February 05, 2014

Please STOP with the Savasana photos...

I can’t help but feel unsettled every time I see a photo of a class in Savasana. As someone who has led somewhere around two hundred Savasanas, at the end of my classes or private sessions. A significant part of every Savasana that I have led is the overall sense of TRUST that my students have in me to hold the space for them during those final sweet moments of rest at the end of practice. The last thing I would ever imagine doing is taking a photograph of this raw, vulnerable state that everyone has surrendered into; during which are perhaps contemplating major decisions in their life, while their bodies rest. I find Savasana to be one of the most personal and unguarded poses in yoga, and I get extra protective of my classes during this portion of class. Almost as if I’m a mother duck cautiously watching over my sleeping ducklings.

When you think about the physical pose of Savasana (aka Corpse Pose), it is very similar to the way a person may fall asleep beside their significant other, at night. Only their significant other, and perhaps their parents when they were children, have ever truly witnessed them in this sort of unguarded and fully surrendered state. To be leading a studio full of students who may or may not know each other into this sort of position, just a few feet away from one another (if that!), takes a teacher with whole lot of compassion, confidence, consideration, and care.  

The reason I value Savasana as a sacred part of every yoga practice is because I myself have had countless energetic, spiritual, and wholehearted realizations during this particular posture. It wasn't during warrior 2 while channeling my inner goddess, and it wasn't in dancer pose while imagining I had the grace of a whimsical fairy. It was when my body was completely relaxed, without needing to think about where my knee was in relation to my ankle, or whether I was moving on the inhale or exhale. It was when I finally allowed myself to let go and just be exactly as I am, in Savasana. Guided carefully into this restful state by a nurturing teacher whose genuine intentions and suggestions of relaxation offered me space to be fully myself without needing to contort or adjust or focus. If it wasn't for these unaltered and precious Savasanas I had experienced, I may never have connected to my True Self in the way that I have on my yoga mat. I don't know that I would have gotten hooked on yoga, if it wasn't for Savasana at the end of each class... and it's safe to say that my entire life would be much much different, if that were the case.

In my opinion, there is a time and place for yoga photos… basically, the only time and place is when every person is fully aware that their photo is being taken and are able to choose if they want to be in it or not. Savasana is never an ideal time to ask your class "hey everyone, is it okay if I take your picture?" because there is a good chance that: a.) they are already in their own meditative state and can't hear you, b.) they don't want their picture taken but they are feeling too comfortable to move, or c.) they're too nervous to be the only person to say "no" and get up and leave. Remember the yama, Asteya, non-stealing? When I was first taught the yamas, my trainers emphasized that as a yoga teacher, you must consciously practice a form of Asteya during every class, that is being considerate of your students and their time. They took the time out of their schedule to take your class, and their class time includes the few minutes of rest at the end (Savasana) which are sometimes the only moments during the day that they get to relax without any kids, spouses, coworkers, bosses, friends, family members looking for them or interrupting them.

With that said: I urge yoga teachers to take these things into consideration, and reassess the purpose of the photo that you might be tempted to snap while your class lays in stillness. Every student in your class trusts you, they deserve the respect to be able to rest and let go in the safety of their yoga class. They have chosen YOUR class out of all of the others to attend, and it may even be their first yoga class ever. They might be finding peace in their Savasana. But, perhaps one day their Savasana is bringing up unpleasant thoughts, and then unknowingly, you photograph that moment and post it someplace public. Now that moment is visible in an image that they see and instantly remember those feelings, and additionally may even add feelings of shame or anxiety that others can now see this. That would really really suck.

So, if you’re a student of mine, be rest assured during our practices together that your Savasana, your relaxation, your vulnerability, your trust will not be photographed. It will never be seen by the world through social media. No one will wonder what you're thinking about or if you are dozing off. It will be a moment in your life that is just for you.

I am deeply grateful for those of you whom have chosen my class and my energy to share your entire practice with; from our first centering breath all the way through to Savasana.

With love & warmth <3

December 08, 2013

Hey Visual Learner Yogis: A visual aid for building up to Dancer Pose!

Hey Visual Learner Yogis: check this out!! I created a visual aid for anyone interested in trying a gentle variation sequence of poses to help you warm your body and build up to Dancer Pose, inspired by the student review of a recent Hatha class I taught.
*IMPORTANT NOTES: I recommend that you ease in and out of each pose with control and at a slow pace a few times before sustaining for a few breaths and before moving onto the next pose. Also, be sure to do both the right and left side in Half Bow pose and Dancer pose. 
If you're a beginner, you may place one hand on a wall while in your dancer pose. *

Thanks for checking my blog out!

December 06, 2013

"There she goes again... acting like she's Buddha or some kind of spiritual guru...."

It is pretty safe to say that some of my social media followers, friends, and even family members have rolled their eyes at the inspirational and rose-colored glasses posts, videos, and quotes that I share regularly.

I thought I'd get real for a moment and respond to doubts and criticisms of my yoga-infused personality.

First of all:
I am not optimistic 100% of the time. I do not wake up with a beaming smile on my face every morning, nor do I have birds singing to me outside of my window.

A little background story:
Growing up I was overweight, and I had a lot of anxiety, insecurities, and confusion about why things that others said and did bothered me so much. My feelings were often expressed through anger and I put up walls between me and everyone in my life. I found myself in back-to-back abusive relationships and my health plummeted as my stress levels increased. I struggled every day to find a way to understand myself and the world around me, until the positive ripple effect of a yoga class followed me off of my mat. I was in my early twenties and that was the first time I felt like I could let go of my irrational fears and insecurities. I finally felt like I was worth being loved and treated with respect. When I felt challenged or pushed out of my comfort zone at home or at work, that was when the tools I learned in my yoga class were there to help release me when I felt trapped. Fast forward to a few years later, with more than 300-hours of various yoga trainings, and my life is barely recognizable to the one I lived before yoga. I now teach yoga full-time.

To some of you who are reading this, teaching yoga might seem like a relaxed and easygoing job full of rainbows, butterflies, and naps at the end of class. But, there might be a few things that you have overlooked. 

Who I teach:
Every single person who walks into class has experienced or is currently experiencing pain in some way, shape, or form; one person may have a chronic injury or terminal illness, another might have come to class seeking refuge from a sexually abusive relationship, someone else might have severe depression and finds it hard to look at his/herself in the mirror without wanting to change everything they see. No one's life is perfect, everyone has a unique array of battle wounds and scars.

When I am teaching a class:
I am teaching to every single individual who walks into the door. Rarely do people approach me before class and share their pain or stories, most of us are taught throughout life to downplay any injuries or push through the pain. So basically, I am completely blind to what each person is bringing with them onto their mats. Being in a position where I work with the general public, in a number of different communities, every single class has a different mix of people, injuries, and conditions, some familiar, many are new.

Teaching much more than yoga poses:
For me, my role as a yoga teacher is to offer each person the opportunity of 60-minutes of relief from their every day suffering, whatever that might involve. It is to share a combination of postures, breathing, meditation, mindfulness, and positive affirmations which might help them discover things that they never knew were inside of them, like perseverance or balance. It is to remind them that they are worth taking time out of their busy day to focus their attention and energy on themselves. It is to offer a safe, caring, and judgement-free environment for them to possibly feel things in their body, mind, or heart they haven't felt or thought of in years, and to give them space to crumble or weep on their mat, if that is what they need in that moment. It is also my goal as a teacher to share potential tools and options for every person to use in their own way, whenever life throws another curve ball their way.

What it takes:
To some, my personality can be considered a bit "over the top" and yes, I throw out all sorts of new agey hub-bub all the time... and I am aware that some people get annoyed by it, some disbelieve my genuineness behind it, or even get offended by it. But I am living my purpose, as often as I can, with the deepest intention in my heart. There are a lot of people out there who intentionally try to knock you down, stress you out, and want to see you fail in life. Everyone has people like that in their lives, no one is exempt. When I teach, I typically walk into a class full of strangers every day. Although, I don't see any of them as strangers; I see a room full of people who have experienced similar struggles, discouragement, and rejection in their lives, as I have in my own. As soon as I step onto my mat in front of the class, I want it to be conveyed that as their teacher, I am there to empower, fully accept, and support them in any way I can. I have been a yoga student longer than I have been a yoga teacher, and I know what it feels like to walk into class, grasping onto the next 60-minutes as if it was my last chance at finding hope and strength to overcome the stress or pain I have.

In the end: I respect and honor your perspective of my hopeful, inspirational, sometimes obnoxious philosophical approach to life, just as I would the opinion of any student who joins my class. Fortunately, I am confident that the who I am and what I do is making a difference out there, and those who need my help will be grateful for what I have to offer, whenever our paths cross.

Thanks for reading this post!

With gratitude and peace,

December 02, 2013

5 Things to Know about Prenatal Yoga

Love this infographic by Emily Masnoon, a Doula Yogini:

Share this with anyone you know who is expecting, so they can receive the wonderful gifts of yoga for themselves and their baby!

With love & light,

November 16, 2013

Unforgettable Gift Ideas:

Photo source: TheKitchenRemix.com

The holidays are sneaking up on us all pretty quickly! Are you looking for some inexpensive, rare, and unforgettable gift ideas for your loved ones? Here are some suggestions that I bet many people would probably LOVE to receive:

For your child:
1. Appreciation (verbal or nonverbal) for something they have built, cooked, or created for you
2. An extra-long hug when they have a bad day
3. Enthusiasm when they share a new idea of theirs
4. 100% of your attention (no phone, tv, radio, or other distractions) when they want to get something off their mind
5. Unconditional love & compassion when they mess up

For your spouse:
1. Appreciation (verbal or nonverbal) for something they have built, cooked, or created for you
2. An extra-long hug when they have a bad day
3. Enthusiasm when they share a new idea of theirs
4. 100% of your attention (no phone, tv, radio, or other distractions) when they want to get something off their mind
5. Unconditional love & compassion when they mess up

For your parents:
1. Appreciation (verbal or nonverbal) for something they have built, cooked, or created for you
2. An extra-long hug when they have a bad day
3. Enthusiasm when they share a new idea of theirs
4. 100% of your attention (no phone, tv, radio, or other distractions) when they want to get something off their mind
5. Unconditional love & compassion when they mess up

For a great friend:
1. Appreciation (verbal or nonverbal) for something they have built, cooked, or created for you
2. An extra-long hug when they have a bad day
3. Enthusiasm when they share a new idea of theirs
4. 100% of your attention (no phone, tv, radio, or other distractions) when they want to get something off their mind
5. Unconditional love & compassion when they mess up

With love & optimism,

October 26, 2013

The Winner's Circle

I woke up this morning, and I wanted to write. Sometimes I like to write about yoga, sometimes I like to write about other stuff. This happened to be a morning when other stuff was on my mind. There is no rhyme or reason for the format, here is what came out through my keyboard:

"From an early age, we anticipate a long life ahead of us.
One so long that we end up doing boring things at the end.
Like playing backgammon.
As if we had already done every crazy thing we had ever dreamed of doing.
And all that is left is quietness.
Or at least that is what is assumed.

What really happens is something else.
Some of us are dealt a hand with illness, trauma, misfortune, or instant chaos.
Some of us are not.
Life sometimes feels like a botched lottery system.
Babies, Children, Teenagers, Twenty-, Thirty-, and Forty-somethings are supposed to be exempt.
They’re not even close to being bored yet.
How can their time for new discoveries, new friends, and new foods be up?

I have always wondered if there is another reason for each life on earth.
Our big-picture stories mislead our dreams and aspirations.
Our daily endeavors become ticker marks rather than masterpieces
Some days we forget to notice the sunshine warming our faces.
We take it for granted then complain when it doesn’t show up.
Theories of what our lives should begin by being woven into our bedtime stories.

Who would you become if the standard 100 year expiration was cut short
To 50 years? 25 years? 10 years? 1 year?
How much more would you have lived in each of those years?
What would you do with your time, if one minute instantly became 30-seconds?
12 hours available to us each day. Assume that 4 of which are still needed for sleep.
That leaves 8 short hours awake allotted for family, friends, health, fun, and work.

Would you have the courage to let go of the thoughts, words, and actions
You spend on daydreams, ideas and expectations for several years from now?
Would you rush home immediately to spend more time with family and friends?

Now, what if you were told that your expiration date could be extended
One more hour for every healthy choice you made?
Eating a vegetable, going for a run, sleeping enough, drinking water
Would this be enough to encourage you to take time away from work or fun
To be able to expand the time available for being with family and friends?
Would you be able to find a way to make things work, financially,
Knowing in advance that it is unlikely that you will live long enough to retire.

What would your daily routine consist of?
How many hours would you commit to each priority?
Would it be possible for you to reassess the importance of each?
This is a hypothetical suggestion, of course.
You might wonder why I would think to write and suggest something so absurd.

The truth is: most of us will wake up and no longer have the 24-hour luxury of 100-years.
Some of us have already witness loved ones whose lives have been much shorter than that.
The truth is: no one actually knows how many years or hours we will each have.
There is no scientific formula to calculate our combined genetics, diseases, and fate.

We like to believe we are in control of our lives, with time to correct our mistakes or regrets.
Do we tell ourselves we will live until 100 because it comforts our fear of an unfinished life?
“100 years seems pretty far away… I’ve got enough time” is the subconscious belief of many
When someone’s life is cut short, before 100, we have an instant feeling of sorrow
They didn’t get to live the rest of their life. They had so many more years left for so many things.
“I’m sorry for your loss” is a common sympathy expressed to grieving family and friends.

Regardless of how much optimism and rose-color glasses we wear when thinking about this stuff
At the end of the day, we still hold onto the goal of 100 years as if it is the winner’s circle of life.
Though I am barely over ¼ of the way there… I extend a few invitations to you:

Rather than assuming we “get” 100 years to live, why don’t we celebrate every year we are given?
We already have convenient celebrations in our lives for this, they’re called BIRTHDAYS!
Rather than offering emphasizing that they “lost” a loved one, with sad music and tears,
Why don’t we hold one last celebration (like one last birthday party) for the love they shared?
Rather than feeling cheated or unlucky when told our shortened life expectancy by a doctor,
Why not embrace the love that we have built up around us up until that very moment.

Perhaps our daily lives are actually meant to be spent creating a giant cushion of support and love
Maybe our goal isn’t to live until 100 by any means possible
But instead, to gather enough amazing stories, and wonderful people in our lives along the way
So that if we do live until we are 100,
We have enough to keep our hearts full of joy and peace
While we sit quietly playing backgammon.

And if by chance we do not live until we are 100,
May we each choose to spend our time here sharing our love with others
So that if they are given 100 long years on this earth
Without us and others who will pass before them
Let us leave them with enough happy memories, laughter, and adventurous stories
For them to relive in their hearts, while quietly playing backgammon."

Written by: Laura Searles  

Photo by CJ Fuchs Photography

October 23, 2013

Feeling True Gratitude

Photo courtesy of Larry Stanley
I just posted the following tweet on my twitter account @blissfulauras:

"Tonight I am grateful for electricity! Many people in the world do not have the luxury of fully lit rooms at night."

After posting it, while sitting in my fully lit bedroom, typing away on my electricity-powered laptop, I received a spark of inspiration. I began to think about what gratitude is, how it feels, and what it expresses. Within 30-seconds, I got up and turned my light off. I lit some candles and sat in their dim light for a few minutes before deciding to write this post.

I sat in their flickering dance, imagining what sort of activities others around the world were partaking in at that very moment. Their surroundings swallowed by the darkness of the night, with their focus determined by the soft glowing flame held up by a column of wax.

This got me thinking about my initial post about having gratitude for electricity, and it made me wonder: can true gratitude be felt until we are without that which we are grateful for? Whether we choose to be without it, or are dealt the cards of not having it, a "lack of" something almost always enhances its truest appreciation and worth.

Until I experience life without access to electricity, will I ever truly appreciate what it brings to my life? I'm not really sure, but I plan on exploring this concept as often as I can, even if it is in a meditative or visualization through imagination practice.

If you're wondering about the depth of your own gratitude towards certain aspects, things, and people in your life, join me on this new exploration. The next time you acknowledge something of value in your life, take 3-5 minutes to sit quietly, close your eyes, and imagine how your life (or the lives of others) might be different without it. Without judgement, witness whatever feelings or emotions show up for you. Notice if anything changes in the way your body feels. Be open and observe any changes with your overall energy. Once you've completed this exercise, write down in a notebook any new perspectives or actions you'd like to take.