Restorative insites

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In an active asana class (Vinyasa, Flow or Ashtanga) we are learning and practicing the art of ‘doing’. Doing the pose, doing the breathing, doing the movements…. But with restorative yoga we are cultivating the art of ‘being’; Being in the pose, being with the breath, being patient, being focused, relaxed and aware.

Yoga as a whole is the art and science of being. Being human, being well, being Love, being you…..the art of restorative yoga allows us to more deeply cultivate that sense of ‘being’.

Judith Lasater refers to Restorative Yoga as ‘Active Relaxation’… that sounds like an oxymoron doesn’t it. But if we aren’t actively involved in the process of learning to relax, if we are just going through the motions, then the body doesn’t respond in the way we want it to, it doesn’t actually relax. You might fall asleep during a restorative class, which is ok when you are first learning the process, but sleep is passive relaxation. We want to be able to turn on the relaxation response when we need to; we want the body to know when to relax and when to flee and then how to relax again.

When you’re doing a restorative yoga practice give consideration to gravity. Observe the gentle pull of it, the way it softly tugs at you, take time to notice it.

Throughout our daily lives we fight with gravity, we have work to stay upright, to walk, to move, just staying upright is a constant battle between us and gravity. And as we age if we think of gravity at all we think of it as the enemy. But gravity has a purpose; it holds us close to the earth….. Connected….. Tethered…. Gravity keeps us tethered to the Earth. And restorative yoga takes advantage of the tether, of that connection. Restorative yoga gives us a chance to use gravity, to work with gravity.

Now, go back to observing how the body responds to the pull that is gravity and then give up the fight, surrender to that gentle pull, honor it, it’s what keeps us from floating off into space, gravity is what grounds us.

Think of ‘being’ grounded the next time you are ‘doing’ restorative yoga and explore the tugs and pulls of gravity

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Om Shanti

Cheryl

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Transitions in a Yoga asana practice

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Transitional poses are the poses (and movements) between the poses. Some are obvious some are not.

The transitions are where the puzzle pieces fit together. They piece together a vinyasa practice. If we think of yoga as a journey, and the poses as the destination, then the transitions are the vehicles we travel in.

Transitions give us space to be aware of where we’re going but also where we’ve been. They are the bridges to the bigger picture. The full expression of a pose can come from the place within the transitional space.

Think of that moment between Plank and Cobra….we called it Chaturanga, we think of it as a pose but what it really is, is an opportunity to float between the poses. It is a continuation of the exhale of Plank into the inhale of Cobra.

Transitional poses are important in preparing you for the next pose. Both physically and mentally, they give your mind time to shift from one pose to the next and help you to prepare to shift your weight and give attention to alignment.

Some transitions aren’t really movements or poses but moments between the poses. An example would be Warrior I to Warrior III, both are poses and there isn’t a specific bridge to get you from WI to WIII, BUT that ‘moment’ when you ground your front foot and begin to float the back leg up, that moment is your transition. Give some thought, time and appreciate it’s importance to your practice.

When you are aware of the transitions in yoga you can focus more on breathing and movement instead of rushing to finish the sequence.

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OM Shanti

Cheryl

Still a beginner after all these years

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Really, if you think about it, all Yoga is ‘Yoga 101’ or beginner’s yoga, because your practice is always changing, always adjusting to who you are right now. My yoga has changed so much over the years, as my knowledge of yoga expanded so did my practice and yet if you look at my  physical practice now compared to 10 or 15 years ago it almost looks like I’m going backwards, When in fact I am still expanding.

I took my first yoga class in 1976, yep I’m that old. Did you know there were no yoga mats back then? Seriously! And no fancy yoga clothes either. How ever did we do it! There weren’t yoga studios, at least not around here, there wasnt anywhere to learn yoga from a teacher in person, so the book-worm that I am I got books and learned a bit about yoga that way and my practice didn’t look anything like yoga does today, it wasn’t a vinyasa or flowy practice. And my practice now doesn’t look anything like what it did 15 years ago. 15 years ago it was still mostly a physical practice without as much understanding of the deeper meaning of the 8 limbs of yoga. 15 years ago I had heard of the sutras but hadn’t read them, 15 years ago I could still do a full wheel, 15 years ago I didn’t really have a meditation practice, 15 years ago I vinyasa-ed till I couldn’t breath (an oxymoron?…. perhaps), 15 years ago, I didn’t know what restorative yoga was, now I have a deep appreciation of a true restorative practice, I believe in its power to heal. 15 years ago I started studying more about yoga and began teaching. Over the last 15 years I’ve learned that yoga isn’t just meditation, that yoga isn’t speaking in Sanskrit, that yoga isn’t about tying your body in knots, yoga isn’t about performing gymnastic type poses and movements, yoga isn’t about eating vegan and never drinking alcohol. So I’ve spent the last 15 years learning what yoga isn’t……So what is yoga? Yoga is what you need when you need it; it is also the deep understanding of what that might be. Yoga helps you discover the layers of who you are and what you can be. Today, 15 years later, my practice is slower, much more spiritual, I no longer do full wheel and I meditate on a regular basis. Today, I have a deeper understanding of why I stuck with yoga beyond just the asana practice. Today I am aware of how little I really know and so I continue to read, to study and to learn. And today I appreciate how much I have to learn and look forward to it. Every day I am a beginner.

Oh and 15 years ago there was no Facebook or Instagram. Hell I didn’t even have a cell phone then. I KNOW RIGHT, CRAZY.

~c

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Sunday Haiku Feb 8 2015

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New friends and old ways

Learn and grow always changing

me, a blessed teacher

 

I taught the Sunday installment of the Yoga Teacher Training this weekend. We talked all things yogi…Kundalini, Chakras, Pranayama…you know Life.

I am beyond blessed.

There is talk that being an old  crone is a bad thing, I don’t think so. I have reached a place in my life where I am so comfortable in my skin that I no longer worry about the skin of others. I am also comfortable with knowing shit and being able to share that shit. It truly is amazing to watch others grow. I stand on the shoulders of so many great teachers, in Kundalini it is know as the Golden Chain. I am happy to be part of that chain and to be able to continue my growth by participating in the expansion of others.

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picnic lunch, fun times:) pic with our teacher, mentor,

and friend.. 

Om Shanti!    Cyndi, Cindy, Leighanne, Tulsi, Mark, Frances, Rachelle, Amy, Tamra

Cheryl

This Gym Rat’s opinion

Its time people. Its time to lay to rest the myths of the “gym rat Yoga teacher”

This is one of my favorite misconceptions about yoga, that a Gym Rat’s yoga isn’t real yoga..

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Let’s look at the myths themselves…..

Myth #1  If you teach yoga in a gym you must not be certified or you’re not qualified to teach yoga……. I have been in the fitness industry for almost 30 years (15 teaching yoga) and I have always worked where certifications were mandatory whether you are teaching jazzercise, Tabata, Zumba or Yoga. If you go to a gym and ask about the qualifications of all its instructors and if they can’t say where their Zumba instructor or Yoga teacher are certified through go somewhere else. And let me also say that there are some teachers in Yoga studio settings that are terrible teachers, some good some bad. Location doesn’t have anything to do with ability.

Myth #2… If you teach yoga in a gym you must not be teaching ‘real’ yoga….What the hell?! Seriously what is ‘real yoga’? What does that even mean? Are we talking about the philosophy of yoga? The full 8 limbs as presented by Pantajoli? Is real yoga an asana class where everyone can stand on their hands? What is real yoga? When you can answer that question I will tell you how it relates to what I teach.

Myth #3… If you teach in a gym you are a ‘gym rat’ and gym rats couldn’t possibly understand the depths of what yoga is or can be and you probably only teach the poses so it’s ‘just’ an exercise class. …And to that I say ‘So what!!? So Fucking what!….Asana (one of the 8 limbs of Yoga) is exercise, physical exercise & is probably the best possible exercise for your body….. As well as your mind and spirit.

OK so why am I making a big deal about this now, well I was watching Super Soul Sunday (I Love that show) and Oprah was interviewing Ali McGraw (Love Story) and Oprah asked her how she started her day and Ms McGraw was talking about her cat (or was it a dog?), getting up early and reading and then she mentioned that she did yoga every day and not the hot powerful yoga but her practice was about meditation, the asana to her was meditation prep. It was a lovely conversation…until……. She said she tries to take classes when she can and that where she lives there are wonderful teachers “who have been studying for years not like the gym rat who just decided to do yoga”.  Yep she said it, on national TV, on the Oprah show, Damn. And that’s where she lost me. Actually she kinda pissed me off.

So what really makes a good yoga teacher?

Is it someone who has been studying at the feet of great yogis for decades? Maybe, it is certainly a good start. But being good at studying doesn’t mean you are good at teaching.

Is it someone who has been practicing yoga for many many years, of course it doesn’t hurt to have a long held practice of your own. But a good teacher doesn’t teach what they ‘do’ they teach what is ‘needed’ by the students in front of them. My personal practice often times looks very different from my classes.

I have known some wonderful yoga teachers over the years and some have only been teaching a short time & some for decades. Some teach in Yoga studios & some in gyms. Some teach in church basements or in community centers.

The location doesn’t matter, but the journey does.

A good yoga teacher takes you on a journey of understanding, of body awareness, of slowing down the mind while strengthening the body. A journey of self-discovery that may begin with the body but also uplifts the spirit.

Om Shanti

Cheryl

So here is the link to the full interview, ’cause it was a good show and I enjoyed watching it until she misspoke about us gym rats.

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http://www.oprah.com/own-super-soul-sunday/Full-Episode-Ali-MacGraw-Video

5 Poses to Do Every Day

Sthira Sukham Asanam     Patanjali  Yoga Sutra 2.46  

5 Poses to do Every Day!

Oh come on, it wont take you that long.
I know it’s hard to schedule 90 minutes in your day for a yoga class, trust me I know! But we all have 10 minutes for a few yogic things to do at home and remember your home practice doesn’t have to be a complicated 90 min Hot class.

Just roll out your mat & spend a few minute’s in each pose listed, focus on your breathing, on being comfortable in the pose & remember try to feel a sense of freedom in the pose. Don’t get caught up in how it looks, but instead bring your awareness to how it feels. The important thing is to move and articulate the spine in all directions allowing for energy movement and to help with back pain & stiffness. Remember our teaching of Sthira (stability) & Sukha (ease, freedom). Take time in each pose to notice where is the balance between being grounded and stable (Sthira) and being free, physically and mentally?

1st pose is Mountain (Tadasana) –Mountain pose is about taking the time to ‘come to your mat’, in the physical sense as well as a mental & emotional sense. Stand in Mountain pose and turn your attention in. Start to make a connection with your breath and just focus on the quality of your breathing. Tadasana is about rooting and grounding your practice with your intention for coming to the mat. This is the time to reflect on your body (how do you feel, how much energy do you have & what does your body need). Draw energy up from the ground into your feet (Sthira), feel that relaxed energy filling your core body (Sukha). Take 5 breaths.

2nd Pose Forward Fold – Forward Fold from an anatomical perspective is about folding from the hips, stretching your hamstrings and lengthening your low back. It’s always a good thing to relax your back body, but your mind and emotions benefit too. A forward Fold relaxes the mind, soothes the central nervous system and calms the senses. While in your Forward Fold look for the Sukha & the Sthira. Where do you find stability and freedom?

3rd is modified crescent lunge – Why modified instead of full crescent lunge? Because most of us will be doing this sequence either first thing in the morning or right after we get home from work, so we are dealing with cold, tight hip flexors. Although if you want to do the full version all the same principles apply. Raise your arms only after you have drawn up the front body, being careful not to thrust the ribs forward, but rolling the body up one vertebra at a time. Play with shifting the Sthira between the Left foot in front and the Right knee behind, find a balance between those 2 points of contact with the mat. The Sukha in the pose might be in maintaining a calm easiness in the arms overhead, so relax those shoulders. Repeat on the other side.

4th is Twists seated or supine – If you aren’t comfortable (sukha) in seated twists please lay on your back for supine twists. Sitting in Sukhasana (simple crossed legged position) Inhale drawing the arms over head lengthening the body then rotate to the right and bring the arms down. Stay for 5 breaths and come to the center and repeat on the other side. It really is that simple. If laying on your back, draw your knees over your body on the inhale then exhale as you lower them to the right, keeping the left shoulder on the mat. Then repeat on the other side.

5 is Sphinx or Cobra  – Spinal extension (back bend) is an important thing to do every day. Most of us are desk jockeys or at least we sit a lot, so it is necessary to length out the front body. Maybe start with baby cobra and move with your breath. Inhale as you lift up (Sukha) and exhale as you lower down. Keep the hips, legs and feet connected to the mat (Sthira).

6 is savasana –  Yep, Savasana. Taking the time for stillness, even just a few minutes, each day is the most important thing we can do for ourselves. Corpse pose requires a stillness of mind as well as your body. It gives your body a chance to return to normal, helping you to reap the benefits of your practice. Corpse pose is the bridge between your practice time and the rest of your life. Take the time to cross that bridge and take the calm, restorative, energetic properties of your practice into the rest of your life.

 

Om Shanti

~C

Asana Practice

“The Asana should be effortless. There should be no effort not only in the body but also in the mind. Absolute ease of relaxation is the sign of perfected Asana. The student should be in a most natural condition in which he is not conscious even of his breathing.”

Swami Krishnananda

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Yoga Asana.

What is it really? This Asana we do. Do we really know what it is, what it means to practice asana?

Obviously Yoga asana are the poses, the physical movements of yoga. What we all recognize as Yoga. Although Yoga Asana is only one part of yoga, one limb of a very diverse tree.

Pantajali, the author of the Yoga Sutras, didn’t say much about the Asana practice only a few things and that has led some to believe that it isn’t a very important part of yoga, or that it is less important than the other limbs. But it is all part of the same process. When we incorporate all the limbs of yoga into our practice, then we begin to cultivate more spiritual awareness.

In the sutras Pantajali  wrote of Asana;

2.46  Sthira Sukham Asanam

  • sthira (Steer-a)  / steady, stable, grounded
  • sukha (Sue-kahm) /With Ease, Spacious
  • asana (As-ana) / posture or pose (also means “to sit”)

Within this simple statement Patanjali provides the perfect guideline for asana practice: sthira sukham asanam or one should be steady and comfortable in asanas. To be more specific, sthira means stability & grounded while alert & active. And sukha means with ease or without suffering.

When we practice asana we are often taught where to feel the pose or how to feel the pose and if we are feeling the pose we must be doing to correctly…perfectly.

Unfortunately that isn’t really it…. It isn’t really about a right or wrong way to do a pose and it is never about perfection. That’s the western way of viewing an asana practice. That we should mimic the pose that our teacher does.  It’s like we exist outside the pose waiting for someone to tell us what to feel while we are inside the pose. That isn’t asana. But where does asana come from and why do we practice it.

Asana means ‘seat’ or ‘pose’ and it first appears in the Upanishads and the Bhagavad Gita (between 800 BCE-500 BCE). Both of these texts asana as meaning a ‘seat’ for meditation and rituals. And In the Yoga Sutras (about 300 CE), we find only three Sutras about asana. And it’s obvious that Patanjali views asana as a preparation for meditation.

Then around 500 CE Hatha Yoga comes on the scene and uses posture (asana) to promote a strong body and good health. The idea being that the body is a temple of the Divine and we must do our best to keep it healthy. Within the last 200 years we saw the development of asana as the main focus of almost all Western yoga practice. In his book, “Yoga Body-The Origins of Modern Posture Practice,” Mark Singleton looks at the history of asana and explains that most of the tradition of modern yoga is from the 19th and 20th centuries in India as a result of the influence of colonial British physical fitness and the rise of Indian nationalism.

Judith Hanson Lasater says “We stay with the practice of yoga asana because it is a powerful non-verbal expression of the sacred. And practicing and living the sacred part of life is often sadly lacking for many people in the West today.  The expression of this sacredness has to do with the nature of asana practice itself. No matter how many times one has practiced a certain asana, when it is practiced now it is absolutely new.”

“A powerful non-verbal expression of the sacred” The first time I read that I was like YES! That’s it! Asana has always been for me a meditative practice. Erich Schiffmann’s famous book ‘Moving into Stillness” is a wonderful book and I love it. But for me it has been more about ‘Moving with stillness’ and yes that sounds like an oxymoron I know, how can you be still if you are moving, but the stillness is on the inside. When I am moving in asana, my mind can’t be anywhere else, it has to be still, focused and quiet. And the stillness can be the pose itself. Being able to hold a pose in that steady, comfortable state gives you the opportunity to observe the feelings that come up. Do you feel anxious or uncomfortable and why.

So in our modern practice we try to combine both the ancient & the modern ideas of asana, of being
steady and Comfortable. This is the principle of balance. We seek to harmonize strength and steadiness with comfort and ease.

When we are doing asana remember the yamas & niyamas. Consider Ahimsa (do no harm), I talk about this all the time in classes. Never move into physical pain or practice asana in a way that disturbs our mind or spirit. If you are doing something that physically hurts are you honoring that expression of the scared?
Practicing asana from a place of Satya (truth) means being honest about where we are in the pose and why. Rather than thinking about how it should look, we need to discover our own yoga, not the yoga coming from the teacher or from other students or from the cover of a magazine.
We should practice asana with tapas (heat and intensity), svadhyaya (study of the Self) and Isvara pranidhanani (devotion). These are the concepts help us to forge our asana practice in the way that you would forge steel, to become strong and resilient.

So in our asana practice, it’s important to focus not just on what our body is doing, but on how we’re doing it. Come into the pose(s) and hold them long enough to become steady and use the feeling of comfort as a guide and know that steadiness (sthira) and comfort (sukha) have more value that moving so fast that you become lost in the routine and your goal is to simply  finish X number of poses.

Also watch your breath. Observe it. It can be the best indicator of how you are feeling in a pose. It too should be Sthira, and Sukha. Using the Ujjayi breath is calming to the mind and can provide focus, helping to create that calm, steady state that is meditation.

Scan your body for any tension, holding a pose doesn’t and shouldn’t create tension, such as clenched jaws and scrunched toes. Try to achieve that state of relaxation with alertness and if we are straining and gritting our teeth through a yoga class, there is no ease.

I could write all day about asana and still not speak so eloquently about the subject as Mr. Iyengar does in one small paragraph.

“The body is the temple of the soul. It can truly become so if it is kept healthy, clean and pure through the practice of asana. Asanas act as the bridges to unite the body with the mind and the mind with the soul.
“Patanjali says that when an asana is correctly performed, the dualities between body and mind, mind and soul, have to vanish. This is known as repose in the pose, reflection in action. When the asanas are performed in this way, the body cells, which have their own memories and intelligence are kept healthy. When the health of the cells is maintained through the precise practice of asanas, the physiological body becomes healthy and the mind is brought closer to the soul. This is the effect of the asanas. They should be performed in such a way as to lead the mind from attachment to the body towards the light of the soul so that the practitioner can dwell in the abode of the soul.”

B.K.S. Iyengar

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Om Shanti

 

Cheryl

A journey through the Bandhas…..First stop Uddiyana

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We talk a lot about Bandhas in yoga so let’s explore them in more detail.
There are 5 major bandhas in the body and this is my definition of The Bandhas “the bandhas are subtle and refined uses of muscular awareness to promote strength in the physical body (think Uddiyana Bandha in planks) but to also redirect and to efficiently use energy throughout the body.” The Bandhas help us to move with grace and to better incorporate the principle of Sukha   (effortless work) in our movements.

The main point to understand is that while we talk about the bandhas as individual events or areas of awareness (i.e. belly or pelvic floor ect) nothing in the body happens in isolation (well very little). So when we talk about say, Uddiyana bandha and we talk about activating the belly and deep core line it isn’t just the drawing in of the belly that we are talking about. And truth be told most teachers will tell you to Pull the belly in and up (guilty as charged) but that really isn’t correct because if that’s all we do then we can’t breathe right?…Go ahead, suck the belly in to the spine (think trying to pull on your skinny jeans) and then try to lift it up… what happens to the breath? Nothing right?! ‘Cause you can’t breathe! And you know if you aren’t breathing it isn’t Yoga. Lets try this instead…take a smooth deep breath in….. Notice the soft expansion of the rib cage, not just the lift in the front near the sternum but the movement around the sides and maybe even into the back pf the ribs, try to keep the rips expanded and then exhale by pressing the belly into the body BUT leave the spine neutral, you may even feel a bit more expansion of the rib cage and the feeling as if you are bringing the hip points towards to mid line of the body and guess what you can still breathe! Another important point is that the body isn’t just what you see in the mirror i.e. the front of your body….It helps to think of your ‘core’, your torso as a tube.  A circular body of wondrous activity, of energetic flow, of Pranic movement. And just as muscular engagement helps move lymphatic fluid through the body so can muscular contraction (and flexion) aid in the movement of prana.

Of course that’s just Uddiana Bandha, there are 4 other major bandhas ….

Uddiyana Banda (Belly seal)

Mula Bandha (Pelvic Floor seal)

Hasta Banda (Hand seal)

Pada Bandha (Foot seal)

Jalandhara Banda (Throat seal)

We will talk about the others soon but for now go explore the bandhas and relax and be  at ease throughout your poses, no struggling, no gritting of the teeth and no holding of the breath. It’s all about the Sukha Baby, effortless work. If you’re struggling you are trying too hard. Namaste my Lovelies

Om Shanti

~c

Why Yoga?

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Why yoga?

Well why not Yoga?  We all seem to trying to change some aspect of of lives and Yoga is transformation.

It transforms you not only physically, mentally, and emotionally but yoga is a spiritual practice. It elevates your spirit to new heights!

Yoga’s seemingly endless combinations and variety is what appeals to me. I am the quintessential Gemini. I like many things, many very different things, I keep lots of plates spinning and I am very easily distracted by new things… Oo Squirrel..!   My yoga practice helps me to stay grounded when something new catches my eye and draws my attention elsewhere …squirrel!

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Yoga touches me on all those different levels of who I am.

Yoga is the dancer in me. The healer.

The Mystic. The Lover.

The writer. The Listener.

The dreamer. The doer.

The loner. The friendly face in a crowd.

The one who offers a helping hand. The woman who leans on you.

Yoga is all those things and so much more. And so am I.

Unlike dogmatic philosophy or one note religions, yoga doesn’t lock you into one idea or concept of who you are or can be. Yoga is adaptable, changeable….. Live-able.

Yoga gives me wings. Those wings lift my body in dance, and the Yogic breath elevates my spirit so my soul can take flight. Yoga weaves together the different aspects of who I am into one seamless story.

Tell me your story. What is Your Yoga?

Om Shanti

Cheryl

Because breathing matters

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A recent conversation with a yoga student went something like this…..

My Client: “…But the problem is when I slow my breath down the movement gets slower too”

Me: “Hows that a problem?”

Client: “Well, it’s not really yoga if I go too slow. I am supposed to move fast to get anywhere, right?”

Me: “Where are you trying to go? What are you trying to achieve? Yoga can be so slow you don’t move at all, and that might be a more restorative practise, Yoga can be fast paced, jumping, hoping, one breath/one movement. And it looks like it’s moving fast right? But it only looks like that on the outside.

Yoga no matter how fast it looks on the outside  should still feel slow and subtle on the inside. Sometimes when you move fast or without control, no matter what you’re doing, you can create tension in the body, clenched jaws, tight tummies, your fingers clutching at the mat and that translates into tense breathing. So even if your yoga is fast paced, keep the breath smooth and easy, (it’s all about the Sukha baby). Try and find that balance within yourself of Effort and Ease and then on the inside you become very still, even while moving.
That’s balance….. That’s Yoga!

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