Nature, Yoga for Everyone

Nature as Your Sacred Yoga Studio – Happy Earth Day

What do I do when I’m homesick for the call of the wild? When my South African roots have me longing for the serenity of the savanna, instead of driving south to the airport, I head west to the Everglades.

Within minutes of getting into a kayak, there’s this mushy thing that happens in my belly as my stomach muscles soften into instant Savasana. A soppy look appears on my face when I see my first Great Blue Heron of the day (for the umpteenth time, and yet I’m still captivated by the swaying S-curve of its neck in its pre-dinner dance). I’m mesmerized by the heart-shaped lily pads bobbing up and down in the water; a solitary white flower here and there, catching the light.

Loxahatchee-heron-yogaressaThe light. The cliché of the wide, open spaces and blazing sunsets. The stillness. That same sort of silence you experience in “the bush” in Africa. Quiet, but not quiet. Buzzing with the sounds of bird calls, frog croaks and insect chirps.

Sometimes I’ll add the clicking of my camera shutter to the ambient noises, in the hope of capturing some of nature’s splendor. Other times, I put away all cameras and devices and simply breathe it all in; taking a photo with my memory, able to recall it later in all its splendor, without my Instagram feed.

There are no roaring lions or prancing wildebeest out here, but an energetic bullfrog impressively impersonates a warthog. If I half close my eyes and squint a bit, the leathery gator looks like our crusty crocs of the Southern Hemisphere, except with better manners.

I’m not looking to replicate Africa out here on the “River of Grass”, because the Florida Everglades have their own magic. But I do feel the same joy of being connected to nature. I am grateful for easy access to this aquatic beauty that has earned the hefty titles of World Heritage Site, International Biosphere Reserve, and Wetland of International Importance.

Loxahatchee-everglades-yogaressaNot just on Earth Day, but on any day, if you ever doubted that Nature has the power to heal, simply spend some time outdoors to feel it soothe and revive you. A recent, annoying conversation suddenly doesn’t really matter that much. Maybe worries dissipate a little and life looks positively cheerful. Maybe you simply remember how to be in the present moment and breathe.

Trade in Heron, Tree, and Tortoise poses for the real thing, as you bask fully in the Yoga of Nature. Per that sage, Albert Einstein,

Look deep into nature, and then you will understand everything better”.

Yoga teaches us awareness of the inner Self and awareness of our connection with, and impact on, the world around us; including its creatures and habitat.


[as published in Today’s Yoga Magazine]

Life, Yoga for Everyone

Yoga Myth Buster: “Yogis Are Always in a State of Bliss”

There’s this perception that yogis are in a perpetual place of peace. Constantly floating on a chakra-colored cloud of consciousness. SO not true.

Yogis get angry, impatient, fearful, agitated, sad, and sometimes just downright banshee crazy.

yoga-myth-buster-blissYogis can be unkind. Dishonest. Greedy. Envious. Think the opposite of all those beautiful notions described in the yamas (the yoga ethical guidelines), and you’re at the opposite end of peace. In other words, you’re a human being.

In a former life, as a business exec in the demanding high-tech industry, I welcomed yoga as a release from stress and a return to sanity. My husband welcomed my yoga practice even more—for his own sanity. When your beloved tells you, “Umm, I think it’s time you went to yoga”, you know you’re behaving more Banshee than Buddha.

From the start, yoga transformed the way I felt, gave me glimpses of bliss. And when that peace disappeared (sometimes it didn’t even last much beyond the yoga studio parking lot), I realized that I could find it again and again, by simply returning to the yoga mat. And the more I returned, the more peaceful I started to feel.

If it Weren’t for Yoga . . .

We are wired to respond to life in certain ways—a result of genetics and cultural influences. Some behaviors can be modified or softened over time, but others remain unchangeable.

Thousands of Oms later, yoga hasn’t really changed the way I’m wired. I’m still me. I am Not the Dalai Lama.

There are still evenings when I come home, ranting about some idiot driver on the motorway. I am capable of a heated and colorful conversation that would make a sailor blush. I’m inherently impatient. And there are also days when I look at the state of the world and I feel great depths of despair and sadness, the antithesis of peace; and I think all the yoga in the world is never going to help any of us.

Here’s the difference: Pre-yoga, I would tend to respond automatically to life, responding without thinking, as my habitual thought patterns dictated my reactions to things around me. Not all automatic responses are useful, healthy, or necessary. Some are.

The difference is, with a regular yoga and meditation practice, a lot of the time (not always) I’m able to insert a pause before I react.

  • Something happens (idiot swerves dangerously in front of me on the motorway).
  • Micro-pause.
  • I notice my habitual reaction beginning to form (anger begins to percolate).
  • Pause button helps me to decide which reaction I am going to have (decide to take a deep breath, relax my iron grip on the steering wheel, unclamp my jaw, take another deep breath).
  • Result: I continue my day with more ease, blood pressure is normal, anxiety level is low.

On a saintly day, I’m also able to put myself in said idiot driver’s shoes and think of the kind of day they might be having. Maybe there’s an emergency, maybe their life is particularly difficult today, maybe they’re going through something hideous that has upset them. Most of the time though, I’m thinking maybe they just drive like an idiot,  but I’ll choose a peaceful reaction, because why should I join them in that idiot space, creating more anger or frustration or impatience.

This all happens in a millisecond, deciding if I’m going to react in a way that is least harmful to me, and to others. These are powerful skills for navigating through life, beyond the rectangular strip of the yoga mat, and beyond an annoying driver on the motorway.

Yoga and meditation provide techniques to help me become aware of how I live my life, and how I interact with others. Pausing to observe my emotions and thoughts, and then consciously choosing thoughts, words, or actions that are least harmful. Or not.  Sometimes I know what a more peaceful outcome would be, but I’m defiant and I choose the opposite, and then I notice the consequences of my choice, and I learn from that.

Yogis may not always be in a bubble of bliss, but through yoga we learn how to choose a more joyful response to life, so that we can land more often on that chakra-colored cloud of consciousness, however long it lasts.


Yoga for Everyone

Yoga Myth Busters : “Real Men Don’t Do Yoga”

If you’re a guy who won’t go near a yoga studio because you think it’s full of flexible, fit, slim, young women, that’s completely understandable. (Although I have male friends who would see that sentence as immediate motivation to rush to yoga quicker than you could say Om).

For thousands of years, yoga was taught and practiced mostly by men, in India. When it became popular in the West as a fitness craze for women in the 70s and 80s, it somehow also acquired a stigma of being a woman’s thing—of no use to men. You know, like macramé.

How ridiculous and how untrue! For decades, women have enjoyed the many yoga benefits of flexibility, strength, balance and peace of mind; while men continue to suffer from lower back pain, tight hamstrings, immobile hips and the endless stream of thoughts of a stressed-out, busy mind.

businessmen-yogaWhether it’s to supplement or replace a sweaty gym workout, or you’d just like to be able to pick up your grandchild without herniating a disc, you too can join the growing number of men in the US benefiting from yoga.

Gym dudes will see improved flexibility and increased muscular endurance from the long holds in yoga poses. Golfers will enjoy an easier swing, from more limber spine and hips.

Businessmen will discover improved concentration and focus, perhaps setting an intention for their work week with more clarity, after experiencing how using intention during yoga creates awareness and discipline.

With manic schedules and stressful responsibilities, that one hour or so of yoga may be the only time for some men to decompress, slow down, and breathe.

And don’t worry if you can only do 10 percent of what an ultra-bendy female next to you is doing. Choose instead to do 100 percent of what your body can do. That is more than enough. The general female tendency of more flexible hips makes way for the overall male tendency of more strength, so there will be poses most men can access more easily than most women—if that matters to you. You’ll know you’re really “doing yoga” when you don’t give two hoots about that kind of competition anyway, because you’re too busy enjoying how good you feel during and after yoga.

Almost convinced? Here’s a nudge that may motivate you … yoga improves your sex life. Yes, read that again. An NCBI study (pubmed/20646186) reveals yoga as “an effective method of improving all domains of sexual functions in men.”

Athletes, film stars, singers and business execs have turned to yoga; as a powerful anti-ageing tool for building stamina, improving concentration, and reducing anxiety and depression. LeBron James, Tom Brady, Sting, Adam Levine, Russell Simmons, Robert Downey, Jr., Matthew McConaughey, Colin Farrell and many more. That’s quite a diverse group of yoga guys.

There’s a yoga mat waiting for all men; it’s simply a matter of finding a yoga space where you feel comfortable. Do some research, perhaps try a class led by a male teacher, or go with a friend—male or female. It won’t be long before Warrior and Plank Pose become a casual part of your health and fitness conversation.


[as published in Today’s Yoga Magazine]

Asana, Yoga for Everyone

Yoga Myth Busters : “I’m Not Flexible Enough To Do Yoga”

If I had received a secret yoga power for every time I’ve heard that statement, I’d be enlightened by now. As yoga teachers, we shake our heads in frustration when we hear it, because that’s as illogical as saying I’m too dirty to take a shower. It’s precisely because you’re inflexible that you need yoga.

yoga-cartoon-too-stiff-to-do-yogaCan’t touch your toes? Perfect! You’re an ideal candidate for yoga. If anything, you could benefit even more from yoga than the naturally flexible yogis, whose bones and joints genetically slot into place with minimal effort. Your stiffness means you’ll really feel the positive effects as your body starts to experience relief from being tight.

Ultra-bendy yogis can also easily injure themselves through hyperextending their joints, or going too deeply into a pose. Lucky you, Mr or Ms Creaky Joints—the more inflexible you are, the quicker and louder your inner alarm will ring when you’re reaching your limits, and so you’ll stop (if your ego is in check) and avoid injury.

Yoga isn’t about an end goal that culminates in a glamorous photo of an impossible pretzel pose, anyway. If we did manage to tuck one foot behind the head, does that make us a better person? Of course not.

What does make us feel better is releasing tension in the body, easing the mind from the busyness of the day, and taking long, relaxing breaths.

Ready to take your rigid limbs to the mat, then? Good. Some tips along the way:

  1. Patience. Cultivate buckets of it. Without patience, you may force yourself too far into a pose, and cause injury.
  2. Experiment and find a yoga class where you fit in, with an experienced and encouraging teacher who understands your body type.
  3. Don’t give up after one or two classes. I’m naturally inflexible and I promise you, with regular practice, it does get easier—to the point that it can become seductively addictive, because you feel so good during and after yoga.
  4. Explore. Be curious, instead of judgmental, about the physical mechanics of your body and how and when it feels challenged. What happens if you relax a bit in the poses, instead of trying so hard? Are you holding your breath instead of breathing with ease?
  5. Warm up before yoga, especially if the weather is cold. Try a short walk, or arrive ten minutes early to do some simple stretches.
  6. Avoid comparing and competing—with yourself as well as with others. It doesn’t matter what’s happening on the mat next to you. As long as you’re in the zone of safe alignment, measured breathing, and no pain, you will benefit from your practice.

gumby-yogaGo for it! Get your stiff and inflexible bod over to a yoga studio, recognize and smile at the other kindred spirits who can also hardly touch their knees, let alone their toes, and ease into some stretches that will make your muscles, joints and soul sigh with gratitude.


[as published in Today’s Yoga Magazine]