Every retreat that I have led had a unique group dynamic. However, my most recent one felt extremely special, because it was my first all-female retreat. Upon arrival last Thursday, I could tell that everyone was a bit hesitant and nervous. I was a little nervous too. I distinctly remember thinking, “Why are you nervous? This isn’t your first retreat.” However, at the time, I couldn’t figure out why.
As we sat down for our meet and greet at dinner, the energy was a bit reserved and polite. During introductions, I asked everyone to go around the table and tell us how long they have been practicing yoga, what they are looking forward to from the retreat, and finish it off with a signature move to remember their name by. I kicked it off and slowly the energy in the room shifted and we warmed up to each other. Our first dinner was light-hearted, yet conversation remained at surface level.
However, as the days went on we dove deeper and deeper into the work of the yoga practice. Sure, we did asana and movement, but I asked my students and myself some challenging questions not just to practice yoga, but to live it. I posed questions like, “Who do you think you are? What do you believe in that is bigger than you? What challenges your ego and makes you feel like the biggest failure? What are your harmful patterns? What do you love that you like to hold on to? What do you hate that you try to avoid?” After all, this is the work of the yoga practice; self-study (Svadyaya).
During the available free-time I did a little self-studying of my own. I took walks by myself, laid in my hammock and read, meditated, and sat and watched the sunset. Things I realize I don’t do enough of. I reflected on why I was nervous the first day and perhaps why the energy of the other women was a bit nervous as well.
I realized that somewhere inside of me I created a narrative of women judging, competing, and comparing. I can only speak for myself, but I am sure that I am not alone in this. Even if there is no actual threat, I realized that this was a mental pattern that I had formed perhaps from micro-traumas of past experiences.
We all have our work to do and the yoga practice simply shines a light on where it is. Through the practice of yoga and meditation, we can do some self-study to notice our patterns, attachments, expectations, and aversions. We can be aware of all of this without being in it. We can be with things as they come knowing that it is all temporary and that we are not alone in these temporary experiences.
On the last night, we went around the table again. But this time, we weren’t polite or reserved. We were vulnerable, raw, and real. We laughed, cried, embraced, and shared stories. This was the practice working. No walls, preconceived notions, or doubts necessary. Just women supporting other women.
My relationship with yoga began about 8 years ago. I wasn’t looking for anything serious, just a casual thing I could do to work out, get toned, and relieve stress. I would say for the first couple of classes it was purely physical. I was initially attracted to the practice for aesthetic reasons and instant gratification. What can I say? It was exciting and new. I was obsessed with the physical challenge, the sweat, the heat, the fancy arm balances and dance-like flow.
After only a year of my relationship with yoga, I decided to take the next step by enrolling in teacher training. That was when I really got to know the practice for what it was, which led to a deeper relationship. However, just like with any other relationship, the practice held a mirror up to my imperfections, challenges, attachments, fears and insecurities. But it wasn’t until I got hurt did I realize that my dependency on the practice to solve my problems, make me feel whole, and reinforce bad habits was not sustainable. From that moment, I changed the way I practiced, and I changed the way I taught. I began meditating, living my yoga, and using the poses to understand myself versus trying to force my body to be in a pose. For me, this was a game changer because my purpose was no longer about short-term results. Instead, it was about building a long-lasting and sustainable relationship with my practice.
With the increasing popularity of yoga, with various styles and schools advertising that their yoga is the best yoga, perhaps you may be questioning the validity of your relationship with the practice. But the truth is, that there isn’t one yoga that is universally better or more valid than another. Just like all relationships, they are just different from one another. So, whether your current relationship with yoga is flashy and exciting or simple and slow, the biggest question to ask yourself is, “Why am I here?” The answer may change from day to day, but as long as you find meaning in your practice, your relationship with yoga will go the distance.
I am currently in full wedding planning mode as my fiancé, Xavier and I prep for our wedding in August of this year. And boy oh boy, do I have my work cut out for me. Of course, it is an exciting time, but a very stressful one at that. Being the organized person that I am, I always thought planning my wedding would be fun and easy. I built high expectations of the process through my perfectly curated Pinterest boards. Of course, I am being brought back down to reality and realizing that it isn’t as easy as it seems. I am having to ditch Plan A for a more budget-friendly Plan B, something that I am not very good at.
However, this is where I can use my yoga practice the most. I can tap into the philosophy and principles of the practice to make smart choices, I can use the tools of meditation to notice when I waist time and energy wishing things are different, I can adapt and set aside perfection just as I do in my asana practice, and through it all I can understand my habits and patterns that may be harmful. For what good is my yoga if I don’t know how to use it when I need it most?
Just as I discovered so much more to wedding planning than meets the eye, there is also so much more to yoga than the poses you see advertised on Instagram and done in classes. After all, yoga stems back over 5,000 years. Therefore, I have teamed up with my Yoga Harbor family to create a workshop series to help demystify yoga, so you can understand how to use your practice when you need it most in your life whether it be on or off the mat.
So, its day 10 of the new year and perhaps you’re in, “New Year, New You” mode. While, well- intentioned, this phrase can create a culture of perfection, obsession, attachment, and expectation. Why drop so many great lessons that you learned from 2018 when you can take them with you?
Here are some great lessons I learned last year that I am putting to practice this year:
What lessons did you learn in 2018 that you would like to bring forward for this year?
Just like it’s easy to get caught up in the commercialism of the holiday season, the same goes for the practice of yoga. I mean, how can you not? The flashy poses all over Instagram, alignment OCD, and pressure in yoga classes to perform or keep up. Trust me, I got caught up in all that too, until I looked deeper into the philosophy of the practice.
As a teacher, it is especially hard to strike a balance between offering something fun and interesting yet teaching valuable tools that can be used in everyday life. Before I teach a class, I ask myself, “What do you want your students to learn?” It is my way of checking in to make sure that I actually teach my students yoga, not just movement or asana.
I recently took a couple of yoga classes at studios I don’t normally practice at. One class was at a studio in Texas when visiting family for Thanksgiving and another at a studio in Los Angeles. Both classes where your typical Vinyasa flow style: asana with a heavy emphasis on alignment and breath. However, I walked away feeling as though there was a missed opportunity. There was absolutely no mention of any yoga philosophy or principals of the practice. Sure, I stretched and moved my body, but was that yoga?
It is certainly possible to do yoga without asana and my experience held testament that asana can be done without practicing yoga. So, how can we use asana effectively to act as a tool for the practice of yoga instead of allowing it to override the point of the entire practice? Perhaps, we can consider any form of smart and efficient movement as asana and then apply that to the practice of yoga. Since yoga means union, we can use asana as a means to find union with what is and learn from those present moment experiences to make choices without attaching to expectations, past experiences, or particular results.
So, instead of stressing about buying the perfect gift or nailing some fancy asana, perhaps we stop and ask, “What is the point?” Because sometimes all we need is to remind ourselves of the true nature of their origin to ground us in its purpose.
According to the Bhagavad Gita, an ancient Indian text that became a respected resource for yoga, there are four main paths of yoga. Bhakti Yoga, Raja Yoga, Jnana (pronounced “Gnyaan”) Yoga, and Karma Yoga. Bhakti Yoga is the path of loving-devotion to God. Raja Yoga often referred to as the mental yoga, is the path of meditation. Jnana Yoga is the path of wisdom and study to realize the divine oneness inherent in all beings. Karma Yoga is the path of action. In life, we can feel in the path of Bhakti Yoga, think in the path of Jnana Yoga, do nothing completely – the final step in the path of Raja Yoga, but today in particular is a wonderful opportunity to practice action in the path of Karma Yoga. Today is the after all, the midterm elections.
If you are at least 18 years old and a U.S. citizen, it is your civic right to vote. A civic right to be proud of. To put things in perspective, in 1776 only white men age 21 and older who owned land could vote. In 1920, the 19th Amendment gave women the right to vote nationwide. In 1924, the Indian Citizenship Act granted Native Americans citizenship and voting rights. In 1964, the federal Civil Rights Act was passed to ensure that all men and women age 21 and older, regardless of race, religion, or education have the right to vote. In 1965, the federal Voting Rights Act suspended voter literacy tests. In 1971, the 26th Amendment lowered the voting age to 18. In 1984, the polling places were federally required to be accessible to people with disabilities. (For a more extensive timeline click HERE.) Looking back at a span of over 200 years there have been quite a bit of changes, but that will only continue to happen if we lead with our actions.
Of course, there are many things in life that we have no control over, but today we can put our thoughts, feelings, and wisdom into action through our votes. And, just like the four paths of yoga, every voter has a right to their own path. Therefore, the Karmic path of self-less service is only complete when we can do the work without any attachment or expectation to an end result. If there is any resolve, know that it may have taken over 200 years for the changes in the voter timeline to occur, but nonetheless, they happened.
In honor of World Mental Health Day on October 10th, I want to share this with you:
I am a recovering perfectionist, there I said it. Growing up as a perfectionist, I treated everything as competition of how to be better, prettier, smarter, thinner, cooler, more successful… etc. I put so much pressure on myself be perfect until it was no longer sustainable.
I was probably 20 years old when a pretty intense bout of depression hit me like a wall. Within a month, I had dropped out of college in New York, quit my job, moved back home with my parents and my serious boyfriend at the time broke things off with me. After years and years of perfecting, planning, goal-setting, and dream chasing, it all just stopped. So naturally, I freaked out, said some really mean things to myself, and assumed other people were saying mean things about me as well. This took me down a really long and dark tunnel filled with self-pity.
Thankfully, with the help of really amazing friends, supportive family, and various forms of therapy I found the light at the end. One of the biggest resources for mental therapy was yoga. After a friend suggested I try it, I began a home practice while watching YouTube videos. But of course, in my default perfectionist mode, I attended my first public yoga class only once I felt
proficient enough in the poses. So, for months, I practiced like I would a competitive sport, just in a different uniform. I always opted for the most physically challenging version of a pose, made sure to keep up with the rest of the class, and considered class more or less successful by how much of it I actually could do. After only 6 months of practice, I stepped into my first 200-hour teacher training to I find that there was more to the practice than fancy poses and stretching. And that is when the light bulb went off.
After living through the lens of yes vs no, right vs wrong, and better vs worse, yoga taught me that I don’t need to hold a higher value to one over the other. Instead, I can experience happiness, sadness, excitement, frustration, anger and every other emotion while I am with them.
One Sanskrit saying comes to mind, “Mana eva manusyanam karanam bandha moksayoh.” This translates to, “As the mind, so the person; bondage or liberation are in your own mind.” If we can remember that we are not our temporary emotions and thoughts, we can simply be a witness to every experience without feeling bound to them. In that, we can find liberation from our own minds just by changing our perspective towards it.
It has been about three months since my shoulder tendinitis began to flare up. It is slowly healing, with lots of patience, body-awareness, and to be quite honest more yoga than I have ever practiced before. You might be thinking, “but how?” The truth is, you don’t necessarily need yoga asana to practice yoga. So, whether you are injured like me or are lacking time in your schedule to get to the yoga studio, you can still practice yoga.
According to the guiding text on yoga, The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali written over 1700 years ago, the definition of asana is, “The posture that brings comfort and steadiness.” Nowhere in the Yoga Sutras does it say that you need to sweat, do core strengthening exercises, stretch until you can place your foot behind your head, or work towards the “goal” of the full expression of a yoga pose. I know, it can be misleading, especially if you see yoga being advertised as a way to be fit, toned, or achieve the “perfect” version of yourself. Trust me, I bought into that too, until I didn’t. I would show up to a yoga class ready to perform based on what I thought my practice should be, and in the end, I was left feeling disappointed, hurt, and confused.
So, if yoga isn’t the yoga postures that are broadcasted on Instagram or sequenced in a yoga flow, what is its purpose? It is simply a means to experience what it is like to be in the body and access the mind through each present moment experience. You can think of asana as a screwdriver in a tool box. Sure, there are different types of screwdrivers and they are useful for certain things, but it’s not the answer for everything. So, in order to use your toolbox wisely you will have to add other tools and then decide which ones to use according to whatever is presented in front of you.
Now, everyone’s toolbox is going to be unique. Therefore, it doesn’t matter what it looks like or how it’s used. After all, the practice of yoga is about accepting what is and learning from the present moment experience to make skillful choices in action. Seems easy enough right? Well, the problem is that we don’t spend enough time there, because we wish things were different. We either like things so much that we don’t want them to end or we hate something so much that we avoid it all together. We are constantly trying to change what is, and as a result, we are either living in the past or trying to anticipate the future. To put it bluntly, we think way too much.
Perhaps, all we need is to pause and be with what is. Be with the sounds around you, be with the breath, be with the sensory experience of touch, be with what is around you, be with your thoughts, be with your body. Simply be with it as it truly is, without needing to change it, attach to it, or identify with it. Be with yoga, as yoga is now.
After practicing yoga religiously at a local yoga studio for only 6 months, I was approached by my teacher after class. This beautiful tall and thin Caucasian lady who I would take class from often said, “You have a beautiful practice, have you thought about doing teacher training?” I am sure that her compliment was well-intentioned and sincere at the time, but now I realize that it reinforced my harmful habits of basing contentment and happiness off approval and perfection. This was a pattern that repeated itself over and over again in many different forms.
So, for years I was practicing and teaching the poses from this place. I trusted other peoples’ knowledge and capabilities over my own, so instead of questioning the method as to why things are taught or practiced in a certain way, I began to question myself. Instead of critically thinking of how to put a class together, I would pull new material from other classes. Yet, for years I felt as though I was just replicating what was taught by my peers, teachers, and teacher’s teachers. I strived to reinvent the wheel by making my classes more-so yoga choreography with intricate transitions and funky variations on poses, but still something was missing. I couldn’t quite put my finger on it, until I began searching for answers and trusting my instincts. I later found, that the yoga community at large, including myself, taught the same. Think of your traditional “All Levels” Vinyasa Flow class; fast-paced flow geared towards students who are either athletic, hyper-mobile, coordinated, or all of the above.
That’s when I realized; I was teaching form over function. Even if I would tell my students to find the postures in their body, I would reinforce the complete opposite. I congratulated my students for looking aesthetically pretty, physically adjusted my students as if to say they weren’t doing it “right,” and demoed postures as if to say that my way of doing it was what students had to strive for. Without realizing it, I was encouraging competition, approval, perfection, inclusivity, self-judgment, and attachment; all that yoga is not. Instead, yoga is about accepting what is and learning from the present moment to make choices without attaching yourself to expectations or particular outcomes. So, with that is mind, who cares what it looks like. What we should really be concerned about is using asana as a means to be in the body and actively participate in the current experience that is in front of us.
It may have taken me years to come back to the true nature of yoga, but that is the work. So I will continue to show up and be with what is right in front of me and what happens next is what happens next.
Upon discovering the idea of yoga 6 years ago, I was sold on the physical asana-based practice. Considering my background of playing competitive sports and being physically active, that is all that I knew. After taking my first group yoga class in a heated room, I was hooked. I remember feeling strong, refreshed, and more flexible. I’m sure that the teacher set a beautiful intention for class and carried the theme throughout to provide purpose for the practice, but at the time it didn’t land. It wasn’t that I didn’t care, I just wasn’t ready to receive it.
Within a year of consistent physical yoga practice, I decided to do teacher training. I was at a career crossroads, so I thought, “I like yoga so why not teach it?” Our first homework assignment was to write a paper on, “What is yoga to you and why do you practice?” As Mark Twain once said, “Write what you know.” So, that is exactly what I did. I knew I liked yoga because it was fun, helped me get out of my own head, and made me feel good. I also knew that because of that, I wanted to teach yoga. That was it, plain and simple.
Upon receiving feedback on my paper, the lead teacher trainer wrote. “Wow, that is a lot of pressure to put on yourself. Let go of your expectations; you never know what will surprise you along the way.” That was probably one of the best pieces of advice anyone could have given me at that time.
After learning the history, concepts, principles, and tools of the practice, I set out on exactly what I had my eyes on the entire time; making a career out of teaching yoga. Even though I was still new to the practice, I got out there and taught my heart out. As I taught, I learned and practiced what I preached and began living my yoga, not just teaching it. Yes, I became a better teacher, but more importantly I became a better person. I found my purpose, my voice, and my true self.
Now, I am met with something else I wasn’t quite ready for; a minor shoulder injury. So, in the meantime, my yoga practice is shifting from asana-based to consistent meditation. Let’s be honest. Meditation is hard, which is why most people including myself find excuses not to do it. But my circumstance has presented me with the perfect opportunity to reconnect with my meditation practice that was quite honestly not very consistent. I may not have asked for this, but I sure am ready to receive.
Hi, I'm Lauren. I love to travel, experience different cultures, and meet interesting people, so naturally I combined those two passions to teach yoga and lead retreats and workshops around the world. I love being outdoors, cuddling with my dog, hot tea, and engaging in conversation, This is my space to share my latest thoughts.