• How Injury Brought Me Closer to the Purpose of Yoga

    I attribute yoga taking over my life to the moment I started practicing Ashtanga yoga mysore style at Miami Life Center. It affected everything, not just the 90 minutes in class. I fell hard (still falling) for this practice and mysore style was a gateway to a whole new world. That is, until about 4 months into my new found high. I fell off my bike. Nothing too serious, but enough for me to determine I couldn’t practice yoga until I was fully healed. I fell on my right arm and hurt my elbow so it was difficult to put weight on it, like in downward facing dog. I thought if I can’t downward dog I have no business walking into a mysore room.

    I took about 3 months off, more than I probably needed to. Losing the momentum of practicing 3 times a week made it really hard for me to get back to the mat. I’ve come across students with similar experiences. Getting back on the mat after stepping away for the first time is sometimes harder than coming to the mat in the first place. You would think the opposite, especially after experiencing the life shifting results from a regular practice, that you’d come running back.

    If you want to know the benefits of practicing yoga, stop practicing. I’m pretty sure I got that one from David Swenson. But its so true! It points to the slow subtle shifts that yoga creates on a deep level, which then slowly work their way to the surface. You won’t notice how much has changed from one day to the next, but if all of a sudden you stop practicing and those yoga benefits stop making an appearance in your life, the sharp contrast in how you feel and show up in the world will tell you. Yoga works in quiet sometimes mysterious ways.

    When I was off the mat those months, I felt the tamas, apathy and heaviness coming back into my body and mind. I was more emotional, getting lost in sadness and doubt (my go to’s). The crazy part was that before yoga I never thought of these things as the lack of yoga, but as my nature, a part of who I was and never considered living without them. It was a big shift for me. I now saw those physical, mental and emotional states as changeable by a yoga practice.

    My practice had become a space for me to tune in, which I soon realized allowed me to show up as a better and more present person for the rest of my day. I didn’t realize at the time that I didn’t need to do a downward facing dog in order to have that. But the mysore room and the teacher provided me with a clearly defined space and time to tune in. And most importantly a method and path to support me through that process. I didn’t know how to move through this process alone, much less that I was so eagerly searching for a path most of my life. When I found this path, I sank into it without fully realizing that I had finally found what I was searching for. Having a teacher, a class holding me accountable, expecting me to show up for that space was really important for me at the beginning. Which makes this less about blaming myself for stepping away when I was hurt, and more about understanding and compassion for my journey as a beginner.

    When I got back into the mysore room 3 months after I fell off my bike, I felt like I had taken 2 steps back. Starting up again took so much effort, so much tapas and fire to burn through the stagnation that had taken over. It was an important part of my journey, going through that physical, mental and emotional effort and discomfort. Once I got through it, the daily ritual of this practice and tuning in was further ingrained in me. Since then I’ve had unbroken regular practice, nowadays 6 days a week for asana.

    Fast forward 4 years and I run into a shoulder injury. There was pain when I lifted my arms over my head. I couldn’t do the first movement in Ashtanga yoga! Which of course brought on all the reactions – sadness, frustration, doubt whether I would even practice yoga again. But this time I knew better. I wasn’t going to stop coming to the mat. My practice needed to drastically change from intermediate and part of third series, to heavily modified standing postures. I went from practicing asana for 90 minutes to 20. At this point I realized those 90 minutes were really useful as it took me some time of being on the mat to drop down to the undercurrent. So I looked for other tools to keep me on the mat each day a bit longer than 20 minutes.

    I found pranayama (the practice of controlling the breath) through one of my teachers, Mark Linksman. It become my main practice while my shoulder was healing. It was such a beautiful time for me as a yoga practitioner. I continued healing the body through minimal movement, not allowing stagnation to take over and I opened up to a new pathway into the practice of yoga, into focusing inwards. Pranayama is incorporated in the Ashtanga system, but to practice it on its own gave me a closer look into the self-transformational power of the breath. I explored more precise ways of working with it that could be translated to deepen an asana practice.

    It’s so interesting to notice how as I spend more time on the mat, my ideas about what I think is right or wrong changes. The context of my practice changes because my perspective gets a bit broader. It’s as if I can look in from a further stance and get a more complete view of Ashtanga Yoga, or yoga in general for that matter. I imagine it’ll be like this for the long haul of this path – I’ll keep taking another step back, and keep seeing pieces I was blind to before because they weren’t yet in my view.

    This time, as soon as my shoulder healed I was there, present and ready to slowly move back into a longer asana practice. This time without the heaviness I had the first time coming back from an injury. I had maintained a practice so I never really left. Creating a practice with a different form allowed me to better understand through firsthand experience the purpose of yoga, regardless of the tools used. It wasn’t to perfectly execute a shape with our bodies but to create a space to observe ourselves, to sit in awareness. Lucky for us we’ve been given more than one way of doing this, teachings that have been passed down through many generations, through lineage.

    I was also given an opportunity to witness the healing potential of the primary series of Ashtanga yoga. Moving slowly through heavily modified standing postures and then into primary series little by little facilitated my healing process, coupled with some physical therapy exercises. I wasn’t doing the traditional full expression of primary series, but to me is was complete and perfect. I had the opportunity to revisit the foundations and refine basic technique. It’s since then become a big focus in my practice – continuously going back to the basics. While I was healing it helped me establish movement patterns that more efficiently built strength and flexibility while doing a very beginner practice. Mentally, I learned to tap into a beginner’s mind, looking at something for the hundredth time with a unbiased perspective. As I moved back into a more advanced practice, my body felt good and strong because of the time I spent more intimately understanding basic movements.

    I often see students get caught up in the external conditions set for the sequence, holding on to them as truth, thinking if it weren’t followed perfectly it meant they weren’t practicing Ashtanga yoga. The context of Ashtanga yoga is much broader than the postures – another lesson I picked up from these experiences with injury. The postures are there as tools for a more holistic and spiritual purpose. They bring us into our bodies, something tangible to feel what’s present. They give us a single point to focus on, and they give us a mirror to observe ourselves by. And yes the conditions set to execute an asana are important, such as place your hand here, breath in here, but they can be accommodated to work with a student’s situation, like a physical limitation for example, and still maintain the intention of yoga.

    We can expand the context of yoga by modifying a posture, incorporating seated breathing or seated meditation, staying in one posture for 10 minutes, the list goes on. There are different doorways into yoga and therefore the pathways along the way may look different, in the same way that my personal journey through this practice will look different than yours.

    I had two different experiences with injury and came out with my own lessons and conclusions, which I get to share with you here. Not to tell you what to do but to let you know that there are different paths within this path and it’s important to find your own way. I’ve used the experiences and knowledge of others to help inform what and how I choose to explore. To then evaluate and integrate the lessons learned from my own personal experience. The result is as many expressions of yoga as there are humans, and that’s a beautiful thing.

    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

  • The Transformative Power of Yoga

    Yoga transformed my life and my relationship with my body. Before yoga, I thought the only way to feel good in my body was through intense physical exercise. Finding yoga taught me that stillness offers a deeper connection. The mind-body connection of yoga transformed my life. But this wasn’t always the case.

    When I was a child, my body was my instrument. I was an athlete, lifeguard, cheerleader, drill team dancer/choreographer, and avid skateboard enthusiast. I thrived on being physically active. It fed my sense of self. In fact, my physical agility drove my dream of wanting to become a dancer/choreographer on Broadway.

    Everything changed when I was 19 years old. I survived a devastating car accident, where I was diagnosed with a spinal cord injury and told I wouldn’t walk again. The news shattered my confidence and complicated my relationship with my body. It felt like I had two lives: life before and after the accident. After a year and half of intense physical therapy, and a miracle, I was able to walk again with the aid of below the knee plastic braces but my journey to self returned in bits and pieces.

    I felt broken after the accident. I disconnected from my body and developed a fear of visibility. I didn’t want to be seen as disabled because I didn’t want others to limit my options. I brushed away help and ignored my physical limitations. The result: I lived in a deep sense of shame for being injured and didn’t know how to reclaim my life.

    On the outside, it looked like I recovered. I returned to college and slowly began sharing parts of my journey with a select few. But the truth was, I was fragile and wounded. I felt insecure when people stared at my limp. Sometimes I body shamed myself and clung to old mindsets that kept my world small. I kept hearing doctor advice in my head that warned that too much activity could erase progress. I now know that doctors were trying to protect me but, in reality, it instilled fear.

    First seismic shift in changing this mindset occurred a few years after the accident. I enrolled in my college’s Study French Abroad Summer Program in Strasbourg, Germany. Many thought I wasn’t up the challenge.

    “How will you manage on your own?” friends and family cautioned. “Europe isn’t accessible – what if you need help?”

    I admit I was scared but I trusted my inner voice. Therefore, I ignored concerns, quieted naysayers, and after asking my Dad for a small loan, my plans proceeded.

    Everything was on track until I met my study abroad professor. Initially, our phone conversation brought hope but my enthusiasm waned after meeting face-to-face.

    I noticed her expression as I walked in. Her eyes fixated on my limp. When, she realized I had caught her gawking, she quickly looked away to avoid eye contact. Even though this interaction was only a few seconds, it trigged rage. Somewhere in my being I wanted to confront her – and stand in my power – I wanted to speak truth to the moment and share hurt feelings. Instead, I shrunk down and squelched my voice to avoid embarrassment.

    Before the trip, many warned that French people hated Americans – but that wasn’t my experience. I bumbled French conversations with waiters and strangers – but never felt judged. I loved walking the streets of Strasbourg alone. Everywhere I went, I received hugs and smiles. I felt accepted for the first time. It boosted my confidence.

    My bubble burst a few weeks later when my professor suggested I separate from the group and take a car ride instead of participating in a group walk through Strasbourg.

    “We’re on a strict schedule and we don’t have time to wait for you to walk the distance,” my professor said in front of everyone.

    “I know my stride is slow but I’m completely capable,” I protested, arguing for inclusion.

    As our conversation grew, I eventually gave in to keep peace. But the opportunity to be real passed. I felt shame for being different but didn’t share because I wanted to belong. Staying silent seemed easier. This encounter taught me a piece of what I needed to embrace. Even though my professor didn’t see me or understand how her actions affected me, it didn’t help that I kept my pain to myself. I’ve learned that I need to speak up to be heard. Stepping into vulnerability is now my super power.

    It’s funny how life begs us to speak truth in moments of confusion. Looking back, I wasn’t ready to face who I was or stand in my own power. Keeping silent was self protection. I was in denial. When I found yoga, I found renewal. Reconnecting mind and body made me feel like a pioneer. For me, doing yoga feeds my entire vessel: mind, body, and spirit. It instills a deep sense of calm in place of fear. It allows me to embrace vulnerability and everything in between. Before yoga, I let doctors dictate how I lived and felt in my body. Discovering yoga led to embracing all parts of myself. Once I truly accepted my body in present and past forms, my world opened.

    As an adaptive chair yoga teacher and mindfulness coach, I now teach others how to embrace their whole body and accept themselves in any form. Even though we’re all on different paths, my journey to yoga revealed self-acceptance, hope, and purpose. I’m grateful for life experience that uncovered this truth. Yoga taught me that being vulnerable is worth the risk. And the truth is, yoga is not for a select group or the able bodied few. Yoga is for everyone, no matter size, shape, or physical challenge.

    By Mary Higgs

    Mary Higgs, MA, is a respected writer, online educator, speaker, mindfulness coach, and disability advocate. Developing a passion for mindfulness and becoming an Adaptive and Accessible Yoga Teacher transformed Mary’s life in unexpected ways. She loves sharing her message that transformation comes from within. She has published pieces in Yoga International, Devata Active, Yoga and Body Image Coalition, and Mind Body Solutions All-Humanity Newsletter. As a RYT, OYI, and certified Yoga for All and Accessible Yoga Teacher, Mary teaches people to explore and trust their inner wisdom, so they can live more authentically. Visit her online at YogiAble.com.

    NOTE: This post is part of a collaborative media series organized and curated by Omstars and the Yoga & Body Image Coalition intended as a deep dive into yoga & body image.

    Photo by Pixabay from Pexels

  • Yoga Pose Tips: Virabhadrasana III – Warrior Three

    Do what feels best in your body. Modify as needed
    to make this practice your own.

    Warrior Three Pose Tips

    • Square the hips toward the earth
    • Soften the shoulders away from the ears
    • Lengthen the arms forward or out like airplane arms
    • Ground down through the standing foot
    • It’s always okay to have the lifted leg just an inch off the mat to practice with the balance.

    Practice with Ajay Tokas on Omstars

    Learn More about Warrior III on Omstars with Kino MacGregor

  • Nine Tools To Help You Stay Calm & Reduce Anxiety

    The feeling of anxiety is palpable right now. It’s present for me too. I’m not immune to the waves that get triggered by the latest news headlines. But I do have some tools to help me stay calm. If you’re panicking, you’re more likely to make bad decisions. If you let anxiety drive your choices, you’ll most likely regret your course of action. Here’s what I do when the nervousness reaches a fever pitch.

    1. Sit

    As little as five minutes of mindfulness makes a qualitative impact on your mental health.

    2. Tune out

    Switch your phone to airplane mode and disable WiFi. Taking a breather from the endless stream of push notifications does wonders for peace of mind. Give yourself at least an hour a day without the deluge of information and disaster scenarios.

    3. Go outside

    Being cooped up all day inside that can make you stir crazy. Sit outside even if only for five minted without your phone. Breathe the fresh air. Listen to sounds of nature, like a bird chirping or the wind rustling through the leaves.

    4. Curb your enthusiasm

    Do less. Instead of stock piling things like toilet paper, or forcing through hasty decisions, press pause for a moment and calmly evaluate your course of action.

    5. Be honest

    Don’t deny it if you’re feeling anxious. Instead journal about it, talk to your therapist and do your own process work to get to the bottom of the pattern. Find out if your fear is rational and you need to take corrective action or if you’re overreacting and acting irrationally. But, either way, you can only work through what you’re willing to admit. A spiritual bypass won’t make anxiety vanish.

    6. Yoga

    Just practice. Life is always better after practice. I’ll be doing a free live class on Tuesday at 1 pm. If you‘d rather stay home and practice you can always find me on Omstars!

    7. Nourish

    Eat good food, drink lots of water and be kind to your body.

    8. Self-care

    Whether it’s a massage, cleaning out your closet, or sitting by the pool, do something you truly enjoy, even if only for a few minutes.

    9. CBD (Cannabidiol)

    It helps me and might help you too.

    What do you do when you feel anxious?

    By Kino MacGregor

    International yoga teacher, Kino MacGregor has over 20 years of experience in Ashtanga yoga & 18 years of experience in Vipassana Meditation. She is one of a select group of people to receive the certification to teach Ashtanga Yoga & practice into the Fifth Series of Ashtanga Yoga. With over 1 million followers on Instagram & over 500,000 subscribers on YouTube & Facebook, she spreads the message of yoga around the world. To Kino, yoga is more than making shapes. It is a daily ritual where people tune deeply into their spiritual center & experience the peace of the Eternal Divine. Her goal is to make the tools of traditional yoga accessible for all different sizes, shapes, ethnicities, & ages. She believes yoga is truly for everyone. Learn more from and connect with Kino on Instagram!

  • Yoga Mythology Series: A Defeated King’s Last Words

    The car suddenly stopped with a jerk. Liam got out of the car and opened the hood and started doing a meticulous inspection, it seemed that sun was getting hotter by the second. After few minutes being inside the car his grandfather, who was travelling with Liam, got out too. “What seems to be the problem Liam”, he inquired. “Looking into it Grandpa”, Liam replied with his head under the hood. Almost an hour passed and Liam tried everything to fix the car but it did not start.

    “I saw a garage about a half mile back near the gas station, let’s get a mechanic here and get him to inspect the car”, grandfather suggested. “Grandpa, I am a qualified automobile engineer, what could the mechanic do that I can’t”, Liam retorted to the suggestion. After a while Liam gave up and got the mechanic to the car. After inspection, the mechanic asked Liam when they refueled the car and Liam told him that it was from the gas station near his garage on the highway. “You have misfuelled the car, this a petrol engine and you have put diesel in it”. Both Liam and the grandfather looked at each other in silence. “Sorry Liam I thought your car had a diesel engine and put the same in it”, the grandfather said apologetically. The diesel was pumped out and petrol was put into the tank. It was almost evening and both of them were driving on the highway again.

    Both sat in silence with their eyes on the highway as Liam drove.

    “Liam have you heard of the story of Ravana and Prince Laxmana?” Grandpa broke the silence with his question. But Liam kept driving without replying.

    “Ravana the mighty scholar King and a great yogi was lying on the battle ground injured by the arrows of prince Rama and the younger brother prince Laxmana, awaiting his death”, grandfather continued.

    “Rama the elder brother asked Laxmana to go and pay his last respects to the dying defeated King of great wisdom, and seek true knowledge from him. Laxama resented the idea and said that he did not want to go near his enemy who they had defeated. Rama requested his younger brother again telling him that there was lot to learn from the Ravana and that he should go to him. Laxmana gave in to his elder brother’s request but came back furious and told his brother that Ravana did say a word to him inspite of him asking. Rama asked Laxmana where he was standing when he went close to Ravana, and Laxmana told him that he went and stood next to Ravana’s head while he lay on the ground.

    Hearing this Rama said “dear Laxmana please go again and this time sit close to his feet and request for wisdom again”. Laxmana was annoyed at his brother’s suggestion and asked why should he sit at Ravana’s feet? Prince Rama explained it to him that he had to approach Ravana as teacher to seek wisdom and since a person’s feet represent mother earth which gives birth to everything and that all which is created goes back to earth eventually, thus it’s a sign of humbleness and acknowledging mother nature, which is existence in its vastness, so when you bow down or sit close to a teacher’s feet, you lighten yourself of your ego and become like an empty vessel to absorb, a teacher will realize it and help you in your quest, it’s not respect the teacher is seeking but looking for sign if you are ready to learn, and you can learn something from everyone if you are willing to empty for vessel from all memories and impressions that fog your perspective.

    Both Prince Rama and Prince Laxmana approached the wise king Ravana again and sat by his feet.

    “Oh wise king please show us a path to righteousness” Laxmana requested Ravana.

    Ravana looked at Laxmana and spoke “Young prince, with my last few remaining breaths I can only tell you that I lay here because of my pride, the pride I took in being the most learned and most powerful. And in those moments of self-obsession I lost my ability to distinguish between righteousness and irreverence.”

    “Laxmana always remember any action that we do with a feeling of compassion, kindheartedness and thoughtfulness is a right act and such act demands our immediate attention and we should complete it without delay or procrastination.”

    “Lastly, always be aware of your enemy. This enemy resides within oneself; the one who makes us put ourselves over and above everyone else around us”. Prince Laxmana stood in silence as Ravana the teacher spoke his last words.

    It was 7:30 p.m. when the car halted at the driveway. Liam and his grandfather got out of the car. Liam came around from the other side and gave his grandfather a hug and then led him to the house holding his hand.

    By Ankur Tunaak

    Ankur Tunaak has been an Ashtanga yoga practitioner for over a decade, studied with Shree M. Vishwanath who was one of the first students and nephew of Shree Pathabhi Jois. Also, an alumnus of Bihar School Of Yoga, one of four premier Yogic Studies Institutions in India. Ankur is a storyteller and photographer, currently teaching yoga in New Delhi, India.

    Portrait photography by Ankur Tunaak.

  • Yogi-Bitionism: How Patriarchy Steals our Female Elders

    Youth, for women, is a tremendous form of currency. And, this is the crux of my problem with yogi-bitionism. Yoga is, presumably, a space where we can find our intrinsic worth. Ideally, it can counteract the poisonous tendency of evaluating women on the basis of their appearance.

    A Christmas Eve yoga practice! Just what I need to relax and stay calm before the Christmas holiday. So many gifts to still wrap. Gotta drive a long, long distance to get to my aunt house tomorrow (although I do greatly love this aunt and uncle and find them well worth the drive). Looking forward to seeing my siblings, too! So right, better get my butt in gear so I can get to class on-time. Only, I’m on this aspartame cleanse using bentonite clay? And the shits be like…anyway. I just gotta hurry this up so I can get to class. OK so what time is it? (pun! zing!) I only have 15 minutes to get to class and it will take me at least 18. $#@! Late again. I pull up only two minutes late (no traffic!) and race to check in. I imagine that I enter class a mere 5 minutes late, which feels utterly respectable. I park my mat on the far side of the room, near the window, and join the class in a little cat-cow. I look up during cow position to see that another lady has come in after me, parked her mat diagonal to my left. Ha! I thought, I wasn’t even the latest $#@! in here.

    We press up into downward-facing dog. I keep my knees bent, articulating my spine, which always feels stiff around the thoracic. I’m undulating, loosening the muscles and tissues surrounding the vertebrae. The instructor calls out “Uttanasana.” I’m feeling pretty open across the shoulders, since I did a practice the day before. I decide to jump forward. Now, before my first jump, I sometimes lift my tailbone and kind of bounce my booty a little bit. It gives me momentum going into the jump. I rock my booty a taste and jump forward, landing softly. Then I hear a cackle, “HA! Ahahaaha!” It’s coming from the late white lady (LWL). She was really getting a hearty laugh out of something. Now, save the music playing in the background and the teacher’s instructions, the room is entirely quiet. No one is cracking a joke. The only things in her line of vision were my swaying bottom, and the wall. True, I wasn’t sure why LWL was laughing. Was she laughing at a thought that just arose in her mind? Was it something the lady next to her—who she clearly didn’t know—said or did? Or could it be, since she was in clear view of my ass, that she found my butt rocking utterly hysterical?

    Thing is, I am usually the lone black person in a yoga room. Sometimes, I am the only person of color amid a sea of white. I can tell you that there have been many times white people have looked at me sideways. Frowning, anxious, fearful, and of course amused. (I can tell you endless stories of white folks getting a kick out of seeing me in a yoga room.) It’s like a bear sighting. I wasn’t entirely sure she found me funny. But, I had a pretty strong feeling that was what got her going. I knew it was going to be a long yoga class. It’s no mean feat to block out a smug, self-satisfied, yoga practitioner when they are in your midst. This is especially true when the yogi is really flexing. Giving the fullest, most challenging expression of every pose, for no particular reason. These “yogi-bitionists” as I’ve taken to calling them want you looking. They’re expecting your eyes, praying/preying on your gaze. You watching them is one of the things that brings them to class. And yes, they’re trolling the $#@! out of you.

    This woman was the most obvious type of yogi-bitionist. We were in a Vinyasa 1 class, the purportedly lowest level of asana instruction. The type of class that gives the practitioners, new and returning, the chance to focus more on alignment and breath work than contortionism. Yet, she was attempting handstands and arm balances at just about every transition. Don’t get me wrong: when you know your body, you will do the expression that you are most comfortable with. I was in one “advanced” class wherein before the class even started the woman to the left of me jumped into a handstand, while the woman on the right dropped back into wheel. I was like, “Oh, it’s this kind of class? I’m here for it.” In terms of mastering the asanas, these two women (who also appeared to be in their 50s) were impressive. Confident and self-possessed. Not there to make friends, but nevertheless kind to the other folks in the class.

    In this particular class though, because we hadn’t warmed up for some of the more advanced postures LWL was attempting, she kept falling out of them. This was seemingly her body’s way of telling her it was not ready for them. In the rare cases when she managed to effectively land an inversion, she’d only be in the pose for a millisecond before the entire rest of the class transitioned to something else, because it was a Vinyasa 1 class. With short holds. At the end of the class, our instructor turned and walked over to this woman. Introduced the lady as her own teacher. It was the first time LWL turned around so we could see her face. She was in her mid-50s. Wearing a crop top and several cute little ponytails. Then, I knew what the whole show was about: wanting to intimidate, instead of being intimidated, in a space full of younger women. It was sad, not mostly because of how she was put together.

    Tomorrow, when I’m in my 50s, I might rock my styles just like that. (Er’ryday it’s a battle not to wear a catsuit because $#@! everybody.) It was discouraging because of what the combination of her hairstyle, attire, and posturing signaled as a unit. It was like she was overcompensating for being older. She seemed to keep her gaze down a lot, and it clearly wasn’t from modesty. Seemingly she was doing it because the face reveals the age. She didn’t want any of us noticing her wizened visage. Instead, she seemed to be goaling toward drawing attention to her performative “mastery” of the asanas, in an effort to appear superior to women two-three decades her junior. The reason is clear. Youth, for women, is a tremendous form of currency. And, this is the crux of my problem with yogi-bitionism. Yoga is, presumably, a space where we can find our intrinsic worth. Ideally, it can counteract the poisonous tendency of evaluating women on the basis of their appearance. Of pitting women against one another to determine who’s got the cutest face and the perkiest tits. Who’s most flexible. This latter point is an underestimated expectation of patriarchy. Not a new one by any means. But one of the reasons why the idea of yoga being performed by young (white) women, has been taken up with such relish in our capitalist, hetero-patriarchal culture.

    The experience was a reminder of what patriarchy has taken from us. It has taken our women elders. How many women over the age of 50 do you know who are competitive with much younger women? (And again, I’m not talking about sexy women of any age living their best lives. Each day I know that because of women like Adrienne Banfield-Jones, anything is possible.) Women’s sexual objectification is the root of the problem. And yet, white capitalist hetero-patriarchy doesn’t have to be the final word. Instead of using yoga for yogi-bitionist aims, yoga can help us move past our objectification. It can help us value ourselves, and genuinely appreciate the humanity of other (cis and trans) women. You can think of it as a form of Aparigraha (non-possessiveness) or alternatively not clinging. Aparigraha tells us that rather than clinging to youth, beauty, age and ability, we can let all that go. In so doing, we can become more generous, and less competitive with others. It suggests that for women who are long-time yoga practitioners, as we age we can view ourselves as worthy of teaching, guiding, leading, or at the bare minimum respecting, the next generation of women. Not remaining in the competition with them for the implied male gaze. Because even without the presence of cis-het men, the visual economy of preferences which they have conjured is still working on us.

    I was reminded of Chris Rock’s indictment of the old man in the club. 37, too old to be in the club. I was 37 when this incident took place, and I’m 40 now. The more I go to yoga studios in southern California, the younger the women seem to get. Perhaps the LWL, in a rebuke of father time, wanted to prove to these young women (in which group I personally did not include myself) that she still had it. It is the opposite of what yoga has been about, historically. But, it is a reflection of what happens when yoga is taken up commercially. I’d like to think of yoga as a space where I can bring my whole self. Where I have a right to practice even when I haven’t got on a new outfit (I’mma tell y’all about that time I was outfit-shamed later.) I’m not going to compensate for aging as a woman by becoming a yogi-bitionist. We all deserve better.

    By Sabrina Strings

    Sabrina Strings, Ph.D. is Asst. Professor of Sociology at the University of California, Irvine. Prior to coming to UCI, she was a UC Berkeley Chancellor’s Postdoctoral Fellow with a joint appointment in the School of Public Health and Department of Sociology. She has been featured in The Feminist Wire, Yoga International, and LA Yoga. Her writing can be found in diverse venues, including Ethnic and Racial Studies; Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society, Fat Studies: An Interdisciplinary Journal of Body Weight and Society and Feminist Media Studies. She was the recipient of the 2017 Distinguished Contribution to Scholarship Article Award for the Race, Gender and Class section of the American Sociological Association. Her new book is titled Fearing the Black Body: The Racial Origins of Fat Phobia (NYU Press 2019). It has been featured on NPR, KPFA and WNYC, as well as three “must read” lists.

    NOTE: This post is part of a collaborative media series organized and curated by Omstars and the Yoga & Body Image Coalition intended as a deep dive into yoga & body image.

  • The Myth of the Pain-Free Practice

    With your first heartbeat, you sign up for a ride called life. Life is a Self or God choreographed sequence sprinkled with crazy experiences, joyous events and untimely disasters you couldn’t even imagine ever happening to you. What an amazing ride.

    Not knowing everything that is going to happen in the game of life is par for the course.

    Doing everything “right” will not shield you. Following all the rules does not guarantee results because, when you signed up, you were not given the rule book in the first place. You can only do your best and follow what you think are the rules. Life comes with no guarantees. And even if it did, it is locked away in the same forgotten place you put the rule book.

    When you get on your mat, you are still within the parameters of the game of life.

    Your Yoga mat is not inside a bubble that shields you from unexpected pain. You still don’t have the rule book or even a user’s manual for your body. Scientists and doctors do not completely understand the human body. If they did, you could go to the body story right now and get a new one. You could order the perfect body on Amazon Prime and get one day delivery. You wouldn’t even need Yoga poses because you could order a body that is already primed for meditation. Want to do a handstand or put your foot behind your head? Order a body that can already can do it. Done.

    No one can promise you a pain free life or a pain free Yoga practice.

    I don’t care how many letters are behind their name, how many followers they have on Instagram, what their lineage is or if they know every muscle, bone, organ, ligament and vein in the body by heart. Your body is a complex glorious creation that no one fully understands. Throughout your life, this body is shaped and formed by unique experiences, many of which you don’t even remember. Even the traumas you do remember can shape your body in a way that is completely undetectable by you, your doctor, your pastor or your teacher. A movement, a food, a scenario that has never been a problem, all of a sudden is.

    No Yoga alignment, anatomy or technique training comes with a mind/body/soul reader that allows you and your teacher to see every single trauma, ailment, bacteria, fungus, and diseased cell in your body. No one can see the ticking time bomb that is your existence. Even if this mythical machine existed, you would need to be scanned with it every minute of the day because you are constantly having new experiences and being exposed to new inputs that could possibly become a problem.

    Learning as much as you can about your body prevents most injuries and ailments but not all of them.

    Studying with teachers who know a lot about the body, will prevent many Yoga injuries, but not all of them. If you get stuck on the idea that there is a such thing as a pain free Yoga practice or existence, your Yoga practice will also become stuck. Why? Because there will inevitably be some pain. When that pain comes, you will have the choice of continuing your practice and learning from this new information your body and your life has given you or quitting. You will have the option to grow or stagnate.

    This article is not about pushing through pain.

    This article is not against learning as much as you can about your body and finding a good Yoga teacher who also knows a lot about the body. Do not push through pain. Please find a good Yoga teacher. Use the best technique that you can. Rest when needed. Do all of those things. This article is about the unattainable need for perfection that has also permeated the world of Yoga. If you sit and think, you can come up with many examples in life where you and people you know have done everything right and everything still ended up incredibly wrong.

    But yet, for some reason, you expect that everything that happens on your Yoga mat should and can be perfect. You expect your teachers to be perfect. Your lineage to be perfect. Your community to be perfect. All while knowing that you have never met a perfect human being in your life. Knowing that you have never met a human being that has never had pain, a baby who never cried, a man that has never been sick or woman who could predict everyone’s future with 100% accuracy. However, when you get on your mat, this magical scenario supposedly can be achieved.

    Fear is a great marketing tool.

    The world of Yoga is now bursting with people who can promise you a pain free practice, with no unpleasant feelings…for a fee. There are many charlatans building their platform on the promise that they will never hurt you. Anyone who has been in any long term loving relationship can attest to the fact that all the love in the world is not a guarantee against hard feelings and misunderstandings. Anyone who has worked with the human body for a long period of time, you fall into that category, can tell you that things don’t always go to plan. But for some reason, you feel that this smiling Yoga teacher, who also came into this world without a body rule book, can give you this guarantee.

    Another component of the promise of a pain free practice is the canceling of teachers who speak openly about their injuries. I have seen people on social media use a teacher’s injury as proof of that teacher’s ineptitude, lack of knowledge about the body or to prove that their teachings are harmful. This could be the case for sure. It could also mean that they were yet another person without the life handbook. An old soccer injury reared its head at the very moment they perfectly stacked their joints for a handstand. Or maybe, they fell down the stairs running after a baby wearing slippery house shoes (true story).

    In Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra 2:16 it says, “Pain, that has not yet come, should be avoided.”

    This is amazing advice. You should not be seeking painful experiences in your Yoga practice. You should do everything possible to not have pain on your mat. However, without the mind body soul x ray machine, the user’s guide and the ability to know every single thing going on in your body and your student’s body at any given time, total avoidance of pain is not possible.

    By Shanna Small

    Read More Articles by Shanna Small

    Shanna Small is the author of, The Ashtanga Yoga Project, a website that teaches how to live the wisdom of Yoga in modern times. Shanna began her Yoga journey in 2000 and her teaching journey in 2005. She has studied the Yoga Sutras, the Hatha Yoga Pradipika, chanting and Ashtanga at KPJAYI in India with Sharath Jois and Lakshmish. She received her Yoga Alliance registration for Vinyasa Yoga in 2005 and served 4 years as the director of Ashtanga Yoga School Charlotte. She has written for Yoga International, OmStars and Ashtanga Dispatch Magazine. Photo Credit: Wanda Koch Photography

  • Be Strong Yoga Challenge with Kino MacGregor

    Increase your strength with Omstars Members Be Strong Yoga Challenge. In this 13-Day challenge, Kino MacGregor will share her personal experience from years of practice and exploration, passing on the the tools you need to safely progress to develop your strength.

    Strength doesn’t happen overnight, but as you complete these classes you’ll lay the foundation you need to have a safe home yoga practice. Use this challenge to take your strength to a whole new level and transform not only your practice but your life. The most important part: Remember to have fun, believe in yourself, and never give up!

    In the Be Strong Challenge you will:

    • Learn the building blocks of strength.
    • Integrate body, mind, and soul as you train yourself to be strong both mentally and physically.
    • Find inspiration and support with daily emails, our online community & Kino’s expert guidance.

    Sign Up Today!

    The decision to be strong is a statement of self-worth. When you decide you’re worth it, you also decide that you’re willing to put in the work to be strong. It’s a shift in the heart that says, yes, I’m good enough.

    Join this challenge and expect to be, well, challenged. Strength is hard work and building strength takes time, patience and determination. The lesson of strength took me years to integrate in body, mind and soul. I designed this challenge so that you can learn all the tools I learned on my journey and safely progress deeper in your practice. It doesn’t matter if you get it right on the first try.

    In fact, you should expect to fail and then slowly build up from there. Learning how to be happy with failure is one of the lessons of strength. If you need to get it perfectly on the first try, then you’re in a competition. We are here to learn and grow, not to compete with ourselves or anyone else. It only matters that you try and learn from your experience.

    The 13 classes of this challenge build you up from the basics and take you all the way to the peaks of the strength. This journey has taken Kino over 20 years so be patient with yourself as you commit to the process.

    Daily Poses:

    1. Hands to a T-Shape
    2. Full Navasana
    3. Full Plank
    4. Chaturanga
    5. Pinchamayurasana
    6. Side Plank / Vashishtasana
    7. L-Sit
    8. Tittibhasana
    9. Handstand Tuck
    10. Crossed-Leg Lift Up
    11. Handstand Pike Position
    12. Parsva Bakasana (straight arms)
    13. Meditation Seated Pose

    Daily emails will include modifications to make the practice truly accessible! Remember to have fun, believe in yourself and never give up.

    Are you ready? Join Now! 

     

    By Kino MacGregor & Omstars

     

  • The Difference Between Intent and Impact

    Why Knowing the Difference Between Intent and Impact are Important on the Yogic Path.

    An important part of the yogic principle of Ahimsa, non-violence, is understanding that intent and impact are not the same.  There is a lot of wisdom to unpack in the old Christian saying, “The road to Hell is paved with good intentions”. Even if our intentions are good, if our actions result in negative outcomes, we still have to pay the piper.  As the saying suggests, if we don’t atone for our behavior, the results will be the same as someone who had bad intentions; both are going to Hell. For you, this Hell may not be a lake of fire and brimstone, but instead a world full of pain and suffering.  If we are to call ourselves yogis, we must own up to how our actions, even when we didn’t mean anything by them, cause harm.

    There is no way to live on this earth and never harm anyone. Ahimsa is the practice of doing the least amount of harm possible; emphasis on “least”. Ahimsa is a part of the Yamas or Great Vow, that a yogi on the 8 limbed path of Patanjali or Raja yoga, takes.  When a yogi takes this vow, she cannot break it regardless of class, time, place or circumstance.  She is always asking herself, “is this the least amount of harm I can cause in this situation?” Nonviolence is the most talked about Yama in yoga because it is pretty easy to grasp and apply and it is palatable to most humans. Most of us can agree that we don’t want to be hurt.  Ahimsa, when things are going our way, is simple.   However, are we also using it when things become uncomfortable?

    The easiest way to shut down (attempt to anyway) an uncomfortable topic in the yoga world is to belabor positive intent.  The yoga world is seeing the rise of people speaking up against the commercialization and commodification of yoga, the erasure of the culture it came from, the worship of able bodies, inaccessibility, privilege, appropriation, spiritual bypassing and corruption.  If you are being accused of any of these, stop, breathe, then ask yourself, “Does my intent actually match the impact?” Understand that, as a yogi who has taken the great vow of Ahimsa, it is your duty to consider the impact your actions have on the world and to seek to do as little harm as possible. It not only means that you must change your words but you also have to change your actions. At the very least, own up to it and apologize.

    If you look back in your memory, you will probably see that you have been hurt by someone who had good intentions. Someone who had no idea how deeply their actions impacted your life but they did. Is it unreasonable that you may be guilty of the same? Can you give someone else the apology that you yourself have always wanted? Can you exemplify the changed behavior that was not exemplified for you? Can you give the kindness and understanding you craved to someone who is also seeking kindness and understanding? As a yogi, I should hope so. This may be uncomfortable but without examples, it is easy to purport innocence.  It is easy to act the saint of  the yoga world. These examples are meant to get you thinking. They are meant to empower you with higher levels of discernment that increase your capacity to apply Ahimsa and contribute to the reduction of harm.

    Anybody can do yoga

    The intent of is to present an open and welcoming environment for people who are new to Yoga. However, what happens when they actually cannot do your class? Maybe the class is moving so fast that you cannot stop and help them. The class might be so busy that you cannot spend time helping them. Do you truly know options that anyone can do and can you give the student those options as they practice? What is the possible impact to a student who cannot do the practice you just presented? They could leave feeling not only that yoga is not for them but also feel there is something wrong with them because they cannot do a class that, according to you, everyone is supposed to be able to do.

    Classes in exchange for cleaning

    The intent is to provide a means for students who cannot afford yoga, to be able to practice. What are some possible negative impacts? Instead of feeling like they are a part of the community, they feel like “the help.”  Most people have an unconscious bias towards people like waiters, handymen, or house cleaners. They are expected to be in the background.  They move around doing their work and are largely ignored. This student could easily spend their time at your studio on the fringes feeling isolated and alone.

    Not having anyone of color represented on your staff, on your list of presenters, your book or magazine.

    The intention is simply to hire good teachers and present the best information.  In this case, they all just happened to be White. What are some of the possible negative impacts? POC feel excluded, unwanted and that their expertise is subpar. Another negative impact is that you have a staff or panel of people who have an implicit bias toward the experience of being White. This results in a very skewed, and often times unrealistic and untrue view of the information presented.

    Thrust me, being White in the yoga world is a different experience from being Black or Brown in the yoga world.  You may say, “information is information”. Take a breath and really think about it. It is well known that historical information is always skewed towards the people talking about it.  Take this excerpt from History.com on the Civil War, “Northerners have also called the Civil War the War to Preserve the Union, the War of the Rebellion (War of the Southern Rebellion), and the War to Make Men Free.

    Southerners may refer to it as the War Between the States or the War of Northern Aggression. In the decades following the conflict, those who did not wish to upset adherents of either side simply called it The Late Unpleasantness. It is also known as Mr. Lincoln’s War and, less commonly, as Mr. Davis’ War.” This same thing happens with yogic information. Trust me. All good teachers can acknowledge their own implicit bias towards the information they are presenting.

    For instance, I absolutely have an implicit bias towards Ashtanga and I totally view all yogic information through the lens of Ashtanga. I absolutely know and acknowledge that I have a filter that looks for information to support my Ashtanga practice and, that If I am not careful, I will throw out or not acknowledge anything that goes against it.  If I were to put together a panel to talk about Ahimsa in the broader context of yoga, to offset my bias, I would need to invite non-Ashtangis to speak. Does this make sense?

    If you just work hard enough, you can do any yoga pose your heart desires.

    The intent is to uplift and motivate. Some negative impacts are people hurting themselves doing poses that are not meant for their bodies, people quitting yoga because, since they cannot do the poses, it is obviously not for them and a feeling of being a complete failure and worthless.

    We are all one

    This statement is dependent on the situation. The intent is to create unity and inclusiveness however the impact can be the opposite. To someone who is communicating that they don’t feel comfortable and accepted, to say, “we are all one” does not address the reason why they don’t feel comfortable or accepted. In this example, “We are all one” is spiritual bypassing at it’s finest. Dr. Robert Augustus Masters, PhD defines spiritual bypassing as, “the use of spiritual practices/beliefs to avoid dealing with painful feelings, unresolved wounds and developmental needs”.

    Saying “we are all one” when someone is hurting because they feel otherwise, shuts the discussion down and stops all positive possible solutions. For instance, if a South Asian practitioner is saying that they don’t feel represented by a panel of White people, “saying we are all one” does not change the fact the they are not represented. I can go on and on with these examples and I am sure that you have many you can add as well. Were you able to see how impact and intent are not the same? In each of the examples, could you see how more Ahimsa or less harm could be done? As a yogi, who has taken the vow of decreasing suffering in this world, do you understand how the question of impact vs Intent must be a part of your spiritual practice? I hope so.

    By Shanna Small

    Shanna Small is the mind behind, The Ashtanga Yoga Project, a website and home for information on how to use the wisdom of Ashtanga Yoga in Modern life. Shanna Small has been practicing Ashtanga Yoga and studying the Yoga Sutras since 2001. She has studied in Mysore with Sharath Jois and is the Director of AYS Charlotte, a school for traditional Ashtanga in Charlotte NC.  She has written for Yoga International and the Ashtanga Dispatch.

    Read more articles by Shanna Small
    Photo credit: Wanda Koch Photography. 

  • Body Acceptance: Tools for Cultural Upheaval

    Gordi. Flaca. Chula. Fea. Vieja. Linda. Fatty. Skinny. Sexy. Ugly. Old lady. Cute. Whether positive or negative association, I grew up hearing terms that were quick to remind us that we were defined by our appearance.

    These were terms of endearment. I grew up believing that describing others based on their outer appearances was not only normal, but expected. And though I occasionally encountered someone who interpreted these descriptors as malicious, I usually dismissed those responses as excessive sensitivity, especially since my initial descriptions were most often welcomed. Not until much later did I realize that this was not the way I wanted to relate to others, nor how I wanted others to relate to me.

    Partially, I recognize that this experience as a woman, and woman of color, it is inescapable to be described and critiqued in a physical context. Mexican, native, fiery Latina, curvy, tribal, dark skinned, too sexy, too loud, too weird, too bossy, too opinionated, too intense; these were descriptions I came to know all too well. When I think about the future generations, I never want them to hear or feel that they’re too much of anything. We need all of their intensity and passion and skills. So how do we come to welcome all of their existence in a world that asks us to be small?

    When I think of growth, I am reminded of the old tenant, “the personal is political.”, and remember that we always start with ourselves. We start by exploring our relationship to ourselves; by living in our awareness intentionally. Yoga is filled with beautiful practices to explore mind, body and their intersections. Though in recent history, the term “yoga” has come to be known almost exclusively as the postures, there are other practices, such as meditation and breathwork, that can help us deepen our connection to ourselves.

    Prochaska and DiClemente developed the Stages of Change transtheoretical model in 1983, and it remains a core teaching of psychology and recovery programs. Following Precontemplation, comes Contemplation, which is such a powerful step in exploring our motivation for change. Yoga and other forms of meditation, journaling, dance are all examples of contemplative practices. Within the context of personal development, we can examine if our external judgements of others a representation of the narrative we carry about ourselves. Practicing mindful meditation can help train us to notice our thoughts enough to discover the themes of our internal narrative. Is it critical or encouraging? Is it filled with compassion or condemnation? As with all forms of yoga, remember, this is a practice to give you a sense of agency over your thoughts. Meditation is the work of change, and change is difficult.

    Within the context of exploring our relationship with our bodies, I love using Breathwork, or Pranayama practice. Breathwork and breath retraining has long been used to support mental wellness and has gained popularity for addressing stress, anxiety and depression (1, 2). Although breathing is an involuntary process, struggles with posture and stress can lead to improper breathing and lead to increased cortisol release, the hormone our body produces to cope with stress (4).

    Breathwork practice can be destabilizing, so it’s important to explore these techniques with a trained or experienced practitioner. My experience with breathwork has been one of bringing awareness to my felt experience I have frequently worked to avoid as someone who recovered from an eating disorder and someone living with chronic pain. Practicing breathwork allows me space to embody my experience and encourages me to let go of the idea to simply “tolerate” discomfort. In breathwork practice, it may be helpful to explore our relationships with physical and emotional pain. Where do our thoughts go when we experience discomfort? Is that a time our mind goes to judgement, criticism, or blame? How does our experience of discomfort change when we approach it with compassion?

    Contemplating our inner experience allows space for us to become better allies, better equipped to hold space for the experience of others. Recognizing that we are impacted by situations outside of our control may be easier to do within the context of ourselves than others, according to the Attribution Theory (2). Meditation and practicing awareness of our thoughts allows us the necessary interruption to see that we are all reacting and responding with the skills available to us today.

    Coming to a place of acceptance of our body, all of our body, all of our thoughts, all of our worries, and anxieties and joys and anger and pain, is a tool in taking back our power, our autonomy, our agency. This is not a small endeavor, but it is worth it. Next time your mind wanders down the path of judgement or criticism, take a few diaphragmatic breaths when you notice. This negative or critical voice developed over time, in effort to keep you safe, to help you fit in, to protect you from examining potentially painful or complex issues. Now, as an adult, allow yourself to consider that criticism isn’t typically an effective way to interact with ourselves or the world, even when the effort feels to be coming from a place of concern. Embrace compassion as an experiment and examine how your relationships with yourself and others change.

    By Celisa Flores

    Celisa Flores: Since obtaining a Master’s degree in Counseling in 2007 at CSU Fresno and a PsyD in Clinical Psychology from The Chicago School of Professional Psychology in 2013, Dr. Flores worked as a therapist and program director in a wide variety of mental health treatment setting. This diversity of experience allowed research and training to expand her skills as a Feminist therapist with emphasis on Eating Disorders, Mindfulness and women’s issues. With a history of providing individual, group, family, and couples counseling services, as well as therapeutic yoga services, Dr. Flores has focused on evidence-based practices, providing guidance and support in Mindfulness in Recovery, Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT), and other self-empowerment strategies. In addition to training as a therapist, she is a Certified Yoga Teacher, also trained in Mindful Stress Reduction, Reiki and as a doula. By integrating a variety of holistic tools into recovery and wellness, she works to create a long-lasting, sustainable wellness plan.  Now proudly with Center for Discovery, providing clinical outreach for Orange County and the Central California region.  This role has included national and international training and speaking engagements on eating disorders, mindfulness, yoga, body acceptance, and professional wellness, as well as facilitating accessible, body-affirming yoga annually at the Los Angeles NEDA walk.  With a passion to support other therapists and community members with understanding eating disorders and treatment as well as self-care and overall wellness, she is always working to share information, research and training. 

    NOTE: This post is part of a collaborative media series organized and curated by Omstars and the Yoga & Body Image Coalition intended as a deep dive into yoga & body image
    (1) Brown, R. P., & Gerbarg, P. L. (2005). Sudarshan kriya yogic breathing in the treatment of stress, anxiety, and depression: Part II – clinical applications and guidelines. The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine, 11(4), 711-717
    (2) O’Donohue, W.T. and Fisher, J.E. (Eds.). (2008). Cognitive Behavior Therapy: Applying Empirically Supported Techniques in your Practice (2nd ed.). Hoboken, NJ, US: John Wiley & Sons Inc.
    (3) Ross, L. (1977). The Intuitive Psychologist And His Shortcomings: Distortions in the Attribution Process. In Advances in experimental social psychology (Vol. 10, pp. 173-220). Academic Press.
    (4) Thibodeux, W. (Feb 8, 2018). Science Says You’ve Been Breathing Wrong. Here’s how to do it right. Inc.com.