• Downward Dog: Reexamining What is Habitual

    I teach a broad range of classes, from basics to hot vinyasa to honey flow (and if that intrigues you, check out my website!). Joining those classes on any day are a range of yogis from beginners to advanced to fellow teachers, those with whom I have practiced for years and those I meet for the first time.

    Now for the surprise. I break down downward dog to every single student in every single class. Only a day-one yogi has never been in downward dog, so of course, it is my honor to introduce that yogi to this foundational pose.

    And most yogis who have been in downward dog many times can still benefit from the grounding instructions, “sharpen your arms, bring your toes up to engage the front of the legs, don’t worry about touching your heels down to the ground.”

    But what about the advanced yogis? What about fellow teachers in my class? Is there a purpose to breaking down a pose they do dozens of times each and every day? Yes. And it is a reason that extends far beyond downward dog and even more broadly than yoga.

    Things we do again and again become habitual. In fact, it is a great evolutionary survival mechanism of our brains that we can approach familiar movements with an automaticity that reserves our precious brain power for novel endeavors.

    But this automaticity exacts a toll. It can be hard to be mindful in the habitual. Reexamining the things we do regularly can give them a renewed sense of purpose. So no matter how many times you have been in downward dog, make it feel like your first.

    • Feel the even weight of your body between your limbs.
    • Sharpen your legs, sharpen your arms, and extend the side of your trunk.
    • Push the front of your thighs towards the back of your thighs and lift your hips upwards and backwards.
    • Feel the stretch extend from the soles of your feet, through your calves and into your hamstrings. Let that lengthen your spine.
    • As you fold forward, sending your unique energy inward, accept that calming effect on your nervous system and allow yourself to look within. I bet you’ll like what you find. 

    By Ahmed Soliman

    Check out Ahmed’s Mindful Alignment course on Omstars

    Practice with Ahmed LIVE on Omstars

    Before I found yoga and began teaching, I was a wildlife biologist and environmental scientist. Serving the natural environment and helping to recover endangered species was my way of giving to a greater good. This is a concept that I’ve carried daily into a yogic lifestyle, both in teaching and in practice. I seek to serve this community in a way that supports strength, healing, and sustainability. After having multiple knee surgeries due to a car accident, I myself sought these qualities from my own encounter with yoga. I had to transition from contact sports like soccer to the safer and deeper space that the practice provides. A continuing student of Iyengar yoga, vinyasa, and meditation, I believe that awareness of breath, knowledge of the body, and mental focus on the mat lead to mindfulness and living harmoniously off the mat. I draw from my own experience and the study of human anatomy to offer a safe and grounded space for practitioners. I endeavor to help them explore their physical boundaries with a focus on intelligent alignment, awareness of breath, and steadying or relaxation of the mind. I have studied with Nikki Costello, Nikki Vilella, Magi Pierce, and other influential teachers. I am an ERYT-200 hour yoga alliance certified teacher with additional specialized training in anatomy, meditation and yoga nidra. Connect with Ahmed on Instagram or http://yogisoli.com/

  • Interview with Ahmed Soliman

    I practice because yoga has become part of who I am – physically, spiritually, emotionally. I could no more easily stop being a yogi than I could stop having curly hair. I teach because it is a privilege to share this practice to others.

    Describe your personality in three words.

    Passionate, inquisitive, and loyal.

    Where are you from and/or where do you live?

    I am from Egypt and came to live in Brooklyn after sixteen years in California. All three places have been deeply influential.

    How long have you been practicing yoga and why did you start practicing yoga?

    I have been practicing yoga for almost 10 years and came to the practice after a serious car accident and multiple resulting knee surgeries sidelined me from my lifelong passion for contact sports and, particularly, soccer. I was drawn to the safe, sustainable practice of yoga as a means to repair my body, nourish my soul, and develop a practice that I could continue over the course of my lifetime. This experience has deeply informed my teaching style — I teach with a goal that each student practice with the precise, proper alignment that will prevent injury and ensure longevity of practice.

    What is yoga to you?

    As a practicing Muslim, I have been taught to always seek balance. Yoga is a practice and lifestyle that allows me to deepen my connection to my faith and find balance through challenging times.

    How did you feel after your first yoga class and how do you want students to feel after they practice with you?

    After my first class, I remember walking up to the teacher and asking, “Can I do this everyday?” I hope my students feel that too.

    What impact has yoga had on your life? Who were you before you started practicing and how have you changed, evolved and transformed?

    Yoga has given me the gift of integrating a deeply personal practice with a tremendously satisfying profession. While on the outside, my prior career as a wildlife biologist (I worked in the recovery of endangered species) may seem entirely different, in fact the drive to serve a greater good underlies my entire career trajectory. My own yoga practice gave me grounding, balance, and sustainability. The fact that I am able to have a career of bringing yoga and helping others in my community to find balance brings me more professional satisfaction than I ever dared to imagine I’d find.

    Why did you decide to start teaching yoga and what makes a good yoga teacher?

    I started teaching yoga because I wanted to teach in a way that encourages inclusivity. With proper alignment and technique, absolutely anyone can practice yoga. Delivering that message is what makes a good yoga teacher.

    What style of yoga do you practice and what makes that style most effective? Do you have a teacher in your style of yoga?

    I practice Vinyasa and Iyengar yoga styles. Iyengar allows yoga to be available for all, through mindful and proper alignment.  Incorporating that knowledge into Vinyasa helps me shape an accessible flow.

    What is yoga favorite yoga pose and why? And what’s your least favorite yoga pose and why?

    My favorite yoga pose is downward facing dog. It is strengthening but calming and foundational to the practice. My least favorite is Kurmasana, tortoise pose

    What has been the most inspirational moment you’ve experienced as a yoga student?

    Learning that, with patience, awareness and practice, challenging asanas that I thought were impossible for me become possible and how I can apply that to other challenges in my life

    And how about as a teacher?

    After a few years practicing together, one of my private clients called me from his doctor’s office to tell me he had grown almost half an inch! I was so happy that our stretching, lengthening, and upright- shape enhancing movements gave him a tangible benefit.

    Join Ahmed’s LIVE classes on Omstars

    Why do you practice? Why do you teach?

    I practice because yoga has become part of who I am – physically, spiritually, emotionally. I could no more easily stop being a yogi than I could stop having curly hair. I teach because it is a privilege to share this practice to others.

    What’s your favorite yoga quote or mantra?

    When I teach, I often say “as you are.” I typically say it when I ask my students to maintain the shape they have made, but to add on to it. A student who practices with me regularly told me that every time I said this, she almost cries. And I realized that “as you are” is really representative of the practice of yoga and even life, more generally. “As you are,” whatever you bring to this day, on or off the mat, that is just fine. Exactly who you are right now is exactly who you are supposed to be. When it comes to yoga, we are working with who we are at that moment. Not what we once were or what we will be.

    What is the single most defining issue facing the global yoga community today?

    I am a big believer in yoga as an inclusive practice and community. I hope that we continue to find ways to show people that you don’t have to look a certain way or believe in a certain thing to be a yogi. Yoga is for everybody.

    What’s the most embarrassing thing that has ever happened to you as a student and as a teacher?

    I am either so fortunate or so forgetful that I cannot think of an embarrassing yoga experience!

    Do you have any recommended yoga reading?

    Light on Life and Light on Yoga, both by B.K.S. Iyengar, are exceptional. Thoughtful, thought- provoking, and informative.

    What is your dharma, your life mission?

    I am constantly seeking balance and sustainability. Be it through my pre-yoga career as a wildlife biologist, my political activism, or my community outreach.

    What advice would you give to someone who is just starting out on their yoga journey?

    I teach yoga with exacting precision for alignment. I encourage a beginner to seek to practice with precision, but to be forgiving throughout the journey. Like an archer who directs the arrow and lets it go must accept the path the arrow takes, so too must a yogi seek precision, but accept the unexpected directions. So start on your path, direct, redirect, and let go.

    Are there any current projects you’re working on that you can tell us about?

    I am most excited about my upcoming retreat in Costa Rica! As a former wildlife biologist, I am excited to lead my students through yoga in a bio-diverse paradise where we will explore nature, hike, identify rare species, bird watch and, of course, practice yoga.

    Aside from your fantastic course on Omstars, do you have a favorite class that you’d like to share?

    I have lots of exciting things going on! It’s all on my website, yogisoli.com. And my weekly, online live class on Plankk Studio App and Omstars.com is Mondays 8:00-9:00 a.m. Eastern Time.

    Get started with Ahmed’s Mindful Alignment course on Omstars

     

    By Ahmed Soliman

  • Yogis at Ramadan

    When I teach yoga, I often say to my students “as you are.” For example, “as you are, breathe in through your nose and out through your mouth.” What I really mean is something much deeper than that. As you are — whatever you brought with you to this mat and this practice, whatever your body is today, whatever emotional or spiritual energy you have with you, we can work with it because as you are, right now, is exactly as you are supposed to be.

    This month, Ramadan, is one of deep inward reflection for Muslims. For many non-Muslims, the month of Ramadan immediately suggests a time of fasting, hardship, and deprivation. Perhaps for those very reasons, many of my non-Muslim friends are shocked to hear that I maintain my same yoga teaching and practice schedule throughout my observance of Ramadan. They are indeed correct that Ramadan involves fasting — from dawn to sunset, Muslims, myself included, refrain from the intake of food and drink and even abstain from bodily pleasures of intimacy. And they are certainly correct that this is a deprivation and can be a hardship, but the result is a time of deep cleansing and renewal and the effect supports and enhances my yoga practice. My yoga practice is deeper and more spiritual than it is at any other time of the year. Yoga and Ramadan bring out the best in each other and the combination brings out the best in me.

    When I teach yoga, I often say to my students “as you are.” For example, “as you are, breathe in through your nose and out through your mouth.” What I really mean is something much deeper than that. As you are — whatever you brought with you to this mat and this practice, whatever your body is today, whatever emotional or spiritual energy you have with you, we can work with it because as you are, right now, is exactly as you are supposed to be.

    “As you are” takes on an even deeper meaning to me during the month of Ramadan, because it is a month stripped bare of distractions. We spend a lot of time distracting ourselves from who we are. For many of us, we are not comfortable facing who we truly are, so we distract ourselves with food, alcohol, sex, curated, online personas of ourselves, memories of what we once did, anxieties about what we might one day do. In fact, we have any number of tools at our disposal to keep us from facing the stripped down truth of who we are, as we are, at any particular moment. Yoga provides one framework for accessing our true selves, as we are, by penetrating and examining the five koshas, or sheaths, that overlay our true selves. The observance of Ramadan helps us strip away the distractions and focus on each kosha.

    Annamaya is the physical layer, our flesh and bones. During Ramadan, we fast during daylight hours and make careful choices to hydrate and nourish ourselves during the precious few hours between sundown and dawn, mindful of the delicate balance with our bodies’ countervailing need for sleep. Making the right choices involves a keen understanding of our physical selves, where our body is on that day and in that moment.

    Pranayama is our energetic layer, manifesting through the breath as a symbol of the energy of life. Islam encourages us to find balance in our lives and, during the month of Ramadan, we are asked to fast from the worldly desires that may, at other times, overtake us and throw us out of balance. During this month, we fast from temptations, anger, and aggression. Instead, we prioritize compassion, kindness, giving, and community involvement. This renewed focus cleanses our energetic selves.

    Manomaya is the mind, our means to self-identify, and Vijnanamaya is our intellect and wisdom. During the month of Ramadan, we increase our practices of reflection, contemplation, meditation, devotion, and prayers. Our increased prayer practice forces us out of the daily bustle and drops us into ourselves. This inward focus quiets the noise of our daily lives and connects us deeply with our own spiritual beliefs. Free from that noise, we understand who we are and we grow the intellect and wisdom that supports us on our path.

    Anandamaya is the absolute truth, our true self, as we are, at this moment. These daily practices purify our body, our mind, and our soul. Ultimately, they help us pull back the curtains we wrap around ourselves and face the reality of who we are. It might not be quite who we thought. It might not be an Instagram-perfect reality. It might be something we’ve been avoiding. But finding our true self is important because it links us to God. Believing in God requires you to find yourself and believe in yourself, after all, you are the only version of yourself that He made. To ignore or hide your true self is to ignore God. To change yourself or avoid your true self is to assume that God made a mistake in creating you. He didn’t. We tend to look for things in the wrong places, God included. In Arabic, we say Allah for God, pronounced al-Luh. When we say it over and over, it mimics the sound of our own beating heart. Our own heart is the best place to find our connection to God. 

    So, find your true self and celebrate what you find.  You may not be perfect, but you are as you should be, right now.

    Practice with Ahmed on Omstars

    By Ahmed Soliman

    Before I found yoga and began teaching, I was a wildlife biologist and environmental scientist. Serving the natural environment and helping to recover endangered species was my way of giving to a greater good. This is a concept that I’ve carried daily into a yogic lifestyle, both in teaching and in practice. I seek to serve this community in a way that supports strength, healing, and sustainability. After having multiple knee surgeries due to a car accident, I myself sought these qualities from my own encounter with yoga. I had to transition from contact sports like soccer to the safer and deeper space that the practice provides. A continuing student of Iyengar yoga, vinyasa, and meditation, I believe that awareness of breath, knowledge of the body, and mental focus on the mat lead to mindfulness and living harmoniously off the mat. I draw from my own experience and the study of human anatomy to offer a safe and grounded space for practitioners. I endeavor to help them explore their physical boundaries with a focus on intelligent alignment, awareness of breath, and steadying or relaxation of the mind. I have studied with Nikki Costello, Nikki Vilella, Magi Pierce, and other influential teachers. I am an ERYT-200 hour yoga alliance certified teacher with additional specialized training in anatomy, meditation and yoga nidra. Connect with Ahmed on Instagram or http://yogisoli.com/

    Join live classes with Ahmed on Omstars

  • Join this June Challenge, become the force of One Million Yogis!

    What if one million of us came together to empower others? I believe we can definitely make this happen. And it will truly enrich our yoga practice, too. It will become a two-way practice. It is estimated that 300 million people enjoy yoga worldwide today, generating 80 billion U.S. dollars. If we are part of this huge global trend, why don’t we take our own initiative and redirect a portion of this huge resource to give back to Mother India?

    This is why we are reaching out to you to be the force of One Million Yogis to make a massive positive impact in many more lives in India who desperately need our support for survival.  While we enjoy our blissful yoga practice on the mat, many mothers struggle to prepare the next meal for their children, young girls are forced into early arranged marriages, and orphans wander as HIV infected parents die in the towns and villages of India, the birthplace of yoga. I even met a teen girl in West Bengal who has been tortured by her father and brothers simply because she does not quit school. Today, with YGB’s scholarship and social program, she is earning good money and her family stopped beating her…the stories go on and on. Just as we want to make progress with our yoga, everyone  wants to make progress in life to reach one’s dream with joy and light. Why can’t we provide them with life changing opportunities?

    Most of us probably started yoga asana practice for physical exercise.

    Eleven years ago, I walked into an Ashtanga yoga class in Los Angeles looking for a fun and rigorous fitness class. I got hooked. I loved learning new poses and sweating a lot, while also slowing down and deepening my breathing. I was also introduced to Yoga’s spiritual tradition and started learning Sanskrit. One day, I read a line that hit me to my core, “First part of your life is to experience and learn. Second part of your life is to serve others.” I was 47. I did not know much about Seva or Karma of the yoga tradition. But this message truly resonated in me. With all I got from my daily yoga practice and my life, I needed to give back. To my surprise, I soon learned that many people actually share the exact same feeling!

    This was how Yoga Gives Back (YGB) was born and continues to grow. In its eleventh year, we now fund more than 1200 impoverished mothers, youths, and children in India with microloans and education funds with a minimum of five-year commitment to each person. Today, yoga communities in nearly 20 countries support our mission.

    I have never imagined that YGB could grow this much. But now, as YGB goes into its second decade of operation, I am convinced that we can do so much more. We can reach out to One Million Yogis globally!

    Here is another example how your support change lives:

    This year, we are adding new 25 teen “Devadasi” (servant to God) girls to our program, just north of Mysore. These girls  were born to Devadasi families in central Karnataka state. Once they reach to puberty, they are given to God in a marriage ceremony and labeled as “Devadasi, ” which is the beginning of their life long career as prostitutes as their mothers and grandmothers were.  Our NGO partner is working hard to rescue these girls, to provide them with good education and secure life so they can build their life with independence, sustainability and self-esteem. Your participation in this June Challenge will support these girls’ future!

    This is why I believe we can engage one million yogis:  We are not asking anybody to run a 5K to raise funds or to donate 1 million dollars. With your daily dedication, Kino’s continued support to our mission, and amazingly generous sponsors backing our effort, we get closer to One Million Yogis every day.

    If One Million Yogis get involved in this revolutionary movement, whether volunteering, hosting a class, doing Challenge, donating whatever you can, we can definitely uplift millions of lives in India. So why don’t we make this happen?!

    Running YGB for the last 11 years while enjoying the benefit and abundance of yoga practice, I am more convinced that yoga practice is enriched when it becomes a two-way practice. When you direct your energy gained from this practice not only to yourself but also to others, yoga truly starts to mean more. Yoga’s ripple effect truly starts to explode beyond our imagination. Maybe this is why Yoga means “Union.” Together we can effect change, by honoring our practice, and activating our gratitude.  Join us this June for Kino and Ahmed’s 10 Day Challenge, and stay involved in Yoga Gives Back’s #One MillionYogis Campaign. Namaste.

    By Kayoko Mitsumatsu

    Kayoko Mitsumatsu is the Founder and Executive Director of Yoga Gives Back