Tag: Yoga Journal

Power of Play: 4 Ways This Course Will Set You Up for Your Best Year Yet

In Yoga Journal’s upcoming course, Baron Baptiste will guide you through a journey of self-inquiry, revealing your potential on the mat and beyond.

Want to unlock an unexpected world of possibility in your practice—and your life? Then Yoga Journal’s upcoming course The Power of Play Bootcamp is for you. Baron Baptiste—veteran yoga teacher and founder of the Baptiste Institute and Baptiste Foundation—will lead you through four weeks of meditation, asana, and self-inquiry specifically designed to spark awakening and growth. Start the new year with a powerful perspective—and discover how to put it into action. Here, four reasons to take this eye-opening course:

1. You need a fresh start.

Everyone needs to hit reset now and then. Sometimes you need a clean slate in just one part of your life. Sometimes you want to overhaul your whole life. Either way, this course will wake you up and get you going. Baptiste will lead you through heart-pumping asana practices that clear out old energy. He’ll guide you through meditation to center you. And he’ll encourage you to ask yourself key questions so can you can get real about what you truly want.

2. You want to be empowered.

Are bad habits getting the best of you? Feel like you’re going through the motions? You make the most of fresh starts when you’re clear about what you’ll do afterward. This bootcamp uses asana, meditation, and self-inquiry to home in on what you’re resisting. Baptiste teaches you how to cultivate awareness beyond the mat, so you can pin down what’s been standing between you and what you truly want.

3. You’re tired of arguing with yourself about how things “should” or “shouldn’t” be.

No matter how many times we start anew, challenges come up. Things you don’t want to happen, happen. And the stuff you’re sure will happen, often doesn’t. That means you have to be okay with how things are—in Sanskrit this is called santosha. Easier said than done. But throughout this course you’ll work on the challenge of santosha to create the mindset to do just that.

4. You want to explore—and get better at asana and meditation.

At it’s heart, Power of Play is about play. Being playful in your practice means you’re discovering, creating, and activating, Baptiste says. You get to decide where it takes you, whether it’s charting a new path for your life or refining your path on the mat. Baptiste will encourage you to play to your edge, wherever that may be. “In play, you can find the possibility in the pose that’s here for you, unique to you,” he says. And you’ll be able to do it in a way that wakes you up to new horizons and possibilities.

Eager to get going? Enroll in Power of Play

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Meditate to Faith Hunter’s New Album to Align Your Chakras for 2018

Faith Hunter says music is a powerful tool to amplify meditation practice. Let her soothing sounds guide you through holiday stress and new year intention setting.

Need help turning down all the random thoughts (both positive and negative) generated by your brain during meditation? Yoga teacher and studio owner Faith Hunter’s new Chakra Healing meditation album may make it easier to drop into meditation practice. “On a personal level, music serves as a center point of focus and helps me to steady the breath when I’m feeling anxious,” Hunter says. “Once I’m focused and the breath is steady, the thoughts slow down, and the mind settles.” 

Plus, Hunter says each of the chakras is associated with a particular sound vibration, which she incorporated into the tracks she created with DJ Taz Rashid. Adding sound frequency to your meditation practice can elicit a heightened sensation of healing in both body and mind. “Each track is designed to serve as a ritual for nourishing the physical and emotional bodies,” she says. “For example, Track 3, Empowerment (Solar Plexus/3 Chakra/Manipura), is a meditation of transforming energy in a positive manner that regulates the digestive system, while also giving you the strength to face challenges and move forward in your life.”

Just in time for holiday season stress, “this album provides an opportunity for the meditator to stay emotionally grounded, and it cultivates inner strength by soothing the heart and mind,” Hunter says. Use it in your meditation practice during the height of this hectic season and leading up to the new year—a great time to outline your desires, intentions, and priorities, Hunter says. This practice can guide you toward deeper personal connection, enabling you to greet 2018 with purpose.

See also A 30-Minute Meditation Playlist Designed to Help You Drop in Deeply

Faith Hunter’s Chakra-Healing Meditation Playlist

1. “Introduction”
2. “Groundation (Root) [Muladhara Chakra]”
3. “Fluidity (Sacral) [Svadhisthana Chakra]”
4. “Empowerment (Solar Plexus) [Manipura Chakra]”
5. “Love (Heart) [Anahata Chakra]”
6. “Communication (Throat) [Vishuddha Chakra]”
7. “Perception (Third Eye) [Ajna Chakra]”
8. “Illuminated (Crown) [Sahasrara Chakra]”
9. “Soul Shining (Root to Crown)”


Download the free Spotify software to listen to our playlists—and check back weekly for more of our fave yoga tunes.

About Our Expert
Faith Hunter is a YJ contributor, yoga teacher, owner of Embrace Yoga DC, and trains yoga teachers in Haiti as part of her Spiritually Fly ChangeMakers program. 

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Master Class: 4 Foolproof Steps to Sequencing an Advanced Pose

It’s all about progression with Natasha Rizopoulos’s signature method of designing a satisfying practice.

Want to master the basics of sequencing for advanced poses? Join Natasha Rizopoulos for her upcoming Master Class, Smart Sequencing for Arm Balances. In this six-week online workshop,  Natasha will teach you how to create a clear path toward an arm balance through Natasha’s kinesthetic method. Plus, you’ll access our full collection of nine Master Class workshops to inform and inspire your practice and teaching. Sign up today!

You or your students may find certain poses elusive, but dispelling the mystery through skillful sequencing is a fundamental part of teaching. “Any good sequence is like a good story: It follows a narrative arc, with each chapter bringing you closer to the conclusion or goal of your peak pose. When done thoughtfully and well, it enables students to leave class feeling balanced energetically, intellectually, and physically,” says Natasha Rizopoulos, founder of Align Your Flow Yoga, a senior teacher at Down Under Yoga in Boston, and Yoga Journal’s Master Class teacher.

If putting together an advanced sequence feels daunting, rest assured: You can put your alignment knowledge to use and build practices that you and your students will love. Here, Rizopoulos breaks down her signature method of smart sequencing for advanced peak poses.

1. Pull apart the peak pose and identify where you or your students get stuck. 

Rizopoulos calls these challenging actions or movements essential elements. “What’s hard about this pose? What gets in the way? Let’s take a pose like Bakasana. Maybe I don’t understand how to engage my belly, so I don’t have the integrity of the center. So an essential element will be toning the lower belly,” says Rizopoulos. If you’re fearful of falling, you may need to focus on balance and extending the sternum away from the naval. If arm strength is a roadblock, you’ll spend time in Chaturanga, strengthening the triceps. “Look at the pose and ask to yourself, ‘What needs to be toned and opened for me to have success? What intelligence does my body need on the way to that peak?’” she says.

2. Start small to prep the body for a challenge.

“I call this initial pose the prologue pose, and it’s usually a seated or supine pose that allows you to explore, if not all, then at least several of the essential elements under conditions that aren’t challenging,” says Rizopoulos. So, for a pose like Bakasana, the prologue pose could be as simple as Child’s Pose since they both teach the posterior tilt of the pelvis and tone the lower belly, she says. “Then reaching your arms forward will show you how to engage your triceps by straightening your elbows,” says Rizopoulos. Since the prologue pose is just the beginning, it doesn’t have to cover each and every roadblock—just a few.

3. Gradually ratchet up the difficulty as you build your sequence.

Now you or your students have a chance to strengthen, lengthen, and educate the body in those areas of difficulty you originally identified as essential elements. “You really need to understand alignment, because if you don’t understand alignment, you don’t know which poses give you the essential elements. For instance, to strengthen the triceps, start by teaching Chaturanga on the knees before getting to a classical Chaturanga. If the idea is to strengthen the hamstrings to eventually lift the heel to the buttocks in Bakasana, I might teach Salabhasana. Then, working on Forearm Plank will teach the neutral posterior tilt of the pelvis and gives you an opportunity to reach your sternum away from the naval at the same time.”

4. Take on the peak pose—and realize the entire sequence was never about the peak pose.

“Today in class we did a big build up toward Parsva Bakasana; everyone in the room tried it, half got it, and once everyone sat down, I asked them if they thought I cared whether they could do the pose. Of course, they all said ‘No!’ in unison. The pose is not only a vehicle for creating physical strength and openness but mental strength and openness. What’s the quality of mind while you’re working on the pose? Are you clear, are you committed, are you present? That’s what’s translatable outside of the room.”

Want to learn more?

Join Natasha for her Master Class on Smart Sequencing for Arm Balances, and you’ll access 8 additional online workshops on essential topics, from yoga nidra to Sun Salutations, for teachers and practitioners. Sign up today!

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Rodney Yee’s Restorative Yoga Sequence to Prepare for Pranayama

Release tension with this restorative sequence from Rodney Yee for encouraging the flow of breath and prana.

Rumor has it that when B.K.S. Iyengar’s daughter Geeta asked him to teach her pranayama, he said, “Go practice Savasana (Corpse Pose) for 10 years. Then we’ll begin.” So, the road to learning pranayama starts with relaxation. Then you move on to breath awareness—of assessing what is in the way of your natural breath. Finally, there are many pranayama techniques that will keep you engaged for the rest of your life.

If you practice without a teacher, red flags that you’ve gone too far are as follows: tearing of the eyes, ringing in the ears, shaky handwriting, irritability, and anxiousness. All of these are signs that you need to do less—that you might want to consider resting in Savasana. It is important to be honest and accept the feedback your body gives you. It’s necessary to check in periodically with a proficient teacher who knows you well and has an extensive pranayama practice of their own (a daily pranayama practice for at least 10 years). The following sequence will help you relax, observe obstacles to peace (both internal and external), and prepare the diaphragm for deep breathing.

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Meet Your Next Teacher: Rodney Yee

Learn how teacher Rodney Yee uses pranayama to quiet the mind.

Rodney Yee would like you to stop, sit or lie down, listen, and feel. The iconic yoga teacher—who pioneered accessible asana practices through the creation of instructional DVDs—has become an ardent advocate of restorative yoga, body-scan meditation, and pranayama. To Yee, pranayama refers to techniques that help you relax and return to your natural, easy way of breathing. In the following pages, learn more about his approach, then practice an exclusive restorative sequence designed to help you relax, open up your diaphragm, and prepare to welcome prana—your essential life force. This calming sequence offers a taste of Yee’s new Yoga Journal Master Class workshop on beginning a pranayama practice, launching next month.

I realized pranayama was a powerful tool for quieting the mind in the mid-’80s. I was first introduced to the practice through Iyengar Yoga and Ramanand Patel, an early student of B.K.S. Iyengar. Around 1985, Ramanand started teaching pranayama once a week out of a student’s house in Berkeley, California. One day, after his class, I felt like I was waking from a hypnotic spell. Ramanand said to me: “Today is the day you dedicate yourself to pranayama every day—or let go of the practice.” Initially, I had felt some effects from the practice, so I was curious what would happen if I committed. But more than anything, what kept me on track was that I simply trusted my teachers—that they had experienced something spectacular with pranayama, and that if I were disciplined, I would, too. From that day on, I practiced every morning for 30 minutes, for nearly 25 years.

Pranayama is often interpreted as “breath control,” but to me equating breath with prana is like saying the brain embodies the soul. Prana is the subtle force that animates you, while breath is what brings oxygen to your cells. But because it is impossible to measure prana with our present technology, we can only sense that life force through feeling the breath. That said, observing the breath is a wonderful meditation practice and probably the single best tool for understanding subtle alignment in asana. To feel the breath flowing in an asana, it is usually necessary to shift your effort and alignment. When prana is spread evenly throughout the cellular body, equanimity and compassion arise, and the fluctuations of the mind cease. To think that we are in control of this phenomenon is mistaken. The hard part, paradoxically, is to let go of working, whether consciously or unconsciously, and to simply listen.

Pranayama and meditation are constant acts of letting go. Through these practices, you can let go of the tension in your calves, throat, and belly, but more importantly you can let go of psychological blockages, freeing yourself from your perspective of, and attachment to, who you consider yourself to be. Think of these psychological obstacles as dams on a river. But unlike river dams, which block the flow of water, our internal emotional dams obstruct the flow of breath and prana. Through your asana and pranayama practices, you become intimate with these bindings. From there, you can assess how you identify with the blockages and how your ego is dependent on holding onto your story. Through this intimate awareness, you might see the silliness of this trap. If you let it, prana and love can flow through and into everything and restore the freedom of being.

If you see yourself as separate from everything outside of yourself, then there’s potential to be in conflict with everything. There’s no peace, no relaxation. When you start to free up unnecessary tension in your body and quiet the turmoil in your mind, the illusion of isolation lessens. If you can marinate in the breath and prana, you can move toward contentment and quietude. Then something else is revealed. Practicing asana, pranayama, and meditation can unveil the reality of oneness and wholeness.

See also Six Different Views on Breathing in Yoga

Teaching pranayama is difficult. Back in the late ’80s, I would schedule a pranayama class and people would come for about a month, then they’d let it go. When it comes to pranayama, very few people stay tenacious. Some people, looking for a quick fix, don’t think there is enough of an immediate benefit. For others, it causes too much change, which can be confusing or scary. The pranayama practice is subtle, but it affects us at the root of our physical and mental existence. Because the practice is powerful and delicate, we need to dedicate ourselves to it daily. Only when it is done daily do we build up the sensitivity that is necessary to understand the language of the breath and prana. Every asana class I teach, I attempt to get students to experience the absorption of prana.

Teaching is a vital aspect of who I am. My brothers and sisters were all teachers—it’s a part of our DNA. It means that I get to share something special; yoga still raises the hair on my arms. It is endless and infinite; it feels like the whole gamut of life is captured in yoga. Sharing it makes it more real for me. I get to test out practices, asking, “This works for me; does it work for you?” and “This makes me feel this way; how did it make you feel?” Yoga helps me feel that I’m not alone or in conflict with the world. Sharing it makes me whole.

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Rodney Yee Decodes Yoga Sutra 1.2: Calm the Chatter of the Mind

Master teacher Rodney Yee shares his interpretation of Yoga Sutra 1.2.

In Sutra 1.2, Patanjali, the sage who compiled the Yoga Sutra, writes that we need to diminish the chatter, or vrttis, of the mind in order to witness our true self. Anyone who has tried to meditate knows this is much easier said than done. Even after 40 years of practice, my monkey mind can quickly take over as I sit in Padmasana (Lotus Pose). A cloud of thoughts rolls in like a storm or a swarm of mosquitoes. These thoughts about how to be a “good yogi,” how to perfect my posture, how to be even more aware—masquerade as important notions, but they are really just nuisances.

What I like about Sutra 1.2 is that it reminds us we are actually closer to self-realization, and finding harmony, than we think we are. There is a part of us that, while our mind struggles to focus on the breath and settle our vrttis, is already sitting quietly and watching all of these sensations, thoughts, and feelings. If we are asking “Who is the meditator?”, “Who is watching?”, “Who am I?”, and “What is the field of awareness in which all of these mosquitoes breed?” we are on the right track. Just the acts of observing and asking help to arrest the fluctuations of the mind, or consciousness, and we start to see that awareness itself is our true nature and that the temporary buzz of thoughts, feelings, and sensations is not real or significant.

But if distractions—from discomfort in your hips to thoughts about what happened an hour ago—are too loud, then it’s easy for your true self to be eclipsed by vrttis. So, it’s important to use all the yogic tools we have access to (asana, mantra, pranayama, and more), in addition to meditation, to alleviate discomfort and move us closer to a sense of steadiness, ease, and freedom where we can shine the light of awareness on the fluctuations of the mind. 

See also Amy Ippoliti Decodes Yoga Sutra 1.3: Dwell in Your Own Nature

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4 Simple But Powerful Practices to Change the Way You Handle Stress

These short practices from Yoga Medicine teacher Shannon Stephens can have profound effects on the way you experience stress and life’s toughest moments.

Stress is unavoidable. Balancing career with family and meeting the demands that both present can feel overwhelming. Layer on conflict, sickness, tense situations, unforeseen crises, and all the big and little things that are beyond your control, and it’s easy to find yourself wrapped in turmoil. While you can’t prepare for every scenario, with simple awareness and training, you can alter the way your body interprets and responds to stressful situations. Learning to tune in and observe your internal landscape is key to becoming calmer, more centered, and more resilient to stress. Your wonderfully intelligent body is constantly seeking balance all on its own. Important functions, such as heart rate and digestion are autonomic, or unconsciously controlled. There is a vast, intricate world beneath the skin, sending messages, delivering nutrients, managing, repairing, and quietly toiling away to keep the body’s internal environment in harmony.

Your sympathetic nervous system is responsible for your fight-or-flight response, the body’s way of coping perceived threats. When activated, this reaction releases adrenaline, elevates your heart rate, and diverts blood away from the gut to prepare the muscles to run or fight. Certain systems shut down so that energy can be expended on surviving. Living in the modern era, though, you don’t likely find yourself frequently being chased by predators; however, this same response is often triggered by seemingly mundane events like running into traffic on the way to the airport. Ever feel that buzz of nervous energy when running late? The internal alarm bells ring, blood rises into your face and neck, you start to sweat, your irritation level skyrockets.

Even if you regularly practice yoga, meditation, and pranayama for stress management, sometimes a situation can feel so immediate and threatening that all the training in the world flies right out the window. But regularly training your parasympathetic (or relaxation) response can make you more resistant to some of life’s stressors over time. Like Robin to Batman, the lesser known parasympathetic nervous system (PNS) is the yin to the yang of the autonomic nervous system. Often referred to as the “rest and digest” response, the PNS is responsible for bodily functions when you are at rest, regulating digestion, and various metabolic processes. This built-in mechanism tones down the sympathetic nervous system and helps the body to relax and recover. Based on observed human behaviors (e.g., middle-finger communication during rush hour), most people could benefit by spending a little more time in parasympathetic mode. Remember, this is an autonomic response, so while you don’t have direct front-door access, you do hold a key that you can use anytime your life isn’t truly threatened.

4 Ways to Magnify Your Body’s Parasympathetic Response

In training the body and brain with the following practices, keep in mind duration isn’t as important as consistency. A 10-minute practice 5 days a week is actually more beneficial over time than a 60-minute practice once or twice a month. The cumulative effects that come with frequent, steady training tone the body and mind, changing the way you perceive stressful situations. Practice any or all of the following techniques regularly and notice any physical, mental, and emotional changes. Keep in mind that reshaping the way that you behave and respond to situations takes time. Be patient and kind with yourself, and trust in the simplicity of the practice.

Shannon Stephens teaches Yin, Meditation, and Vinyasa group and private classes in Oklahoma City, and co-owns Routed Connection, a small business specializing in retreats. Visit her blog at shannonstephensyoga.com

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