Sunday, November 21, 2010

Full Circle - Anusara Yoga

When I first started taking yoga classes in 2005 I was hooked almost immediately. From the first class I just wanted to learn more, do more, discover more about this practice that was very different than anything I'd ever experienced. The physical poses felt amazing but more than that it was the attitude of my teachers - comments like "be kind to yourself" and "use the energy of your practice to better your life and the lives of those around you" were so unusual but yet, so intriguing. Not at all like the sports coaches and aerobics teachers I'd had in the past! (although, those people do wonderful work in the practices they've chosen as well - it's just very different)

So once I started taking classes I also began to look for books and dvds and just about any resource I could find that would teach me something about yoga. One of the very first books I bought and read and actively used was Hatha Yoga by Martin Kirk and Brook Boone.

At the time I had no idea who these people were. To me they were just regular people in (kind of funny looking) yoga poses. I studied this book, and from it began to develop a personal practice. I'd do the poses I remembered from class and then I'd look through Hatha Yoga for something new to try.

6 years later and here I am studying Anusara Yoga, a style of yoga developed by renowned teacher John Friend. As it turns out, Martin Kirk, author of Hatha Yoga, is a well-known Anusara Yoga teacher who is highly respected for his teaching and especially his anatomy and therapeutics courses. I opened the book this morning and read through some of the instructions for the poses and sure enough, it sounds like the cues that have become so familiar to me from taking Anusara Yoga classes and studying to teach this style.

So here I am having a little wow moment. In the last year I've become completely infatuated with Anusara Yoga - the style and its teachers speak to me in a way that is perfect for my practice right now, at this time in my life. But in reality it's not completely new to me after all. The alignment I first learned, the sequences I first practiced, all of it came from Martin Kirk and ultimately John Friend, his teacher. So my practice has come full circle and this realization has reinforced that which I was already intrinsically feeling - maybe after many years of trying new styles, learning from a smorgasbord of teachers, and ultimately teaching Hatha Yoga inspired by all of this exploration, maybe Anusara is the practice that will be IT for me. It sort of feels like coming home...

And since I'm feeling inspired by all things Anusara today (and in deep reverence for my teachers past, present and future) I'd like to share the Anusara Invocation - a chant that is sung before most Anusara Yoga classes. It is one of the unique components of an Anusara Yoga class and it's meaning really shows the heart of the practice. In this video John Friend and Krishna Das lead the invocation and are joined by a group of students.

And here's the translation:

I honor the essence of Being, the Auspicious One, the luminous Teacher within and without,
Who assumes the form of Truth, Consciousness, and Bliss,
Is never absent, full of peace,
Ultimately free and sparkles with a divine luster.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Breakfast in India

Here is a photo of the sprouted mung bean and mukti bean breakfast I described in the post below. This is just one of the many wonderful meals prepared with loving hands here at the ashram. The evenings are filled with meals of freshly harvested fruits, vegetables and grains made into delicious curries or raw salads. All meals are served with chapatis or some other kind of freshly made bread. Yoga philosophy says that food only has prana (life force) for 3 hours after it has been prepared so all meals are cooked from scratch immediately before they are served to us. I am indeed very blessed to be able to partake of such wonderful food.

Hari Om From India

After a long flight and the usual harrowing taxi ride from Mumbai to Nashik, I sit here at an internet cafe on the first of the only two days off I will get from my yoga studies this month. After a week of practice my knees are so far surviving the long periods sitting cross-legged for meditation and chanting, as is my neck from the ever increasing periods of time in shoulder stand. However the minor aches and pains from the physical part of my yoga journey are more than made up for by the beautiful views of the countryside from the windows of our asana practice space. We are in the midst of the last half of rainy season so there is a regular refreshing morning downpour that hits the roof as we do our daily sun salutations. I am feeling particularly calm and centered today, possibly due to having just completed the first of several days of silence. Life at the ashram is starting to sink into my bones. It has been a wonderful week of morning and evening asana and pranayama classes with lectures, cleansing practices and karma yoga littered in between. As the advanced students at the ashram, in addition to our regular studies and practices, we are expected to do two hours of karma yoga daily. While I do enjoy the gardening and window washing I am less enamored of the floor scrubbing assignments. Once done though we are fortunate to be fed the most beautiful, natural and nutritious food made by the local ladies in long flowing saris. It is so nourishing and tasty that I almost feel bad enjoying it so much. Imagine waking at 5:00am for chanting, two hours of asana and an hour of karma yoga before finally arriving at the dining hall for sprouted mung and mukti beans mixed with dates, tomatoes and nuts, served with a side of papaya and lemon grass tea. It is heavenly and all, of course, eaten in silence so that you genuinely taste the flavour, experience the texture and feel gratitude to the source as you listen to the chirping sound of the birds and the crickets. This alone is worth a 30 hour transit.
Written by Bobby Bessey, B.Sc. , RYT, Doula

Monday, September 27, 2010

Making time for your practice

Yoga helps to calm, revitalize and energize our minds and bodies. Strangely, just at the times when we need these benefits the most, we convince ourselves we couldn't possibly take time out for yoga! We all do it; put ourselves at the bottom of the to-do list. But thankfully there are a number of ways to integrate yoga into your life without neglecting your other responsibilities.

1. Ask your teacher or studio for the times that suit you best. At our Studio we really appreciate when students tell us what they want - and when they do, we do our best to offer it. Recently a group of yogis requested a 6am class - early mornings meant they could get out for their practice without disrupting the family morning routine or their ability to get to work on time. They asked and we were able to deliver.

2. Commit to a certain number of practices each week. Be flexible with the days and times you attend, coming when your life allows, but know how many times you'd like to practice and encourage yourself to make it happen. When you nourish your mind and body with yoga you're really nourishing the other people in your life too. The benefits of a steady yoga practice travel far and wide.

3. Practice yoga whenever and wherever you can. For a long time I was worried that if I didn't practice for at least an hour it really didn't count. Now I realize that any yoga is good, even just 10 minutes here and there. When I need a break from typing I stand up and do a few minutes of breathing and stretching. When I need a little pick-me-up in the afternoon I jump into some fun inversions. A longer practice has its benefits, but short spurts of yoga can help you feel good and make the practice a more ubiquitous part of your life.

4. Use your teachers as resources. At Shakti Yoga Studio we're always tossing around ideas for sequencing or for interesting asana variations. Want to know how to work towards a more challenging pose? Ask us! Want some suggestions for a simple sequence to do at home? We probably have a great photocopy to pass along. All our teachers are happy to help you along your yoga journey in whatever way they can.

During the summer we thought long and hard about how to help you get more yoga in your life. In the end we added an extra evening time slot at 8:30pm so you could get home from work, get supper on the table and maybe even put the kids to bed before indulging in a little "you time". We also put more options for both gentle and dynamic classes on the schedule. Now you can take Yin Yoga, Detox Flow, Gentle Yoga, Ashtanga, Hatha or Power Yoga depending on your mood! There are lots of options to keep you interested in your practice.

In the end, any yoga is better than no yoga, so if you miss a few days (or a few weeks) don't feel bad. Just remember how great yoga makes you feel and then roll out your mat for a practice.

Happy Yoga-ing!

Wednesday, September 1, 2010


Well it's been a beautiful and busy summer at the studio and for me personally. I've neglected this poor blog in the face of workshops, trainings, vacations, weddings and puppies. But here I am, ready to write again!

On this first day of September I'm feeling like there's a new beginning ahead. But before we get to that, I'd like to recap some of the events and points of interest from this summer. Sort of like those September school projects we all remember; "What I did this summer".

1. Our big project this summer was finding great new teachers and planning a rocking Fall Schedule. With that new schedule starting next Tuesday (Sept. 7) I think we've accomplished our goal. Shakti Yoga Studio now has eight amazing yoga teachers and two reception rockstars on staff to serve you and teach you and help you along your yoga journey. Along with these great new teachers comes exciting new class offerings like Yin Yoga, Ashtanga Yoga, Power Flow Yoga, Detox Flow Yoga and more. Plus a full schedule of Hatha Yoga classes. To see Teacher Bios click here. And to find out more about the Fall Schedule read the Class Descriptions or view the Schedule (use the arrows above the schedule to get to the correct dates - new schedule starts Sept. 7)

2. Bobby and I took a little time for a fun photo shoot with the amazing Maurice Fitzgerald. You'll see these photos in our ads this Fall and who knows where else! We just love them.

3. Training, training, training, a yogis work is never done! In July I spent a week in Toronto with Robin Golt, training in the Anusara method. I'll be back again in October to finish up the "immersion" and get ready for the "teacher training" portion after which, I'll be able to bring Anusara-Inspired Yoga to our Studio. In October, Bobby is embarking on a 500-hour, professional level teacher training in India, returning to the ashram where she originally studied. We'll miss her while she's gone, but we know that when she gets back she'll have so much to share!

4. During the last weekend of August Mike Munro from Therapeutic Approach Yoga Studio in Halifax taught a Yoga Anatomy and Assists workshop here in St. John's. Twelve yoga teachers from across the province gathered at our studio to study and practice with Mike. It was an enlightening experience of bones and muscles and hands on adjusting. Thanks so much to Mike and his awesome skeleton!

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Gratitude and Watermelons

Life is full of experiences that compel us to pause for thought. They can be a pleasure to embrace or a challenge to bear, however sometimes it is hard to decide which category they fall into. Last night at the end of a sticky 35 degree day I stumbled into one of the latter moments and discovered that this classification is not so very important as there is wisdom to be found in both kinds of experiences.

After a day spent in the heat of the sun I opened up the refrigerator and was reminded of the huge watermelon I had bought the day before. I gleefully hoisted it out of the refrigerator and commenced making the most wonderful mess of watermelon bits and juice all over the kitchen table. After chopping out a huge pile of half circle slices I sat down in the midst of it all and bit into the middle of one of them. As I was enjoying the sweet, cool, juicy fruit my brother walked into the room and saw me happily crunching, juice running down my chin and smiled at the scene. I suddenly felt bad because my little brother is recovering from a stroke in his brain stem that leaves him unable to swallow. While he is very fortunate that every other part of him is still functioning he is no longer able to eat food.

Watching me eat he was met once again with the constant craving for real food taste and texture. After a few moments of watching he decided to sit and “eat” with me. He placed small pieces of the fruit in his mouth and just enjoyed the flavour and texture, unable to let the fruit go any farther than his taste buds. What ensued was a watermelon experience of taste and texture exploration. Covered in the fruit’s sticky juice we laughed and discussed in great detail the taste, texture and all of the other glorious aspects encompassed in the eating of a watermelon at the end of that hot summer day. We talked about the smell, the crunching sound it makes when you bite in, the way it seems to cool your body and mind by taking over every single sense whether or not you swallow.

As I sat enjoying my watermelon I realized that until this moment in time I had no idea how to really enjoy a watermelon, no idea how to appropriately appreciate the gift of being able to eat a watermelon, and I was simultaneously awed and humbled by the courage and strength of my little brother’s spirit .

The next morning, with this memory fresh in my mind, I took the rest of that watermelon out of the refrigerator with the respect and reverence it deserved. I did not boil the kettle or look for a newspaper to read. Instead I simply prepared my watermelon to be eaten. I listened carefully as the watermelon crisply parted under my knife, smelled the aroma that was released, felt the juice drip on my hands, and looked carefully at the deep red fruit before biting in. I proceeded to experience the moment as it deserved to be experienced with awareness and gratitude to all of those in the long line of planting, nourishing, harvesting, and transporting this fruit to me and most of all to my brave and inspiring little brother who taught me how a watermelon should be eaten.
Written by Bobby Bessey, B.Sc.,RYT, Doula CD (DONA)

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Yin Yoga @ Shakti Yoga Studio

This weekend we're welcoming yoga teacher Stephanie Guitar to our Studio and to St. John's for the first time! Stephanie is a teacher and studio owner in Fredericton who has trained with Paul Grilley, the instructor that brought much of the Yin Yoga method to the United States. From Friday to Sunday Stephanie will be facilitating a Yin Yoga immersion that will help students learn a new method and deepen their practice and will enable yoga teachers to incorporate Yin Yoga classes in their teaching.

Yin Yoga is quite a departure from the more "yang" styles of yoga many of us are used to. Yoga Journal describes the difference:

Yin can be described as stable, immobile, feminine, passive, cold, and downward moving. Yang is depicted as changing, mobile, masculine, active, hot, and upward moving. In nature, a mountain could be described as yin; the ocean, as yang. Within the body, the relatively stiff connective tissue (tendons, ligaments, fascia) is yin, while the pliant and mobile muscles and blood are yang. Applied to yoga, a passive practice is yin, whereas most of today's hatha yoga practices are yang: They actively engage the muscles and build heat in the body.

Long holds in passive postures can be quite a challenge for people used to a more yang approach. The slowness and the quietness makes the mind race, while the lack of aesthetic importance in the postures make our egos a little bored. But if you can move through these feelings rather than fight against them Yin Yoga could offer great rewards. Again, from Yoga Journal:

"'Landing in this practice helps you take up residence in the body without a need for it to perform' ... When you stop striving and tune in to what's happening, you begin to truly feel the sensations in your body and mind as they arise. Once you accept that you will feel many things during a Yin practice—discomfort, boredom, anxiety—and learn to stay with the chorus of thoughts and feelings, your relationship to them will begin to change. You will learn that you have the inner strength to stay in situations you previously thought you couldn't handle. You will see the impermanent nature of thoughts and feelings as you watch them arise and then pass on their own. And when you stop resisting what's happening around you, you'll gain a sense of liberation and trust in life."

Once this immersion is complete, you can look forward to Yin Yoga at Shakti Yoga Studio. We'll likely offer this style in the Fall. Until then, you can explore the series of postures Yoga Journal presents in their article Soothe Yourself.


Monday, May 17, 2010

Enjoying Silence

Recently a student thanked me for class and shared her love of the "silent moments" during our practice. She reflected that those moments of quiet are a rarity in our busy lives, something that I'm sure we can all appreciate.

Early in my years of yoga study, I too came to appreciate silence. At first, the intentional pauses during class would seem jarring, and the long-held silence of savasana was very near torture. The busyness of my mind seemed louder than any music or voice. It seemed that when the calm sound of the teacher's voice ceased, the real noise took over...what was up with that?

But slowly I got used to that silence. And funny enough, the noise in my everyday life, which I'm sure I had never even noticed before, suddenly became so obvious! The music blaring from the car radio, the chitchatting in the university cafeteria, the tv playing in the background even though nobody was watching. Where had all this noise come from? Surely I would have noticed this before!

During one especially significant moment I was speeding down the highway rushing to yoga class. As my mind raced "I'm late, I should have left earlier, I'll interrupt everyone" loud music blared from the radio. I hardly noticed. As I kept up this speedy inner dialogue my whole body tensed and my foot pressed more firmly on the gas pedal. Until suddenly I noticed the noise and turned the radio off. With that, my breath slowed, the car slowed and my mind switched to a more mindful, appreciative inner dialogue: "I'm going to yoga, I'm going to nourish my mind and body, it's ok if I'm a few minutes late, I'll enter quietly and everyone will understand".

Since then I've been very mindful of the effect sound has on our well being. Sounds of all sorts have their time and place. Loud isn't always bad, sometimes loud music is just what the soul needs! But the key is to choose how sound will be a part of your life rather than always having it in the background and just never noticing. If I want to listen to music in the car, I do. But sometimes I don't want to and so I turn it off and enjoy the silence. Sometimes I like to play music when I practice or teach yoga, but sometimes my well being or that of my students is better served without music.

Yoga teacher and writer Georg Feurstein says "it is in silence and as silence that we discover our authentic identity, the Self". Ultimately integrating moments of silence into your life will lead you to stillness, which is the ultimate goal of yoga. Here are a few easy ways to experiment with quiet:

- the next time there is a moment of silence during a yoga class, or even a longer silence as in savasana, notice your reaction to it. Don't judge your reaction or label it as "bad", just notice. This will help you understand your existing relationship to quiet. From that place of understanding you can begin to accept the silence. Use your breath as a point of meditation and follow the inhale and the exhale, letting thoughts go as you breathe.

- when you find yourself having a conversation with a friend or family member notice other sounds in the space. Is there music? Is the television on? Maybe you even notice the sound of a fan or a computer humming. If these are sounds you can control, turn them off and notice the change in your attention level during the conversation.

- take 10, 15, 30 or even 60 minutes out of your day and commit to the practice of mauna, or silence (not speaking). The beginning or end of your day, or beginning or end of your yoga class is a good time to practice mauna. Notice the effect that not speaking has on you and those around you. At first you may feel silly or anti social, but as you continue to practice, you and the people around you will come to appreciate the positive effects of silence (even in small doses!)

- turn off the stereo, car radio, television and/or any other electronic device that creates sound when it is not actively being used and enjoyed.

- before you fall asleep at night and before you get up in the morning take a few moments of silence to observe the natural noises during these inherently quiet times. Maybe you can hear birds in the morning or the sound of the wind. In the nighttime perhaps there's music coming from a home nearby or the sound of dogs barking. Acquaint yourself with these natural sounds and enjoy them for what they are. These are noises that already exist around you. When you speak, play music, or turn on the hairdryer these new sounds are being layered on top of the natural noises to create the everyday hum of life!

In silence and stillness,

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Beginner's Blog

There's a new blogger over at Yoga Journal and already I'm loving her posts. She's fairly new to yoga and will be blogging about her experiences as a beginner. So far her posts are funny ("I don't know a hootkatassana from a pranayama") and genuinely reflective of the concerns beginners have when they start taking yoga classes. My favorite line: "What if I'm dying half way through the class, and I have to spend 45 minutes in Child's Pose? What if my pants won't stay up and my shirt won't stay down?"

If you're new to yoga (or can remember a time when you were new to yoga!) you'll enjoy Kristin's insight. And maybe you'll take solace in the fact that other people also worry about their feet/stamina/clothing/flexibility, etc., etc!

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

About Anusara Yoga

Thanks to Anusara Yoga on Facebook for alerting me to this lovely clip of writer KB and Anusara-Inspired Yoga Teacher Mindy Willis discussing the practice of Anusara.

Monday, May 3, 2010

Online Bhagavad Gita Discussion Series

This weekend I learned from YogaDork that frequent blog commenter and poster Bob Weisenberg has started an online Bhagavad Gita discussion series. Excitement! I rushed out to Chapters to buy the only copy they had (the version being used is the translation by Stephen Mitchell).

If you're not familiar with the Bhagavad Gita, it is one of the main texts in the yoga philosophy system. It is also widely acknowledged as one of the world's most important literary and spiritual works. Weisenberg, in his Gita Discussion #1 post, says "The Bhagavad Gita is one of the “big three” ancient Yoga texts, along with the Upanishads and the Yoga Sutra. The Yoga Sutra gets 95% of the attention, but it is quite incomplete without the other two. The three together are nothing short of astounding."

Gita Introduction

The Gita is one part of the Indian Epic the Mahabharata. In total, the Mahabharata, which is a very long poem, is longer than the length of the Iliad and the Odyssey combined. Book Six of the Mahabharata, the Bhagavad Gita, takes place on a battlefield at the beginning of an epic war. The good and virtuous clan or army is led by Arjuna, the hero of the Gita.

At the outset, Arjuna is driven on chariot to the space between the two armies where he surveys the situation. In that moment he is overwhelmed by what is about to happen - the imminent death of his friends, teachers and cousins that stand on both sides of the field - and so, he drops his weapon and refuses to fight.

At this point his chariot driver Krishna (who, as it turns out, is God incarnate) begins his teaching about "life and deathlessness, duty, nonattachment, the Self, love, spiritual practice, and the inconceivable depths of reality" (as Mitchell's introduction explains).

The Gita is a beautiful story that teaches the path of yoga (and specifically Karma yoga, the yoga of service). It is an epic poem that shows us the way to one essential truth - the peace and wisdom we seek already exists within us. Through Krishna's monologue we become more aware of this truth.

Online Discussion

If this sounds like something you're interested in exploring, Weisenberg's online discussion will be a great place to start. Already there is a wonderful mix of people taking part - some are brand new to the Gita while others are well versed in its teachings. Together, we'll all be creating an amazing dialogue which will help each of us in our personal Gita study.

The discussion will take place on Elephant Journal. Check out the first discussion post and reading assignment. You can also join the Facebook group to get discussion updates by email.

Getting the book in St. John's may be a challenge. I picked up the last copy at Chapters, but you can check the other bookstores. Also check The Bookery on Signal Hill as they often have hard-to-get titles. I'll do some calling around and update everyone about where to find it. (*UPDATE* there are no copies at either Coles location or at Chapters. The Bookery is closed on Monday's so I'll try them tomorrow).

Here are the online links for the title: Amazon and Chapters. An order from one of these sites won't take long to arrive and you can still follow along in the online discussion until then (the blog posts will remain online, so even if you're reading at a different pace you'll still be able to participate).

While you wait for your copy to arrive I'm happy to lend mine out overnight (the reading assignments are short) to anyone that would like to keep up. Just let me know and we can swap at the studio.

If you plan to take part, leave a comment here. While the big discussion that Weisenberg is initiating will be very beneficial, it's also nice to connect to a local community of people taking part in this type of study!


Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Vanity Fair Yoga Slideshow

I've been sharing a lot of links's another :) This is a slideshow of photos that Vanity Fair put together in 2007 (that's old, I know - I just came across it). It includes photos of many of yoga's well-known teachers and practitioners. Since we often talk about Iyengar, Sri K. Pattabhi Jois and T. Krishnamacharya it may be nice to know who they are! We talk less about Sting and Trudie Styler...but it's nice to see them doing yoga too ;)

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Neti Pot on CNN

Here's a quick read from CNN that highlights a few success stories from first time neti pot users. As the article mentions, neti pots are wonderful for allergies and sinus problems. Something to think about as we move from winter cold and flu season into summer hay fever season!

Click here for the full article.

Happy neti potting!

Friday, April 16, 2010

Paschimottanasana - Seated Forward Bend

When I first started my yoga practice Warrior 2 felt great, Extended Side Angle was even better and the first moment of balance in Half Moon pose was truly awesome. So basically, I really enjoyed the first two thirds of any yoga class I went to. What I absolutely did not enjoy was Paschimottanasana (seated forward bend) and Janu Sirsasana (head to knee forward bend).

As soon as we came to these seated poses, my whole body seemed to shout "no! absolutely not!". My hamstrings stayed stubbornly tight (despite my best exhaling efforts), my upper back burned while I stretched arms and head forward attempting to close the space between hands and feet, and my pelvis would absolutely not tilt forward no matter how many times the teacher urged it to do so. When I looked around the room I was amazed to see that some people actually looked quite comfortable - like they may even be enjoying this insane posture! Clearly my body was not built like theirs...

But years later, I'm one of those people happily stretching into Paschimottanasana - enjoying all the benefits it has to offer. So how has my forward bend gone from torture to pleasure? I chalk it up to patiently practicing good alignment.

In those early days of yoga my forward bend probably looked something like this:

My pelvis may as well be cast in concrete - it's not tilting anywhere! My upper back is deeply rounded (exacerbated by long hours working at a computer at my day job), and my head is reaching, reaching, reaching!!! for my knees! This is a yogi grasping for something that does not yet exist - flexibility! But that's ok. Our yoga teaches us to let go of expectations, to stop grasping and to let go of attachment to the end result.

Somewhere along the way I had teachers who showed me the path to comfort in Paschimottanasana. Their instructions would have sounded something like this:

1. Find the sitting bones first by reaching back and gently pulling each one away from the heel, removing any flesh from underneath them and rooting the bones down into the earth. If this in itself is challenging put the edge of a blanket or block underneath your seat to help initiate the anterior pelvic tilt.

2. Activate the legs. Draw the toes toward the shins and find your "yoga feet" (press out through the balls of the feet, finding a midway point between flexing and pointing the toes). Keep energy in the legs throughout the practice.

3. Lengthen the spine with the breath. As you inhale feel yourself grow out of the hips while the crown of the head reaches towards the sky.

4. With the exhale actively tilt the pelvis forward and keep the back long and straight as your chest stretches towards your toes, keeping the shoulders back and the heart open.

5. Place the hands on the floor beside the legs, on the shins, or on the feet if they reach (you can also use a strap around the feet). Wherever the hands are placed, soften the skin on the arms and resist the urge to reach and pull.

6. Continue to breathe. Lengthen the back on the inhale and stretch, with the chest open, toward the toes on the exhale. Even if there is no physical movement while you breathe, have the intention of movement and focus on keeping this physical alignment. If you stay committed to the proper alignment, over time your body will open up in the right places and you'll find yourself moving deeper and deeper (with more and more comfort!) into Paschimottanasana.

Whereas much of my discomfort in this asana stemmed from tight hamstrings and limited mobility in my pelvis, Bobby experienced discomfort in this posture because of chronic rounding in her mid and upper back during her early yoga practice. Here are her "before" and "after" photos.

As you can see, in the full expression of the pose the back does round a little. But this reflects the natural curve of the spine rather than an unnatural and accentuated bend in the waist caused by daily habits of forward bending (sitting at a desk, working on a computer, driving a car, etc.).

So the next time you arrive at the seated portion of a class and begin to make your way into the often-challenging seated forward bends, remember that these are difficult for everyone at first! If you bring awareness to proper alignment and let go of the notion that your head must touch your legs or your hands must touch your toes, you'll soon find your body responding positively. The hamstrings will loosen, the pelvis will more easily tilt and the back will actually feel stronger and longer. Before you know it, you'll be enjoying the calming effects of Paschimottanasana - even if your hands never reach your toes!

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Shakti Interview with Slice TV Network

A few months back we were contacted to do a phone interview with the Canadian TV network Slice. The article, focusing on yoga for beginners, highlights yoga as an activity option for people who want to be more active and healthy!

Check out the full article here!


Tuesday, March 30, 2010


As you know, I spent last week studying Anusara yoga with Barrie Risman. It was so revitalizing to be a student again! During our week-long session we touched on the importance of studentship - what it means to be a good student and how important that is to our practice and our teaching.

Yoga is a tradition that for thousands of years was passed orally from teacher to student. What we know of yoga today is the result of years and years of dedicated studentship. Individuals interested in the yoga teachings often had to prove themselves to the Guru (teacher) before he would accept them as students, ensuring that each student had the discipline and will to study seriously.

Today of course, we don't have to prove to our teachers that we're "serious students". The modern practice of yoga means many different things to many different people. Some of us are "serious students" and some of us are not - and where you fall in that categorization totally depends on your definition of "serious".

For me, the study of yoga has taught me a lot about being a student. It teaches me over and over that this path is not black and white. That there are different ways of doing things - different perspectives on the same practices - and that no way is right or wrong. It's all yoga. My study has shown me that things I thought were impossible actually become available to me with dedication and commitment (headstand, handstand and hundreds of other poses - i'm talking about you!). The study of yoga has shown me that to be a good student you must listen, decipher and respect the person doing the talking even if you disagree with him or her.

When you break that list down it's easy to see that what I've learned is relevant outside of yoga too. Understanding, dedication and respect are traits that this yoga has cultivated within me and that I am deeply appreciative for.

So the next time you find yourself in the position of "student", take a moment to consider how that studentship is affecting you at the deepest layers of the Self. For me this contemplation makes me hungry for more learning, more teachers, more moments in the role of student because I know that in the end, being a student makes me a better person and teacher.

With thanks to my many teachers (and with gratitude for the opportunity to study),

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Anusara Immersion Day 5

Today is the last day of training here in Edmonton. This week has given me lots to think about and has armed me with new tools to take my practice and my teaching to the next level. Over the last 3 days we've learned about Muscular Energy, Organic Energy, Shoulder Loops, Tantra Philosophy and more.

Anusara yoga principles are so expansive and full that they infuse the practice with new energy and new depth. In some ways I feel that Anusara is very similar to what I've always practiced, but the well-planned system created by John Friend provides the words and the detail to experience and teach yoga in an exciting and fresh way.

I know that much of what I've learned will begin to integrate into my teaching when I return to the studio, and I can't wait to share these seeds of knowledge! However, I also realise that I am just at the shore of the vast ocean of expertise that exists within this system of teachings (and teachers).

Today we'll get our "homework" in preparation for Part 2 of the Immersion (happening in July). For me that will include practicing handstand and getting more comfortable with the new-to-me anatomical ideas and alignment principles of Anusara. Yesterday I had a revelation in Urdhva Danurasana (!) and can't wait to continue exploring backbends with the Melt Your Heart principle of Anusara - super strong and expansive.

I'll be in the air tomorrow afternoon and teaching at the studio on Friday. I can't wait to get back - a week feels like a long time to be separate from our little studio community - see you all this weekend!


Monday, March 22, 2010

Reminder: Candlelight Yoga This Saturday!

Don't forget our Earth Hour class this Saturday from 8:30-9:30pm. We'll turn out the lights and enjoy 60 minutes of pranayama, restorative asana and meditation; great for body, mind and Earth!

From WWF:

"WWF's Earth Hour has become the largest global environmental movement in history. Last year in Canada alone, more than 10 million people, in more than 288 cities turned off their lights!"

So join us, and 10 million others across the globe, to celebrate Earth and take action again global warming.

See you there!
Om shanti,

p.s. don't forget - we'll be starting class right on time, and the door will be locked for safety's sake once the lights are turned out!

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Anusara Immersion Day 1 - Open to Grace

Ahhhhh. What a day. My first day of Anusara Immersion. My first day of study along this new path.

Today was all about getting to know each other and getting to know what Anusara is all about. Anusara yoga is "the process of learning how to dance in the bigger current of our lives, which we ultimately do not control". It is aligning with the divine in order to peacefully surf the waves of the reality we live in. Big stuff, huh? But that's yoga - it's big!

The first principle of Anusara yoga is setting the foundation and opening to grace. Much of our asana practice today was dedicated to exploring this principle. Setting the foundation is just what it sounds like. Setting the foundation of the pose, whether that's in the hands, the feet or the sit bones.

Opening to grace is the "bigger picture" component of this principle. Grace is the revealing power of consciousness. It is the power that reveals a more expansive vision to us. When we open to grace we open to the opportunity to receive this truth. And of course, as is the case in many yoga philosophy teachings, this openness can occur physically as well as in deeper, more spiritual ways.

I had a few Aha moments during this first session and there are lots of idea floating around in my brain to ponder. I can tell immediately that this immersion is going to be a revelation of greater truth in itself.

Off to do my homework! More tomorrow...


Friday, March 19, 2010

5 Days in Edmonton

It's 10am in St. John's - but I'm on Ottawa time for just a moment as I stop over on my way to Edmonton. The "airport excitement" has kicked in - I just love the feeling of being in transit. Not quite sure of what comes next but so positive that it will be great.

For the next week I'll be exploring the teachings of John Friend, founder of Anusara yoga. Barrie Risman, certified Anusara yoga teacher, will be guiding me (and a whole group of yoga students) through the Anusara Immersion - Part 1

In the last few months I've been exploring Anusara more deeply in preparation for this course. There was something about the style that attracted me from the moment I'd heard of it. But being nowhere near an Anusara teacher, and having had no opportunity to take classes live, I couldn't really pinpoint what that was. But now, taking classes online and getting a sense for what it's all about, I'm finding that there are a lot of parallels between this particular style and the things that attracted me to yoga in the first place. For one, the idea that we're all intrinsically good beings (that's part of the tantric philosophy on which Anusara is based - looking forward to learning lots more about it this week). Also, surprisingly, many of the key asanas in Anusara teaching are asanas that I have a) always loved, loved, loved or b) have grown to love as I realized over time the things they offered which my body/mind/spirit really needed.

Ohhh - boarding call! Gotta run. But I'll be blogging throughout the week about my first Anusara learning experiences...stay tuned :)


Tuesday, March 16, 2010


Daylight savings has begun and Spring is just around the corner (this coming Saturday!). With the sun shining brilliantly today, I can't help but be excited about all the opportunities for "outdoor yoga" that we'll soon be presented with. I took advantage of the warming weather Sunday past during a walk in downtown St. John's. Here I am practicing ardha chandrasana - half moon pose - an asana that has always resonated with me as a symbol of opening and being receptive to good things coming.

Posted by Picasa

Monday, March 15, 2010

Family Yoga on Places to Go with Sharon Snow!

This Friday (March 19, 2010) Shakti Yoga Studio will be featured on the NTV news segment Places to Go with Sharon Snow. Sharon attended a special Family Yoga class here today in order to film for this segment. The kids are all very excited to be shown on tv doing their yoga asanas - cobra and downward dog and sheep! Sheep was a special request, but congrats to Bobby for fast thinking and making a perfect sheep complete with sound effects.

Here's a few photos, including some of Claudia who loves her school-run yoga program and plans to become a yoga instructor when she grows up!

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Chair Yoga & Yoga for Older Adults

We're gearing up for our next session of Chair Yoga (starting April 9). This class is so much fun to teach - I love the social atmosphere, the "let's try something new" attitude and the awesome approach to a healthy lifestyle this group demonstrates.

Included in this group of Chair Yogis is my 85-year-old grandfather. He’s been missing his yoga so much since the Fall session that just last week he came to the studio for a private class. We practiced meditation and relaxation techniques, did supported asana (poses) and finished with a deep relaxation.

For many people, the idea of Chair Yoga or Yoga for Older Adults is pretty foreign. So I thought I'd offer an overview here...

This class is for anyone who wants to practice yoga but has limited mobility. Often this applies to older adults but it can also be great for people with conditions such as arthritis and fibromyalgia, regardless of age. During the class we use chairs as supportive props (using them to sit on or for support in some standing poses). The class begins with a relaxation to calm the mind and body. We practice breath techniques that enhance lung capacity and quality of breathing and then move into the physical asana practice. We tone and stretch the entire body using traditional yoga postures. My favorite in the series is Warrior 2, a strong pose that's wonderful for body and spirit!

This class is excellent for anyone who wants to improve their strength, flexibility and balance. It's also an excellent opportunity to socialize with like-minded people. Most of the people in our last session were new to yoga when they started, but by the end they were sold on the extensive benefits of the practice!

If you or someone you know could benefit from this gentle class please call or email us to register!

And just as a little encouragement, here's a few photos of the yoga "supergran", yoga teacher Betty Calman (age 83). But don't worry, none of these postures are pre-requisites for the class!

Image credit

What a wonderful reminder that yoga is something we can practice our whole lives :)


Thursday, February 25, 2010

Soaking Up the Sun Light

One of the many benefits of sharing the running of a yoga studio with a fellow yogini (aside from the obvious perk of getting to hang in Florida in the middle of the winter) is that we are able to share in the pleasure of each other’s waves of yoga enthusiasm. When Meaghan started preparing her sun salutation workshop we became immersed in all things sun salutation. This beautiful moving meditation has played varying roles in my practice over the years. Maybe it is because I first learned the mantras in India, or maybe it is because India is the location of the most beautiful sunrises and sunsets that I have ever seen in my life, whatever the reason, for me, surya namascar will always be deeply rooted in India. I remember practicing surya namascar at my ashram and drinking in the beautiful view of the sun coming up over the jagged horizon before closing my eyes and pouring myself into the breath and flow of the postures and the visualizations that went along with them. Every single time I opened my eyes in pranamasana and prepared to chant the next mantra, the beauty of my surroundings would take my breath away again and again as if I were looking at them for the very first time.

After coming back to Canada, I used this series to warm up and pull me back to India before doing my two hour morning practice. After getting pregnant, I adjusted the series to fit with my blossoming belly and continued to practice it right up until my delivery. Once the baby came, surya namascar was all that I could seem to fit into the busy schedule of taking care of a little human that seemed to need something every moment of the day and night. Without the luxury of time to do a two hour morning practice, surya namascar taught me to surrender to the moment. I had to let go of all expectations and simply accept that a sun salutation might be my practice on any given day. This taught me to pour myself into those few moments with complete focus and pure intention. I learned so much about using each breath with awareness and reaping the full physical and mental benefits of each full inhalation and exhalation. On some days I would finish with as much calm and clarity as a full length practice would have brought. This is when I truly realized the potential power of the sun salutation.

Over that last couple of years, as time and circumstance allowed me to add more and more to my regular practice, I had strayed a little from the sun salutation. When Meaghan started pulling together her workshop and we began to talk more and more about the sun salutation at the studio, I began to revisit this old friend in the early morning hours (I have kids who are 2 and 4, so waking before the sun comes up is no great challenge). I am in full swing right now and those 12 sun salutations in the morning feel more and more right as each day goes by. This was my 4:30 am welcome to the Florida sun on our first day here and I could not resist doing a few more on the beach later on that same day.

To all of you back home in St. John’s doing the Sun Salutation workshop this weekend, happy saluting! I will be joining you all, albeit from 2000 miles away but we will all be opening our hearts and souls beneath the same sun.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Candlelight Yoga (in support of Earth Hour)

I'm super excited about this!

On March 27 Shakti Yoga Studio will be offering a 60 minute class (by candlelight!) to support the Earth Hour campaign.

Not familiar with Earth Hour? This video is a wonderful introduction:

During our class we'll explore restorative asana (postures), pranayama (breathwork) and an extended, seated meditation.

Here are the details:

Date: March 27, 2010
Time: 8:30-9:30pm
Cost: Use your regular class pass or membership. If don’t currently hold a pass or membership, the drop in fee is $14+hst
Instructor: Meaghan Hutchings

Please Note: For the safety of everyone participating in this lights-out class we will not be admitting latecomers. The studio doors will be locked at 8:30pm as we turn out the lights. Thank you in advance for your understanding.

More about Earth Hour and Candlelight Yoga to come in March...stay tuned and mark it on your calendar!

Om shanti,

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Santosha / Post About Not Posting

I've been a very bad blogger lately. My posts have been few and far between and even though I regularly think of posting, I just haven't quite gotten around to doing it. So here I am, posting about not posting...

But in this post about not posting, I'm actually circling around a concept. A yoga concept. Just wait...i'm getting to it.

During those bursts of "blog posting thoughts" when I've either decided I a) don't have enough time or b) just don't have anything to say (b seems to be the predominant thought) what I'm really experiencing is discontent with the situation that I've found myself in. Discontent with the number of hours in a day, discontent with the amount of yoga-insight I'm capable of disseminating via this blog.

And so, in a very round-a-bout kind of way, I come to the concept of santosha. Contentment. One of the 5 niyamas of yoga philosophy (the philosophy of yoga is an eight-limbed path; niyama is the second limb and it refers to observances. i.e. Things we, as yogis, should practice).

My teachers discuss santosha in the following way:

More than a passive state of mind, actively cultivating contentment frees the mind from the effects of pleasure and pain. When contentment is perfected, one becomes desireless and attains unexcelled happiness.

In my moments of discontent when I desire more time and more knowledge I am no longer practicing santosha. Instead, I'm wasting precious time dealing with the effects of pleasure and pain (pain in this case). If I could just cultivate contentment to begin with, time would seem more plentiful and knowledge more accessible. And that is the magic of yoga...just when you think you can't practice because (insert your own personal obstacle here), yoga shows you that these obstacles can be overcome if you would only practice.

And so here I am, posting about not posting (but really posting about santosha). In light of these games our minds play on us, I'll leave you with a quote from Ashtanga yoga teacher Richard Freeman. He said this in a lighthearted way with a comical intention :)

"...your mind will try to cheat you out of yoga for the rest of your life. The mind doesn't want you to do yoga because you will become happy if you do it. And your mind would prefer to torture you. That's it's job"


Thursday, February 4, 2010

Shiva Rea Sun Salutation

In preparation for our upcoming Surya Namaskar workshop I have become totally preoccupied with the practice of sun salutations. If you've been coming to my classes you may have noticed that we've started doing more of these vinyasas (flows). And it's a good thing too - considering how cold it's been here. We all need a good dose of yoga sun!

One of the more well-known yoga teachers in North America is Shiva Rea. She's widely recognized for her beautiful vinyasa sequences, many of which are based on the Sun Salute. I've often come across this video of her doing Surya Namaskar and thought I would share it with you now. A few rounds of this in the morning will make those cold winter days a little more tolerable.

Click here: Shiva Rea Surya Namaskar

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Yogis for Haiti

By now many of you have contributed in your own way to the worldwide aid effort unfolding in Haiti. If you haven't gotten around to it, or are moved to continue contributing here are a few ways you can help:

- YogaDork is running a "design-a-T-contest" to raise money for aid. Describing how it works YogaDork says "It’s very simple: YOU send in designs. YOU vote on the winner. YOU buy the tee. WE ALL help Haiti." T-shirts will be American Apparel (same tees we sell here in the studio) and will be available very soon. If you want to send in a design get it in asap - the deadline is Thursday morning. We'll be ordering ours and sporting them here in the studio! Check it out here.

- At Shakti Yoga Studio we're offering everyone the opportunity to make a donation to the Canadian Red Cross in lieu of paying for your class (or using your membership or pass card). Just let us know when you check in if you'd like to make a donation (minimum donation of $10).

- If you're in St. John's, teacher Melanie Caines is offering a by-donation class this coming Saturday. All proceeds will be donated to the Red Cross. Check out her Facebook invite.

If you know of any other great ways we can help feel free to post them here in the comments!


Tuesday, January 12, 2010

New to Yoga?

So, it's January. A month when so many of us decide "now is the time to..." do whatever it is we've been thinking of but haven't quite gotten around to. For some people that statement will be "now is the time to start doing yoga" - and what a great idea! The cold winter months are a wonderful time for learning to breathe, move and think in a more healthy way.

Unfortunately, for some people the thought of a yoga class is daunting. There's a very disappointing misconception floating around that you have to be 1) flexible 2) skinny and 3) female to be "good at" yoga.

To help bust these myths and make your foray into yoga go more smoothly I have a few pointers:

1. Forget the idea of being "good at" yoga. If yoga teaches us anything it's to let go of these types of expectations and enjoy the moment instead. So as long as yoga feels good, you're doing it right.

2. Yoga helps improve flexibility. If you were already perfectly flexible you wouldn't really need it! Don't worry about how flexible you are when you start. Instead notice how your flexibility improves as you keep practicing!

3. Find a class and a teacher that's right for you. If you've never spoken a word of French, but sign up for a level 3 university French class anyway, you're setting yourself up to be disappointed! Same goes for yoga. If you are a beginner, start in a beginner class. You'll learn the foundations of the practice and be more confident.

4. Men - if you go to a yoga class and you are the only man there (or one of very few) the women in the room are NOT thinking "what's he doing here?". Instead, they're thinking "wow, I wish my man would do some yoga!" Be a good role model for other would-be male yogis and keep coming to class despite the excess of estrogen.

5. If you try it once, and dislike it, try it again. Really. Learn about what's available in your area and try a few different classes until you get a sense of what's out there. There are so many styles and varieties of yoga that there's bound to be one for you. At least give it a fair chance.

If you're a beginner and you're reading this blog, you're already on your way to finding the yoga that's right for you. If you're a regular yoga practitioner and this post makes you think about someone you know who's hesitant to try the practice, send it to him or her and offer to join them for their first class! Either way, enjoy yoga and life in 2010 :)


Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Exploring Bakasana

Everyday I learn something new about practicing and teaching yoga. This usually happens by accident. Of course there are also times when I actively seek new knowledge and understanding. For the last few months, something I've been actively exploring is the asana called Bakasana or Crane pose.

For quite some time now I've struggled with this posture. In most balancing asanas there's a "sweet spot" - a place where your body balances in space in just the right way. This place makes the pose feel almost weightless. When you find it, you get a glimpse of all the freedom yoga truly has to offer. Unfortunately for me, that sweet spot had remained elusive in Bakasana...until just a few days ago.

In the midst of a very quiet, relaxed Christmas week at my in-laws, I had a sudden urge to work on Bakasana. On the living room carpet, I crouched and started to work my way into the pose, fully expecting to quickly fall out as usual. But something was different this time. I felt a new sensation in my arms: strength, lightness, length. Suddenly, without even realizing it, I was holding the posture.

Just as quickly the sensation was gone again and I came out of the pose. Notice i said "came out" and not "fell out"; suddenly there existed a new sense of control. Everyday since I've worked on the posture and today I held it for the longest time yet! (we're talking seconds here...not minutes)

So as I continue working on this pose I'll update my progress here. It's a fun thing to experience; finding the perfect sensation in an asana. With dedicated practice, I believe this sensation is available to all of us in every asana we practice. Some feelings of understanding come more quickly than others, just like some asanas are more physically challenging than others. But once you've had that initial "Aha moment" you'll be free to move more deeply into physical, mental and spiritual sensations while practicing yoga postures.

Just for fun, here's a photo of one of my many failed bakasana attempts. The photographer caught it at just the right moment!