What is Your Heart Opening Yoga Practice?

As a yogini and a teacher, I always bring my practice back to opening the heart as a way to end suffering.  Everyday, we may not even be consciously aware of what we’re doing to sabotage our own happiness.  Things like attachment, aversion, and fear creep into our lives when we aren’t even looking.

Opening the heart happens off the mat and on through asana, spiritual practice, meditation, and nurturing our creativity.    During my classes, I often end class by reading an excerpt from a meditation book I’m reading, or poem by Rumi or Hafiz, or something I’ve written myself that speaks to the moment. Continue reading

Like Mother, Like Daughter

mom and toddler at christmasWhen I was very little, my mom was like a Goddess. I thought she was the most magical, beautiful being in existence (still is).  She could do anything.  I wanted to do everything she did, wore everything she wore, be everything she was.  I remember rifling through her trunk of dresses like a tiny criminal just so I could try them on, and dance around just like her.   Even with the dresses in a crumpled heap on the floor covered in cookie crumbs, she never got mad.

My mom has always been the most supportive, compassionate person I’ve ever met.   She taught me how to ride a bike, make potato salad, and how to make a whistle from a blade of grass.   She was there for me through heartache and bullying. through prom and college.Always words of encouragement, always acts of love.  My mom has always been on my side, and has shaped who I’ve become.   She truly is one of the most beautifully selfless people I’ve ever known. Continue reading

Today is Yoga Play Day

a yoga dance

Ok, there’s no nationally declared day…yet. So, I’m unofficially declaring Fridays, Yoga Play Day! We often take yoga WAY too seriously, so take a step back, and then a step forward, and make it fun. Clear out the dharmic cob … Continue reading

Seize the Moment: Let Your Yoga Pants Get Furry

For those of you under the age of 40 (yea, I can say that now), you may not know who Erma Bombeck is. She was a humorist and newspaper columnist from the 1960s through the 1990s. She wrote a column after she found out that she had cancer entitled, “If I Had My Life to Live Over.”

In the piece, she talks about all of the little things that she took for granted that she would embrace if she had to do it over. Two of my favorite lines are, “I would have burned the pink candle sculpted like a rose before it melted in storage,” and, “I would have sat on the lawn with my children and not worried about grass stains.” Well, my children have four legs and fur, but I still love how she articulates “seizing the moment.”

I think about this piece very often when I catch myself becoming overly concerned about the superficial at the expense of the deeply meaningful. When I come home from work, I’m greeted with the unconditional love of my two dogs, Hattie & Ivy — 120 lbs. of unconditional love that is. As soon as I walk in the door, they’re bursting with so much excitement to see me that they just about knock me down. Continue reading

Awaken Your Inner Dragon

According to Chinese tradition, 2012 is the year of the dragon.   While most western myth depicts the dragon  as a fire breathing beast to be feared, eastern traditions revered the two-dragons-heart-shapecreature.  In fact, in Chinese culture, the dragon symbolizes power, wisdom and fortune and  is regarded as a divine beast.  I’ve always felt a connection with the mystical, winged, serpent.   There’s an alluring freedom, strength, and creative spark that the awakened dragon flames to life.

I had the absolute pleasure of attending an intensive weekend yoga workshop by Sean Tebor of Dragon Tree Yoga Center in Santa Fe, entitled, “Waking the Dragon.”   Through a series of non traditional asanas (poses) that harmonized yoga, creativity, and even some martial arts, we awakened our “dragonian” spines from the tips of our “tails” to our heart centers.  Like a dragon born of fire, I emerged from the experience feeling supremely balanced.  Fluid yet grounded.  Energized, but relaxed.   But, most of all I awakened with a renewed purity of mind and heart.

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What Your Favorite Yoga Pose Says About You (4 of 4): Triangle Pose

As we come to a close with the series, “What Your Favorite Yoga Pose Says About You,” I’ll ring in Trikonasana or Triangle Pose.  In Sanskrit, tri means three and kona means corner, which is the woman-standing-trikonasanashape of the body (primarily the legs) when expressing this fundamental yoga pose.

Another one of my favorite poses (notice the theme of the selection process here), Trikonasana strengthens the core, particularly the obliques.  Control your descent and ascent into the pose with your core to protect your back and hips.  We often strengthen our rectus abdominus muscles (upper), but neglect our transverse abdominals (lower), and obliques.  And when our core muscles atrophy, our back weakens.   When done correctly, triangle stretches the muscles of the groin, ankles, hamstrings, calves, hips, spine and chest.  Tight hips often manifest in back pain, so this opening pose can actually relieve back pain.

From Tadasana (mountain pose), step your left foot back three and a half feet or more, and ground your left foot so it’s parallel with the back edge of your mat.  A good way to determine if your stance is wide enough is to spread your arms and see if your ankles are below your wrists.  From this standing pose, shift your hips back toward the back of your mat and extend your right arm far out over your right ankle before lowering your right hand to the floor to ensure length in the side body and spine.  Be careful not to lock your knees and ground your right big toe into the mat so you aren’t rolling to the outside of your foot.  This subtle adjustment facilitates strengthening the arch of your foot.

Let go of ego when sinking into Triangle.  If you can’t bring your hands all the way to the floor without collapsing into your side, bring your hands up to your shin or a block.  Open your hips, open your chest, extend your left arm and gaze to the ceiling and protect your neck by keeping your head parallel to the floor and maintain length in both sides of the neck. Continue reading

What Your Favorite Yoga Pose Says About You (3 of 4): Fish Pose

matsyasanaIf you have read any of my other posts, or know me at all, you know that Matsyasana (Fish) is my favorite asana.    For me, fish heals a multitude of ills.  In fact, many ancient texts refer to Matsyasana as “destroyer of all diseases.”  Whether active or supported, this pose relieves stiffness and tension in your neck and back.

This backbend pose also stretches the muscles in your groin (psoas), abdominals, and chest (intercostals),  provides an opening at the heart and throat chakras, and stimulates the thyroid.

For those of us who spend most of our day hunched over a desk at work, or round our shoulders over a mobile device while engaged in a battle of wits playing “Words with Friends,”  matsyasana helps correct our oft horrendous posture.

In my favorite variation of the active pose, I instruct my students to lie on their backs with their arms tucked closely by their sides, and roll their shoulders back and chest open.  Then I have them place their wrists directly under their sit bones.  This little adjustment can bring tremendous relief for carpal tunnel sufferers.   On an inhale, press into the hands and forearms, draw the shoulder blades (scapula) together and down the back, and bring the torso and head off of the floor.  Then, gently, place the head down on the mat leaving a nice arch in the back and open chest. To protect the neck, there’s very little weigh on the head. Continue reading

What Your Favorite Yoga Pose Says About You (2 of 4): Pigeon

pigeon-poseIn the first post of this series, I talked about how Warrior I is the ultimate pose to activate the muladhara (root) chakra, establish a grounded footing and presence, and tackle fear.   Now, we move onto one of my favorites, Eka Pada Rajakapotasana (pigeon) pose.  As I wind down my personal practice, or begin to cool down my students, I almost always include pigeon.

Pigeon is one of the most often requested poses when I ask my class if there’s anything in particular they want to include for the day.  Primarily a hip and chest opener, pigeon assists in releasing the tension we hold in the pelvis and hips.

Whether sitting at a desk all day or as a measure of bottling up emotions, sinking into pigeon pose enables an opening.  In fact, the next time you are in pigeon, notice what emotions arise.  Do you become irritated, frustrated or sad?  Do you resist and clench the abductor muscles of the outer hip?  Or, do you melt, relinquishing the stress of the day? Continue reading

What’s Your Favorite Yoga Pose?

fish pose in yogaSo just for fun this Friday, I thought I’d do a quick post about my favorite yoga post, and open it up to you.   On any given day, there are a few poses that I gravitate to in my personal daily practice.  I try to incorporate a balanced practice that includes a few Surya Namaskar (sun salutation) C and A;  Virabadrasana (warrior) II; Trikonasana (triangle); and Vrkasana (Tree Pose).  Plus, I add in some abs, backbends, twists and, of course, restorative poses.  But, if you asked me point blank, “What is your favorite yoga pose?” Anyone who knows me, taught me or takes my classes knows that I’m a Matsayasana (Fish Pose) lover (see post pic of me blissfully chill in the pose during yoga teacher training).

I just love sinking into this heart opening gentle backbend.  You can tell by the look on my face that the world around me has all but disappeared.

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20 Ways to Open Your Heart – On and Off the Yoga Mat

In a recent post, Be Your Valentine: 10 Ways to Show Yourself the Love, I discussed ten ways you can love and embrace yourself before anyone else.  Now, it’s Valentine’s Day and I thought what better way to celebrate than to follow up with 20 Ways to Open Your Heart – On and Off the Mat.

When we think of the term, “open your heart,” it often suggests opening yourself up to love — romantic love.   And that’s great.  But what about all of the other ways you can simply open your heart to others, to gratitude, to joy?  In yoga, we often talk about opening your Heart Chakra — one of the seven major energy centers of the body that’s located in the center of your heart (energetically speaking.)

This fourth chakra, associated with the color green, is the seat of our compassion and love.  In the body, it governs the heart, lungs, circulatory & respiratory systems, and breasts.  It also rules the arms and hands.  Spiritually and energetically, it’s the center of our emotional being; where the upper and lower chakras meet.  This is where love, joy, understanding, generosity and oneness originate.  Someone with a balanced heart chakra is able to openly give and receive love.    Conversly, a blocked heart chakra is associated with intolerance, guilt, rejection, low self esteem.  Physically, some energy healers, believe a blocked heart chakra is associated with respiratory illness, heart disease, upper back and shoulder issues.    So let’s get unblocked and rock that heart chakra on and off the mat.

Here are 20 Ways to Open Your Heart – On and Off the Yoga Mat:

  1. Give everyone you see a big smile, a wave, warm greetings and make eye contact
  2. Buy a stranger coffee
  3. Pay the road toll for the car behind you
  4. Ask someone you don’t know how they are, and mean it
  5. Show yourself some compassion on the mat, and be compassionate with your yoga classmates – leave the competition outside
  6. Volunteer at a senior living facility and give the gift of a warm heart and an ear – you might hear a fascinating story or two
  7. Listen with your heart, don’t worry about teeing up what you’re going to say in response
  8. Sink deeply and easily into Uttana Shishosana (Extended Puppy Pose) to open the space between your shoulders and calm the mind
  9. Tell someone you love that you love them
  10. Tell someone you work with that you are grateful for them
  11. Put a fresh roll of toilet paper on the empty roll (sounds silly but karmically awesome)
  12. Spend 10 minutes in supported Matsyasana (Fish Pose); it opens the heart and ribs, stimulates muscles in the belly and throat, releases the upper back
  13. Set your neighbor’s recycling bin out by the curb
  14. Hug your family and friends with true affection
  15. Take your dog for a walk
  16. Buy a bag of dog or cat food for the local animal shelter
  17. Be the first to let the car at the stop sign go in front of you
  18. Shine your heart open in Setu Bandha Sarvangasana (Bridge Pose) or Urdhva Dhanurasana (Upward Bow or Wheel Pose)
  19. Donate to your favorite charity today and frequently
  20. Give gold star stickers to everyone in your life

While many of these gestures may seem silly or trivial, you’ll be surprised at the joy you can bring to someone else’s life with the little things.  Opening your heart through yoga and karmic practices, is contagious and beneficial to everyone.  Opening the gateway of your heart brings only positive results.

“No act of kindness, no matter how small, is ever wasted” – Aesop.

Happy Valentine’s Day!


-Your Charmed Yogi