Tuesday, August 20, 2013

heart pounding moments

Tucson, the land of new beginnings.  There came a point in my practice and teaching where I yearned for more.  I had been studying with the same few teachers for a long time and I loved them all. They all brought something different to my practice, for sure.  However... there was still something missing.  I wanted to find some sort of inspiration that would help me deepen my level of commitment and knowledge base of yoga. I wanted to surround myself with teachers who were living their yoga in a profound way. Not to say any of my previous teachers weren't doing that, it was more that I didn't necessarily relate to them on a personal level.  There was a missing link.

So I signed up for an immersion with Darren Rhodes and Christina Sell at Yoga Oasis and I showed up in Tucson by myself. At the time Candace Glass was living there and sweetly offered her spare bedroom and bike to me for the week. That was a big reason I could afford to be there, so big thanks to Candace. She and I didn't even know each other yet! The first night, students from the training were invited to Darren's house for an evening of appetizers and setting intentions for the week.  I was shocked!  I had never been invited to a teacher's home before a training. It seemed so personal. I was super nervous because I had no one to go with and Darren's house is a bit to far (for me) to venture via bike.  The lovely studio manager of YO, Rachel King, came to the rescue and invited me to meet up with a few others at the studio and ride with her to the gathering.  I remember how fast my heart was beating when I showed up at the studio for the first time, then again when we got to Darren's house.  

It was all so new, yet so exciting to be out of my comfort zone.  Looking back on that evening, there was quite the important lineup of people present that night in that living room: Alexis Finely, Whitney Lawless, Meg Newlin, Heather Heintz, not to mention Darren & Christina, plus so many more.  I didn't talk to any of those folks right away, in fact I didn't talk to many people that night, but the bonds built over time.  Going to Tucson for that first training with D & C was clearly a turning point in my life.  Its where I met the love of my life.  Where I made some of my very best friends.  And, where I found my voice as a teacher via seeing my teachers serve as the best example I could imagine.  I'm not trying to put Darren & Christina high up on some sort of pedestal or anything, I know that can get tricky for both the student and the teachers.  I am just talking about the small things like, they practiced asana over our lunch break during trainings, they referenced their daily meditation practices within lectures and shared their challenges, they only spoke positively about others in a public setting, and most of all... they didn't claim to know it all. In short, they set a really good example of practice. That spoke to me big time.

I spent as much time as possible flying back and forth from St. Louis to Tucson studying with Darren and Christina and spent (literally) hundreds of hours practicing with my new friends there. I signed up for everything they offered: immersions, teacher trainings, new years intensives, more immersions, more teacher trainings... I couldn't get enough.  That passion was the exact jump start I was looking for to strengthen my level of commitment.  And once I learned to trust good people and commit fully, everything changed.  I started treating my friends the way friends should be treated.  I started to learn how to use my asana practice as training to handle major challenges off my mat.  I began to understand that everything worthwhile takes a whole lot of work. I mended some really important family relationships that continue to serve my life in a major way.  And last but certainly not least, I fell in love. Real love. The kind of love that lasts a lifetime.  Alexis and met at a potent time for both of us.  And given the crucible we were in when that happened, we confidently started our life together and never looked back.  The rewards of practice have been sweet, but most of that came from poison and turned to nectar.  Meaning, all of these benefits of asana practice didn't come without a lot of failure, tears and really important challenges first.  In my experience, the nectar of practice usually comes with a major a test first.  In the past, if I failed a test, I would just try another route.  At this point in my practice, I started to discover that the same test will continuously reveal itself until I pass.  So I amped up my level of effort and once again... commitment.  

From that point on, I was in.  I got the point that I needed to work hard and focus my effort on what matters, instead of what went wrong.  Darren and Christina had presented teachings in a way that I could relate.  Those teachings are serving my life for the better every day.  On one note, the teachings they passed down from their teacher are fairly simple, "Be with what is, AS IT IS, here and now. Just this." From another perspective, that means I had to learn how to accept things without trying to fix everything. I am into the type of practice that is real. The kind that is tangible and full of hard work.  I am into the yoga that makes me strong enough to deal with anything I encounter.  The type of practice that makes me work hard and reminds me that I am never finished, never satisfied, yet delighted.  

All of this leads me to where I am today.  My heart beats fast every time I stand up to start a yogahour teacher training.  My heart beats fast every time I teach a public class in a studio I just met.  My heart beats fast every time I begin something new. That indicator, my heart beating fast, is (oddly) a sign that something good is about to happen.  Its the same fast-beating-heart that I felt that first night in Tucson.  The night my life was about to change forever for the better.

Thursday is a big day.  My heart will definitely beat fast as we begin this next training. Darren and I are co-teaching the very first 200 hr yogahour teacher training in Tucson at Yoga Oasis.  I can't even begin to express how grateful I am to be a part of this.  Yogahour has turned out to be my authentic voice. Its from own to offer and everyone involved is completely on board with creating high quality yoga and weaving in your own personal touch. It is exactly where every step has led me to this point.  Looking forward to this monumental evolution of my lineage.  Thank you, to every person who has made an imprint on my fast-beating-passionate-heart.  I look forward to where this is headed.

Speaking of fast-beating hearts... This entire blog was deeply inspired by my sister-in-law, Ellen.  Check out her latest video blog.   My heart is pounding and as I pack for Tucson, I feel "a little bit scared and a lot alive." I love you dearly, Ellen!  Here's to the next chapter.


Saturday, June 29, 2013


What does it mean to practice yoga?  To me, its getting on the mat on a regular basis, sometimes repeating the same poses I've done a million times.  Other times its pushing my boundaries to try something new...even if it scares me.  The asana practice (in my opinion) is the easy part.  To practice yoga takes integrity, honesty and discipline.  The poses are a tool to teach me how to line up in my body.  I use the alignment to guide me to a version of each pose that feels both healthy and stable.

Stability - now that's a part of yoga that takes a lot of work.  Its easy to change with the wind.  "Go with the flow" so to speak and just see where life leads me. Honestly, that only works for so long.  Short term commitment is just that... short. I want the kind of yoga that is sustainable.  Its more challenging to commit. More specifically for me, to trust that those people around me will commit back when I give to my fullest capacity. It feels good to give.  It also feels awful to get burned. Using a pose as an example, take scorpion: I could sort of try to touch my feet to my head with fear in the back of my mind that the shape of the pose won't hold if I go for it.  I could use the wall to make sure I don't fall.  I could even use a friend to hold my hips so I can use my flexibility without much strength and let someone else do most of the work. Or, I can commit to the pose in the middle of the room and take my feet so far beyond my head that if I don't maintain steadiness and strength, I would topple right over. The last option is definitely my preference and my method, even though that clearly takes more work and a lot more time. The pose was designed to challenge strength, flexibility and fear.  When I commit so fully that my feet do touch my head, it actually feels safe.  There is a connection, a bond even.  That strong bond won't create itself, nor will I experience that connection unless I do the work myself.

So where does this come in off my mat?  Everywhere.  Its the company I choose to keep.  Its the conversations I choose to have, and lately (more importantly) the conversations I choose not to entertain.  The yoga of discipline is my practice.  Over time, its becoming easier to decide what to do, but not so easy to decide what not to do.  Meaning, there are so many things I want to say. So many stories untold. So many questions I get from our community, that I choose to leave unanswered.  That is on purpose and it is not easy.  Some of my most joyous revelations on my mat were when my teachers wouldn't give me the answer. When they told me to just keep practicing.  And guess what... in regard to the poses, I have always figured it out.  Even if it took a really long time.

So now I take that off my mat.  It has translated to so many instances, especially in the last year.  My yoga is as much doing as it is not doing.  To be honest, not doing is way harder for me.  But, in the long run, my practice always prevails.  Meaning, to refrain from a harsh reaction is definitely more challenging, but with practice, someday will likely become more natural. I've witnessed some of my mentors do this with grace and what appears to be ease. The yoga of discipline is seeing something I like, something I want to copy and yet not claim it as my own.  My practice is to use that as inspiration over imitation. To make everything I call my own actually original. To be willing to work hard enough to create new ideas and great ones.  It is way easier to just pick up something someone else created and use it to my advantage. But deep inside, that wouldn't work because I would know its not mine to claim. My very smart friend and successful business owner, Jenifer Garcia, reminded me the other day, "Everything is easily copied, except hard work." This yoga stuff.. its not easy. Its not supposed to be.  If something is not serving my practice (or my life), its not worth it.  If it is serving and authentic, I'll work like hell until I figure it out.

As we've been saying for the last 5.5 years at Southtown Yoga, PRACTICE, please always practice. There are so many people willing to work hard in the STY community.  I feel blessed and privileged to be a part of it.  We keep great company around here.


Monday, February 25, 2013


change | ch ānj|
the act or instance of making or becoming different.
• the substitution of one thing for another • an alteration or modification• a new or refreshingly different experience 

Last week, I sent out a student survey to collect updated feedback from our student base at Southtown Yoga. When we moved locations, we also shifted many aspects of what our regulars were used to. We added several new teachers, introduced Yogahour® classes and replaced mixed levels classes with expanding. We also changed our pricing structure completely. That much change can be a lot to handle, especially for the 30% of our student base who attend 3-4 classes per week. Any amount of change usually startles most folks at first. Myself included. Personally, I changed my schedule to teach solely yogahour classes to help establish this new style of yoga within our community. I am working closely with Darren Rhodes in regard to yogahour teacher trainings and much more. Its crucial that I have a good handle on not only how to teach yogahour classes effectively, but also that I gain perspective on how our student base responds to this particular style of yoga on many different levels. From my perspective, its an honor that our studio is part of the evolution of this style of yoga. What happens at STY has an effect on the future of yogahour, in a way. Darren has had yogahour at his studio in Tucson for over 5 years now. But for St. Louis, this is a whole new ball game. 

Based on the surveys, 52% of students rated yogahour as their favorite class offered at STY (36% favored expanding, 16% basics). I am incredibly pleased to gain tangible knowledge about our student's preferences. Usually, the feedback I receive as a small business owner happens to come from those complaining, more often than those saying what they really like. This survey gave me a better perspective on the greater community's preferences, rather than the few people who regularly vocalize their opinions. Don't jump ahead, we don't plan to become a solely yogahour studio because of this input.  Its just nice to know that this added option is a crowd pleaser. I feel passionately about yogahour and love attending yogahour classes as much as I do teaching them. That's not to say that is the only way I practice, but it is one of the ways. And, its changed my practice for the better in more ways than one.  But that's another blog post for another day.

In the past year, many changes have taken place in the international yoga community as a whole - at least the part of the community that I was most involved with on a personal level.  Its inevitable that things will always keep changing and growing.  I think most people get that.  However, my personal preferences may or may not align with the changes others make.  Similarly, others' preferences may or may not align with the changes we make at the studio.  That being said, the greater portion of the community LOVES the new studio and all the changes that have come along with that.  While a small portion of students voiced concern about the nature in which we are growing and evolving.  I have to remember that we received a huge amount of praise and support from students old and new. But the comments that stuck in my head are the few who complained or voiced their negative opinions. I truly do value both positive and negative feedback the same. They are both necessary and important.  But why is it that the negative feels more intense, emotionally?! Well, because I care. Thats why. Its like when someone pays me a compliment personally. I usually remember to say thank you and forget about it 5 minutes later. If someone says something critical, its more likely to stick with me for days. My level of confidence in Southtown Yoga, what we are offering and the level of quality at our studio is sky high.  In fact, I feel more confident about the studio as it is today, than ever before.  But I also think, as a business owner, its important to ask for feedback and honestly listen to what people have to say.  There is no one way that will please everyone.  I know that.  But my goal is to continue to offer options that will serve a fairly large number of yogis in St. Louis (both novice and experienced alike).  

One of my passions is the breakthrough that happens within the practice. A deep asana practice physicalizes the teachings of yoga on a relatable level. Its empowering to learn the tools to advance my practice. For quite some time, this aspect of growing and learning something new all the time is what kept me coming to the mat. The feeling after successfully doing a pose on the syllabus poster than I never dreamt possible was invigorating. I definitely can't do every pose, at this point.  But, my desire to do so has shifted away from that. These days, I am more likely to do poses to sustain my practice rather than looking for radical shifts. I can't really pinpoint the exact reason why... but I do know the timing of other personal aspects of my life probably have something to do with that. Either way, I think both aspects are important. I still love the thrill of projecting a pose and figuring out the nuts and bolts of a pose. I just don't do it as often in my own practice as I once did. However, passing on the knowledge of my practice and tid bits I've learned from my teachers along the way is a huge part of why I love to teach. As yogis, I think its extremely important to leverage our lineage as a form of respect for the growth and evolution of yoga as a whole.

With all that being said, I appreciate everyone's patience as we evolve and grow together.  I also appreciate your input, both positive and negative alike.  I will keep my ears, mind and heart open and will work my butt off to maintain the original vision of Southtown Yoga, "To bring yoga to your life."  

Speaking of changes, as a result of input from many of our long-time regulars, Alexis and I are both swapping out one of our current classes to add in an expanding class. We are highly committed to (and rather excited about) challenging the advanced students in our expanding classes and helping you grow your practice. We will be working mostly with peak poses and playing the edge.  Hope you can join the fun!

Schedule Updates (as of March 1):
Expanding with Alexis - Tuesdays, 5:00-6:15 pm 
Expanding with Brigette - Wednesdays, 6:00-7:15 pm

With love,

Monday, February 11, 2013

meditation is not easy

Meditation is not easy.  I've been practicing meditation on and off for several years now and consistently for just about 2 years.  At first, I used to think something was supposed to "happen" during mediation.  I was waiting for something to change and for my body/mind to feel dramatically different once I was actually meditating, so to speak.  There are a handful of meditation techniques out there that are extremely helpful tools. However, some days I just focus on not opening my eyes the whole time, sitting as still as I possibly can, resisting the temptation to fidget or finding comfort within the uncomfortable.  All of these aspects of sitting are extremely challenging for me.  One step at a time, or as Manorama says, "Pade, Pade."  I usually just choose one at a time and focus on that for a while.  Today, my task was to keep my eyes shut the whole time.  Its so hard not to peek at the timer.  

I realize that experienced meditators may argue that what I am describing is not actually meditation.  However, for right now, I am just working on maintaining my focus. When I first started sitting, I literally couldn't sit still.  If you would have given me an advanced asana to figure out, I would work intensely for months (or even years). But attempting to sit still and close my eyes was a whole new type of challenge. It has taken a long time to be able to sit still.  And now it actually feels good to sit still, even if my mind is still moving a million miles per hour.  Pade, Pade.  

For me, the effects of meditation have been subtle, yet major.  Mantra is the first meditation technique I was drawn to, and still am.  Mantra is repeating a word or phrase over and over again.  Often, I keep count with malas. My favorite is the Ganesha mantra, "Om Gum Ganapatayei Namaha."  From what I understand, mantra has a message and a meaning.  According to Tantric Scholar, Douglas Brooks, " The message refers to nothing more than the matrkamalini, the relationship between order and chaos, karma and lila, the self-same self-organizing principles of reality shaping memory.  It is the syllables, the sequence, the rules that create the access to memory.  For meaning, it is the description of the siddhi and the identification with the deity who is, of course, nothing other than nature, society, and yourself."  

I have always deeply connected to the teachings of Ganesha.  He is best known as the remover of obstacles, however, I have learned via experience that he is also the placer of obstacles.  For example, if you pray for patience, don't be surprised to find yourself in a traffic jam.  Ganesha us gives the opportunity to practice over and over again until we get it right.  For me, I wanted so badly to trust.  In order to trust, I had to learn to be honest with myself and those I love most.  Its a practice.  So I repeated this mantra 108 times a day. Then, one day, something started to shift.  I didn't realize I was indeed meditating. Or that chanting this mantra was actually doing something. But there I was, in a healthy trusting relationship with the love of my life.  I had cultivated solid, honest friendships. And, my relationships with my family had never been better.  Whoa!  I am not saying by simply repeating this mantra all of this happened.  I am saying that the mantra did something to me.  Or maybe even more specifically, the mantra helped me gain the consciousness to change an aspect of myself with a lot of focus and hard work.

There are a lot of ways to meditate.  Some I enjoy, others seem impossible at this point.  But I do know it is worthwhile.  It can be overwhelming at times, but I try and remember that this practice is meant for my entire lifetime.  Not just for a few years.  My job is to keep showing up to practice and welcome the hard work this practice requires.

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Sacred Morning

This morning, Alexis and I set our alarm for 5:45 am to be up in time for our first 6:30 am February Morning Meditation at Southtown Yoga.  To my surprise, I woke up excited.  I went down to the studio about 30 minutes before to turn up the heat and on my (very short) walk to the studio, it dawned on me... this felt like the start of a ritual.  A ritual that I really like.  The birds were chirping as the sun was starting to light the sky.  The air was crisp.  When I walked into the studio, Kiley was already there, prepping for the 6:30 am yogahour class.  Something about the fact that we went to the studio to meditate, rather than sitting in our usual spot at home, felt more sacred.

It was at that point that I was reminded, for me, the studio is more than a place to practice and teach.  In the wee hours of the morning, it felt more like a temple than a place people do asana.  The soft dim light, the candles, the energy... it all felt different.  I think the fact that Alexis was the head visionary for this new space makes the end product feel so sacred.  He and Ivan Hill put so much love and sweat into the renovation, just so we all have such a nice place to practice yoga. Now that we have students and teachers filing our space daily, the hard work that went into the creation of this new studio is highly appreciated.  Alexis and Ivan built our space and the people who practice at STY brought the studio to life.  Its an amazing feeling.

Early mornings at the studio remind me of when we visited an ashram in AZ and started the day with chanting at 4am.  Or when I was in Varanasi, India, and we woke up at sunrise to float down The Ganga.  There were people everywhere doing their morning rituals in the river.  Making offerings to the sun. I realize that we aren't an ashram or a very holy city in India. But as Douglas talked about a few weeks ago, what makes something sacred is the relationship you have to it.  Even more so than the actual place or thing being sacred by itself. For example, our new studio was an empty, dilapidated building when we got our hands on it.  Its still the same building we started with, only different.  Not only has the physical structure changed a lot, my relationship to it instantly changed when we opened our doors to the public on Nov. 17th.  My relationship to this studio is growing every day to be more sacred, holy, of utmost importance.  It is way more than what meets the eye.  Its where I laugh, cry, pray, love, practice, create and nurture friendships, etc.  Moral of the story, 1905 Park went from being just another building in Lafayette Square to something sacred. First thing in the morning today, for whatever reason, this was more apparent than ever to me.

This morning meditation is special to us because its our regular morning practice, open to the public. Sharing the practice of yoga and my own experience of it is as rewarding as it is challenging. Alexis is very disciplined about sitting every day, but I tend to find reasons to skip morning meditation.  Like, I have an early meeting, or I need to shower, or I slept in later than I thought and now I don't have time.  The list goes on and on. Putting this on the public schedule requires us to show up.  It holds me accountable in a very public way. And, since I love being at the studio and in good company, meditating at Southtown Yoga is a huge incentive.  Plus, its a donation-based practice.  All proceeds go to a local charity.  So its a way to give to others as we give to ourselves with the gift of meditation.

Needless to say, I am very excited about this new ritual. Daily meditation practice has proven to be very powerful, in my experience.  When I stick to it, the benefits are sky high.  I hope many of you can join us.  And if not, Alexis and I will be in there on our own.  No matter what.  Every weekday in February at 6:30 am.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Yoganidrasana - take one

Every month, we project a new pose.  By "project" I mean that we dive in deep and spend every Sunday 2-hour advanced practice on the same peak pose for the entire month.  The project pose for August is Yoganidrasana.  For most people, they either love this pose or hate it.  The group last week was about 50/50.  However, by the end of class most folks had made major progress.  

Several months ago, I was having a conversation with my good friend, Sam Rice, about this pose.  She wasn't a big fan of any pose that required a leg or both legs behind the head.  But, after finding the actions needed to safely explore this pose and lots of practice, she slowly figured out some tools to help make these poses accesible. That's the thing, to make the impossible possible, it takes a lot of hard work and commitment.  There are no quick fixes or instant gratification involved. Sam is a good example of all of that.  Her input highly influenced the sequence below.  We focused a ton on opening the outer hips, stretching the hammys and groins before attempting this pose.  

Nidra, is defined as a state between sleeping and wakefulness. In Yoganidrasana, Mr. Iyengar says, “the legs form the Yogi’s pillow and the back is his couch.”   This pose is the most intense forward fold you can do on your mat.  Which means, its crucial that you come into supta tadasana with a neutral spine in between attempts.   Recreating the 3 natural curves in your spine after a deep forward bend (or deep backbend) is important.  Other wise, your low back will be very unhappy later.  Another major piece of advice, keep your hamstrings engaged as you enter this pose.  You can do that by isometrically kicking your heel away from your body.  Most tweaks come from disengaged muscles.  Even though you are going into a super bendy pose, you have to stay engaged to stay safe. 

With about 1.5 hours of prep work, this pose is much more accessible than you might think.  Give yourself a lot of time with this one.  Make sure you have mastered eka pada sirsasana first.  Yoganidrasana is a must if you want to learn some of the other advanced poses that come after this (supta kurmasana, dwi pada sirsasana, a transition into the deepest tittibasana of your life).  Enjoy!

BKS Iyengar in Yoganidrasana

Key actions:
Open outer hips, groins & hamstrings

Surya B variations:
- Lunge w/forearms down
- Lunge with twist
- No hands lunge
Baddha hasta parsvakonasana (one arm inside front leg)
Parivrtta Trikonasana
Prasarita padottonasana
Utthita hasta padangusthasana
Parvrtta hasta padangusthasana
Svarga dvijasana - bird of paradise
Supta hindolasana
Pigeon - front shin parallel
Supta hindolasana - leg straight
Lunge - head behind calf
Eka hasta bhujasana
Surya yantrasana
Utthita hindolasana
Eka pada galavasana
Baddha tittibhasana
Dwi hasta bujapindasana
Twisted monkey
Ardha Malasana
Malasana - w/blanket
Marichyasana 1
Upavistha konasana
Parivrtta SPG
Supta Eka hasta Padasana
Eka pada sirsasana
Supta Tadasana
Setu banda sarvangasana
Visvavajrasana -windshield wipers
Supta balasana

Friday, August 10, 2012

Natrajasana - grand finale

This practice was one of my favorites. Over the course of the month-long Natrajasana project, lots of folks offered input on what aspects of the pose felt most challenging. That helped me sequence accordingly for the group.  Many students had the shoulder alignment down, but they had a hard time getting their foot as high or higher than their heard to make the clasp between hand and foot, with the arms in the overhead plane.  Alexis had been to every class this month and he pointed out that it was the tightness in his legs and hips that felt restricting.  So, for this last class on Natarajasana, we basically worked hanumanasana as a peak pose before the peak pose.  It worked!  So many people got waaaaayyyy deeper.  In fact, lots of people nailed the pose with this sequence.  Sometimes as a teacher its challenging to relate to what students are experiencing in their bodies.  Everyone's body is so different, which is what makes teaching yoga so fun & interesting.  Luckily, I have very smart students (and a smart fiance) and they are always willing to give input.  This class was a lot of fun!

Natarajasana - week 4

Order of business:
  1. Stretch your spine.
  2. Split your legs.
  3. Reach back, kick up.

Standing crescent
Down dog lunge
High lunge
Lunge with a twist
Twisted monkey
Eka pada dhanurasana
Vira I
Ardha chandrachapasana
Reverse vira II
Dwi hasta padasana
Baby natrajasana
Utthita hindolasana
Parivrtta hasta padangusthasana
Urdhva prasarita ekapadasana
Down dog split at wall
Ardha bhekasana in anjaneyasana
Runners stretch
Ardha bkekasana
Pigeon - upright torso
Ardha bhekasana in EPRK prep
Eka pada supta virasana
Hanumanasana - forward fold
Hanumanasana - upright
Ardha bhekasana in hanumanasana
Urdvha Dhanurasana 3x
Eka pada urdvha dhanurasana
Dwi pada viparita dandasana
Eka pada viparita dandasana I
Hanumanasana - arms overhead
*Natrajasana - 10 min*
SPG I prep
Supta dwi hasta padasana
Parivrtta supta padangusthasana
Supta hindolasana
Ardha matseyendrasana I
Agni stambasana