Tag Archives: Todd Vogt

Rushing to Relax

Every sane person recognizes the ridiculous contradiction involved with rushing to relax, and yet the contradiction can ensnare us all. We know the hazards of stress, and we have experienced great relief through practicing yoga, and so we often spend some portion of our day blitzing toward our hour and a half of tranquility on the safe haven of our yoga mat. We know stress is unhealthy and we know that yoga helps, but in today’s rat race how can we attune ourselves at work, or in the car, or when communicating with our family, so that we don’t end up rushing tired and anxious to the mat for relief?

I recently found myself caught in this contradiction while driving to the Wanderllust Festival for ten days of yoga bliss in Squaw Valley, Northern California. We left a day early in an attempt to reduce potential stressors­– two tweens and an eighteen-month-old baby were sure to provide enough of that. In spite of our efforts, however, a drive that map-quested at 11.5 hours and started out as a conscious act of tranquility ended 38 blood-boiling hours later.

Somewhere between fixing a flat tire in 100 degrees on the I5 shoulder and breaking the bad news to the family that I’d driven us 2.5 hours in the wrong direction, I became acutely aware of my biggest folly yet. I had been rushing to relax! I started wondering: How did this happen? Why is it happening to me? When did I loose mindfulness? Although I had become aware of my contradiction, how could I pull myself out now? My body ached for the harmonious mat moments, which felt like they would never come.

Stress is a dense fog that clouds your head. It stuffs your brain with life’s dirty laundry; it fires your eyes with mirages like heat evaporating on a desert road; you contract and suffocate as if encoiled by a python. Your breath shortens, your blood pressure rises, your palms sweat, your vision fogs, your thoughts dull–the tension engulfs you, chokes you in its deadly grip. How can you ever escape? I credit my all my teachers of both yoga and life for honing my consciousness to a degree that lets me sometimes find my way to a pinhole of clarity in the haze of stress.

The asana practice is essential for attuning to a sense of self free from the drama of circumstances that life throws at us. Each of us is composed of layer upon layer of identity. On the surface, we are sensitive, vulnerable, and reactive to all that occurs around and inside us. This is good, as it allows us to engage fully in relationships. And although it’s often intense, it is always good to be alive.

Deeper into the core of our being there is an observer, a self that can even witness our own reactions. Times of stress offer a blessing in disguise–a potent moment of opportunity to experience a deep sense of self and a radical opening to the world. Imagine coming home to see your house empty of all your belongings–your T.V., stereo, couch, everything! Right before you freak out, there will be a sacred moment of tranquility. You will look around in absolute disbelief, in awe! This is the blessing. Hold to it, stay with it. Steady yourself for the rush. Observe your blood pressure and body temperature rising, listen to your ears ring, and watch your vision narrow. The emotion of stress floods your experience, and you can watch it all happen. What a wild ride!

Here’s another exercise: In meditation, you will have thoughts. If you want to acquaint yourself with these deeper layers of identity, try observing yourself having your thought. If you really want to venture deep into the nature of your consciousness, try observing the observer of your thought. This exercise of consciousness will expand your mind and help you become more aware amidst the whirlwind of life. The object is not to create an inner shelter for worldly withdrawal, but to learn to open fully into any given experience while holding steady to a deeper sense of identity; one that is actually free of the haze and pain that it brings. We don’t want to thicken our skin and we don’t want to lose our consciousness. We want to be sensitive and aware.

In a challenging yoga pose, the intensity will swell just as it does in life. We actually do this to ourselves on purpose! We create these moments of inflated stress on the yoga mat because they are pregnant with opportunity to rehearse our reactions. Each pose is a question: freak out and withdraw, or open fully into the experience? Say yes to life, or say no? We are so free that we even get this choice.

Usually, with stress, we feel we have good cause to give up and lose control. Look on the bright side. The essence of Tantra says ,”It’s good to be alive.” It’s literally out of goodness that we’re having this human experience even when it appears bad. To remember that we’re lucky to be alive, even when we’re going through a tough time, puts things in the proper context. The ego loves drama, and it will take something very small and turn it into an edge-of-your-seat emotional thrill ride if we allow it. Think of your death, and seriously weigh the gravity of this situation against the weight of that inevitable drama. Thus, you will give your ego a reality-check and help prepare yourself for a beautiful surrender in the end.

The mystery of life unfolding is too complex to understand from our limited individual perspective. Who knows what events the delay may have saved from. Had we arrived earlier, maybe an earthquake, a tsunami, a bomb… We may never know, and our fates are too interconnected ever to tease apart into us individual cause and effect. I will say this, however: with time comes a larger perspective on events unfolding. Our final breakdown occurred thirty minutes south of Truckee. Thankfully we had a couple of good friends there who came to our rescue. They gladly picked us up and, after some good conversation, delivered us to our destination one hour before our first class. Now, as I write this, it gives me chills to say that this meeting was the last time I will ever see one of these good friends. He drowned in a kayaking accident two days ago. My memories of his vibrant face smiling in the sun on the day he came to our rescue are vivid. I am grateful to the universe for the delay and for delivering us to this final moment and memory. I am grateful for the practice of yoga for delivering me from the fog of stress so that I could be present for it.

SourceURL:file://localhost/Users/toddvogt/Desktop/STRETCH%20YOUR%20BODY/Blogs/Rushing%20to%20Relax%20revised%20ending.doc

To open ourselves to whatever the universe is throwing at us in the way of circumstance, emotion, and even difficulty; this is the practice. Doing yoga is surrendering to spirit as it manifests itself in any given moment and skillfully merging our individual intentions with the larger intention of the universe. When we are in the flow of the larger energy of spirit, it pulls into places more magical and joyful than we could ever have imagined. It is frightening and requires an effort that is not commonly considered effort – an effort of surrender, an effort of opening. This is what is meant by Open to Grace.

-Todd Vogt

Pose of the Month: Setu Bandha Sarvangasana

July brings us a new pose of the month- Setu Bandha Sarvangasana, or, Bridge Pose (setu = dam, dike or bridge, bandha = lock). This is a great pose for yogis in all stages of practice, and the benefits are extensive. Anatomically, Bridge focuses on the neck and shoulders and in women, the uterus. The chest, neck and spine are stretched, while the abdominal organs, lungs and thyroid are stimulated. The pose can also alleviate stress, improve digestion and rejuvenate tired legs. Here are some tips to help you get into Bridge:

  • Lie on your back, and if necessary, use a blanket under your shoulders to support the neck. Bend your knees with your feet on the floor, keeping the heels close to the sitting bones
  • As you exhale, actively press your inner feet and arms into the floor, pull the tailbone up toward the pubic bone, and lift the buttocks until the things are about parallel to the floor. Engage your thighs and inner feet to keep them parallel
  • Keep the knees over the heels and press them forward away from the head, lengthening the tailbone
  • Keep your arms on the floor or clasp the hands below your pelvis and extend, allowing you to rest on the top of the shoulders
  • Lift your chin slightly away from the sternum and firm and broaden the shoulder blades against your back. You should feel the space between them lift up into the torso
  • Stay in the pose anywhere from 30 seconds to 1 minute. Release with an exhalation, rolling the spine slowly down onto the floor.

For an added challenge, try lifting a leg until perpendicular to the torso and repeat on the opposite side. Sliding a block under the sacrum can provided added support and increase the restorative properties of the pose. Use caution if you have a neck injury and if you have any questions, be sure to ask an instructor.

Photo Source: http://yogajournal.com


Inner Spiral -with Chris Calarco

Sunday  was Father’s Day and even though some of us were not able to spend it with our dads, we were lucky enough to set our intentions for them in the Anusara class led by Chris Calarco. The practice felt particularly special that morning- maybe it was because we were getting to share our gratitude for life with a room full of yogis who also have fathers that helped them get to where they are today. Or maybe it was because Chris’s parents were visiting from the East Coast and were in class with us, beaming with obvious pride and love for their son. Or perhaps it was the deeply personal and insightful guidance given by Chris himself. Using the principle of Inner Spiral as a theme, he led us through an inspiring physical practice while sharing his struggles and triumphs with his own Inner Spiral. This principle has had such an effect on Chris he wrote a piece about it and graciously shared some of his writing in class.

(Picture from http://chriscalarcoyoga.com/)

His message has become widely popular (!Go Chris!), and can be read on the Wanderlust Blog page  among others.

So for those who were in Chris’s class yesterday and want to be inspired by the whole article, or those curious about Anusaras 3rd principle of alignment,  please enjoy Chris’s story below 🙂

And take a minute to check out his website (http://chriscalarcoyoga.com/) which has details about the upcoming July 23rd Yoga Groove- a class that unites yoga and music, with a dance party to follow. Mark your calendars, you won’t want to miss this party!

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I had been practicing yoga regularly for about 5 years…

I was certified to teach Vinyasa and loved the feeling in body and mind yoga produced. I thought of this feeling as a combination of exhaustion and exhilaration. I sought it out whenever I could fit my practice into life as a child psychotherapist. However, without warning, my motivation to practice fell off the face of the earth as I lost my way. For almost 9 months my whole being shifted and I lost touch with my body, my friends and my practice. Even before yoga came to an abrupt halt I had gradually, and unconsciously, migrated away my first teachers and their studio. I hadn’t found a new studio per se but lived as more of a yoga vagabond, wandering from studio to studio with my head down, practicing hard and then quickly getting out the door. I wasn’t a very social yogi. Around the time I became a nomad, my teacher’s, Annie Adamson and Todd Vogt of Yoga Union in Portland, Oregon, were beginning to integrate Anusara Yoga’s 5 Universal Principles of Alignment into their classes during their process of training.

Upon deep self-reflection, a hefty dose of depression, and a lot of help I finally returned to the mat, making a massively liberating decision to commit myself fully to the practice and teaching of yoga. As I became reacquainted with my body I soon found myself bound and stuck in common poses like Trikonasana (Triangle) and Utthitha Parsvokonasa (Extended Side Angle). I was disappointed that after 5 years, even given the layoff, I remained shallow in my Triangle with bottom hand just below my knee. Athletic but never super flexible I felt a sense of resignation, as if I had reached my edge in asana practice and I would not grow. I knew I could always access the good feeling after a class but deep inside this was not enough, I longed for much more. I wanted access to advanced poses, I wanted to increase my strength and flexibility but most of all I yearned to change my habits of mind and magnify my life from within. I left yoga because of depression and was determined to make a resonant and permanent change.

I scheduled a private lesson with Annie and expressed my frustration with Triangle and Extended Side Angle. Quickly, I found Anusara’s third principle of alignment was going to be my new intimate dance partner. Inner Spiral is an “energy spiral” thought of as a refinement of the body’s alignment in all yoga postures. The spiral begins on the inner edges of the feet and widens as it moves upward toward the pelvis and outer edges of the waistline. Inner Spiral turns the front of the legs and pelvis inward, towards the midline. It moves the inner edges of the feet, legs, and pelvis backward as the inner heels, inner knees, and inner thighs flow back. These actions also broaden the legs and pelvis apart. Inner Spiral’s key words are “In”, “Back”, and “Wide”. Physically, this manifests an increased healthy curve in the lower lumbar spine and the sitting bones press out. Renowned teacher Sianna Sherman often half-jokes that one of Anusara’s secret principals is “when in doubt, stick it out”.

Importantly, Inner Spiral requires the engagement of its partner principle, Muscle Energy (Anusara’s second principle), to be radically transformative. When the muscles of the legs are engaged and we actively make them flow “In”, “Back”, and “Wide” there is integration throughout the entire lower body that creates vibrantly new ripples of freedom in the groins, hamstrings, and lower back. Within the first ten minutes of my private with Annie I looked into the mirror and was astounded. I did not recognize the person in Triangle pose. My stance was wider and more stable, my bottom hand was on the floor (Hallelujah!), and I felt a lusciously deep stretch in my groins and lower back. Now I had to begin working with Inner Spiral and all five principles in every pose! The work had beautifully just begun.

In Anusara’s methodology, each Universal Principle of Alignment is associated with one of earth’s natural elements. Inner Spiral is like water. Just as rivers flow naturally, nurturing the surrounding land, Inner Spiral watered the seed of each asana inside my body. With active engagement, Inner Spiral created a new sense of liquid depth in me and in turn granted access to the freedom and revelation l longed for. I no longer am a yoga vagabond as I have found a home inside my body and with Annie and Todd at Yoga Union. I am expanding my limits, working at my edge, and nailing postures I never imagined. Inner Spiral has literally blasted me open to the new possibilities that are always available if we align heart, body, and mind. For me, the body came first, and the others soon followed suit. Feeling extraordinarily liberated and full of deep gratitude for my fellow yogis, teachers and this system of yoga, the journey continues. Inner Spiral changed my life and it can change yours.

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A little about the author….

Chris has been practicing yoga for the past six years and has recently begun teaching in Portland, Oregon. He has been listening to music since Poison overtook his heart at age 12. Yoga and music, yoga and music, yoga and music! Jai!

Nataraj, the Cosmic Dancer

Have you had a chance to check out the statue, or “Murti”, in the front of the bamboo room at Yoga Union?  Perhaps you’re like me and you’ve used it as your focal point during a difficult balance sequence but don’t know much about it. In order to appreciate more than just the beauty of the murti itself, I asked Todd to answer a few questions about the dancing deity he chose for his studio.
Q: Who and what is being depicted?
A: The statue or “Murti” depicts Shiva in his form as Nataraj, the cosmic dancer. Shiva is divine consciousness and his dance, called the Ananda Tandava or “blissful dance”, creates the entire universe. The symbolism reveals to us that the universe is a divinely blissful dance of consciousness in which no individual is separate. We are both engaged in the dance, as Shiva is, and we are also the dance itself.
Q: What made you choose this particular statue?
A: The sheer beauty of it is honestly what first drew me to the Nataraja.
Q: What significance does it hold for you and the studio as a whole?
A: This particular depiction of Shiva is probably the most relative to yogis who practice “asana” or physical yoga poses. The statue has movement and life in it. In fact, it is actually placed in a yoga pose, so it’s a good fit for the yoga studio. The symbolism it presents also has a lot to teach us about being graceful in our practice. Shiva’s standing on one foot atop a dwarf who symbolizes our ego. It is this ego that keeps us small by insisting we aren’t worthy, don’t have enough, aren’t ready yet, or haven’t earned the right to be all that we can be. Here we learn here what’s required is to squash that limiting voice in our head and to transform the ego from a problem, as Shiva did the dwarf, into the actual stage we dance all over. The other foot is the graceful upturned foot which symbolizes revelation- that through yoga we embody the power of grace and our true nature is revealed; joy, goodness, delight, fun. We are never more ourselves than in that enrapturing moment of blissful dance; when we’re in the zone so to speak.
Q: What do you want your students to gain from it?
A: Primarily that life is a dance and that like all dance, it’s primary purpose is to delight in life.
Q: Any other fun facts in regards to Nataraj?
A: One of our teachers, John Friend (Anusara Yoga founder), has called his tour this year “Dancing with the divine.”

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If you’re interested in learning more about Shiva, the link below has some great information:

http://www.religionfacts.com/hinduism/deities/shiva.htm

Sun Salute!

 

Summer in Portland is… unbeatable. When the sun comes out, the streets fill with smiles, exposed flesh and the smell of backyard BBQs. An open patio seat is hard to find and bodies lay strewn about in parks- victims of the Vitamin D assault. We even seem to forget the 8 months of incessant rain that only just stopped yesterday. It’s on these glorious days that it can sometimes be a challenge to take our bodies out of the sun and into the studio. So instead of compromising one for the other, why not take your practice outside? Yoga is, after all, about unity. When it’s practiced in nature, your connection to the universe may feel more readily available and your sense of awareness will have room to grow and evolve.

Outdoor yoga exposes the senses to external stimuli that otherwise may be missed while indoors. Rather then letting the elements become a distraction, try using them to enhance your experience- a light wind can bring you back to your breath, the feel of the sun on your face may inspire you to open the heart just that much more, and a newly opened flower can provide the perfect focal spot while you invite stillness in.

One especially difficult aspect of practicing outside is uneven terrain. But instead of getting frustrated or disengaging, is it possible to use the challenge to cultivate patience and acceptance? Experiment with grass, sand and soil, mat or no mat, and feel the different muscles engage with each. Enjoy the elements between your toes.

Being outside can also help you connect with your poses on a deeper level. “By putting your body into the shape of a tree or a stretching cat, by exploring the graceful wingspan of a bird or the fluidity of the Sun Salute, by breathing with the same cyclical sense as the tides or with an ocean sound, you evoke a sense of harmony, timelessness, and connection to the universe,” says Jane Jarecki, a Kripalu Yoga teacher at Evolution Physical Therapy and Yoga in Vermont.

There are several options for taking your practice outside. Perhaps you start alone, doing a few simple poses in Laurelhurst park while taking your dog for a walk. Maybe that evolves into a group of you and your friends meeting at Mt. Tabor for a sunrise session and picnic breakfast.  Or maybe you go for the ultimate outdoor yoga experience and sign up to join Yoga Union on their epic adventure to Wanderlust this July (http://squaw.wanderlustfestival.com/home)!

Speaking of Mt. Tabor, we plan to meet on the top of the hill for a rejuvenating hour of yoga in the park. Bike, drive, walk or roller skate yourself and your mat to the top of of Mt Tabor at 3:00pm on Sunday, June 26th. We will be up on the hill with light refreshments (with $5-$10 donation) and open hearts, as we bring yoga out into the community for the first time this summer.

Whatever way you choose, enjoy the experience and revel in the beauty nature provides us. And don’t forget your sunscreen!

Happy yoga-ing!

Information from:
http://www.yogajournal.com

Be Human, Stay Human

Are you tired of schlepping your yoga clothes all over town in your purse? Does your mat fall out of your backback while you’re cruising down Burnside on your bike? Do you wear the same t-shirt to class, regardless of if it made it in the wash or not? Have you neglected to treat yourself to something nice, even though you definitely deserve it? And do you dig using products that are organic, sustainable and recycled?
If you answered yes! to any or all of the above questions, we recommend checking out the awesome bags, clothing and accessories created by Stay Human, a company by Michael Franti and Carla Swanson.

According to the founders, the product line was inspired by yoga and a desire to cultivate a “stay human lifestyle”. They guarantee that throughout each stage of construction, ethical, humanitarian and environmental practices are utilized and 10% of all proceeds are donated to the Bumi Sehat Natural Birthing Clinic in Indonesia and the Hunter’s Point Family in San Francisco. Check out these sites for more information on the causes:
http://www.stayhumanstore.com/
http://bumisehatbali.org 
http://hunterspointfamily.com 

Yoga Union is happy to offer several of the Stay Human products in our own studio, ranging from tanks with built in bras, to bags made for the yogi-on-the-go.

 Our favorite bag, made from organic hemp, doubles as both a carry-all for your daily life (including a change of clothes!), and as a stylish yet functional way to carry your mat.

If you want something smaller, traditional tube-style yoga bags are available in eye-catching prints, assuring you’ll never forget your bag in the locker room again (or at least not as often ).

There are several pant and top styles for both men and women, and if you can’t find your size or favorite color in the studio, the website makes online ordering a breeze.
For women, we are loving the simple, comfortable feel of the Womens Eco Heather Cropped Pant, which can just as easily be worn to the grocery store as to the studio.

For the men, check out the Downward Dog t-shirt, made from 100% organic cotton. The illustration is beautiful and may even help you mindfully get into the pose.

Or maybe you’re searching for the perfect gift for someone you love? This beautiful bracelet would look great on anyone, and since the eco-silver is reclaimed from
film, cellphones and computers, you can feel good knowing you’ve done your part to support a company focused on reducing their environmental impact.

Everyone Yoga!

How old were you when you began your yoga practice? Do you ever wish you had found yoga at an earlier age? Many parents in cities across the country are encouraging their children to explore yoga and its teachings earlier, and classes taught for kids are becoming increasingly more popular. Yoga can be a wonderful way for children to learn how to calm the mind, exercise the body and appreciate the inner strengths and resources of every individual.

While some research has been done on the effects of yoga on children, definitive results are limited. However, there are several speculated benefits and many of them include the same advantages adults receive from a regular practice. Here’s just a few of the ways getting your child involved in yoga could help them later in life-

*Improved attention, concentration and promotion of emotional and self-control. Mindfulness is one of the greatest teachings of yoga. Exploring and developing mindfulness within yoga can be especially helpful for children with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) with one study reporting a reduction in mood swings, temper outbursts and crying fits.
*Improved ability to plan and carry-out complex brain functions. Research suggests that yoga increases blood flow to the frontal lobe of the brain, which results in a faster realization and correction of errors. This can be especially helpful during standardized tests given in schools.
*Improved strength and flexibility of muscles. Besides the obvious benefits of being strong and flexible, strengthening the muscles allows for an increase in circulation which results in an uptake of oxygen and hormones. This allows the parasympathetic nervous system (the “Rest and Digest” component of our brain) to take over. What does that mean? Reduced stress! And also an increased resistance to its effects later on.
*Decreased depression and anxiety. Research shows that people who practice yoga regularly have increased levels (sometimes as much as 27%!) of neurotransmitter y-aminobutyric acid (GABA) which is known to elevate mood. Starting yoga early can help young children develop and maintain positive outlooks on life.

If you’re considering yoga for your child,  it’s important to find the right learning environment for the development of foundations that will be used throughout a lifetime. The focus should be more on the cultivation of compassion and acceptance, as well as the connection between breath and postures, than on competition or perfection of poses (this is true for adults as well! But sometimes easy to forget ). Do your research before enrolling your child, and develop a relationship with the instructor.  Communicate with your child and make sure yoga classes are fun and that they are enjoying the experience. Some studios offer joint parent/child classes where you can practice together. This can be a great way to introduce them to yoga with you there to guide, support and offer encouragement.

Information received from:

http://74.125.155.132/scholar?q=cache:saHeUCq-eKoJ:scholar.google.com/+yoga+for+children&hl=en&as_sdt=0,38

Below are some resources for additional information on yoga for children.
Namaste!

http://www.yogajournal.com/lifestyle/210
http://moveyogastudio.com/