• Getting on the Mat: Why is it so Hard Sometimes?

    The way we practice, why we get on our mats, the directions we explore to experience something. There are so many possibilities. Do the differences matter? I think so. Whatever it is that’s getting you onto your mat or guiding your explorations needs to feed your soul. If it doesn’t, then we risk losing the motivation to practice and assume that means “it’s just not for me.”

    Think about the first time you fell in love with the practice. Did you need to find the motivation to go back to class? It seems to be less about cultivating discipline and more about stripping the practice down until all you’re left with is love for it because this practice really is an experience to fall in love with. We step on our mats because we want to. We want to experience the movement of energy and feel what’s going on beneath the surface. There will be moments of difficulty but if love is there, we’ll have the courage to go into those moments. For me, the process of coming back to a place of love for this practice when I’ve forgotten involved simplifying the practice, slowing it down and making it less physically intense so I could allow space for genuine connection to the practice to take root again. Many times it was about re-discovering the depth and potency of surya namaskara and allowing that to support the rest of the practice.

    Don’t practice because you’re bad, and it’ll make you good, a mindset that takes us out of the present and further from where we are right now. Practice because the experience itself is pulling you towards it. Whatever that means for you on any given day. Whatever length of time that means. It doesn’t matter. What matters is that we’re making it to the mat to explore and hold the body in ways that facilitate more balanced pathways. We’re restructuring those energy pathways in subtle ways so that new patterns of relating to ourselves and the world show up off the mat in more tangible ways.

    We don’t need to cultivate the discipline to practice 6 times a week because we should. We’re falling in love with the breath, tapping into a curiosity for it so that when a new day starts, we want to greet it by stepping on the mat – a space to connect to it more openly and meet ourselves exactly where we are. To feel what the breath is telling us in each moment. To settle into each moment and stay open to its spontaneous unfolding, rather than keep our sights outwards on where we think we should be.

    If that genuine excitement and curiosity is there, you don’t need a structure telling you when to practice. I think that’s the potential danger in following a structure or format for practice too rigidly – you’re told exactly what to practice and when to practice it and how many postures to do each day. Following a specific structure that’s been given to everyone can distract you into applying the effects of a practice without connecting with the cause of it; without going in to do the work yourself and allowing whatever comes from that process to inform what the practice looks like on the outside. Applying aesthetic – like length of time you’re on the mat and external form – from the outside in will burn you out. For most people, it’ll eventually take them to a place where they feel they have to practice and forget why they fell in love in the first place.

    Find what naturally pulls you to your mat, don’t just adopt a reason because someone who you think is spiritual said it was their reason. It can be to experience the intelligence of the breath or energy moving in sensation. It can be to feel the body opening and stabilizing. Or something totally different and unique to you. Then, allow the practice to look however it needs to in order to connect to that curiosity and interest. At first, they might seem like simple things, but that’s the mindset yoga is bringing us back to. One that is in awe of the simplest and most seemingly mundane things. Like a child, we go back to our roots. Go back to the foundations in asana and find out for yourself how exciting they can be. Deconstruct the basics, take them apart, stay a little longer than you normally would, move into them using a new approach. What do you find? Look again. And then don’t stop looking again because that process IS the practice, and that’s where you’ll find the inclination to get back on the mat tomorrow. Who knows maybe it’ll make you want to start practicing asana 6 days a week. Maybe not.

    If the genuine desire to practice isn’t there, then ask yourself why. If something feels off in the practice, it’s because something probably is. For me, when I’ve been in unmotivated moments, it’s been because I’m doing more than I should be doing. Pushing my body to do a practice that, when I looked closer, was too much physically during a particular time in my life. I was in pain and left feeling depleted. If you’re down, in pain, or going through something hard in your life, let the asana practice be soft and perhaps shorter. Allow yourself to feel those things. Let them in to allow the practice to be a reflection of where you are. Don’t force the practice to be a reflection of where you think you ‘should’ be. The path of pushing through and enduring doesn’t work long term.

    Other times the practice felt forced because I was doing things off the mat that didn’t support a healthy body and mind. In that way, the practice becomes a mirror for what I was doing outside asana practice, a space for compassionate confrontation. A gentle reminder that we should make the effort to practice yoga all day. On the mat, if we’re open to feedback, we’ll be guided into developing a practice that uniquely works for us and one that can blossom into a state we tap into all the time, in everything we do.

    By Monica Arellano

    Practice LIVE on Omstars with Monica Arellano

    Monica Arellano is a Level 2 Authorized teacher in the Ashtanga Yoga Method; a formal blessing received by her teacher R. Sharath Jois in Mysore, India. She first connected to the practice of yoga in 2010, looking for a more peaceful way of being. When she found her way to Miami Life Center in 2014 she began a regular Ashtanga Yoga practice and soon after completed a 2 year apprenticeship program under Tim Feldmann. Today she continues to practice, teach and travel regularly to Mysore, India to learn yoga directly from the source. Monica’s teachings are informed by the knowledge carried on from her teachers and the first-hand experience from her daily asana and meditation practice. Her classes emphasize the breath, alignment, and methods of concentration; in hopes of exploring the deeper experience of asana and the resulting expression in each student’s unique and mind. In this space, she believes we can deconstruct unhealthy patterns, facilitate healing on many levels, and find our way back to the most honest version of ourselves.

    This blog was originally posted on monicarellano.com

  • Find Out Why These Omstars Teachers Practice Yoga

    “I feel blessed every time I teach that I can be a conduit for the teachings of yoga. I can get out of the way knowing that any transformation that takes place is the grace that happens between the student and their practice.” – Anamargret Sanchez

    We do our best to gather the most amazing yoga teachers in the world to teach Omstars members. They are dedicated to the practice and have so much to share with you. Today we’ve asked Marie Belle Perez Rivera, Shawn J. Moore, Anamargret Sanchez, and Henry Winslow to share some of their yoga experiences. Keep reading to find out why they practice and what advice they have for new yoga students.

    Why do you practice?

    Shawn J. Moore

    I practice to be in alignment with Self. For me, practice is practical, spiritual, and developmental.

    Anamargret Sanchez

    To stay awake to Life.

    Marie Belle Perez Rivera

    I love the connection and processing

    Henry Winslow

    I practice to understand myself, and to realize the best possible version of myself in this lifetime.

    Why do you teach?

    Shawn J. Moore

    Representation matters. I teach so people that look like me know that these practices are for them and beneficial to them.

    Anamargret Sanchez

    Because I love to share the rich beauty of Yoga. And I feel blessed every time I teach that I can be a conduit for the teachings. I can get out of the way knowing that any transformation that takes place is the grace that happens between the student and their practice.

    Marie Belle Perez Rivera

    I love connecting with the community, learning from them, and sharing in the process

    Henry Winslow

    To help others do understand themselves and realize the best possible versions of themselves.

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

    Shawn J. Moore

    As a student – just sticking with the practice past some of the microagressions I experienced.

    Anamargret Sanchez

    When my intuition very strongly led me to my Himalayan Tantric lineage. I had never heard that inner voice speak so loudly or clearly.

    Marie Belle Perez Rivera

    The most inspirational moment I’ve experienced as a yoga student was finding my people, those willing to look at themselves, work with what is, and continue to do their work consistently, for a long period of time, with devotion.

    Henry Winslow

    In 2018 I won the World Yoga Asana Championships in Beijing, China. Plenty of people scoff at the idea of competitive yoga, and I think that’s totally fair. But I still point to my experience competing as both a major struggle and a major milestone because of the lessons I learned on stage. I competed for several years at the regional and even national level, and every time I would be well prepared and polished, only to stumble once it was my turn under the spotlight. The year that I progressed all the way to internationals and won first place was the year that I finally allowed myself to relax. I stopped trying to be the absolute best, and simply made my goal to do what was average for me. I’d always heard and understood intellectually that putting undue pressure on oneself wasn’t helpful, but the yoga championships ingrained this knowing in my physical body.

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

    Shawn J. Moore

    Inspiring my students at Morehouse College (I teach full-time) to get involved in meditation and yoga.

    Anamargret Sanchez

    I’ve had many. But the most recent one was when a student told me that her yoga practice brought her back to her spirituality. That made my heart soar.

    Marie Belle Perez Rivera

    I had an experience in DC once that really shook me to my core and grounded me at the same time. In the city, we are taught to lock all doors at the beginning of class. If someone is late, they can take the next class. For some reason, this day I didn’t lock the door. 10 minutes into class, I had 3 students run in and roll their mats out to practice. I was a bit confused and locked the door after them. Class went as planned. After class, the students stayed after to thank me for leaving the door unlocked. There had been a shooting outside and they ran for cover. Our door was the only one unlocked so they came in to practice. They thanked me for leaving the door unlocked, accepting them, and guiding them into stillness.

    Henry Winslow

    When studios shut down worldwide in response to COVID-19, I was surprised, impressed, and inspired by the yoga community’s adaptability. Studios, teachers, and students rallied, stumbled their way through standing up online classes, and continued to support each other when everyone needed it most.

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

    Shawn J. Moore

    Approach the practice from a place of exploration.

    Anamargret Sanchez

    Student first. Teacher second. Consistent practice is key. Fill your toolbox. Be the light.

    Marie Belle Perez Rivera

    Practice, explore, listen to your intuition, remain grateful, curious, resilient

    Henry Winslow

    Never compare yourself to others — only to yourself, yesterday.

    By Omstars

    Sign up for an Omstars membership to take your yoga practice to the next level.

    Click here to start your 14-day free trial today!

     

  • Interview with Susanna Barkataki

    I had no idea when I first started learning yoga, reclaiming and practicing the spiritual technologies of my ancestors how much inner power I was about to tap. I simply didn’t realize that I could transform from a shy, quiet, insecure person into a leader that doesn’t flinch at getting on camera or speaking on international stages.

    Describe your personality in three words.

    Fiery, caring, passionate.

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

    I am from England and India. I was born in Middlesbrough, UK – to an Indian father and British mother. My whole life has been shaped by large geopolitical influences! I was born at a time when Indians and White people didn’t marry, let alone date. Despite this, my parents felt an undeniable chemistry and decided to marry – but they couldn’t find anyone to perform the ceremony! They were told they would have to adopt – or they’d have “half-breeds.” Luckily, they decided to have me anyway – but as I was growing up there was so much violence against mixed race families that they had to leave England for a place of more tolerance and chose to move to the United States. This landed us in Los Angeles, where I grew up. Through a few twists of fate, I am now living not far from Kino and your wonderful yoga center in Orlando, Florida on unceded Seminole land.

    What is yoga to you?

    To me, yoga is unity.  Just like people, yoga has a place. It has roots. It has culture. It is from somewhere. You know where you are from. You can probably name the block, city, town, state, country and continent.  And those elements, aunts and uncles, foods, climate, environment – have been a huge part of shaping you for better or for worse. Similarly, yoga is from somewhere. We can’t just surgically remove yoga from its context. From the people, places, religions and society that influenced and influences it. Even though yoga is unity, we have to look at all the places that it’s been used to separate in order to create the true unity it promises us.

    How did you feel after your first yoga class and how do you feel this influences or impacts the space you create for your students?

    One thing I learned while teaching high school students that all true learning comes from the inside out from an internal, intrinsic motivation. I try to create a space that invites, inspires, opens this curiosity within a person, to be intrinsically motivated to learn how to honor, rather than appropriate yoga.

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

    “Speak up, miss,” my ESL students used to call out over the lesson I was attempting to teach. I was SO shy when I first started teaching (my first real job after college – I had to put that Philosophy degree from Berkeley to good use!) that my students literally could not hear me! As a quiet, shy, small mixed Indian girl from the UK growing up and then teaching in LA schools, I never imagined I’d be here – one of the go-to people for when people have questions about yoga and cultural issues! But back to me standing there sweating and petrified, I had important things to teach but I was afraid to speak them – those were some of the hardest moments of my life. Because I cared so much about empowering my English as a Second Language students with knowledge (after all, they were immigrants, just like I was, and I wanted them to have a fair chance at success in this brave new world) I simply had to learn to speak up! So I sought out great teachers to learn from and also taught myself how to teach all while learning and practicing the yogic traditions of my roots. Yoga and meditation was such a solace during that hard first year of teaching in LAUSD. And since then, I’ve been speaking up around issues of peace, harmony, nonviolence, equity and inclusion everywhere I can. So now, people look to me sometimes for answers to their questions around cultural issues and yoga. My goal now is the same as it was with those early students in my ESL 1 and 2 classes. To share the best knowledge to empower us all to make a difference and create a better world with yoga.

    Why did you decide to start teaching yoga and what qualities do you feel are important to build and work on as a yoga teacher?

    I had no idea when I first started learning yoga, reclaiming and practicing the spiritual technologies of my ancestors how much inner power I was about to tap. I simply didn’t realize that I could transform from a shy, quiet, insecure person into a leader that doesn’t flinch at getting on camera or speaking on international stages. But you know, it wasn’t always this way. I used to be terrified to speak in front of a few people, let alone the hundreds and thousands I now teach. Pencils bouncing off desks, voices echoing off walls, one afternoon, my AP English 12th grade class was completely out of control. I’d had it. I took a deep breath and said “Alright, y’all. Shakespeare isn’t working for us right now. Get up, everyone.” I almost couldn’t believe I was about to do this. I’d never shared yoga with anyone else before. “We are going to try something new.” We entered into a 15 minute session of yoga, breathing and ended with meditation. “Let’s just see how it goes,” I said to the students. At the end of the session, they looked at me. Dez, one of the most active and goofy students said, “Miss, I didn’t realize my mind could get so quiet. I’m going to do this every day.” Instead of hiding away the practice that gave me the greatest inner power, I realized part of my job, no matter what I was sharing, was to teach yoga as a practice to inner and outer power and transformation. My teaching and life was completely different after that.

    What has been your biggest struggle and your biggest milestone in the practice, in teaching and within the yoga community?

    Something I’ve been thinking about a lot is how we are sold yoga in the West. How it is watered down and how that robs us, and future generations of the depth of this powerful practice. And right now – diversity, inclusion & representation are seemingly “on trend.” But addressing representation and appropriation in yoga is “not a boxed to be checked” but rather an exploration to be undertaken, learning to be had, connections to be made!

    Why do you practice, and why do you teach?

    As a child my father chanted in Assamese (our regional language from Assam in North East India) and Sanskrit to help me fall asleep at night. As I lay there, tense, sleep eluding me, I’d try without success, to relax. My dad would smooth my brow, invite me to practice pratyahara and dhyana, mindfulness and meditation. He would invite me to envision a glowing ball of blue energy at my forehead and sing a beautiful chant that his own mother had sung to him. Engulfed in waves of sacred sound and blue light energy I would drift off to sleep. I am a reverent student of the practices from my roots that bring more peace and more power. So much more than asana is part of the fabric of yoga and lends important context to our yoga practice. I’m always so curious to learn! Honoring the spiritual lineage we practice within is so key.

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

    How to honor and not appropriate yoga – so we can practice the full expanse of what yoga has to offer us.  I BELIEVE IT IS time for yoga to restore the authenticity and diversity it deserves.  Yoga has so much potential. It means unity. But today, it is anything but this. I speak for my ancestors when I say “We are no longer here to allow this corruption and lack of diversity of this healing path. We all lose.” Instead, we can lean back while practicing forward to a future that includes everyone.

    Do you have any recommended yoga reading?

    I always have a copy of the Bhagavad Gita and the Yoga Sutras somewhere close at hand. I read from them in the morning and in the evening. I prefer these texts translated and with commentary by spiritual teachers. Through your own personal journey, what do you feel is your path and offering to the community- local and global? I’m a teacher, inclusivity promoter, and yoga culture advocate first and foremost. As an inheritor of yogic wisdom, I am passionate about bridging cultural connections and healing with yoga for us and generations to come to experience all that this incredible practice has to offer us. My work is how we can bring the roots of yoga in action with diversity and inclusion. I invite us to explore together as modern day yogis, purpose seekers, coaches, adventurers, mystics, spiritual practitioners, and people who know there is more to the story.  I see a world where yoga is unity and excludes no one. I feel yoga is here for us to cultivate power and transcend our very limitations, personally and socially. Not to create more separation but as a way to connect, dissolving separation within and without.

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

    Always be a student, practice yoga ethics and cultivate your sadhana, or personal practice.

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

    Yes! I am finishing up my upcoming book Honor Yoga’s Roots: Courageous Ways to Deepen Your Yoga Practice for folks who teach, practice, or want to learn yoga. I’m excited to share this invitation to truly bring your practice alive in a way that deepens and honors yoga’s roots. You can find the book and free resources at susannabarkataki.com/book

    By Susanna Barkataki

    Deepen and Honor your Yoga Practice Here

    An Indian yoga practitioner in the Shankaracharya tradition, Susanna Barkataki supports practitioners to lead with equity, diversity and yogic values while growing thriving practices and businesses with confidence. She is founder of Ignite Yoga and Wellness Institute and runs 200/500 Yoga Teacher Training programs. She is an E-RYT 500, Certified Yoga Therapist with International Association of Yoga Therapists (C-IAYT). Author of the forthcoming book Embrace Yoga’s Roots: Courageous Ways to Deepen Your Yoga Practice. With an Honors degree in Philosophy from UC Berkeley and a Masters in Education from Cambridge College, Barkataki is a diversity, accessibility, inclusivity, and equity (DAIE) yoga unity educator who created the ground-breaking Honor {Don’t Appropriate} Yoga Summit with over 10,000 participants. Learn more and get your free Chapter from her book on indigenous roots of trauma informed yoga at embraceyogasrootsbook.com/  Complimentary masterclass to embrace yoga’s roots without appropriation: www.namastemasterclass.com