Category Archives: Yoga

The History of my Yoga Mats

My mom purchased my first yoga mat at a Marshall’s that came with a free yoga DVD. It was a blue, thin little thing from Bally’s Total Fitness that provided minimal padding – but that’s okay because I didn’t need anything special for Bikram Yoga. This was 12 years ago in 2003 when I decided to invest in my first Bikram class at BYSJ.

My second mat came when I walked to Funky Door Yoga (Berkeley, CA) for a Bikram class and realized I didn’t bring my mat. Since it was a nearly 20 minute walk from my college apartment, I decided to finally upgrade my mat to a pink Wai Lana mat with hibiscus flowers. (I think this was sometime in 2006.)

This mat held over until 2011 when I started vinyasa yoga. I started investing in many many many Manduka eQua towels for the slip and slide that inevitably developed on my sweat drenched mat. I spent too much money on towels and realized that I should actually invest in a good mat.

I then tried out the Jade Yoga mat (on a loan from a friend) and suffered the same slip and slide. Many of my friends lauded it for it’s grippy-ness, but I sweat like a fat pig in a sauna. Others told me to try the Manduka, but mentioned that the towels will still be needed for a slipper practice. I still have a Manduka Pro Light that I use at home for a non-sweaty practice + global travel.

But many of my teacher friends had The Mat from Lululemon. *Cue the angelic choir.*

Photo from Lululemon.
Photo from Lululemon.com

The Mat has been my hot yoga practice savior. I own a few that I use on rotation (except for the one my dog pooped on. I’m not sure when I’m ready to bring that back into the fold.)

Why I like The Mat:

  • For most sweaty betty’s, it’s grippy enough to survive most hot vinyasa classes. [I know a few guys who still sweat more than me and require a towel. Just a few.]
  • There are multiple lengths and thicknesses. “The Big Mat” is available for the taller folk. “The 3 mm Mat” is for those who don’t require so much extra padding.
  • Excellent durability. I alternate mats only because I have to air them out after practice to dry out. I’ve had my pink one for over 3 years and it definitely has a lot more mileage left.

Things to note about The Mat:

  • It smells when you first buy it. Air it out for a long long long time and it will go away.
  • It’s a heavy mat. It doesn’t bother me at all, but just thought you should know.
  • Do not clean with oils (tea tree, lavender)! I scrub with soap and water and sometimes vinegar.
  • Buy a black or very dark mat. My pink one looks extra nasty and it’s hard to scrub the dirt marks out.
  • Air out after a sweaty class.
Fiesta Americana
View from the gym of the Fiesta Americana, Cabo San Lucas, Mexico. 2013.

Photo: I almost always bring my Manduka ProLite mat with me on my global travels. My hotel had promised yoga class, but alas, there was none. Did yoga by myself on the balcony overlooking the water instead.

[Nobody endorsed me for this post. This is solely from personal experience. I really do sweat a lot – many of my teacher friends have noted that I sweat on par with many guys.]

Blind-ish Yoga and Balancing

Last week I slept with my contacts on for a night and gave myself an eye infection. Woe is me. Unfortunately, this isn’t the first time that I got one. Two years ago I got one for wearing my contacts on a plane after staying up almost all night for a wedding in Chicago.

So now I have to spend 2 weeks wearing my ultra-thick glasses. How thick are they? -750 thick. To put this in perspective, to be considered legally blind, you have to see greater than -1000 with glasses on. I can’t wear glasses during yoga because they constantly slip off and fog during a warm vinyasa class. This means I see -750 in class.

Last time this happened, I spent most of the class flopping and struggling to balance. I spent so much time being self conscious about how unstable I was, not just in balancing poses, but in simple things like knowing where to put my hands and feet in dog dog. I had become so dependent on the visual cues of my physical practice that I hadn’t quite built the intuition to listen to what feels right for me.

This time around however, after a few more years of yoga + teaching students to do yoga with their eyes closed + learning to trust myself more while rock climbing, I find blind-ish yoga strangely awesome.  I can’t look around class at all. I’m fairly certain I was doing something different sometimes because teachers would mis-cue poses or mis-name poses, but it didn’t matter. My balance felt great because I trusted my feet, my core, my stability. Dancer’s pose, handstands, downdog all felt natural.

If you’ve never done this before, put on a blind fold or take out your contacts for class – it will change your perception. Maybe you will doubt yourself at first, but you’ll build on it over time. Fall a few times or fall a lot. Get up, brush yourself off and try. Trust yourself or learn to build the trust.

The Case for Inversions

Towards the end of my power class yesterday, I offered up a select-your-own inversion moment for students. In an effort to motivate them to try something, even if it was just viparita karani, I mentioned this article I read on Quartz about a woman who developed cankles from using her standing desk all day.

[FYI, someone in class asked what cankles were, which caused an outbreak of laughter, toppling over a few students. I apologize for those who may have fallen from laughter.]

I won’t go into a speech about the benefits or contraindications for inversions because I’m not a doctor. Plus you can probably find better articles written online. I just find them fun + it channels my inner kid who wants to run around doing cartwheels. 🙂 Isn’t that a good enough reason?

Throw in concentration and discipline for bonus.

Co-Teaching Workshop w/Wayne Tow

[Sorry for the grainy photo – apparently we don’t like to take photos together. But when we did, he happened to be dressed up like SpiderMan while teaching class.]

When I first started working on my handstands, Wayne offered a lot of (well-meaning) advice to me involving bent elbows and pressing up. Alas, when I bent my elbows, they never straightened back up again.

After I met the lovely Grace Yu, I learned a lot more tips that benefited me because she was more able to relate to the struggles I was having with handstands. I was excited and I decided to share with my friends (including Wayne) what I learned. The tips did not resonate with Wayne (who does not have my open hamstrings.)

The lesson in all this is that we all have very different bodies. Despite being much taller than me (sorry Wayne, I forgot how tall you are, but I know you’re taller than me), I have a longer torso than he does. He has broader shoulders and a narrow waist. I have skinny arms and a very low center of gravity. All of these physical characteristics means that we have found very different methods to approach the same thing.

Thus, Wayne and I have banded together to create an arm balance and inversion workshop to cater to all body types. We will start with a brief anatomy discussion, a warm up class and then we’ll work our way through foundational arm balances (such as bakasana/crow), and foundational inversions (namely sirsasana/headstand.)

Wayne is excellent at breaking down the most complex of poses (except for that handstand fail) in such a way that they are a lot less intimidating. Hopefully I can help bring some inspiration to those who worry that they aren’t strong enough (yet) to get to where they hope to me. It’s all about attitude and patience. 🙂

There will be a foundations workshop “Get Your Wings” on 10/18/2014 from 12:30PM-3:30PM at Y@C’s El Camino location.

Advanced workshop “Let’s Soar” will be the following week 10/25/2014 from 12:30PM-3:30PM at Y@C’s El Camino location.

$45 Pre-registration by 10/18 -OR- $54 Drop in after 10/18 
-OR-
$70 Pre registration by 10/11 for BOTH “Get Your Wings” AND “Let’s Soar” Workshops

To sign up for the arm balance workshop [click here]!

Congrats To Diane Khuu On Her New Primetime Slot!

It was a short-lived co-teaching summer romance (not unlike my other short-lived co-teaching spring romance with Linh). Why do my co-teachers keep running away?

Co-teaching started when Linh took my class and realized that I wasn’t being myself when I teach. Normally I crack lame jokes (and laugh at myself) and have a goofy-fun time in class and with my friends. At some point I became a robot – stoically teaching each class. I’m not sure why it happened.

I met Linh in yoga class but didn't really talk to her until we did teacher training together. We eventually became good friends and even traveled to Argentina together. She's very blunt and I'm grateful that she's honest with me.
I met Linh in yoga class but didn’t really talk to her until we did teacher training together. We eventually became good friends and even traveled to Argentina together. She’s very blunt and I’m grateful that she’s honest with me.

When Linh joined, I started to open up to my students more (I’m actually a very private person, so this is a big deal) and in the process, I became more comfortable and had more fun.

Diane started off as my very first personal mentee. During her teacher training at Yoga @ Cindy’s, she was given the opportunity to select a teacher who she wanted to shadow and learn from and she picked me! (I had mentored others in the past, but they were assigned to me, so I’m not sure if they really wanted to be with me at all. :P) It was easy to mentor Diane because she always asks questions and is open to constructive advice.

I’m glad to have had a my fun co-teachers – their energy and attitudes made class a lot more fun to teach, and I feel like the students felt like it was a lot more fun to take. I was able to create more of a community with a little help from my friends.

Our last class together will be August 27, 2014. Afterwards… who knows. Maybe I’ll bring them back if I turn into an automaton again.

Upavistha Konasana Inverted in Aerial Yoga

 

This actually doesn’t require as much upper body as it might look. This is more like a party trick that *looks* cool and complicated, but it’s actually not bad once you get over the fear of flipping upside down.

Keep your shoulders integrated into the torso. You can either wrap your hands around both sides of the hammock or put you thumb and index finger around one side with the remaining fingers wrapping around the other.
Use your core strength to lift the legs up and over. Try not to kick up (but if you need the booster until you build the strenght, you can.)

In terms of difficulty, this is one of those cool tricks that *looks* cool, but it’s not hard. A large part of it is getting over the fear that you’re going to die. 🙂

To practice lowering down, see if you can keep your legs lift as you unroll the torso and work to straighten the arms. The strength for this builds pretty quickly if you do this even just once a week.

Vinyasa Time!

This is my day zero. I am practicing pressing up into handstands and I will document the process. I am currently only able to get up with some little hops, but I’ll write out what I have been focusing on to get there.

I know yoga isn’t supposed to be all about the asana, but I think setting physical goals demonstrates a few things:
1. Discipline. How able are you to stick to your goals?
2. Your current state of mind. What is your attitude towards working towards your goals? Are you trying 100% every day? Are you just grateful that you even tried? Have you gone on autopilot?
3. How willing are you to ask for help? This has been a big one for me. Will talk about it in my next post.

To Music or Not To Music

I started a draft of this article awhile ago, but never finished. It seems like a good time to bring it up today in light of a story on The Atlantic that claims that people prefer electric shocks to be alone with their thoughts. Aside from the glaringly overstatement (in actuality, “a quarter of the women and two thirds of the men gave themselves a zap when left with their own thoughts…” which means that a majority of men, but not a majority of women), it does bring up a good point on how hard it is to just be with your mind.

For me, yoga asana can be a great precursor towards eventually learning to sit still. At the very least, you are given the opportunity to sit with your own body while adding some stretching and strengthening to it. All the while you can really focus on the extension and compression of muscles and joints and everything in between.

Which brings me to the title of this post: to music or not to music?

I take classes with teachers that play and teachers that do not. I have personally found a preference towards soft music or no music. This doesn’t apply to everyone though. I’ve seen classes with loud Lady Gaga, heart pumping, Zumba-esque musical soundtracks that are packed from one wall to another. To each his own.

I ultimately choose to not play music for a variety of reasons, and not all of them are what you think it is.

1. It takes a long time to create a playlist. Sure, I could slap together a string of zero 7 music with some xx, Ben Leinbach, and nature calls thrown in without much thought. But I have to make sure that the playlist tunes in to what I plan on teaching… and that it won’t push the class in any direction that will become unnatural. A lot of thought needs to go into what I want to play… and I’m not going to lie – somewhere between my full time job, my personal practice, my husband, my dog, traveling, rock climbing, eating, sleeping and everything else, I don’t want to make a half-assed playlist with my remaining time.

2. I’ve play had playlists that were very invigorating, which the class didn’t really appreciate since they were in a worn-out mood. I’ve had playlists that were soothing when the class needed a bit more pep in their practice. I can’t suddenly swap out the music like a maestro DJ so the class had to suffer through some awkward music before plodding through to savasana.

3. In my personal practice, I like to hear myself breathe. I’m not sure if all of my students feel that same sentiment though. Please let me know if you don’t. 🙂

4. I like to hear myself think. I think a lot of garbage and it’s quite fun. In my mind, I lead a life like “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty.” Outside of my yoga practice, I work full time at a fast-paced start-up. Don’t get me wrong, I love my job and the people in it. But sometimes you need some space from the ones you love. For me, that means going out for a walk with my mind. Sometimes with and sometimes without music. But it’s mostly for me to be alone with my imagination.

I’m not sure if I fully convinced anyone if one way or another is better. The point I’m trying to get at is, I don’t play music because I want to let each student define their own practice. If they want to play music, they are welcome to tune up a soundtrack in their heads. I won’t know and I definitely wouldn’t disallow it.

[Also, I know the featured image is just of my dog running in a field. Bear with me while I test out some features.] [/expand]

Home Practice

I love to travel. Problem is, when I travel, I tend to put yoga on the backburner. I do carry around my travel mat – just in case.

This past trip, I did manage to squeeze in some yoga, some meditation, and some gentle stretching.

Despite teaching a mostly physical/power/vinyasa class, I personally don’t aim to kill myself when I’m doing my home practice. My last 2 weeks consisted of some slow vinyasa, lots of yin stretches, and mostly feel-good stretches. The only “intense” thing that I did were a few planks for core, as well as a few handstands.

Today I took my first instructor-led class of 2014… and it was a power class. Despite not going full-on for the last 2 weeks (and mostly cutting myself a break), I had a great (physical) class. Mentally I am still somewhat all over the map from jetlag (I’ve only been back for less than 30 hours!), but I actually felt more flexible and less inflamed. I felt stronger and less worn out.

As I work through the last year of my 20s, I’ve learned to listen to my body more. I’ve discovered that I take a little bit longer to recover than I used to – and that’s fine. The hiking, kayaking and beaching was a good break from my “intense” yoga practice. A slow steady practice with gentle stretching was all I needed to decompress from the day.

That’s one of the best things about a home practice. You get to do whatever you want to do and not something that a teacher is telling you. You get to truly tune-in to your body and see what it needs. I’m not discounting instructor-led classes at all – those are great for learning something new, and for someone to constantly remind you of things that might fall to the wayside in a home practice.

It’s a new year. Be gentle with yourself and listen. A sustainable practice is more important than putting your foot behind your head.

Get Outside the Comfort Zone Or Listen To Your Body?

The more I practice, the more I feel like I hold myself back. I hear so many horror stories from other teachers (torn meniscus, herniated disk, face plant/bloody nose) that I start to worry that if I go too far, I’ll end up in the territory of unnecessary pain and injury.

On the other hand, I feel stuck in my practice – like I’m not advancing because I’m not trying. In not trying, I’m cheating myself out of the mental focus and physical awareness.

It’s a fine line between trying something that you might be ready for without going to the point of injury. It’s a line that everyone has to figure out for themselves.

As for me, I’ve started to venture out of my comfort zone. I’ve been lucky to have open hamstrings (or some people think I have none since I can forward fold deeply and never seem to find a stretch in them… Heh) and decent backbends. Hip openers have been hard. A desk job has shortened my hip flexors and had started to create some back pain (refer to iliopsoas.) After practicing yoga for a few years, my hips have finally opened enough that I can put my foot behind my head (not comfortably though) before I felt stuck. I’ve recently discovered an amazing sequence from Tiffany Cruikshank to work towards Kala Bhairavasana. Suddenly I’m outside my comfort zone, but well within the realm of what I am capable of doing. I’m not there yet, but I think if I try, I can actually do it. Toeing the line and hoping that my limits are farther than I believe.