to focus on it. The more you practice it consciously, the more natural it becomes and you can more easily switch to that kind of breathing. Thus providing the lower parts of your lungs with more oxygen. This way the gas exchange is working optimally and the immune system that was suppressed before, can work well and sufficiently. If you are more relaxed and balanced, you will notice, you won´t get sick as easily. Promised! The parasympathetic nervous system maintains the supportive functions of the internal organs. So breathe deeply and take care of yourself, your inner organs and your mental well being. It also provides the brain with more oxygen and enables you to stay put and not just react to a situation but to take a step back and then make a conscious decision how to react in a proper way. You train that in the yoga room, with the heat and sweat and physical stress on your body but still breathing and staying alert so you can use this technique outside of the yoga room in the “real” world. Without breath there is no life. So breathing is mandatory, everything else is optional.