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Monday, December 28, 2015

Tip of the Week: Spine Twisting Pose

 Photo Cred: Bikram Yoga Halifax

Benefits : 
  • This is the only posture that twists the spine from top to bottom, which increases circulation to all the spinal nerves, veins, and tissues, and improves the elasticity of the spine.
  • Spine Twisting relieves lower back pain and helps prevent slipped discs, rheumatism of the spine, kyphosis, scoliosis, cervical spondylosis and arthritis.
  • It calms the nervous system.
To Begin: In a seated position, place the side of the right knee on the floor and bring your right heel to touch the outside of your left hip.  Now lift the leg in the air, bringing it over the bent right leg, and place your left foot just to the outside of the right knee.  This leg is bent at the knee, sole of the foot flat on the floor.  Touch the outside corner of the right knee with your left heel. Bring your right arm up and over to the left, then bring it down on the outside of your left knee, with the elbow pressing back against it.  Take hold of the right knee with your right hand, grasping the kneecap firmly. Now put your left arm behind your back,  palm facing out, and reach all the way around your body until you can touch or grasp the right thigh.  In this way, we begin the twist.
Turn your head to the left and rotate your face, shoulders and torso to the left, twisting as much as possible.  It is important to try to keep both buttocks and the right knee on the floor, and maintain a straight spine.  Here, fully emptying the lungs in normal breathing facilitates the twist.  As you exhale, try to twist around a little farther.  Hold the posture for 20 seconds.

  • Make sure you are not sitting on your heel.  Open up your leg enough to allow your hips to sit level on the mat.
  • When you bring your arm over and across, make sure the hand, knee and the heel are all touching at the same spot.
  • Point the toes of the leg bent on the floor, heel touching the outside of the hip.
  • Before you turn, lift your upper body toward the ceiling, and try to lift the abdomen up and out of the pelvis, so you can twist more of the torso, including the abdomen when you turn.
  • Think: inhale – stretch up, exhale – twist deeper.

Monday, December 21, 2015

Tip of the Week: Yoga Helps Defeat Anxiety

Being right in the middle of the holiday season when stress and anxiety can be on the high side, we felt the following article from would be helpful in reminding us why yoga is so important for defeating anxiety. 

Anxiety has taken many peaceful mornings from me. It has taken afternoons, nights and entire days too.

With it comes shaky and sweaty hands, racing thoughts, shallow breathing, and a sense of helplessness. Most of my life I thought that there was no alternative. I spent years trying to find a way to manage my anxiety. I found things that helped a little, but nothing truly took me to a new way of being until I found yoga. It wasn’t immediate. I didn’t walk onto the mat and change forever. But through yoga and my dedication to it, my life is no longer ruled by anxiety.
So, what exactly is it about yoga that helps anxiety?

1. Pranayama (Breathing):

The simple act of mindful breathing can help reduce anxiety. When you focus on the breath, your mind has a chance to rest and let go of negative thoughts. Yogic breath is also good for the body. Deep breathing increases oxygen levels in the blood supply, which helps remove toxins from the body. It also increases lung capacity and helps improve digestion.

2. Asanas (Yoga Poses) and Their Rewarding Challenge:

The practice of asanas (poses) is good for both mind and body. Physically, asanas help release the tension that anxiety creates, allowing the body to feel recharged and healthier. When the body feels better, so does the mind. The challenges you face on the mat reduce anxiety by taking your mind off your worries and fears.
Asanas also teach the student to be patient and let go of things. Just like finding (and re-finding) your balance and mastering a pose, acceptance takes time and patience. Perfection is not only unnecessary, but usually unrealistic. Each time I lose my balance and fall out of a pose I am forced to face my imperfection and accept it. At first, I got frustrated when I fell out of a pose.
With time, I have learned to laugh, smile, and try again.

3. Meditation:

Meditation is challenging, yes, but not impossible. The ability to clear one’s mind of all thoughts is a skill that takes time. It is a path, not a goal. Meditation starts by simply taking the time to focus on your breath. Meditation gives your mind a chance to slow down and teaches your body to relax.  In addition, with a regular meditation practice, you will begin to notice patterns in your thinking. The things that trigger anxiety, panic, and fear will become apparent to you. Once this happens, you can learn to change the patterns by recognizing your triggers.
Yoga is a deeply soothing and healing practice. Showing up is the hardest part.

Just step onto your mat… the practice will take care of itself. Through the simple steps of conscious breathing, regular asana practice, and meditation, anxiety is a thing that can be controlled, reduced, and ultimately overcome one breath, one pose, one day at a time. Take hold of your practice. Take hold of your life!

Monday, December 14, 2015

Tip of the Week: Lower Ribs on Thighs in Stretching Pose

Bikram Yoga SLC instructor Nella Holden

The goal in Stretching Pose (Paschimottanasana) is not to bend forward from the spine but to extend forward so that the front and back of your torso lengthen evenly. The folding should occur at the hips, not the spine or waist. You will feel the stretch in the back or west side of the body but the front of the body needs to make space to elongate the spine.

*Imagine placing your lower ribs on your thighs. Even if you are nowhere close to being able to actually do this, envisioning doing this in your mind will help to straighten out and elongate your spine.  Bring your back ribs downward away from the ceiling to bring your front ribs closer to your thighs. 

*If you are able to place your lower ribs on your thighs, envision placing your upper ribs on your knees!

*If you feel like your bottom ribs are stuck to your abdomen, you are folding from your waist rather than your hips.  You can lift upward slightly to free your lower abdomen, spread the diaphragm and extend forward towards your chest.

Monday, December 7, 2015

Tip of the Week: The Exit is Part of the Posture

As important as it is to stay focused and concentrate on alignment when setting up and executing a posture, it is equally important to stay mindful of these things when exiting the posture. Your exit should be as graceful and focused and done as slowly and carefully as your entrance. Many times we work so hard on focusing on the posture itself, that when we hear the instructor say "Change!" we think the posture is over and it's time to relax. But care should be taken to reverse out of the posture in exactly the opposite way as we went into it to protect the spine, keep from straining muscles, and to keep the mind focused. Paying attention to how you start, end, and move between postures will also help to conserve your energy as you flow through class.

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Tip of the Week: Decompress the Spine in Padahastasana

 photo from Bikram Yoga Kauai

With a tight grip and a lift of the hips, you can bring length not only to the hamstrings but quite literally pull space between the vertebrae (spinal decompression). The key to staying safe is to keep your chest pressed to thighs to avoid overstretching at the lumbar spine. If your hamstrings are tight and you need to grab the back of your calves instead of your heels, still try to feel the touch of your stomach on your thighs and your chest on your knees, and then keep them there as you try to straighten your legs. 

You also want to draw the belly in to encourage the muscles framing the spine to lengthen and release more readily. Lift hips until you feel a stretch and lift the kneecaps up to engage the quads. 
Please be careful: if your back is sensitive or injured – BEND YOUR KNEES as you lower your hands to the floor from Half-moon. You can even place your hands on your thighs to protect your back better. - See more at:
Please be careful: if your back is sensitive or injured – BEND YOUR KNEES as you lower your hands to the floor from Half-moon. You can even place your hands on your thighs to protect your back better.
Take your time in the first set and soften, exhale, and relax. When it’s time to grab your heels, students with limited flexibility: do the best you can in keeping your hands and arms behind by bending your knees more. If you are NOT able to place your hands underneath the feet, grab a hold of your calves, or simply hold onto each elbow behind your knees.
Keep working to straighten the legs an inch at a time, using your arm strength to pull up on your calves, ankles or heels.
Be careful coming out of the pose, ascend the same way you went down, keep your knees bent and place your hands on your thighs, if needed.
Now that you’re getting close to straightening your legs, press your face into your shins, as you lift your hips forward and up toward the ceiling and front of the room. This combined movement will allow you to use your body for leverage in order to better stretch your hamstrings.
An important concept in understanding the dynamics of Hot Yoga is “isolation”: flexibility and strength, relaxation and intensity, softening and hardening. Soften and relax the area you’re trying to stretch. In this pose, it is the hamstrings (back of the legs) and lower back, both connected by the sciatic nerve. Strengthen your arms pulling up on your heels and contract your quadriceps muscles (front of the thigh).
Pull on your heels with your biceps, not the shoulders. The shoulders work BACK towards your hips and AWAY from the ears.
If your legs are straight and your upper body is flat against your legs, don’t place your fingers under your heels. Instead, cup your heels from the side so the thumb, forefinger and the webbing between your thumb and forefinger touch the floor. If you place the fingers under the heels, it shortens the hamstrings and inhibits your flexibility. It’s going to feel weird at first, but after a few times you should start experiencing a deeper stretch.
One footnote: your hands will have a tendency to slide up, don’t let it happen, keep your hands down.
We’re not done yet! Halfway into the pose, slowly begin to look down at the top of your feet. Keep your chin on your shins, lift your shoulders up toward the ceiling, and pull your head to your feet. Don’t crunch your neck. Your neck vertebra should line up with your back vertebra. Toward the end of the posture, lift your hips UP toward the ceiling and then SCOOP your tailbone UNDER to stretch the muscles around the sit-bones.
The final position is to touch your head to your feet, knees fully extended, quads contracted.
- See more at:
Please be careful: if your back is sensitive or injured – BEND YOUR KNEES as you lower your hands to the floor from Half-moon. You can even place your hands on your thighs to protect your back better.
Take your time in the first set and soften, exhale, and relax. When it’s time to grab your heels, students with limited flexibility: do the best you can in keeping your hands and arms behind by bending your knees more. If you are NOT able to place your hands underneath the feet, grab a hold of your calves, or simply hold onto each elbow behind your knees.
Keep working to straighten the legs an inch at a time, using your arm strength to pull up on your calves, ankles or heels.
Be careful coming out of the pose, ascend the same way you went down, keep your knees bent and place your hands on your thighs, if needed.
Now that you’re getting close to straightening your legs, press your face into your shins, as you lift your hips forward and up toward the ceiling and front of the room. This combined movement will allow you to use your body for leverage in order to better stretch your hamstrings.
An important concept in understanding the dynamics of Hot Yoga is “isolation”: flexibility and strength, relaxation and intensity, softening and hardening. Soften and relax the area you’re trying to stretch. In this pose, it is the hamstrings (back of the legs) and lower back, both connected by the sciatic nerve. Strengthen your arms pulling up on your heels and contract your quadriceps muscles (front of the thigh).
Pull on your heels with your biceps, not the shoulders. The shoulders work BACK towards your hips and AWAY from the ears.
If your legs are straight and your upper body is flat against your legs, don’t place your fingers under your heels. Instead, cup your heels from the side so the thumb, forefinger and the webbing between your thumb and forefinger touch the floor. If you place the fingers under the heels, it shortens the hamstrings and inhibits your flexibility. It’s going to feel weird at first, but after a few times you should start experiencing a deeper stretch.
One footnote: your hands will have a tendency to slide up, don’t let it happen, keep your hands down.
We’re not done yet! Halfway into the pose, slowly begin to look down at the top of your feet. Keep your chin on your shins, lift your shoulders up toward the ceiling, and pull your head to your feet. Don’t crunch your neck. Your neck vertebra should line up with your back vertebra. Toward the end of the posture, lift your hips UP toward the ceiling and then SCOOP your tailbone UNDER to stretch the muscles around the sit-bones.
The final position is to touch your head to your feet, knees fully extended, quads contracted.
- See more at:

Monday, November 23, 2015

Tip of the Week: Thanksgiving Food Swaps to Save Calories

Thanksgiving may be the day to ditch your diet and indulge in your favorite holiday foods, but making a few simple changes to your holiday menu can actually save you up to 2,000 calories - without skimping on the flavor. 
The average American will consume 4,500 calories on Thanksgiving according to the Calorie Control Council, which found that 3,000 calories come from an indulgent  turkey dinner alone while another 1,500 calories can be attributed to hors d'oeuvres and boozy beverages.
However, a few ingredients swaps will ensure that you will enjoy all of your favorite foods while still being able to button your pants on Black Friday. An infographic from the calorie-counting app My Fitness Pal shows that that slightly altering your Thanksgiving menu can help you save hundreds - or even thousands - of calories this year. 

 Great idea: Calorie-counting app and website My Fitness Pal has created an handy infographic featuring Thanksgiving holiday food swaps. Trading dark turkey meat for some turkey breast will save you 50 calories 

Secret recipe: One cup of mashed potatoes made with two per cent milk, nonfat Greek yogurt, and three tablespoons butter has 108 calories less than traditional recipes
Same flavor: One fourth a cup of traditional gravy made from turkey drippings, which has 131 calories and 9g of fat, can easily be swapped for one four a cup of prepared low-sodium gravy mix

 Swap dark meat for white meat
Dark turkey meat has nearly twice the fat of white turkey breast and about 40 per cent more calories. Replacing three ounces of dark turkey meat and skin, which has 147 calories and 5g of fat, with a three ounce turkey breast with skin will save you 50 calories and 2g of fat. 

Swap traditional mashed potatoes for a lighter recipe made with Greek yogurt 
Mashed potatoes are a Thanksgiving staple that is almost as common turkey, but traditional recipes include mounds of heavy cream and butter. 
While a cup of homestyle mashed potatoes has 220 calories and 18g of fat, a similar recipe made with two per cent milk, nonfat plain Greek yogurt, and only three tablespoons of butter has only 112 calories and 6g of fat. 

Swap Greek yogurt for sour cream when making dip 
Using Greek yogurt in place of sour cream is another great way to save calories when making Thanksgiving appetizers. While an ounce of sour cream has appropriately 54 calories, the same amount of plain nonfat Greek yogurt has about 16 calories. 
Knowing that you are saving 38 calories per serving will make anyone feel better about going in for another scoop of dip. 

Swap traditional gravy for low-sodium gravy mix
While it is undoubtedly delicious, adding a few ladles of gravy to your plate is an easy way to rack of the calories. 
One fourth a cup of traditional gravy made from turkey drippings, which has 131 calories and 9g of fat, can easily be swapped for one four a cup of prepared low-sodium gravy mix. 
And the subtle trade will save you 106 calories and 8g of fat. 
Swap classic sweet potato casserole for a baked sweet potato
Sweet potatoes covered in marshmallows are another Thanksgiving favorite, however, a cup of the classic casserole packs 558 calories and 9g of fat. 
Having one small baked sweet potato topped with one teaspoon of brown sugar and one teaspoon of chopped pecans will save you a whopping 420 calories and one teaspoon of shopped pecans will leave you with 420 calories and 7g of fat that you can save for dessert. 

Sugary sweet: Have a baked sweet potato topped with brown sugar and chopped pecans instead of sweet potato casserole with marshmallows to save a whopping 420 calories 

Family favorite: Green bean casserole made with cream of mushroom soup and topped with fried onions has 235 calories and 15g of fat per cup, but sauteed green beans with fried onions only have 91 calories
 Healthier ingredients: Using fat-free buttermilk instead of whole milk and half the required amount of butter will help you shed 100 calories from your stuffing recipe 

Swap green bean casserole for sauteed green beans
One cup of traditional green bean casserole made with cream of mushroom soup and topped with fried onions has 235 calories and 15g of fat, but if you get creative and saute a cup of green beans in one teaspoon of butter and top it with one tablespoon of fried onions, you save 144 calories and 9g of fat. 

Swap traditional cornbread stuffing for a lighter recipe made with fat-free buttermilk 
Stuffing and turkey go hand in hand on Thanksgiving, but one cup of cornbread stuffing made with whole milk and butter has 470 calories and 17g of fat. However, one cup of the same stuffing prepared with fat-free buttermilk and half the butter of the traditional recipe only has 319 calories and 11g of fat.
This clever swap can also be done with other bread stuffing recipes in order to create a healthier side dish.

Healthier option: Swapping canned cranberry sauce for cranberry relish will save on calories and sugar 

 No-brainer: While one slice of pecan pie has 806 calories and 25g of fat, a slice of pumpkin has only 265 calories and 9g of fat 

 Swap canned cranberry sauce for cranberry relish  
Those who love cranberry sauce, but are looking to save on the calories and sugar that come along with the sweet dish, should consider substituting cranberry relish for the popular side.
While one fourth a cup of canned cranberry sauce has 105 calories and 26g of sugar, one four a cup of raw cranberry relish has only 67 calories and 12g of sugar.

Swap pecan pie for pumpkin pie
Pecan pie and pumpkin pie are both Thanksgiving favorites, however, one of these desserts is far healthier than the other. 
Swapping one slice of pecan pie, which has 806 calories and 25g of fat, with one slice of pumpkin pie will save you a whopping 541 calories and 16g of fat. 
With only about 265 calories and 9g of fat per slice, pumpkin pie is one of the few holiday desserts you don't have to feel guilty about. 

Decadent dessert: A baked apple made with brown sugar, butter, cinnamon and topped with whipped cream is a healthy replacement for a slice of apple pie à la mode - which packs 619 calories and 24g of fat

Swap slice of apple pie à la mode with one baked apple topped with whipped cream
Warm apple pie topped with vanilla ice cream is another beloved Thanksgiving dessert, but one slice paired with one third a cup of ice cream has approximately 448 calories and 19g of fat. 
However, one baked apple made with one tablespoon brown sugar, one teaspoon of butter, one teaspoon of cinnamon and topped with one tablespoon of whipped cream has the same delicious taste with only about a quarter of the calories. 
The clever substitute only has 171 calories and 5g of fat. 

Swap eggnog for apple cider 
Most people to tend to indulge in at least one holiday beverage on Thanksgiving, but you may want to think twice before filling your glass with eggnog. One cup of the creamy beverage has 223 calories and 11g of fat. 
If you are feeling festive, reach for a glass of apple cider, which only has 120 calories and zero fat per cup.   

Swap a glass of wine with a wine spritzer 
Wine is another popular alcoholic beverage around the holidays, and if you think you are going to have more than one glass, you may want to consider this healthy swap. 
Replacing your five ounce glass of red or white wine, with three ounces of wine topped with two ounces of club soda will save you 60 calories and help you save room for another drink or dessert.

Want to make one of the swaps above? Check out the recipes by clicking "here".

Monday, November 16, 2015

Tip of the Week: Squeeze Your Glutes in Tree Pose

Tree pose is actually a very challenging posture when performed the right way. Ideally, from the side view, your two knees should be in one line. Many people are able to hold the foot up in place by cheating and letting the hips/butt stick out with a swayed back. You need to squeeze your butt muscles and push your hips forward, while at the same time, pushing your knee gently down and back, to get everything in one line from the side. Continuously stretch your spine up to grow taller.

The following by shows some good pictures and tips for opening your hips in tree pose by squeezing your glutes.

The pose I demonstrate above is "Tree pose".  In Bikram's yoga practice there are a number of poses that help open up the hips.....when done properly!  I can't tell you how many times I watch people do this pose improperly.....about 100% of the time!  Even when the teacher clearly instructs to NOT have a "duck butt", guess what?  Apparently no body knows what a "duck butt" is, OR their hips are so tight they can't help it!  But if that's the case then you should take advantage of the use of your opposite hand and hold onto your foot to pull your bent leg down and back.  The "goal" is to have both legs in one line, while pushing your hips forward to open them up!  A good clue to whether or not you are doing this is to pay attention and contract your glute muscle (squeeze your butt muscle!)  In the above picture you can see I'm still a good six inches away from that!
Tree pose, in Bikram's yoga, is NOT a balancing posture.  Sure, you have to balance, but it's a hip opening posture, and your standing leg/hip/glute should be other words, SQUEEZE your butt muscle!  If you cannot squeeze your glute then you are not in the posture.  Everybody is in a hurry to put both hands in prayer and look pretty!  In the bottom photos I demonstrate my hands in "prayer position" and then only one of my hands in prayer, while the other holds onto my foot, while pushing my bent leg down and back, and while squeezing my glute muscle and lifting up on my knee cap of my standing leg/hip.  This does two things.  Squeezing my glute helps to open my hip flexor to bring my hip forward, and lifting up on the knee cap of my standing leg ensures that my standing leg is straight.  Oh...and I also try and make myself tall (like a tree) by lifting my rib cage and shoulders, up and back, visualizing the top of my head being pulled up towards the ceiling, while on the opposite, rooting down through the floor with my entire foot (roots like a tree).

In my opinion it's much more important that you open up your hip than it is to balance with both hands in prayer, looking pretty, with a duck butt!  But that's me.  Eventually I want to get both of my legs in the same line, while having both hands in prayer, with full extension in my hips, now that would really be pretty!  Pretty and correct according to the "dialogue".  And I'm so close!

Monday, November 9, 2015

Tip of the Week: Look Backwards in the Backbend

Today's tip is a simple one to work on while doing the backbend in Half Moon.

*Look backward. The tendency for people who have issues with this pose is to look at the ceiling or the hands, or worst of all – and because of fear – forward. This strains the neck.

*While you’re going into the pose you will visualize tracing a line backward across the ceiling with your fingers. Where many get caught is by following the fingers with their eyes. Look beyond those fingers tracing that arc as you look backward (not up).

"Where your eyes go, your body will follow"...

For more detailed information on doing the backbend, click "here" and "here". 

Learn to see the back-wall behind you, but instead of dropping back, continue lifting up through the sternum. Then, straighten out the elbows and squeeze you palms together flat. - See more at:
Learn to see the back-wall behind you, but instead of dropping back, continue lifting up through the sternum. Then, straighten out the elbows and squeeze you palms together flat. - See more at:
Learn to see the back-wall behind you, but instead of dropping back, continue lifting up through the sternum. Then, straighten out the elbows and squeeze you palms together flat. - See more at:

Sunday, November 1, 2015

Tip of the Week: Make it to Class

Great ways to motivate yourself to make it to class from a post on Views From the Podium

As a teacher it can be even harder to squeeze your own personal practice into the day. After teaching class you can so easily skip out the studio doors to other things, thinking you’ve at least witnessed some yoga. But the fact is, if you are a Bikram teacher especially, you did not accomplish your own practice. You lead others through it, sure, you sweat a ton, but it’s not the same.You know what the hardest part of having a yoga practice is? Doing it. Doing the yoga. Day after day, year after year, and continue to have the discipline to get to the studio and get it done. I often say to my students that the hardest part of the yoga is actually putting the key in the ignition of the car and driving to the studio. Once you arrive you know you will go through class, whether it be wonderful, bad, ugly, gentle, easy, or inspiring, you will go through it.
Many times throughout a usual work week I have students come into the studio worried about what class will hold for them that day because they have not practiced in so long. “Why did I stop coming?” is a common question I hear them ask themselves. And let’s face it sometimes life just gets in the way. But you must also consider the fact that youare getting in your own way.
A yoga practice is not just a workout. It’s a commitment to a healthier way of living. It’s a commitment to taking time just for you to concentrate on your breath, your body, and your life in this present moment. And since I have struggled on and off with finding that time in my schedule to practice for years now, I thought I would share some tips on how to make it happen for you.
  1. Put it in your schedule. When I look at the month ahead and start to give availability to the studios I work for I also plot out where the practice times will happen. I like to practice a minimum of 4 times a week, but allow myself the odd week when it has to come down to 3 sessions. I actually put it into the calendar and make it a date as non-negotiable as any other commitment I have made in my life. If you put it down as an appointment with yourself make sure you honor it and get to class.  You are important.
  2. Pack up your bag and clothes the night before. We’ve all had that moment when the alarm clock goes off at 5am and all we want to do is roll over and forget about that class starting in half an hour. If everything is ready to go and all you have to do is slip on some yoga clothes and stumble out to the car there will be less resistance. Train yourself to just get into the clothes half asleep and then once your dressed you will have less excuses as to why you would want to skip the class.
  3. Post it on Facebook. If your status update the night before was about how you were going to hit the hot room at a particular time you will probably make the class. I have used this trick so many times. You just told the world and some of your friends that practice that you will be there and for some reason this will make you feel accountable for keeping this promise to yourself especially if people comment back, “See you there!”
  4. Get a yoga buddy. My yoga buddy is the best. We’ve been practicing together for 5 or 6 years now. And if I know she is going to take class at a particular time I will definitely try and take it. We used to practice together everyday until I became a teacher, but we still see each other in the hot room at least 3 times a week. Sharing the yoga and experience of class with someone is incredibly fun, as both of our practices have developed throughout the years. And sometimes it’s easier to make a date with others than it is to make one with your self.
So here’s to hoping that you keep up your regular practice. The only way to get deeper in to the postures and have a better understanding of yourself and others is to practice. If you haven’t been to class in awhile – get going. The first step is always the hardest, but I can promise you it will be worth it.

Sunday, October 25, 2015

Tip of the Week: Slow and Steady Standing Bow

Bikram Yoga SLC instructor Mike Schenk

A common mistake in Standing Bow Pulling Pose is rushing to get into the fullest expression of the posture.  If you can do the posture with your best form and alignment; depth will come with time. Bikram says, “Take the time to get yourself firmly grounded and set on your standing leg before you bring your body forward and down. When you begin to move, take your time and stay in control. The most important advice I can give you here is don’t be in a hurry to dive into this position.”

The standing leg is your foundation. Keep the knee locked with a firm contraction of thigh. If you don't feel that you have the balance to go forward yet, stay in this position until you have a firm foundation.

Once you begin kicking against your hand, your knee should go straight back, your hips should stay level. The arcing of the spine, keeping balance, and holding the knee and hips in the right alignment should be your main focus before you begin to lower your upper body. All of this is difficult to do if you aren't concentrating on each element as you move slowly into the posture.

Even advanced students should, from time to time, slow it way down. Make sure that you can stop the posture at any moment and hold it still, move a millimeter more, then more, until the final posture is inevitable.

Saturday, October 17, 2015

Tip of the Week: Don't Rotate Hips in Balancing Stick

In Balancing Stick, pay attention to your hip alignment. Strive to keep both hips in one line from the side. Typically the lifted leg will want to pull that side of the hip up. If this happens, adjust & have both hips aligned, parallel to the floor. Make sure one hip does not lift higher than the other. This will guarantee a beautiful hamstring stretch on the standing leg, will keep your spine straight, and will help to keep your balance in the posture. 

 In the above photo, the hip of Sara's lifted leg is rotated upwards making it difficult to maintain her balance. 
 In this photo, Sara's hips are in one line from the side, parallel to the floor. She is now able to maintain her balance while stretching the hamstring of her standing leg.

Sunday, October 11, 2015

Tip of the Week: Progress Through Journaling

"Your journal, like your mat, is your refuge, a place where you can let your guard down, discover who you really are, and celebrate that discovery." - Bruce Black

Have you ever thought of journaling to monitor your progress in your yoga practice? Keeping note of how you're feeling in your mind or body can help to deepen your practice both on and off the mat. The following is a journal entry that student Tanja Fraughton shared with us. It's such an endearing reminder to honor who you are and where you are today, and to remember how far you've come. What are you doing today that would make the younger you proud?

Journal entries: Notes from yesterday are my instructions for living today. 


It's fun to witness personal evolution. To be brave enough to release old ways of experiencing life. To dive deep into uncharted territory with full confidence in the ability to come out alive and refined by the experience. Having been so diligent at writing in my journal as a child has allowed me to actually witness where things changed in my outlook. It's also been a gift to see that I've been consistent in some core beliefs and attitudes that are innate in my personality. A resiliency and determination when no one else seemed to notice. I get to share those moments with the me of now! Often times throughout my journal entries I would write notes to my future self asking if I'd accomplished certain goals. Today as I was in yoga class and felt like surrendering in a couple different postures, I found myself pushing through so as to make my young self proud. It was cool! It's like I have access to a time machine to get to know my young self and learn to love her so as to learn how to truly love myself of now. I can see where my younger self started to struggle and develop fear due to unfortunate circumstances; I can comfort her in a way that would not have been possible had I not kept a daily account. I'm very blessed in life. I am grateful for who I've been, who I've become, and who I'll always be. The journals are a treasured gift. The nicest thing I could have ever done for myself.

~Thank you Tanja for giving us a peek into your private journal. You are an inspiration to us all! 

Thursday, October 1, 2015

Tip of the Week: Set Your Intention

Today's Tip of the Week is to "set your intention". We hear this in class all the time, but what exactly does it mean? Setting an intention means to set a clear goal in your mind of what it is you want to accomplish.  What is it specifically that you need to work on in your practice? Is it breathing only through your nose? Then set your intention for the class to keep your mouth closed through the entire class, focusing on consistently breathing in and out through your nose in a calm manner. 

Do you keep falling out of the standing postures? Then set your intention before each posture by telling yourself, "I am not going to fall. I'm locking my knee, I'm going to stay balanced, I can do this." Have a clear mind set that your intention for your practice is to stay focused on your balance.

Throughout class are you dreading the moment your instructor says "Camel Time!"? Then before the class starts, set your intention to give 100% in Camel Pose today. Even if you can't reach your ankles, you are going to reach back as far as you can because this just might be the day it happens.

Know that you can do anything you set your mind to. Do more than just going through the motions in class. By setting an intention and following through with it, you will feel even more of a sense of accomplishment at the end of class, and your practice will become stronger.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Tip of the Week: Taking Yoga Off the Mat and Into Our Lives

There are so many ways you can take your yoga off the mat and into your life. The following article by Anna Coventry on gives us just a few ways to incorporate our yoga practice into every moment of our day. 

When I was in Hong Kong, I remember walking past a Buddhist monk who was sitting cross-legged, meditating in one of the busiest places in the city. I was mesmerized by her. With literally millions of people hustling and bustling around us, I was almost getting whiplashed trying to keep up with all the comings and goings. Yet there she was…silent, unmoving and utterly peaceful.

That lovely monk got me thinking. Yes I feel calm and peaceful when I practice yoga and when I meditate, but did I feel calm and peaceful right then and there in the middle of a busy Hong Kong street? Er, no I did not.

It’s one thing to find a sense of tranquility in a yoga studio, surrounded by beautiful pictures and statues, relaxing music in the background and the soothing sound of a teacher’s voice guiding you through relaxation. But what happens afterwards? Do we take what we have learned in class and apply it to our life off the mat, or do we fall back into old habits like getting pissed off with traffic jams, frazzled about deadlines at work, or cranky with our partner?

As yogis, we have the opportunity every time we practice to learn something new about ourselves and the way we move, think, act and breathe. We can have some incredible ‘aha’ moments during class but the real benefits come when we can take those moments with us outside of the studio.
There are countless ways of doing this, but here are 3 really simple but really effective ways of taking yoga off your mat and into your daily life.

1. Connect With Your Breath


Breathing is the most important aspect of life yet how often do we connect with our breath outside of a yoga class?! Become curious about how you breathe in the same way you would in a yoga class; tune in to your breath several times a day, notice the quality of its natural flow, and see how it changes at different times. The quality and flow of your breath will most often reflect how you are feeling internally, so if you need to, use that awareness to deepen and steady your breath to feel more centered and calm. This is particularly awesome if you are on your way to an important meeting, interview or appointment.

2. Notice The Position Of Your Body


You don’t have to be in a yoga pose to notice the position of your body and how you naturally stand and move. Think about the way your yoga teacher guides you to become more aware of your alignment during an asana, and use that same sense of awareness as you move throughout your day. You may be quite surprised at some of your habitual ways of holding and moving your body.
Next time you’re waiting in line for coffee, instead of pulling out your iPhone to check your emails, why not tune in and notice what’s going on with the position of your body? If you favor one side as you stand, make adjustments and come back to a place of balance. If you hold unnecessary tension in your jaw, shoulders, or hands, then use the breath to soften and let go.

3. Create Space For You


One of the reasons so many people love yoga, is that it gives you an opportunity to take time out just for you. Taking that time for you sends a powerful message to your subconscious that you value yourself and your well-being — this will do wonders for your self-esteem. And you don’t even need to set aside 90 minutes of “me-time” to reap the benefits, as even just 10 minutes will have a positive effect!

Perhaps you take a morning tea break even if you’re really busy at work, perhaps you get up 5 minutes earlier and do one yoga pose before breakfast, or perhaps you enjoy a nice hot bath instead of a quick shower when you get home. You really don’t need to wait for a yoga class to create that space for yourself.

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Tip of the Week: Keep Wrists Straight in Pranayama Breathing

Pranayama Breathing is the first breathing exercise we do as we begin class to expand the lungs, stimulate circulation, and wake up the muscles and the entire body. 

Our tip this week comes from our teacher Sara to remember to keep our wrists straight, especially on the inhale. On the inhale we lift our elbows out to the sides until they stretch up to the sides of our head, allowing our forearms and back of the palms to naturally frame our face. In trying to frame the face, sometimes students will bend the wrists to keep the hands close to the face. This actually keeps the shoulders and fingers tight, and makes it harder to lift the elbows to the ceiling. Many people think that in order to eventually have your forearms touching the sides of your head, it's all about the flexibility in your shoulders. But the key is actually in having flexibility in your fingers as well. By keeping the wrists straight, your fingers are able to flex more, as well as your shoulders being able to open up more. 

In the photo on the left, Sara has her wrists bent, making it difficult to flex her fingers, open her shoulders and lift her elbows. In the photo on the right, her wrists are straight making it easier to lift her elbows with the backs of her palms and arms framing her face.

Even if you are unable to lift your elbows very far, always keep your wrists straight. Over time you will gain more flexibility to be able to bring them up higher. 

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Tip of the Week: How Far to Go into a Stretch

When practicing the postures, it is important to "find your edge" or experience the balance of not going so far in a stretch that you cause injury, but going far enough that your body is challenged. The following is an excerpt from the book "Yoga, the Spirit and Practice of Moving into Stillness" by Erich Shiffmann.

A large part of the art and skill in yoga lies in sensing just how far to move into a stretch. If you don't go far enough, there is no challenge to the muscles, no intensity, no stretch, and little possibility for opening. Going too far, however, is an obvious violation of the body, increasing the possibility of both physical pain and injury. Somewhere between these two points is a degree of stretch that is in balance: intensity without pain, use without abuse, strenuousness without strain. You can experience this balance in every posture you do. 

This place in the stretch is called your "edge." The body's edge in yoga is the place just before pain, but not pain itself. Pain tells you where the limits of your physical conditioning lie. Edges are marked by pain and define your limits. How far you can fold forward, for example, is limited by your flexibility edge; to go any further hurts and is actually counterproductive. The length of your stay in a pose is determined by your endurance edge. Your interest in a pose is a function of your attention edge. 

In daily life, we tend to remain within a familiar but limited comfort zone by staying away from both our physical and mental edges. This would be fine except that as aging occurs these limits close in considerably. Our bodies tighten, our range of movement decreases, and our strength and stamina diminish. By consciously bringing the body to its various limits or edges and holding it there, gently nudging it toward more openness with awareness, the long, slow process of closing in begins to reverse itself. The range expands as the edges change. 

Sensing where your edges are and learning to hold the body there with awareness, moving with its often subtle shifts, can be called "playing the edge." This is a large part of what you'll be doing in your practice. Your skill in yoga has little to do with your degree of flexibility or where your edges happen to be. Rather, it is a function of how sensitively you play your edges, no matter where they are. 

This is a very freeing idea. Normally, we have an idea of how the posture "should" be. We have ideas about how deep we should be able to go into a pose, what we should look like while we are there, and how long we should be able to stay. We are often more aware of where we aren't than of where we are. 

This idea of the "completed" or "ideal" posture as a specific destination somewhere in the future is often a lurking presence in the back of our minds as we do the poses. Because of this, there will necessarily be a gap between where you are in the posture and where you think you should be. This gap, more often than not, contains a subtle frustration, a conflict, a feeling that where you are is insufficient - or worse, who you are is insufficient - and that if you were truly doing yoga properly and were a "good" or "evolved" person, you would be somewhere other than where you are. If this is the case, your practice will be permeated with the effort of going somewhere else. It will be future-oriented, the present moment being significant only as a stepping stone to the future. And you will miss being present. 

Envisioning the postures in advance can yield dramatic results, however. And watching someone else do an advanced and difficult posture that you would like to achieve can be especially helpful, both because you see it is possible and can be performed with ease, and because your nervous system - simply by watching - receives a tremendous amount of nonverbal information about how to perform the pose correctly. Having that information in your nervous system and the back of your mind as you practice can make that pose easier for you, as long as you use it as a general guideline that you understand will be expressed differently in your body. The way to realize these changes is by focusing your attention on the process of what you are doing. This involves flirting with the tight spots, your edges, with sensitivity and attention. 

The main thing to understand is that there is no such thing as a "completed" or "ideal" posture. Each posture is an ever-evolving, constantly moving energy phenomenon that is different from day to day, moment to moment, and person to person. The process of sensitively flirting with your edges and achieving perfect energy flow is not merely the means to achieve the pose - it is the pose. 

This is what the physical aspect of yoga is fundamentally all about. Your body is limited in movement not only through its genetic makeup, but through the conditionings that have accrued over the years. As you age, this becomes more and more apparent. Yoga is a way of exploring these limits. It's not a matter of "How can I attain this or that final posture?" It's a matter of gently pressing into the various edges you encounter within the template structure of each particular posture. And your edges and limits will change as a by-product of this exploration; you will change. 

Intensity and Pain 

You should never be in pain as you practice yoga. Your practice should not be a painful ordeal, but rather an expression of joy. Pain is most easily defined as any sensation you do not like, and it always invokes a natural withdrawal mechanism. When you put your hand on a hot stove, for example, instantly you take it off. Before you're even aware that your hand is on the stove, it's off. This is built-in self-protective device. 

The same withdrawal mechanism is activated whenever a yoga stretch begins to hurt. Muscles clamp down and contract in order to protect themselves from overstretching. They are suddenly less willing, fearful, and they resist the stretch - naturally. And they do this, to whatever small or large degree, before you are even aware it's happening. This is blatantly at odds with your initial intention to stretch, open, and expand your physical boundaries. Therefore, by pushing into pain you are actually working against yourself. One foot is on the accelerator, and one foot is on the brake.

Pushing and working hard are frequently appropriate and can be thoroughly enjoyable at the right moments, but they should never result in pain. You may want to approach pain and get near it, but not actually be in it. You want to be in the place where it "hurts good," where you know you are dealing with what needs to be dealt with - the contracted parts of your energy field - but where it not so intense that you resist, tighten up to protect yourself, or prevent yourself from going too far.

The ideal state for practice is to be as willing and relaxed as possible, as nonresisting  as possible, so that one part of you is not in opposition to another. You can then comfortably press your edges open. The practice becomes one of be relaxed  and willing at your deeper edges; and this isn't necessarily easy. It's difficult to stay relaxed in the midst of a high-intensity stretch.

You want to stay within your comfort zone where you are safe and, at the same time, press into the various tight areas. By pressing, stretching and breathing  into your tight areas, you can ease them open, thereby expanding the boundaries of your comfort zone.  It's like being inside a bubble and gently pressing outward from inside to expand its shape, so that you experience more space and comfort within the bubble.

Pain lurks just beyond your deepest edges as a reminder that you have gone too far. It's important for anyone who spends time nudging edges open with yoga to have a healthy understanding of pain - and to have a feeling for the distinction between pain and intensity.

The word pain actually stands for a variety of different possible sensations ranging anywhere from sharp and intense to subtle and dull. Physical pain may arise from a variety of causes, a pulled muscle, for example, or from a stretch that is too intense. Psychological pain often involves the feeling that you are in a place you don't like, doing something you would rather not he doing.

Herein lies one of the reasons for the frequent confusion between intensity and pain. A powerful stretch, whether or not you have gone too far, will generate an intense sensation. Someone who is not used to intensity or is excessively worried about getting hurt may be afraid of the intense sensation and resist it. Resisted intensity becomes pain. Therefore, even relatively mild levels of intensity can be experienced as pain if you go beyond your psychological edge.

If fear prevents you from going deeper or staying longer in a posture, it is wise to avoid overriding the fear by being brave or courageous, since this makes injury more likely. Instead of pushing past psychological limits, open more slowly by finding a less intense level of stretch just before fear enters. Hold the position there as you deepen the breath, relax, and acclimatize to the stretch. By playing the edge of fear like this, you never have to experience psychological discomfort.

This can have a very profound influence on all aspects of your life. One of the things you learn in yoga is to enjoy working with intensity. Intensity is simply more "energy" at any given moment, more feeling. Happiness and sadness, for example, can both be experienced with more or less intensity. If you are unable or unwilling to deal with an increase in intensity, however, not only in your yoga but in your daily life as well, your range of life experience will necessarily remain limited and narrow. Yoga can teach you to enjoy and learn from a broader range of experience. It will encourage you to seek out and process more intensity. The more you do this within the safe arena of yoga practice, the more it will influence all of your life. This is not as intense as it may sound. More intensity isn't even noticeable as you become strong and open.

This has two distinct advantages. First, you will be able to allow more pleasure into your life. More good will come to you because you are open and receptive, no longer pushing it away. You will experience more joy and find yourself able to handle the heightened intensity of happiness. Haven't you noticed that even in the midst of joy, something you thought you wanted, there is often a part of you that wants to turn it off? Or at least turn it down a bit? It's difficult to handle intensity of any kind, even if you like it. Yoga can change this for you forever. As you are able to generate more energy and process more intensity in the poses with enjoyment and full willingness, you will correspondingly be able to receive and process more goodness in your life. 

Secondly, yoga teaches you to experience the so-called "negative" emotions and intensities without being overly disturbed by them, without having to run away from them. They will feel less intense than they previously would have. You will then be able to learn from the "bad" and painful experiences in life without being bowled over by them. And therefore, because your full range of life experience is being broadened and enlarged in all directions, you are now able to learn from both the "good" and "bad," making your life that much richer. 

It is important to learn how to generate voluntary intensity deliberately and willingly, by deepening the breath, increasing the current, strengthening your lines, and flirting with the various edges that arise in each pose. This is best learned in postures that are easy for you. In these postures any intensity you experience is largely self-generated. Learn to create voluntary intensity in these easy poses and in the early stages of any pose you do, and then delicately press into your tight areas in order to nudge them gently to greater openness. This will prepare you for the intensely pleasurable sensations that come with the territory of advanced yoga. Intensity is pleasurable when you are prepared for it, when you are able to let go into it; it becomes unpleasant when you resist it or generate too much. Skill in yoga involves creating the perfect amount of intensity - not too much, not too little. 

Every pose has a "minimum edge" and a "maximum edge," as well as a series of intermediary edges between these. Most of us are aware of the maximum edge; it is the easiest to detect. This is the point where the stretch begins to hurt. it is the furthest point of tightness beyond which you should not go. If you were to force yourself beyond this point, you would definitely be in pain and might easily hurt yourself or pull a muscle.

The minimum edge is where you sense the very first sensation of stretch, the very first hint of resistance coming from your muscles. For example, bending over and touching your toes may tax you to the maximum, but about halfway down (or less) you can sense the first edge. This is where you initially become aware of a stretch. 

It is important to be aware of your very first edge, your minimum edge. Taking your time to open that edge is like preparing to go through a series of gates. You must go through the first gate before you can go through the second, and the second before the third. The real key to depth in postures is going slowly, making sure you have thoroughly opened your early edges. 

As you come into a pose, look for your very first edge. Do not rush past it. When you feel that edge, stop. Stop moving, deepen the breath, clarify your energy lines, and wait for it to open. You will know the first edge has opened when the sensations of stretch begin to diminish. At that point you will naturally want to go deeper into the posture. Rather than having to push your way in, you will feel drawn into the pose. As you are drawn deeper, a new edge will soon appear, and the sensations of stretch will come back. Wait for the sensations at this new edge to diminish before going deeper.

Do this over and over. Wait for the sensations of stretch to diminish somewhat and then go deeper. It will feel as though you are sneaking into the pose, not barging your way in. Proceed slowly, edge by edge and gate by gate. Apply pressure and wait for the musculature to open. Then you can move deeper into the pose, apply more pressure, all the while orchestrating the tone of the pose with the breath and current, again waiting for the musculature to open and the sensations of stretch to diminish. Continue working like this until the musculature will no longer release. Then stay where you are and be motionless. Retain the sense of energy and stretch, and release every hint of strain. Be as relaxed as you can be; do and don't-do. When you sense that it is nearly time to come out of the pose, delicately accelerate your energy for a moment. Finally, release the stretch altogether and come out of the pose.

While you are at each new subsequent edge, deepen the breath, define and clarify your lines, and pay close attention to the actual feeling of the stretch. Keep tabs on whether you are enjoying yourself or not. If not, why not? Find a way of doing the pose that is enjoyable. And then be interested: Are the sensations of stretch increasing? If so, it's a sign that you are too deep in the posture and should back off a bit. Are the sensations staying the same? If so, stay where you are, deepen the breath, and wait for the sensations of stretch to diminish. And when the sensations of stretch have diminished somewhat and you are able to relax with intensity, you will instinctively know it is time to go deeper.

Proceed step by step, edge by edge, paying close attention to what you are doing, being sensitive to the changing sensations of stretch. Remember, yoga is essentially an awareness process wherein you attend to these subtle shifts in sensation and feeling. The attention you give to these changing sensations of stretch is what exercises and develops your sensitivity. You will become sensitive to subtler and subtler sensations. 

When the sensations of intensity no longer diminish at the new edge, it means your muscles are not yet ready for a stronger or deeper stretch. You can flirt with these tight areas by pressing into them gently, by changing the strength and character of your breathing, by increasing and decreasing the current in your lines, by staying in the posture longer, or by doing several repetitions of the pose - but do not force your way through them. Respect your tight edges. Work with them sensitively. Lure them to greater openness. 

The more you do this, the better you'll get at it. Instead of telling your body when to move or what to do, you're learning to wait until it's ready. You wait for the inner feeling to tell you when to move. You listen for the inner cue to action, and this becomes easier and easier to detect. When you feel the energy flowing freely and the sensations of intensity beginning to wane, that's the sign. If you go too fast, however, the sensations will increase instead of diminish. There will be pain - a roadblock to the free flow of energy. This is feedback that you have gone too deep, too fast, too soon. Be interested in the feedback you're receiving from your body while you are in the pose.

Let's take an imaginary pose and rate it from one to ten. "One" is the beginning of the pose. "Ten" is as far as you can go before reaching pain. There is no pain in the one-to-ten range, though the sensations of stretch will become increasingly intense as you approach ten. Anything beyond ten we will not consider. 

As you proceed from one to ten, the intensity will gradually increase.  At one you will not feel much, but somewhere around two or three you will feel your first edge. Most of the time we rush past these early edges, looking for the real stretch deeper in the pose. It's important, however, to find your first edge and acclimatize yourself there before deepening. It is the opening of this early edge that allows the later, deeper openings to occur. If your early edges are not fully open, your body will not be ready for the intensity of the deeper extensions. Somewhere around Eight or nine and inching into ten is what 1 would call your maximum edge, the deepest extension or degree of intensity you are now capable of sustaining without pain or discomfort. Remember, never push yourself into pain. 

If your limits in a posture are marked by pain, and if the intensity of the stretch continues to increase as you come closer and closer to your maximum edge, how do you tell the difference between pain and intensity? Easy! The answer is obvious. If you do not like the sensation and you do not want to be there, it's pain. It's totally up to you. This is your yoga. You are not here to punish yourself or do something you don't want to do. You are learning to generate an intensity that is attractive, pleasurable, that you like and want. It's something you are actually looking for. At your maximum edge, just before pain but not in pain-is an intensity that is extremely pleasurable. Therefore, go slowly. Take your time. Don't miss that perfect point. Increase the intensity of the pose gradually and deepen the pose with care. This will teach you to enjoy and assimilate greater amounts of energy and intensity. 

The feeling-tone of a perfectly orchestrated strong stretch at a deep edge has a seductive quality to it. It's intense, pleasurable, exhilarating, and invigorating. Your body will like it. This should not be surprising, however, because by stretching your body to full openness, you are freeing yourself from the constraints of] tightness, contraction, and pain. You are increasing your internal energy flow, flushing new life through your system, opening and nourishing yourself at very deep levels; and all of this is good for you and therefore feels good. But if you unawarly press too deeply, too quickly, into a posture, then the pleasurable and attractive sensations of intensity will become painful and unattractive. If you happen to go too far into a stretch - "too far" meaning you do not like it - then ease out of the pose until you do. Center yourself in your breathing, regain composure , and then slowly go in again, being more careful this time. 

Be clear about this: If you start not liking the stretch for any reason, then move out of the pose until you find a place you do like. Reasons for not liking where you are can be physical or psychological. You may be stretching the muscle too much, or you may not be in the mood. Either reason is valid. Never be in ~ place you don't want to be. If volt do not like it, change it. Adjust Find the degree of stretch you can totally immerse yourself in. 

Sometimes you will want to flirt more seriously with your various resistances and with the common reluctance to stay with an intense, and perhaps uncomfortable, sensation for an extended period of time. But doing this when you want to do this is different from doing it when you do not want to. If you avoid feedback and spend a lot of time being uncomfortable or in pain, you are not going to enjoy doing yoga. You will not look forward to your practice. You will not be working with the principles of opening. And by encountering unnecessary tension and resistance, you will not be doing your body any good, either. 

Edges, Breathing, and Wholeness 

Since your movements and stretches will be coordinated with your breathing ("Move when you breathe, and breathe when you move") the most subtle and sensitive way to play your edges and fine-tune the feel of your stretches is with your breathing. Without the sensitive use of your breathing, your stretches cannot be precise. The muscles and lines are not sensitive enough in themselves, nor sufficiently delicate, to fine-tune a stretch accurately. 

The overall feeling in your muscles and body is the sound of yoga. The sound is a feeling, a tone, a feeling-tone; it's very much like singing a note. And if a particular line of energy is not tuned just right, it will either feel "flat" or "sharp." Continual readjustment is necessary to stay perfectly tuned. I usually create a line of energy that is slightly flat, just below perfect tension and with low current. I then deepen the breath as I increase the current to fine-tune the line. This enables me to press delicately into an edge from the inside out without invoking the stretch-reflex withdrawal mechanism; and if I happen to go too far, I soften my breathing, back off the edge somewhat, decrease the current in my lines, then try again. In this way it is possible to create a strong current of energy in any given line, or flirt with a maximum edge, or perform a difficult and advanced posture without forcibly pushing beyond physical and psychological edges. The moment you do that, remember, your intention will fragment, and your attention will wander. You will begin to resist what you are doing, part of you wanting to continue and part of you wanting to stop. 

The hallmark of practicing yoga properly, however, is wholeness, wholeheartedness, not being in conflict. The idea is to generate wholeheartedly the optimum intensity of energy by consciously creating an increase or decrease in current. You then use this energy to extend your boundaries and limits, to expand your comfort zone, basically - both physically and psychologically speaking. Yoga is not about "pushing through the pain," "overcoming the pain," "no pain, no gain," or about being excessively willful. If you are having to be brave and courageous in order stoically to withstand excessive intensity, you are pushing too hard. You are forcing the issue, fighting. Never fight yourself. Yoga is not about fighting. There is no advantage to this and there are many disadvantages.  Ease up when necessary.  Intensify when appropriate.  Practice skillfully. 

The optimum degree of intensity is the amount that elicits your fullest attention; sometimes this will be a lot, and sometimes this will be a little. The correct amount is the amount that helps you be one-pointed and whole. It is the amount that feels perfect to you now. Too much is a strain, and too little is not sufficiently interesting. Your mind will wander in either case.  Getting "better" at yoga means getting better at generating the perfect degree of current, intensity, breath, and feeling so that, in that moment, you are consciously one with what you're doing - whole, not conflicted, and exactly where you want to be. 

Therefore, learn to be more interested in the feeling-tone of your body than in how deep you are in the posture. Learn to create an energy flow that is attractive to you. Do this by pressing into your edges with the perfect degree of current and the perfect pitch of breath. Realize this is not a function of how flexible you are. A stiff body can do this just as beautifully as a flexible one. The beautiful inner music - the inner feeling - is the yoga, not the achievement of elaborate postures. And be assured, your body will grow more beautiful and become strong and flexible by being played beautifully.

This is where the concept of push and yield most meaningfully displays itself. The art of yoga lies in how well you play your edges, how delicately you flirt with your limitations, how well you lure yourself deeper into the postures, how sensitively you balance the desire to achieve results with the relaxation of non-desire and surrender, and how thoroughly you immerse yourself in the process and enjoy what you are doing. And again, the primary tool you use is your breathing. Your breathing orchestrates the feeling-tone of the poses as it brings them to life.

Keep in mind that the various poses are like maps into your body. Having a map, however, does not infer a specific goal or a predetermined destination of where you should be in the pose. The idea is to use the map to explore - to look deliberately for tight, blocked areas within yourself - open them, and thereby create lines of clean energy flow. This requires that you be delicate, deliberate, and exact, not in the sense of "blueprint," but in the sense of being increasingly inwardly sensitive for the specific alignment and intensity of stretch that feels most right. This entails pressing for greater depth in the poses, greater openness, yet also remaining passive and yielding. You knock on the door, breathe, wait, then go deeper when the musculature lets you in.

Use your breathing and energy lines to nudge into your edges, being watchful and patient. Do not barge in, but also don't just remain passive. Apply pressure in specific areas, increase the intensity gradually, breathe, and wait for them to release. Lovingly persuade the tight areas to open, breath by breath by breath. Communicate nonverbally to the various tight areas that it is in their best interest to relax and open. Do this by finding easy places in the poses where you can establish an energy flow, then bring this flow into the contracted area.

Again, never push yourself into positions that cause you to resist the stretch physically or emotionally. Always start from comfort and safety, and only increase the stretch after you're comfortable where you already are. Then feel free to go after your deeper extensions and stronger stretches. Use as much ambition and desire as you want. Push as much as you want. Let go as much as you can. But learn to do all of this with sensitivity. Deepen the breath and increase the force in your lines at relatively easy stages, then wait and be patient. Your body will open and let you in when it's ready. By staying at easy stages of the pose longer, you will increase your strength and endurance. You will need these in order to hold the increased flexibility that will accrue through time and practice.

Skill in yoga is a matter of harmonizing your breathing with your energy lines as you flirt with your edges. It's a matter of getting all three just right, of changing them when necessary, and of adjusting and readjusting in order to create the feeling-tone that is the most attractive to you in that moment. It's a matter of adjusting the tension and stretch of your muscles, and the pitch of your breathing, to produce the perfect feeling-tone. You can make it exquisite. The more perfect it is, the more one-pointed and focused your mind will be.