Your Personal Yoga Practice

(Or what yoga teachers aren’t telling you about finding your personal yoga)

If you are serious about yoga at all, I can’t emphasize enough how important it is to develop your own personal yoga practice. It’s even more necessary if you’re a frequent traveler, because you can’t rely on consistency from a studio.

There are only so many yoga teachers and Youtube channels you can follow before you find yourself at the heart of the matter: you need to know your own body to find your best practice.

 

Yoga should be personalized.

Sri. T Krishnamacharya, the father of modern hatha yoga, emphasized the importance of teaching to the individual. For yoga teachers, this means knowing your students’ posture, susceptibilities, and habits, in order to know the best poses for them. Everyone’s body is different, and every day is different from the day before.

This is why certain “styles” of yoga that have branched off from hatha can be problematic. For styles like ashtanga or Bikram (which is problematic for another, http://nypost.com/2017/05/25/arrest-warrant-issued-for-bikram-yoga-founder/worse reason), students are required to do the same poses in the same order every time. This is not at all tailored to individual bodies and needs. Practicing yoga in this way greatly limits the full range of benefits one can achieve through a yoga practice.

 

Where group classes fall short

 Even for those of us who practice more customizable hatha/vinyasa yoga, if you’re expecting to get as much out of yoga as possible from a big group class in 60-minute segments at your local studio, you’re going to be disappointed.

For beginners, yes, it’s valuable to have a teacher who can look at you and correct your alignment. But in practice, this doesn’t often happen in large studio classes. There are too many people and too many poses to be able to ensure that every student is properly engaged at all times.

The problem is exacerbated if you’re a frequent traveler, visiting new yoga studios in foreign countries. The teacher has no time to get to know you, and may not even speak your same language. Even worse is trying to rely on Youtube yoga channels to help you get your daily practice in.

 

Only you know you.

When it comes down to it, alignment actually comes from within. It comes from the muscles that you’re engaging and the sensations you’re feeling.

Only you can know that about yourself. Only you can connect that intimately with your body.

So, rather than relying on studios or Youtube, you want to be a person who wakes up early in the morning and flows through your own beautiful, personalized practice before you even have a cup of coffee, perfectly preparing you for your day.

 

What you need to know to get started.
1. Start with your breath

Connecting with the breath is the most important thing in yoga. Luckily, the breath cues that we use as yoga teachers are actually so intuitive!

Yoga teachers tend to tell you just what pose to do on your inhale, what pose to do on your exhale, without ever mentioning the “why.” If you’ve ever wondered why we inhale for certain poses, and exhale for others, there is actually a really simple way to know.

Yogatrotter Backbend

Inhale. Think of the natural movement of your body when you breathe. When we inhale, the lungs expand, causing the abdomen to rise—collarbones broaden, ribcage expands, belly inflates. So in yoga, we inhale for poses that expand the chest and abdomen, making more room for the lungs, and allowing us to take our fullest possible inhalation. Think:  backbends and heart openers.

 

Exhale. Likewise, for poses that restrict the space in the abdomen (which would make it harder for the lungs to expand), we exhale. By exhaling for poses that compress the chest and abdomen, we effectively help to press the air from the lungs, allowing for the most complete exhalation. So, exhale for forward folds, lateral bends, and twists.

The exhale is also a relaxing breath (think of it like a sigh), so if we’re trying to deepen a stretch or find a restorative pose, we do so on the exhale.

There’s a lot more that goes into yoga breathing that we cover in our Yogatrotter courses.

 

 

2. Learn your body

If you want to find your personal yoga practice, you also need to get to know your body intimately. Meditation is probably the best way to do this.

Meditate. “Body scanning” or, in the Buddhist tradition, vipassana, uses a technique that asks you to feel every part of your body, inside and out, physically and energetically, while seated in meditation. We observe every sensation, every sense, every emotion, and every thought as they are felt within the body, without judgment. Through this method, over time, we can become more aware and mindful of our bodies’ needs.

Align. To know your body’s best alignment, you also need to be super aware of your posture. Most chronic pain that we develop outside of yoga is caused by the way we sit or stand—typically hunched over a computer, or squished into airplane seats. When you bring this improper postural alignment to the mat, combined with a failure to engage the proper muscles in poses, you’re not only likely bound for injury, but you aren’t getting the full benefit of a yoga practice. Once we understand the patterns that we habitually form in our lives, we can work to counteract them in our personal yoga practices.

Yogatrotter Yoga and Meditation

3. Know your asana

Lastly, of course, you need to know some poses (asana), and their benefits to your body. When you have an understanding of the “why” behind each posture, you’ll be able select poses that help the specific problems, pains, and limitations that you’re feeling.

When you commit to a personal yoga practice, in time, your body will intuitively flow into the varied poses that it needs to get you through the day in comfort and peace.

 

Sign up to receive updates about Yogatrotter’s upcoming Straight Talk Yoga Basics course. It goes way more in depth about all of these topics and more, so you can start building your personal yoga practice right away.

 

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Yogatrotter for the Digital Nomad Life

A Case for the Digital Nomad Life

“Instead of wondering when your next vacation is, maybe you should set up a life you don’t need to escape from.” – Seth Godin, on the digital nomad life

 

I can’t even count the number of mornings I’ve woken up here in Bali, stepped outside, breathed the air, and been filled with an overwhelming sense of joy. It’s been 5 months since I moved to Canggu, and “I LOVE BALI!” is still something I say aloud daily.

 

It’s a feeling I think most people can relate to—but not usually in the place where they live. Picture your favorite vacation spot. Maybe it’s some coastal town, or somewhere with ancient history that moves you. Remember how your heart swells with the sights and sounds of the place? How you feel that sense of belonging, that yearning to stay and be comfortable there, to call that place your own? Has the place where you live ever given you that intense feeling of happiness?

 

Morning practice in Canggu

 

I remember as a kid, on vacation in Long Beach Island, New Jersey, seeing how happy my whole family was just to hear the crashing waves and smell the salty air, and thinking, “Why don’t we just live here? We are so happy here!” Year after year my parents would wistfully talk about buying a vacation home there. But something always stopped them.

 

Why do we stop ourselves from living in the place of our daydreams? So often it’s fear of the unknown that holds us back, but it’s exactly that (the unknown) that should be propelling us forward. There’s a huge world out there to discover.

 

Lifestyle of the Digital Nomad

The modern workplace is changing. More and more people are “working from home” — so who says “home” has to be the same place you’ve always been stuck? I’ve had friends take jobs where they can work “remotely,” and they choose to work from the kitchen table of their tiny apartment. It sounds great at first; home is cozy and familiar. But after a few months, they feel so trapped! Without an office and coworkers, they aren’t socializing enough. They start to feel claustrophobic and stuck. But they hated their 9-5 office job, so really, what’s the answer?

 

It exists, and it’s a growing movement.

 

My daily work commute when I teach at Santosha Yoga Institute teacher trainings in Nusa Lembongan, Bali. Shoes not necessary.

 

Digital nomads travel and explore the world, while working form any setting they choose — a café in Venice, a beachfront bar in Sri Lanka, or one of innumerable coworking spaces that are opening up all around the world for this exact reason. Two women  I was fortunate enough to meet here in Canggu were just featured in Forbes for their business, which teaches young women how to create this life for themselves. It’s real, and it’s attainable.

 

Something that I talk about a lot to my yoga students is happiness. We all have a baseline happiness that remains relatively stable throughout our lives. Tragic events (the death of a loved one, for example) may lower that level of happiness temporarily, just as short-term joys (buying a new car, your wedding) may temporarily elevate it, but in the end, we plateau back at our baseline. But there are a few things we can do to permanently elevate that baseline, making us overall happier. The most well-documented is helping others (a big part of yoga.) Many have found meditation to do the same. I would add to the list: travel, or moving to the place that makes your heart sing.

 

Yogatrotter for World Travelers

 

Yoga and the Digital Nomad

Of course, the digital nomad lifestyle isn’t always easy. You’re now navigating new cultures, languages, and experiences far from the comforts of home. When I was living in Japan, there were days when I’d walk out of the grocery store nearly in tears, frustrated by the lack of familiarity. Or the time I thought my Japanese language skills were really improving, until I accidentally bought tickets for a baseball game 10 hours away, instead of at my home team’s stadium.

 

But some of us live for these kinds of challenges. And for all the difficulties that arise, yoga and meditation are a huge factor in overcoming and enjoying them. When we meditate and connect with ourselves, it allows us to better connect with others, across cultures and language barriers. When we practice yoga, we can counteract the habitual patterns formed by our work and travel lives (squished in airports, planes, and hotel rooms, working hunched over laptops) to achieve our healthiest, happiest bodies.

 

If you agree, sign up to receive updates from Yogatrotter—we’re hard at work putting out guides to help digital nomads build and maintain their own personal yoga practice, wherever they may roam. Your yoga and meditation can and should follow you around the world—so start moving 🙂
With joy and love,

Megan

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Rebrand Alert! Welcome to Yogatrotter

Exciting news! Vinyawesome Yoga has undergone a re-brand, and is now Yogatrotter.com.

 

The same yoga and meditation guides you rely on to succeed in business, now tailored to working travelers and digital nomads. This means added guides for finding the best ways to practice while abroad, and maintaining your personal practice through ever-changing landscapes.

 

Thanks for sticking with us through the re-brand! We’ll be pumping awesome content soon.

 

Love and light,

Megan

 

 

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Bodhi Tree at Bali Usada's Forest Island. Silent Meditation Retreat in Bali. Vinyawesome Yoga

What to Expect On A Silent Meditation Retreat

I just got back from my first ever silent meditation retreat. Seven days in the jungle of Bali, meditating for 9 hours a day, without speaking to anyone.

 

It was bliss, and it was torture.

 

Bali Usada is a style of meditation developed by the Balinese healer, Pak Merta Ada. It combines three ancient traditions – focused concentration, body scanning, and loving kindness meditation – to achieve a sharp, harmonious mind, heal the body, and purify negative thoughts and reactions. With this style of meditation, people have cured everything from cancer, to high blood pressure, to depression. It’s astonishing. And the best way to delve into it is 7 days of silence.

 

Outside of Bali, vipassana retreats are becoming common, and have a similar model: 10 day residential retreats where you avoid all communication and delve deep inside yourself.

 

Most people have probably never gone a full day without using their vocal cords. And they certainly haven’t spent so many hours with no distraction from their thoughts – no cell phones, no computers, no reading, writing, speaking, smoking, or drinking. Just silence.

 

If you’re wondering why anyone would ever do this, think of it as training. Imagine how good you could get at anything if you were forced to do it for 10 hours undistracted every day for a week. The resulting feelings of calmness and focus are unparalleled by anything else I’ve done in my life.

 

Think you’re ready to take the plunge? Here’s what you can expect.

 

Bali Usada Silent Meditation Retreat Vinyawesome Yoga

10 Things That Will Definitely Happen During Your Silent Meditation Retreat

 

  1. The pain will be excruciating

I don’t say this to scare you. It’s just a fact. The first few days are intense. I’ve been sitting for short meditations a few times a week for years. But if you try to run a marathon after only ever jogging around the block, it’s going to hurt. Eventually though, you find yourself growing more and more comfortable and less focused on physical sensation.

 

  1. You’ll wonder why everyone is so serious/angry

It turns out, resting meditation face is basically resting jerk face. We’re predisposed to think people with serious faces avoiding our eye contact are mean people. On the last full day of my retreat, when the silence was lifted, it wasn’t the talking that brightened the atmosphere, it was seeing everyone’s smiles for the first time.

 

  1. You’ll relish the lack of small talk

It is seriously a luxury to not have to think of something to say to the stranger at the dinner table across from you.

 

  1. You’ll think you’re in Zombieland

When everyone is walking with “mindfulness” (ie. slowly and carefully placing each step), looking at their feet, not speaking—at some point you’ll take a step back and observe, and you’ll feel like you’re on Shutter Island.

 

  1. You’ll start to eat really slowly

When you spend hours focusing on concentration and mindfulness, you realize how un-mindful your eating probably is. About two days into the course, I noticed my tendency to prepare the next bite on my fork before I’ve really tasted the one in my mouth. So I started putting my fork down in between each bite, and chewing for a disturbing length of time.

 

  1. Nature becomes really loud

Granted, my retreat was in the jungle, but bugs are loud! You don’t notice until you make yourself quiet.

 

  1. You’ll realize how repetitive your thoughts are

About once a day, every day, the thought crossed my mind that my husband might have gotten into a motorbike accident. About three times a day, I wondered what we’d be served for the next meal. And about 80 times a day I stressed about how many people I’d forgotten to tell that I’d be out of contact for a week.

 

  1. Your dreams will become vivid

After living alone in your head with just your ideas, unsurprisingly, your thoughts and visualizations get a lot sharper and more vivid, and this carries over into your sleep.

 

  1. You’ll feel like you’re spending time with an old friend

To sit with yourself in silence is such an incredible gift, because you truly get to know yourself again.

 

  1. You’ll feel an overwhelming sense of calm

The biggest benefit of the silent retreat was the sense of calm that was cultivated throughout week. The racing mind slowed down. The heart opened and relaxed. All was calm.

Bali Usada Forest Island Samadiyukti Silent Meditation Retreat Center. Vinyawesome Yoga
While the experience itself is eye-opening, you’ll be happy to go home. And integrating back into functioning, speaking society means you’ll feel the lasting benefits of your retreat even more intensely. Here’s what makes it all worthwhile.

 

5 After-Effects of Your Silent Meditation Retreat

 

  1. You’ll break your reliance on technology

When we got our phones back on the eve of the last day, a few students decided to wait until the very end to turn them back on, because the freedom from screens felt so sweet. After the retreat, I found I’d lost interest in most social media and started reaching for my phone far less.

 

  1. You’ll choose your words more carefully

The first yoga class I taught after I returned from the retreat was one of my best. I felt my absolute calmest and most attuned to the students. The words flowed through me from a place of understanding, not from the monkey mind.

 

  1. You’ll make more mindful food and health decisions

The last few days of the retreat, I fantasized about the beer I’d have with dinner my first night home. But when that night came, I had no interest. The cleansing food and cleansing thoughts I had consumed all week felt better than any sugar or alcohol rush ever could.

 

  1. You’ll be slower to anger

Spending so many hours focused on loving kindness makes your reactions veer in the direction of warmth. It’s a lasting effect.

 

  1. You’ll try, and fail, and try again to keep up a daily meditation practice

The first few days after the retreat, you’ll probably sit in meditation for an hour every morning. Then gradually, life will get in the way, and your enthusiasm will wane. But when you remember the amazing benefits you gained from your retreat, you’ll always return to your practice.

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Yoga Is Not A Competition

I follow an absurd number of yoga models on social media, and I’ve seen some crazy things.

 

I recently saw a guy do what I can only describe as an otherworldly back handspring, where he paused upside-down in handstand with lotus legs, then straightened his legs, bent at the waist and dropped down to firefly. I mean, everyone can do that, right? I might have called the maneuver “gymnastics” or even “break-dancing” rather than “yoga” if the guy wasn’t bearded and wearing harem pants.

 

Or there’s the girl who was—I don’t know—seven feet tall and reed-thin, who used her arched doorway as a yoga prop. With one foot planted on the ground, she managed to walk the other foot all the way up to the peak of the arch, without even wincing, even though she’d essentially just split her entire bottom half in two.

 

There was a time when posts like these upset me. I’d hear friends in real life say that they were too intimidated to go to a yoga class, that they “aren’t flexible” or are “terrible at yoga,” and I couldn’t help but blame those leggy blonde human pretzels on Instagram for making them feel that way.

 

I mean, even amongst non-professionals, the social media posts can be overwhelming. No one posts “Check Out My SAVASANA Pose” on Reddit. What they post is most often their absolute hardest pose–possibly the first time they’ve held it long enough for a photo–which has probably taken them years to achieve.

 

I’ve reached two conclusions about this.

 

Firstly, we shouldn’t allow ourselves to get upset by internet strangers. Ever.

 

Logically, of course you know that others’ social media posts are outside of your control. But if you’ve ever felt bad about yourself after viewing some Gumby’s Instagram, I have good news for you: You’re totally crazy. Or rather, your “monkey mind” (that name we give our internal monologue when it’s being a jerk) is totally crazy.

 

Here’s the thing: the Gypset Goddess has nothing to do with you. Her standing split is not a symbol of your failure.

 

My absolute favorite thing about yoga is that it is not a competition. Competition is actually completely antithetical to the idea of yoga.

 

Yoga is about listening to your own body, finding the connection between your mind, your body, and your breath. It’s a gift that you give yourself, and it has nothing to do with either Instagram stars or the girl on the mat beside you.

 

Secondly, while I think it’s great to be inspired by others, seeking inspiration on Instagram is a slippery slope.

 

I will always admire and be motivated by the hard work that others put into their yoga practice—it’s why I follow these accounts in the first place. But when “inspiration” means that an advanced pose is #goals, it’s time to pause and examine your motives.

 

Some of my real-life yoga goals include: being more mindful and present, quieting the judgmental voice in my head, changing my relationship to stress, and yes, increasing my body’s strength and range of motion.

 

In a yoga practice, I am the most mindful when I pay attention to how I feel, in that moment, rather than how flexible I hope my body will one day be. When I focus on my breath and the sensations in my body, I am less judgmental of myself, and I find no need to judge others.

 

As for stress, most of our lives are already filled with “goals,” and these can be huge causes of anxiety. Why bring that stress to the yoga mat by creating arbitrary goals for ourselves, inspired by someone else’s practice?

 

When it comes to increasing your strength and flexibility, your body is smarter than you think. Whatever depth and intensity it allows you to achieve with a pose, is exactly the right depth and intensity for you at that moment.

 

At the risk of stating the obvious, if your body is resisting a pose, it’s not good for you to push it. Trying to attain “goal poses” that are out of one’s reach is a huge cause of injury in yoga.

 

Yoga is supposed to make us feel good. If your goal is to get your foot farther behind your head than someone who gets paid by a brand to do so on Insta, and has likely been doing gymnastics or dance since birth, you’re bound to feel pretty “bad” at yoga.

 

But the truth is, there’s no actual way to be good or bad at yoga. In the yoga sutras, Patanjali defines yoga as “chitta vritti nirodha”– “the gradual quieting of the mind’s fluctuations.” To me, that means that if you are on this journey at all—if you take the time to try to be present in life, to have an open heart—you are inherently “good” at yoga.

 

Can you tell how mindful someone is from an Instagram photo? Absolutely not.

 

But can you see and feel improvements in yourself every single time you practice? Absolutely.

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Vinyawesome Yoga and Meditation Blog - Political Dissent and the Modern Yogi

Political Dissent and the Modern Yogi

So excited this post was featured on The Elephant Journal this morning! Such an awesome yoga community.

 

The image of a protester, red faced and marching on Washington with signs held aloft, seems in discord with that of the peaceful, meditating yogi.

There’s a pervasive idea that yogis can’t be outspoken about injustices in this world without compromising their inner “zen.”

This is nonsense.

Let me start off by saying:

Yoga is not political.

No, not everyone has to be a registered democrat to be a good yogi. We don’t have to be vegan, or pro-life, or Hindu. We don’t have to be anything at all.

But it is compassionate.

One of the key principles of yoga is non-violence (ahimsa), and compassion is one of the main things that we try to cultivate through meditation. If our beliefs align with love and compassion, then they’re yoga.

Yoga connects us to our selves.

Through yoga, we can delve deep inside, quiet the fluctuations of the mind and live at peace in our own heads. The understanding we gain of our true selves is astonishing.

But it is not selfish.

Looking inward does not mean that we ignore the rest of the world the rest of the time. Even those ancient yogis who sat in caves for 8 years eventually came out.READ MORE

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