Celebrate & Balance

The holiday season has come and gone and it breezed by like the wind. Parties, festivities, friends and family, and loads and loads of treats in the way of delicious holiday cookies and plenty of alcohol and toasting to the new year. I sincerely hope that you were able to celebrate and let loose as much as possible, but I also believe that for the sake of health there should be a balance of enjoyment and restriction. As a yoga teacher I teach people how to stand on one foot and put their arms in the air and how to balance on their forearms and top of their heads and put their legs in the air, but balance in life goes beyond being able to do impressive feats of gravity.

Adults tell children to eat their vegetables (hopefully) and we ought to remember that rule ourselves, especially at the holiday season when almost every vegetable in site has been corralled and buried in pounds of cheese and some sort of oil. Did I eat those tempting casseroles? Absolutely, but I also practiced yoga regularly during the holidays and continued to eat salads and drink a lot of water. I did not sacrifice one for the other, I thoroughly enjoyed eating three cookies for breakfast and sweating on the yoga mat in the afternoon. Waste not want not, we had a lot of cookies around, but during the other 50 weeks of the year we don’t.

The ball dropped in Times Square people and people around the world set intentions and resolutions, goals for the new calendar year. Often for women those goals are diet and weight based, which I have mixed emotions about, but if phrased in another way, say like this: Often for women those goals are health based, then I am all for it. Self worth and confidence should not be defined by a number on a household scale, but instead making goals to move more and feel better for the new year are great ways to move into the new year.

The way that I have chosen to stay healthy and physically active has been yoga. It consumes a lot of my life because I love the way that it makes me feel and I dislike the way I feel when too many days go by without practicing yoga, so much so that not doing yoga is not a part of my life anymore, I make time for it multiple times through my week. However, I recently went for a run with my husband and instantly realized that I am not exercising my heart enough. In yoga I teach students to not push their bodies into a state of aerobics and to use their breath as a tool to keep their practice safe and that is how I practice as well, therefore I hardly ever move into cardiovascular work. My form of physical fitness is very imbalanced.

When the weather is nice enough I commute to work by bike, so twice a day, five days a week I ride my bike to work pedalling hard up a small incline to get to work on time which makes me breathe hard and sweat, but now that it is winter I drive to work and am now lack cardio. My goal for 2019 is to incorporate more cardio into my life, even though I pretty much hate it.

Having a fitness and health goal for the new year, or at anytime of the year is a good thing in my opinion as long as it is a healthy goal and is not developed from guilt, but from a healthy consideration for one’s own longevity and quality of life. I know that the heart is a muscle that needs to be strengthened just like the quads and glutes and that it plays an extremely important role in my health, a vital role you might say, so although it is a struggle for me to decide to go for a run in a way that doing yoga isn’t a difficult decision but rather a happy one, I will still strive to do so, not out of guilt, not to shed pounds, but as an investment in my own future and so that I am able-bodied enough to hike mountains with my husband and our dog.

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May you create joy, love, happiness, success, health, and balance in 2019 and every year to follow, Namaste.

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Warm Up Your Practice

The days and nights are cold and the sun, although present, is not very warming at this time of year in the northern hemisphere. Winter officially begins on December 21st – the Winter Solstice, and until then the days get shorter and shorter. Then, like magic, they start to lengthen day by day in such tiny increments that it’s difficult to notice. Short, cold days can make it difficult to find motivation for fitness or generally rolling out of bed. To counter the chill in the air here are some way to bring warmth and light into your yoga practice.

Heat Up Your Practice

When it is cold out there and the opportunity to be outside is slimmer than other months, I like to turn the heat up on the mat. My flows become more common than a hatha practice and I add variety into my vinyasa with more strength than flexibility work. By keeping the pace up and challenging myself with difficult pose varieties the heat comes from within and in a matter of minutes I’m removing a layer.

Awkward Chair Squats

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Some easy options to incorporate into your yoga practice include adding squats in awkward chair pose. Stand in chair with your feet hip distance, on the in breath stand up and squeeze your glutes pushing your hip points forward (this builds heats and tones the glutes), on the next breath, squat back into chair.
Add rounds of 10 squats at the beginning of your three Surya Namaskar B’s/Sun Salutation B’s to create fire in the lower body. Move with the breath.

Chaturanga Push Ups

Chaturanga push ups, or double dips. This can be done on the knees or from full plank. On the exhale lower down to chaturanga, hold and hover there until the breath is fully out, on the inhale push down into the floor through both hands with fingers spread wide, and push back into plank. One is enough for me, but if you have the power and energy do two or more at a time. Watch your form and drop the knees if the body isn’t straight.

Handstands at the Wall

If like me, you require the use of a wall for handstand as you build up your skill and confidence to move to the middle of the room, then begin a practice by doing handstands at the wall. The hop up into the pose is warming in its own right and to hold and build endurance using the wall for balance will teach the body the tone that is needed to hold the body upright, upside down. Do not simply allow the legs to rest on the wall creating a banana curve in the back, that relies on the wall too much meaning that no engagement is occurring in the muscles of the lower body. Instead, move one leg slightly away from the wall, over the corresponding hip, then try bringing the second leg over the hip until you are in a vertical handstand. Likely, your legs will float right back down to the floor, if that’s the case then try again. Be sure to alternate the leg you kick up with, do not favor the stronger leg. Rest in child’s pose, balasana, afterwards for 5-10 breaths.
If handstands aren’t something that you feel ready to practice, then you can substitute kick ups from three-legged-dog. Begin in three-legged-dog, walk the lower foot in slightly closer to the hands and bend that leg’s knee. Come on to the ball of the standing leg foot and do little hops, kicking your heel to your butt. Land lightly! That is key, land with a bent knee and try to land as softly as you can. Do five on each side.
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Light the Way

There are times in the winter when a mug of hot chocolate and good book sound better than anything and the same idea is true of yoga. Sometimes a fiery vinyasa flow is needed, sometimes a slow, restorative practice with mounds of bolsters and blankets is what warms the heart. For these types of classes lighting a nice scented candle, or lots of tea lights is an excellent way to bring peace and serenity to what is already a calming practice.
The glow of real candles is beyond relaxing, but could be dangerous to have around if going into savasana, especially if you’re sometimes prone to falling asleep in savasana as I am! If you are going to use real candles, I suggest investing in natural, soy, hand poured candles and having someone else in the house when you burn them and practice yoga.
An alternative to practicing with lit candles are to use battery operated ones. I have around 20 that I bought second-hand for my wedding that I use for special candlelight yoga classes. Their glow is nice, although can’t match a real candle, the downside is the wastefulness using something that is battery-powered. Another alternative could be to use Christmas lights in your yoga space as a soothing form of lighting.
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It is easy to become lethargic on cloudy, cold days. To desire to bundle up and lay around, and although that is beneficial in its own right, it is also extremely beneficial to keep your yoga practice consistent through all seasons and temperatures in order to create a habit of practice and drill the discipline of rolling out your yoga mat multiple times per week.

Choosing a Yoga Retreat

Yoga retreats take place around the globe, in Costa Rica, Greece, Canada, the US; most everywhere. At first it might seem self indulgent to gift yourself a yoga retreat or something that only the wealthy can afford, it’s true that they can be costly, but for not much more than the cost of a hotel stay, you get the added benefits of yoga classes, healthy food, a beautiful environment, and like-minded yoga people.

As a yoga teacher earning some of my income from teaching, it is on my mind to invest some of my income on the betterment of my teaching – this means attending classes, workshops, trainings, and retreats. Especially if you are a yoga teacher, spending to attend a retreat is an investment in your teaching and having a few days away from it all to practice and reflect is good for everyone.

If you are a yoga student who hasn’t made the leap into becoming a teacher, and may never will, then attending a yoga retreat is just as beneficial for you. Give yourself the gift of well spent time investing in your wellbeing. Treat yourself as memes on Instagram say.

What to Consider When Choosing a Retreat

 

Location, Location, Location

Consider where you want to practice yoga for a few days. Likely, taking time off of work and away from your family will mean that this time away is both a retreat and a vacation, so choose a place where you would like to visit. Are you a beachy person or mountains? Tied into this question is the question of travel costs – how far are you willing to travel? Remember to keep those costs in mind as well. Can you drive to the location or must you fly?

Take a look at the retreat center and make sure that it is somewhere that you want to spend your time. This website is great to find retreats. Once you have one in mind, look up the retreat centers website and find them on Facebook to look at photos. Make sure that the place jives with your desires and needs – are they vegetarian friendly? Sustainable?

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Who’s Teaching? Who Was Their Teacher? What Style of Yoga is It?

Ask yourself the same questions you would ask of any teacher that you are going to spend a fair amount of money on practicing with. There are countless different styles of yoga out there so make sure that the style that will be taught at the retreat is a style that you enjoy or have interest in learning about. Research the teacher on their social media and see who they trained with. If you can’t find the information, write them a private message or email and ask. They will be glad that you are interested in attending their retreat and should happily reply.

Find out if your local studio is hosting any retreats. It’s becoming more common for yoga studios to book retreat locations at beach locals for a few days to a week. To be able to go to a retreat with a teacher that you already have a relationship with and to get to build upon that relationship as well as get to know the other students that are attending would be a beautiful thing. Make your yoga community tighter. If you plan ahead enough you can likely benefit from early bird pricing as well to save some money.

Different styles of yoga speak to different people. Research what style of yoga will be taught at the retreat and how many classes there will be. If it is a new style to you, jump on YouTube and do a few classes to see if you’d be willing to spend the money and time to study the new style, just because it’s unfamiliar, doesn’t mean that you won’t enjoy it. If you are a yoga teacher, exposing yourself to a variety of styles can benefit your yoga teacher toolkit and therefore your students. How much meditation are you looking for, pranayama, service? Do the research to make sure that you are investing your valuable time and money into the right fit.

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What Are You Looking to Gain From the Retreat?

The photo above is of Jason Crandell demoing an assist in handstand at a weekend workshop that I attended in the spring. That sort of break down to challenging poses and assists to utilize as a teacher is exactly what I was looking for. As organizers and teachers if the retreat will be geared towards teachers if that is what you are looking for. Likely, may will not be as they will not be considered continued education, but there’s no harm in asking and maybe the teacher will then throw in a few teaching tips if they know that is what participants are looking for.

If you’re not a teacher or are one but just want to get away for a few days to relax, then look into what other activities the retreat offers or things to do in the area. A retreat that I researched recently had a beautiful lake and hiking trails for leisure time. Check if there are any day expeditions offered or that could be added on to make the most of your time away.

Let Go and Enjoy!

Finally, once you’ve made it to your selected weekend workshop or retreat, let go of expectations and settle in to learning. Recently I was at a workshop and the teacher said that out of the hundreds of things that he taught and said only one may speak to us as students, and to accept that possibility and take that one thing away to incorporate into our teaching and daily lives. This was reasurring to me, because sometimes things do not turn out as we were expecting, but there are always a few take aways. At the very least, enjoy some time away from your day to day responsiblities, let someone else cook for you, and do that thing that you love – yoga.

Teach, Don’t Guide

This is a short memo to yoga teachers out there. No negativity is meant by this message. The message is simple and differs only in verbage, while at the same time has a major effect on your students.

There is a large gap between teaching yoga and guiding yoga. Teaching yoga is necessary for beginners and students with injuries – most students will have injuries, chronic or temporary at some point or another, and often times there is no easy way to ask all of your students if they are working with an injury in a well attended class. In order to keep the students that choose to attend your class safe, teach them pose by pose, cue proper alignment and watch your students as the make their yoga shapes. Know that bodies differ widely and that your students may never look like pictures of BKS Iyengar or Pattabhi Jois. Even as a yoga teacher, you yourself may never exactly mimic classical yoga images, or to put a modern spin on it, you may never pop into a handstand the way Kino does, c’est la vie. It is far better to be kind to yourself and respect your unique limitations (and those of your students) than to push bodies beyond limitations which is when yoga injuries occur.

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How guiding a yoga class differs from teaching is that when a teacher guides they flow along with their class and neglect to give individual attention to students; before I go into it further, I realize that there are times when guiding is preferred to teaching, for example when a class size is large or space is limited for the teacher to be able to walk around the room. There is also the belief that guiding and demoing every single pose for beginners is beneficial so that they have pose-by-pose demonstrations to look at and follow along with. This is completely valid and something that I was taught and sometimes utilize, but I sprinkle my class with walk-arounds and give students further cues or ways to use props to make the pose more comfortable and effective for them.

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Teaching yoga is not a yoga teachers time to practice yoga. If a teacher is guiding because they want to have a good practice themselves, then they are doing their students a disservice. As a teacher it is vital to make time in the day for self practice and to differentiate that time and the valuable time that you give to your students.

The advancement developed through self practice will translate to your students through your teaching. As teachers practice, learn, and feel their own bodies they are better able to serve their students. Recently, I attended two classes back to back at a studio. One was for advanced students, one was for beginners. I can only presume that the teachers trained and studied with the same teachers at the same studio because parts of their sequences were identical, although their classes were advertised as being for different levels of students. Were the classes good? Yes, but I can’t help but think that had the teachers stepped outside of their well rehearsed cueing and taught and watched and adjusted, that the classes would have felt more genuine and personal.

There are times to guide and there are times to teach. As both a student and a teacher, I much prefer to be taught than to be guided.

The Great Blue Heron Music Festival

Every year in early July there is a music festival near my hometown in western New York state – The Great Blue Heron. It’s a festival full of bluegrass music, zydeco, camping, dancing that goes until the wee hours of dawn, and so much more. Growing up I used to attend the festival as a high school student and college student. The weekend was late nights and late sleeps. Now in my 30’s I appreciate the festival for being so much more than cases of beer and no sleep.

At the most recent Blue Heron I made sure to fill my days with a schedule that had always existed, but that I had never explored, such as, you guessed it – yoga. There has always been yoga at the Blue Heron, but I never woke up in time to make a class. What a shame that turns out to be. The Revival tent where the yoga classes are held take place in the Revival Tent, a tent that kisses the end of a serene pond. Yoga is at 9am, which may not seem all that early, but to those bustin’ a move till 6am, that is an impossible time.

This year my husband and I didn’t attend the festival until Saturday morning and it was my primary goal to get to the Saturday morning yoga class, so we dropped our dear pup Fred off at grandma and grandpa’s house and arrived just in time for me to roll my mat out for class. Being that I had never attended a single yoga class at the Heron before, I was surprised to see that quite a few people set their alarms to get to the class. There were probably 20-30 people at the class and around the same amount of people attended Sunday’s class. Sunday’s class was just as good as Saturdays and both days offered completely different styles of yoga – Vinyasa and Iyengar, both were beneficial for heads and bodies aching from worldly pleasures of the day and night before.

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Another new experience for me was a sound healing, or a sound meditation on Sunday. A soft-spoken woman with an array of instruments guided a large group through a chakra balancing meditation. She encouraged us all to incorporate outside noises into the meditation, which was necessary since the festival’s beach area is practically connected to the Revival Tent which meant that sounds of children enjoying splashing in the pond were difficult to ignore, and then halfway through the meditation the truck that serviced the porta-potties (my husband and I playfully referred to it as the ‘Poop Truck’) arrived to the adjacent beach to service the porta-potties there. That was hard to peacefully incorporate, especially knowing what it was, but after a few minutes the hum of the truck doing it’s job did incorporate its way into my meditation.

It would be a long post to write about everything other than a party weekend that the IMG_20180708_122532.jpgBlue Heron offers everyone from young children to mature adults, but a short list includes a mushroom walk, star-gazing, activities almost every hour for the kids, vendors, a tent full of events specifically for teens, etc. Unfortunately the Blue Heron has a local reputation for being a drug fest full of ‘undesirables’. Is there a wide range of people at a festival of around 7,000 people – yes, so might there be people partaking in illegal substances? Yes. Are there also young families that come for a day or the entire weekend? Yes. The festival can be what you make of it. If you want to party till the sun comes up, do it. If you want to put ear plugs in and crawl into your tent at 11pm to wake up early for the 7:30 meditation and the 9am yoga, do it.

The primary draw of the festival is undoubtedly the music. The lineup has not altered much since my high school days or my last time there in 2012, and while that can seem mundane it also speaks to the artists that people enjoy their sets year after year. There’s something for everyone on the line up at the Heron, bluegrass and Americana cover people who love those styles as well as those that enjoy country music, which there are many in Chautauqua county; there’s also world music, funk, psychedelic rock, and so more.

 

For musicians, professional and aspiring, there are music workshops on Saturday and Sunday so bring your fiddle and drum. I myself always enjoy bruising up my hands at the drum circle with my djembe, which a kind man tuned for me for a donation, saying that he considers his skill a gift to the world. Whatever your opinion of hippies are, they sure are kind and warmhearted.

The event as a whole can be described as happy, warmhearted, and sustainable. Event volunteers sort through recyclables which festival goers divide initially into plastics, compostables, and waste destined for the landfill. My environmental-hippy hat tips off to organizers for making their Rainbow Recycling program such a large part of the festival. To get waste to its proper place for 7,000+ people is a commendable task.

The Blue Heron is a celebration of American culture that I was excited to share with my English husband. It had something for everyone, even more so than I remember as a younger adult. If you’re looking for a summer festival next year, keep the Blue Heron in mind and mark your calendar for the weekends surrounding July 4th, the festival is always held on the weekend before or after the holiday. We’ll definitely be there, maybe I’ll see you at yoga.

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Guest Author – Ashley Ordines – On Her Health Transformation Through Yoga

Introducing another Ashley! Ashley attended a New Years Yoga workshop hosted by Kara Bemis Yoga in early 2017 and has never looked back since.

On December 31st, 2016 I made a new years resolution to try to become a healthier person. I had struggled for the majority of my life with weight control and mental health issues. The resolution I made came during my very first yoga class at Phoenix Rising Wellness Studio in Jamestown, NY, taught by Kara Bemis. I really enjoyed the class and knew that it was something I would like to continue to do, even though I remember thinking, “wow downward facing dog is SO hard!” This was huge for me as I had never found a physical activity I really enjoyed doing. It even seemed to be mentally beneficial; after only one class my mood had improved. I decided that my resolution for 2017 was going to be regularly doing one thing for myself that would teach me to be more mindful and self-aware, as well as improve my physical fitness, so I signed up for more yoga.

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I began taking classes at Sun Moon Yoga when it opened in a new location in January 2017 with Karen Hansen. Over the next several months I slowly learned to be more comfortable with my body and gradually began feeling improvements in my health. I felt more energetic, flexible, and overall more positive. I even began documenting the food I ate as a way to become more aware of what I put into my body. I consider this point to be when I really started making my journey about mindfulness, specifically relating to how I treat my physical and emotional self.  

I continued to track what I eat as well, and as of today, I have lost 97 lbs… most importantly I have found a physical and mental strength that I never knew I had. Without yoga, this probably wouldn’t have happened.

Over the next 18 months I began to lose weight while gaining strength and confidence. I began trying other physical activities as well, and found that I also really love hiking. So for many months I continued doing yoga 1-5 days a week, both at class and at home, and hiked during the warmer months. I continued to track what I eat as well, and as of today, May 30, 2018, I have lost 97 lbs. I have lost over 10 inches on my waist, 8 inches on each thigh, and 9 inches from my hips. Most importantly, I have found a physical and mental strength that I never knew I had. Without yoga, this probably wouldn’t have happened.

Yoga has taught me to accept myself where I’m at and to not be discouraged by not being able to do everything at once. I have learned patience and acceptance for myself and continue to work every day on loving myself for who I am right now. To anyone who has considered doing yoga but is afraid to try something new, I say do it. Even if you don’t want to lose weight or change anything physically, you can learn so much about yourself just by trying something new. One of the biggest lessons I have learned throughout all of this is that even when your life situation seems like the “end-all-be-all,” it doesn’t have to be forever. Be patient with yourself. Go through the steps. Trust the process. Just breathe. Downward facing dog won’t always be hard.


30595258_10211780662216373_1594345654740582400_nAshley Ordines is a freelance artist/illustrator living in Jamestown, NY. Her focus as an artist is mainly illustration, concept art and design. She is also a passionate environmentalist and hopes to bring focus to environmental issues through her art. Ordines is also an avid gamer and spends most of her free time playing video games or hiking.

Instagram: @ashordinesart @thtashtho

Facebook: Ash Ordines Artworks

Guest Author – Ashley Biekert on Her Yoga Journey – A Yoga Beginner’s Testament

Introducing Ashley, a new convert to the joy that is yoga. Ashley gives her experience overcoming the ever-common anxiety and nerves that come hand in hand with attending initial yoga classes and her transition to becoming a regular yoga student that has had success in health, both physical and mental.

Yoga…. to someone who has had extremely poor flexibility (like I couldn’t even touch my toes) for my whole life, this four letter word held a lot of intimidation for me. I mean, sure, I had tried a few basic poses at home, but the thought of a class where other people might see me struggle made me shudder. To say it was out of my comfort zone was an understatement to say the least. But the truth is, good things happen outside of your comfort zone, and once I was able to recognize this, I was able to truly embrace this wonderful art form.

I started my fitness journey in December of 2017 with at home Beachbody workouts. Yoga was my Sunday workout video, and this truly was my first introduction to any sort of yoga beyond those couple basic poses I knew. As the weeks went on I began to look forward to my Sunday’s but I still felt like something was missing from the experience. I looked around online to get some more info on the yoga classes in the area but was incredibly hesitant because I truly felt there was no way I could ever measure up to the people in those classes and that I would be the most inexperienced person in attendance. So I waited.

At the end of February my birthday weekend rolled around and I found out there would be a Restorative Yoga class at Sun Moon Yoga, and since this sounded more my speed, I convinced my sister to join me as a birthday gift. It was great! My instructor Karen made me feel so comfortable and there was something so different about the energy in the room when you have fellow practitioners with you. I was hooked. At the end of class, I signed up for beginners yoga that just happened to be starting that Wednesday, and I went for it!

Now, was a nervous showing up to class that Wednesday? Absolutely! It was a new experience and those always make me anxious. But do you know what outshined that nervousness that I had? EXCITEMENT! I was so thrilled about this new journey I was embarking on, and I couldn’t wait to see what I could learn.

Every week I walked away from class with more confidence in myself and more appreciation for what my body was able to do for me. I could see my flexibility increasing, slowly but surely, and I feel myself getting stronger. I was no longer intimidated by the thought of someone seeing me struggle or the teacher adjusting me. In fact, I fell in love with adjustments. These are something you very much take for granted when you are only practicing on your own. It was great to finally have someone showing me the right way instead of just guessing. I could feel the poses working for me instead of struggling to get them to be what I thought they should be. There was absolutely no looking back now!

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I no longer fear new experiences when it comes to seeing what my body can do. I’m not afraid to be the least experienced person in the room. We are all on different journey and we are all at different places in our journey. To compare yourself to someone else’s capabilities is so futile. I’ve learned to love my body for what it is today while also being excited for what it will be capable of doing for me tomorrow.

The biggest thing Yoga has taught me isn’t how to touch my toes or the proper way to do downward dog, it is to love myself always… To love myself through the failures and successes, and to embrace my imperfections and work through them. This is the only body I get, and I am so blessed to be able to use it for the short time my soul gets to inhabit this planet. I won’t waste any more time doing anything but wholeheartedly loving my vessel and working to improve it however I can.

 


image2My name is Ashley Biekert and I have been a resident of Jamestown, NY my entire life. I have been married to my husband Andrew for almost three years and I am the mother of my beautiful 1-year-old daughter, Rayne. I have only been doing yoga for a few short months but I have found a lot of love for it. I hope to continue to grow every day and see where my body can take me. The sky is the limit! You can follow me on my fitness journey on Instagram at @raynys_mama 

Jason Crandell Workshop Take Aways

It was two months ago that I attended my first (but not my last!) workshop with Jason Crandell. I traveled a far distance – ten hours round trip to be exact – to practice and study with Jason, a renowned vinyasa teacher. You can read about the studio where the workshop was held here.
No matter what style of class or where, I always take something away form the teacher, good or bad, and store it for future use and implementation. Let me clarify that I do not mean that I take sequences or any other sort of “intellectual property” but rather a word here and there or an interesting assist. These are my take aways from Jason’s workshops.

Humor

He was funny, and frequently, too. There were around 80 people practicing challenging vinyasa sequences together, energy was high and as much as it is repeated and known not to let the ego creep in and self judge in class, I’m positive that eyes were looking around the room to compare practices. Jason cracked jokes that dissipated thoughts of the ego, at least that’s the effect that it had on me. The mood was lightened during handstand practice, and the point was made that life is not ending if the handstand is not perfect.
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Float Around

There was a small raised stage with a glued down yoga mat, I’m assuming that that’s where the usual teachers teach from, and it is where Jason started his workshops from, but not where he was glued to. Throughout the roughly eight hours of flow, Jason walked around the room to give his sequences. I liked this. It kept everyone involved and the energy flowing.
Also, it literally brought him back to the students’ level. Something that I had never though of until I heard the idea on Andreah Ferrerrit’s podcast, Yogaland, is that as teachers we have an instant air of hierarchy and power over our students. To move around the room and give students equal attention, not just the advanced students at the front (because lets face it, beginners generally go to the back and it’s usually only the late comers who have to begrudgingly roll their mats out right in front of the teacher, or it’s the confident students who choose to be there.) Hear Yogaland’s podcast about this topic and yoga in the era of #MeToo here.

Demo to the Crowd

Usually in class I demo poses myself, but often times Jason had a student perform a posture while he pointed out adjustments or assists, never to the embarrassment of the student, he demoed students capable of the poses. Often times his assistants were called over to a central mat to perform the pose, as in the photo below.

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This is such an effective teaching tool. It brings the entire room together to witness a pose developing in real time. Questions can be asked and answered then and there. This is necessary to do when having students partner up, you have to make sure that they know what they will be doing and what their partner’s role will be, especially when the pose to be practiced is an advanced pose such as an inversion.
As mentioned in the intro, my first yoga workshop with Jason will not be my last. I have signed up for a morning workshop with Jason in early June, this time closer to home in Cleveland, OH. It was difficult to make the decision to attend only one portion of his weekend long workshop in Ohio, but my mentor and good friend, Mindy Sisco is visiting me during that week from South Korea, so sacrifices had to be made. Not to mention, I’ll be practicing with her all week, including in Cleveland, so I’ll still be learning and growing as a student and teacher.
If you are a yoga student who is getting more into the practice, then I highly recommend finding yoga workshops near you this summer; teachers, of course you know how beneficial workshops are. Workshops are better than classes, instead of a teacher simply leading you through sequences, the teacher gives you the technique and drills to be able to perform difficult poses in the workshop or down the road as you build strength. Then you can take those newly learned skills and apply them to your home practice or at a the next studio class you attend in which the teacher says,”… and now pop into tripod headstand if that’s in your practice.” because it will be in the practice now, a new skill gained from a knowledgeable workshop.

The Yoga Loft, Bethlehem, PA – Studio Review

I made a commitment to myself that I would train more this year, so when I saw on Instagram that Jason Crandell was teaching a weekend workshop on the east coast of the U.S. I didn’t have to think twice before booking a spot. The studio is a good five and a half hours from where I live, but the idea of a weekend with a well-known vinyasa yoga instructor to practice and learn made the drive worth it. A separate post to follow regarding the workshop with Jason, this post is about the studio alone.

The Yoga Loft is in a central area of Bethlehem which is an old steel city with the decaying remnants of that time still dominating the skyline. The studio is in an old brick building with street parking and a parking lot to the side. The studio is up three flights of stairs, something to keep in mind if running late or suffering from an injury.

Once up the flights of stairs you pass through a door into the foyer of the studio. There you can register at the front desk, browse their yoga accessories for sale (clothes, books, etc.), and lounge in a sitting area. There’s also a water machine to fill up your reusable water bottle before class.

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Just beyond the entry way and slightly to the right is a doorway that leads to two changing rooms and the toilets. The double doors directly ahead lead to one of their three studio spaces. The space that I practiced in was massive, photo below, it held 70-80 people with mats tightly placed side by side. The floors of the studio are beautiful hardwood and there are a lot of windows to let natural light in. All areas of the studio are welcoming and kept clean. Staff that I interacted with during registration and during breaks from the workshop were friendly and sociable, although I did not take a class with any of the local teachers while there.

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There are a lot of classes on offer at The Yoga Loft. Looking at their weekly schedule online, there are three to eight classes offered per day, with less offered at the weekend. Classes on the schedule are labeled by level, a guideline that ensures students attend appropriate classes, something that not all studios provide prospective students with. Styles offered on the weekly schedule include: Yoga Flow, Infant Yoga, Barre & Pilates, Candlelit/Restorative, and more. Special events, workshops, and free events also found on the website.

The studio offers a lot of promotional classes to get new students in the door. There is a six-week beginners series for those new to yoga to help them get them on their feet and gain confidence to then explore other teachers and styles at the studio. They also have a new student, promotional, unlimited monthly rate of $39. Lastly, they host open houses that include a free class and option to ask questions about yoga to staff. These all make a lot of sense in terms of brining new students in the door and getting more people interested in yoga, especially those that may feel shy or nervous to try yoga for the first time.

Another interesting page found on their website that I have never seen before on a yoga studio website is a section called ‘Places We Love’ which includes restaurants and places to stay recommended by the studio. This is so useful because the studio hosts traveling teachers with big names that no doubt draw in students from all over the east coast; case in point my five and a half hour drive there, I also met two women rushing out the door at the end of the Jason Crandell workshop that were rushing because they had something like a nine-hour drive home to Maine! Us out-of-towners appreciate recommendations. Listing restaurants is very smart as most people who do yoga tend to lead a healthier lifestyle than the average American, therefore would appreciate knowing where the local vegan restaurant is as opposed to walking into the nearest McDonald’s.

I enjoyed every aspect of my short visit to The Yoga Loft in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. Never before had I even really heard of the city or studio, but I am glad that a post on Instagram about the workshop got me interested and travelling across New York and Pennsylvania to travel there. If you live in the vicinity, vicinity being the entire east coast it seems, then check out their upcoming weekend workshops and book yourself a spot. A highly recommended experience.

 

 

Visiting Montreal

At the very end of 2017 I took a trip with my husband to visit his close friends in Quebec. It was a last-minute trip and the temperatures were brutal, averaging around -25C (-13F) most of the time,  but we managed to sight see a little and succeeded in not spending our entire trip indoors.  Here are my top highlights from our trip that I think will interest other yoga people, history nerds, and slow fashion enthusiasts out there.

First, the Yoga

There is a huge and important Sivananada ashram located an hour north of Montreal. Our friends lived north of the city as well, so the ashram was even closer to us for our stay. While visiting I attended one two-hour, beginners yoga class at the ashram. They have classes open to the public twice daily, once at 8am and again at 4pm. It costs $10/person and you can choose between the beginners’ class or an intermediate class.

The ashram is a large compound that unfortunately,I did not get to explore (remember the temperatures?) I did however step inside the registration office to pay for the class – the building was warm and welcoming. The woman at reception spoke French and fluent English. After classes there is an option to pay $10 on top of the class for a vegetarian meal, we passed on this option, but the smells were wafting around in the registration office and they were tempting me to cancel our prearranged dinner plans and stick around for the food.

The class itself was taught by whom I would guess is a student of the ashram. He led the class though pranayama at the beginning of class, which was a good 20-30 minutes long. After breathwork the asana practice began. It was a beginners class, but the teacher threw in some more challenging poses such as sirsasana. At the end there was an enjoyable savasana and the class began and ended with chants sung beautifully by the teacher and the few devotional students who somehow managed learn the minutes long chants – dedication.

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I planned to go back and attend an intermediate class, but it didn’t fit into our schedule, so I’ll have to go back on our next trip. If you’re planning a trip to the area, check out their website (hyperlinked above) for more information and schedules on themed weekends. There is lodging on sight and the schedule is that of an ashram – early morning risings for satsang and asana with karma yoga in the middle of the day and more asana in the afternoon, a busy, disciplined schedule that is fully optional, for those not quite ready to live life like a yogi.

Next, Some History

I am a self-proclaimed history nerd and Montreal had some lovely history to satisfy my dorky desires. I searched Tripadvisor and Google for a historical site that interested me and was in my price range (I am a proud budget traveler), and I came across the perfect Victorian townhouse that offered guided tours by guides decked out in crinoline and waistcoats. The townhouse was  the prior home of Sir George-Etienne Cartier, a Canadian politician and former Prime Minister. It is located in Old Montreal, a historic district near the river. The tour guide gave us a tour in English around the townhouse which took about an hour (there are also tours in French) and as mentioned previously, he gave the tour in head-to-to-toe Victorian attire (and he had a very endearing French Canadian  accent.)

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We visited at Christmas time so the focus of the tour was a Victorian Christmas, which is really interesting because the Victorians gave us most of the Christmas traditions that we follow to this day. The museum also had  some fun hands on experiences, such as making Christmas cards, sampling Victorian hot drinks – wasil and tea, and trying on Victorian clothes. The best part? The museum was free  during all of 2017 because it was the 150th anniversary of Canada. Although it’s now 2018 and it will no longer be free, I recommend visiting if you have some free time in Montreal, even if to simply get out of the bitter cold temperatures for a while.

Finally, Vintage Clothes

My friends knew that I was interested in doing some second-hand shopping while in Montreal and surprised me with a stop at a massive vintage store. It’s called Eva B and it’s more than a vintage clothing shop, it’s also a cafe and bistro, and in keeping with the world-wide stereotype of Canadians being extremely friendly, a woman handed us small cups of hot apple cider (in glass not in single use plastic) as soon as we walked in, she also had little bags (paper) of popcorn, too.

After searching a multitude of racks, I sadly left empty-handed, but there was a lot to choose from, most from the 70s/80s/90s. The price tags were more than I’m used to at Salvation Army, but most things were actually vintage, no H&M or Forever 21 in sight. Before leaving we grabbed a couple of hot samosas for $1 that were amazing, so that convinces me of their menu. Photos below are of the second level of the store and the front entrance, recognizable by the graffiti.

 

There’s plenty more to do in Montreal, I am sure, sadly the weather prohibited a long day trip to the city, but what I did see of it on this trip was enjoyable and entertaining. I’m already looking forward to a return when the weather is more hospitable. I’ll be back, Montreal.