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Dancing in the Moonlight

MoonlightOnce every three years or so there is a month with two full moons. The second is known as a blue moon. If you’re reading this on July 31st and you go outside right now, you’ll be standing under one.

Astrologers seem less excited about the second-of-the month aspect of today’s full moon than about the moon being in Aquarius. Breakthroughs in the midst of struggles are predicted. You’d do well to pay attention today.

But perhaps you were not even aware that the moon has just gone full. Why is the lunar cycle even important?

I grew up on the south shore of Long Island, on a skinny street between two canals. It was a poorly crafted street which went downhill as you traveled inland from the bay to its lowest point where the two canals dead-ended. When the moon was full, high tide was very high – so high that the ocean spilled over the bulkheads and flooded the street at that low point. If you needed something from the store, you were just going to have to wait a few hours.

Most of us live too cut off from natural phenomenon like moon tides to feel the consequences of the lunar cycle. But that doesn’t mean we should ignore it. The same gravitational pull that affects the tides draws gently of the water in your body. It changes you, in albeit subtle ways. When we start to pay attention – really pay attention – we become aware of those subtle changes.

Yoga is an excellent tool for building subtle awareness of your body. The practice of Chandra Namaskar, the moon salutation, taps into the cyclical nature of the moon while opening the hips, the seat of the second Chakra. The sacral energy center is the home of water energy. Water is changed by the moon. Do you see where this is going? The circling sequence of Chandra Namaskar itself represents the cycle of lunar transformation, the flow and ebb and flow and ebb that is the constant rhythm of life.

Are you tuned into the lunar cycle? Is it time to start exploring the moon’s ever-changing energy again? I’d love to hear from you. Share your comments below!

Keep these 3 things in mind when you try yoga with weights

Arm rotations in tree pose require extra focus.

Arm rotations in tree pose require extra focus.

When I decided to combine my yoga teacher training and personal trainer certification and teach a yoga with weights class, I looked around at the programs out there and couldn’t find one that satisfied me. Instead of taking a training that did not offer everything I was looking for, I created my own. My Earth & Fire: Vinyasa Flow Yoga with Weights classes are structured to be safe and designed to stabilize the core in every pose or movement. I borrowed from yoga, pilates and weight training and built all the moves into a flow.

Unless you live in the eastern Adirondacks in New York, you will need to find a yoga with weights class near you if you want to try it. (Or ask me about doing a session on Skype.) When you take that class, keep these things in mind:

  1. Keep it light. Yes, you should keep your attitude light, but what you really need to do is choose light hand weights. If you’ve never worked with weights before, 1 or 2 pound weights are enough. If you have, pick a weight that is less than you usually lift. When you are holding your arms out with a weight in each hand in Warrior II, you don’t want to be slowly tearing your rotator cuff. Since you’ll have to focus on holding a pose as well as what is going on in your arms, it’s safer to downsize your weights. The weights I offer my classes max out at 5 pounds.
  2. Engage your whole body. As you are pressing weights overhead in Warrior I, is your alignment degrading? The weights are just one part of what’s going on. Ground through your legs and feet and always, always, always use your core muscles. Maintain a neutral pelvis and support the low back by drawing the lower abdominals in and up and tucking your tailbone. Keep the shoulder blades down unless you are targeting their movement. Bring your chin down until your ears are directly above your shoulders and keep the neck as soft as possible. The true challenge of practicing yoga with weights is not the number of reps, but doing those reps without sacrificing your alignment.
  3. Breathe. I know I shouldn’t have to say this, but I have learned from my own practice and observing my students that whenever something new is introduced or the going gets rough, we forget to breathe. When I teach Earth & Fire, all the movements are timed to the breath. That might mean those movements are slow, and that’s okay. First and foremost, keep breathing throughout the practice, and fire up your Ujjayi breath.

I love my yoga with weights practice. The strength training has supported my regular practice by building the muscles that allow me to have fun in inversions and all sorts of balance poses. It’s also great cross-training for the running and hiking I do, and the yoga and weights give me a double-dose of bone density maintenance. Keeping those three things in mind, give a yoga with weights class a try.

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Spin and twist in my “Maypole Vinyasa” yoga flow

Ribbons wrapping around a Maypole

Ribbons wrapping around a Maypole

Happy May Day!

May Day, or Beltane, has a long history. It started as a Celtic fire festival celebrated on or around May 1, and included bonfires, Maypoles, dancing, and plenty of sexual energy. May Day marked the end of winter’s precarious, barren months and the passage into the summer growing season, when flowers bloom and the trees are green. Because the crops were still very young and tender, and susceptible to frost and blight, people did everything in their power to encourage their growth. The celebration and rituals were meant to insure that the warmth of the sun’s masculine energy would promote the fertility of the feminine earth.

My favorite May Day tradition is the Maypole dance. A tall wooden pole was erected with a number of long ribbons attached to the top. Dancers, often young men and women, would each hold the end of a ribbon. Circling the Maypole, men going in one direction and women in the other, the dancers would weave in and out and, as a result, weave the ribbons around the Maypole.

This afternoon I laid my yoga mat out in the space between our fire pit, vegetable beds and the “field” (the empty piece of property that borders ours). To emulate the circular Maypole dance, I created this fun vinyasa flow sequence which blends the masculine energy of Surya Namaskar with the feminine fluidity of Chandra Namaskar. I mixed in an oblique twist in Chatarunga Dandasana and Vasisthasana (side plank) to flow like those ribbons wrapping around the Maypole.

 

Sorry for the shaky video. It turns out ten-year-old boys do not make good tripods.

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Do What You Think You Cannot

“You must do the thing you think you cannot do.”
~Eleanor Roosevelt

The first time I saw AcroYoga was at the Yoga Journal Conference in Estes Park, Colorado, in 2008. I remember watching the performance in the video below and being blown away by the grace and power.

I also remember being pretty sure I would never be able to practice AcroYoga.

Fast forward almost five years and I now can make a good, long list of things I thought I couldn’t do that I’ve gone ahead and done anyway. The interesting thing about doing what you think you cannot is that once you do a few of those things, all the other ones seem much more possible.

(Hello, third Chakra.)

So, after watching AcroYoga videos with my yoga teacher trainees over lunch one day, I responded to their interest by saying, “I’ll try to set up an AcroYoga workshop here.” Never mind that I didn’t actually know anyone who teaches AcroYoga or if anyone would want to come to our little town. That’s what Facebook is for, right?

I connected with Catherine and Scott of Team WillCo. They made the trip. They are awesome AcroYoga teachers. And we had a great afternoon.

Remember how I thought I wouldn’t be able to practice AcroYoga? I’ve got another thing to add to my list of things I’ve gone ahead and done anyway. At the end of the workshop the word that popped into my head was “wow.”

My body is amazing. After many years of practicing yoga it still takes me to new places. Yoga gives me opportunities to be a confident beginner – to open to something new and sometimes scary knowing that whatever happens I can breathe through it. Fifteen years ago I breathed through my first Vinyasa class. Today it was inverting with my shoulders resting on someone’s knees.

This is why I begin every class I teach with pranayama. If someone is on their yoga mat and focusing on their breath, I’ve done my job. Yes, I’ll guide my class through asanas, but those are just opportunities to practice breathing. Oh, and to discover what their bodies can do, which is probably more than they think they can.

If you’ve been telling yourself that you cannot practice yoga, ask yourself this: “Can I breathe in? Can I breathe out?” (If you’re reading this, you can.) Then come see me, or a yoga teacher who serves your community, and do what you think you cannot.

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