16 July 2014

A Corporate Getaway - How Yoga and Meditation Super Charge Your Team

Copyright: http://www.123rf.com/profile_nyul
Note: This is a guest post from Aliza Unterberg. Some of you know I worked in a corporate environment for over 15 years, and that I love to travel! Although I haven't personally visited this place (yet), please consider it (or something like it) if you are in a position to influence your corporation's sponsored health activities. Remember, your employees' health and happiness affects everything they do!

You know that feeling when you come home after a full day of work then instead of doing all of your errands you just want to crash? You are in a constant need of a massage and fatigue just takes over you? Is there too much stress in your life? How do you get rid of these issues?

The short answer is to relax your body, but what does that entail? Many people suggest exercise in the morning in order to get the juices flowing to energize you. But if you’re anything like me, you would rather hit the snooze button and sleep for that extra half an hour before starting your day. Starting to move your body seems scary because committing to a routine of exercises seems daunting. Luckily for you there is a way that you can improve yourself while not having an overbearing workout.

Chances are that you are not the only one at work who feels this way. There must be at least a few colleagues at your place of work who know EXACTLY what you are going through. What you and your colleagues need is a corporate yoga retreat. Not only will it jump start you on becoming healthier but it is a bonding experience that you can share with people like you. In addition, it is much easier to start working out when you have a support group. Whether it is one or 20 people joining you, the fact that others are challenged just like you will motivate you and in turn you will motivate them as well.

A yoga retreat will take you away from work for a few days so you will have the time to really let loose and learn to take care of those issues that link to stress both physically and mentally. At the retreat you will learn key elements in how to control your body and mind, at least as a starter set.

How can yoga help me? I’m glad you asked. By practicing yoga you are creating an environment for your body where you improve your circulation and balance, strengthen and stretch the spine and legs amongst other parts of our body, learning to breathe correctly, and more.

Good circulation is a key ingredient to feeling better. By sitting at a desk all day your blood isn’t getting proper circulation. Similar to sitting on a 12-hour plane ride without moving, your body will become sore and uncomfortable. Yoga offers positions that by doing them even as a beginner will improve circulation to problem areas. Good circulation and balance can ease those back and leg aches from sitting at your desk. Similarly, strengthening the spine and legs are for those hunched in front of their computer screens for hours at a time. Many people don’t realize that by the lack of posture you are seriously damaging your neck and back. Yoga will work on posture and by strengthening these areas you wont feel the need to get that massage after every day of work.

Now I know what you are probably thinking, “I know how to breathe, yoga can’t help me there.” Right?! You are right and you are wrong. True you are a living being and are only like that because of breathing. However, by controlling your breathing you can sufficiently lessen stress and tension as well as improving bodily movements.

When it comes to practicing yoga, similar to other exercises you can start small. Doing a few poses each morning will have an affect on you sooner than you think. From there you grow and strengthen yourself and you’ll find that the more you do physically the better you will feel mentally.

This seems like a lot to take in and it’s only the tip of the iceberg. Yoga is an extraordinary practice with endless benefits. That is why a retreat is a perfect place to start (or to you yogis out there to continue). This experience will immerse you into the beautiful culture of the Zen and give you the proper jumpstart you need to do it on your own at home.

One such place to do this is the Samahita Retreat on the island of Koh Samui in Thailand. There you can relax, meditate, and even explore the rest of the island. Koh Samui is a tropical paradise that you must see at least once in your lifetime, so why not for a reason such as your health? Whoever said not to mix business with pleasure, obviously never did yoga.

About Aliza

Aliza Unterberg is a design student at the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York City. One
of her biggest passions and guilty pleasures is to travel the world and learn more about it.

08 July 2014

Defining Myself as a Teacher of Yoga

I mentioned in my previous blog post that life events seemed to be pulling me deeper into teaching yoga, despite my plans to develop other aspects of my health and wellness consultancy, such as Reiki and Eating Psychology Coaching. Since then, I've also noticed that I'm being asked to identify what I really value when I teach yoga to a group of students. Here's the example that's driving this reflection.

I currently teach a range of yoga classes. In a single week, I may teach (in order of advertised difficulty): restorative or chair yoga, gentle yoga, hatha yoga, vinyasa flow yoga, and hot power yoga. Currently the former classes occur mostly at a studio; the latter at various local gyms.

What I often hear from students at the gyms is that my teaching is "slow". Most quickly follow that description with smiles and gratitude, telling me how much they appreciate it. A few seemingly present it to me with some disdain, as if I'd somehow gotten in the way of their intense stretching workout. Yet even when I create and offer faster and more challenging sequences for the super fit gym yogis, I watch as they consistently:
  • Don't align themselves in the postures correctly, regardless of my cues
  • Can't keep up with the speed of the flow
  • Take respite in child's pose (which is awesome, by the way!)
  • Are dripping sweat
  • Can't focus their attention 
  • Can't coordinate their breath with their movements
  • Scrunch up their faces and hold their breath
  • And so on....
Now, I'm not saying this to rag on any of my students. What is puzzling to me as a teacher is this: when I see these things, I do not feel that it's in anyone's best interest for me to pick up the pace, or otherwise add intensity. At the most basic level, my top priority is to keep my students safe from injury, so they have the opportunity to practice again tomorrow. Regardless of my plans for any class, I always adjust to the feedback I'm getting as I look and walk around the room. So what are these yogi's who negatively comment about my slow teaching pace searching for?

A former dance instructor was able to relate to my confusion. He said, "you are trying to teach people to dance, and they just want patterns." Meaning, the point at which a dance move or a yoga posture can be executed correctly (physically) is not the END of the learning process; rather, it's just the beginning. Yet many people who have difficulty executing even the basic physical shape in yoga classes--e.g. those who would be aided greatly by the use of props but refuse to use them--keep wanting more, to "skip ahead" to...I don't know what. Maybe it's just cultural: everything in our lives is so quick these days; slowing down to really feel into our bodies, our minds, our emotions, our souls is the real challenge, and it's too much. We'd rather continuing to distract with speed. (Believe me, I can relate.) However, truly advanced yoga students understand that this is the real intensity of their practice: yoga as a "work-in" (as opposed to a "work-out")*.

Anyway, this is a long way of saying that such paradox is making me think more clearly about what I value as a teacher of yoga (rather than a "yoga teacher"). My initial training in teahing yoga by two of the best yoginis at one of the most reputable yoga schools in the country started me on this journey, and I continue to develop and learn through my own experience what I feel is important to pass along to my students.

Regardless of where I teach, what my title or the official class title is, creating a safe space (through my languaging, my use of the environment, and my pacing) that allows students to explore themselves not just physically, but also mentally and emotionally is of utmost importance to me. That is how I define myself as a teacher of yoga, how I feel most authentic and true. It's how I maintain my integrity, and it's the kind of relationship I always want to cultivate with my students.

Teachers of yoga, have you experienced similar contradictions? Students, tell me your thoughts on "slow" classes.

An endless student of yoga,

*As stated by Judith Hanson Lasater

27 June 2014

Ring ring ring, the Universe is calling!

Last weekend, my boyfriend's Aunt mentioned she was doing yoga therapy and told me she heard that yoga was about more than just physical postures. I was horrified when I realized I could no longer rattle off all 8 limbs of yoga. This motivated me to go back to my yoga philosophy and study. (I was relieved to find that I just blanked on some and OF COURSE I still incorporate many into my teachings and my practice. Still, it's good to refresh!) As part of reviewing my Kripalu Yoga Teacher Training notes, I found a little blue index card on which I'd written: "SIGN FROM ABOVE see/hear 3x".

Universe: "Bring more of your study back to yoga."(1)

The next day I was asked to take over a yoga class at a new facility because their best instructor had to give it up. I took this instructor's class the following day and she was AMAZING, incorporating all things yoga in a fun and energetic way. I learned in talking with her that the class would be another large group of dedicated students who are all physically active and fit, which is not the audience I've typically served. While hot power yoga is and has been more my personal practice and style, the idea of taking over for this instructor was (and is) terrifying. 

Universe: "I'm challenging you to become a stronger, more confident yoga instructor." (2)

The day after that, I got a request to sub a yoga class at a nearby gym for every Wednesday night in July and a couple nights in August, which was originally in conflict with my "6 weeks to relaxation" offering. 

Universe: "Share more and more yoga."(3)

Now, all this local, in-person yoga teaching isn't directly in line with my "plan" of building a virtual client base for yoga, meditation, and eating psychology. However, I feel like these opportunities are banging down my door, and that perhaps the Universe is calling me to re-focus on yoga. I decided to continue my studies, and am enjoying going back through my Kripalu yoga training materials and reading a book about Swami Kripalu's life; I am going forward with the new teaching gig, although I'm still working through some of the fear. I decided I'd regret not trying more than I'd regret trying and failing. And, I moved the time of my relaxation program back 30 minutes so I can still offer that while subbing more classes. 

I've noticed more over the past few years that whether it's the beginning or ending of a relationship or a job, there are often 3 things I see or hear that can serve as guidance for me when I don't override my intuition with "clever" thoughts. I'm going to dance with the energy that's coming into my life this time. What's the worst that could happen?

Can you think of a time when the Universe was calling (or warning) you? Did you notice? Did you listen? I'd love to hear your story!

23 June 2014

13 June 2014

30 Days to a Happier & Healthier Me

A mocha latte
As some of you know, starting June 15th I'm facilitating a Facebook group called "30 Days to a Happier & Healthier You Practice". In it, each person decides one habit they'd like to practice encouraging, or one habit they'd like to practice softening. I'm specifically calling this a practice (rather than, for example, a "challenge") because although it may be challenging, it's not intended to be something we beat ourselves up over when we're not perfect at it. The idea is that we support each other, and just keep trying.

Of course as the facilitator of such a group, I have many ideas about what I could do for myself and post about. I have to set an example, right? So my first thought was that I could do anything EXCEPT giving up coffee (again). That would just be too challenging.

A little history of me and coffee: back in the day I was never really into it. I used to have one cup (read, 8 oz) in the morning with a powdered milk substitute. I preferred Dunkin over Starbucks. (Yes, really.) And then something happened--especially after I got a job in the city of Boston--I was surrounded with coffee shops. I got hooked on a morning Starbucks, joining in the morning ritual,  feeling all "Sex and the City". Soon I decided visiting the Boston Common Coffee Co was a better, more local alternative. I started drinking americanos and almond milk lattes. When I moved to Austin, the first thing I did was check out all of the coffee shops I could find. My favorite is Monkey Nest Coffee--where you'll often find me working.

When I'm doing a cleanse, I get off coffee pretty easily. I drink a lot of water, and don't have too many symptoms (e.g. headaches). But I miss it terribly. I miss the imagined comradery with other coffee drinkers. I miss greeting the people who make my drink, take my money, and stamp my frequent visitor card. I miss the ritual. Drinking coffee gives me pleasure; pleasure beyond what comes from the energy boost of the caffeine. (Anyone who's ever shared quarters with me knows I'm generally wide awake and perky somewhere between 5-6 am, even without it.)

So I could do anything but give up coffee as part of this practice. Right? Hmm....

Well truth be told, the group of people who have agreed to participate in this 30 day practice have inspired me. They've inspired me to set an example by being REALISTIC, to set myself up for something challenging enough to require practice but to still be ACHIEVABLE. So for the next 30 days, my practice will be to have one SMALL coffee drink no more than 3 times a week.

As part of this practice I will explore:
  • what it is about drinking coffee that gives me so much pleasure? 
  • how does it "fill me up" emotionally? 
  • what am I afraid will happen if I don't drink it? 
  • what tools can I use to get through times when I'm really craving it? 
  • what needs does drinking coffee fulfill for me? 
  • how can I enjoy working in a coffee shop environment without over-drinking coffee? 
  • what is it I really desire?
It's my belief that we have difficulty changing habits because we focus on the "giving up" part by trying to use willpower. However, the habit represents something that's important to us, so we need to explore the deeper meaning behind the habit first. What are its benefits (even if we do label it as "unhealthy" or "bad")? How does the habit make us feel better, how does it serve us?

Only when we answer these questions will habits soften and perhaps fall away.

I'm ready to explore. I'm ready to practice. And I promise you, I will not be perfect. :-)

I hope you'll join me. See https://www.facebook.com/groups/1430137057252728/.

12 June 2014

2 More Tips for Deep Breathing

Third in a series of breathing videos. In this one, I offer two tips that can help you find more ease in the three-part, diaphragmatic breath. (2mins)


So before we add sound to our long, deep, diaphragmatic breath, there's just a couple things I want to say.

The first is that if you find you have difficulty imagining the breath pouring in from the chest, and then moving down into the rib cage and down into the belly, you can try actually doing the opposite. The first way I learned was actually the opposite direction--so, sometimes it's easier to feel the belly rise and fall with the breath than it is to feel the chest--it might depend on how you breathe normally and naturally. So if you find that it's difficult to sort of imagine that top down, you can just reverse the direction and start feeling the breath from the belly then moving it up into the rib cage, up into the chest as you inhale, and then as you exhale you can imagine it flowing back down. So you can try both directions and see which one works for you. I'm all about experimenting so you can try them both and pick one that you think works better for you.

The second thing I want to say before we add sound to the breath is that you want to think about opening the chest and allowing room for the diaphragm to move. So one of the easier ways that you can play with posture is to just inhale and bring your arms up over your head, lift your chest, relax your shoulders down; imagine as though you're reaching up to the sky. You can look up if it's safe for your neck. And just open up as much as you can and really reach through your fingers. Make sure they're nice and active. And then round yourself forward, imagine as though you're hugging a beach ball. Just kind of rounding the shoulders down, drawing the belly in and up, and then inhale and lift and expand. And as you exhale, round. And do that a couple times and it will just help to open the chest and then you can try the deep breathing again and see if it improves.

Thank you so much!

10 June 2014

Learning to Breathe More Deeply - Part 2

This is the second in a video series I'm releasing this week. Learn the three-part yogic breath, or complete diaphragmatic breath--helps not just in yoga class, but in life! (3mins)


Now that you can sit comfortably and observe the breath in your body, it’s time to invite it to change. In yoga, this is called the three-part  breath.

First, bring your attention to your chest. Feel the chest rise on your inhale, and fall on your exhale. You can envision a balloon in the chest that’s filling up with air as you breathe in, and that’s deflating slightly as you breathe out.

Practice focusing on the breath in you r chest. If it’s helpful, you can even place a hand there, just to remind you. Feel the chest pressing up into the hand, and moving away from the hand slightly. Try not to force.

Next, see if you can expand the idea of the balloon from the breath into the solar plexus, or rib cage area. So as you inhale the breath fills the chest, and it flows down to the rib cage. As you exhale, the breath moves up, from the rib cage to the chest—that balloon deflating. Again, if it’s helpful to place the hands on the chest and the rib cage  you can do so, feeling the breath move in, and move out.
Just practicing these two parts together. That balloon inflating as the breath comes in, and deflating slightly as the breath goes out. Just visualize the balloon, and be careful not to force the breath.

Finally, inflate that balloon from the chest, down into the rib cage, and then into the belly, allowing the belly to really inflate with that breath. As you exhale, draw the navel toward the spine, squeezing the breath out up to the rib cage and up to the rib cage, adding the third of the three parts to the three part breath. Just imagine that balloon rising and falling, inflating and deflating.

If you feel comfortable you can start to imagine the balloon not just at the front of the body, but also at the sides of the waist, the ribs and the chest, and into the back body as well -- all 360 degrees.
Practice this for just a few moments every day, and you’ll find that you can breathe more deeply and fully any time you like.