Slow Flow Is Not Old Lady Yoga

First, let me say that there is an eighty something year old woman who comes to my yoga class and she consistently makes the young and the nubile look weathered and worn, such is the grace of her practice. So “Old Lady” yoga by definition is a little bad ass which makes this blog title a misnomer.

When I began taking yoga classes I don’t think there was even that much of a class description on the schedule; it was Yoga at whatever time with whomever teaching. There was no distinction between newbie yoga and advanced burn your ass up flow, so in a way I was spoiled with the simplicity.

Slow Flow is a staple class description here in small town Florida. There is a little bit of a stigma attached to slow flow, namely that it is easy. It is the yoga class one chooses when they don’t want to work too hard or put forth too much effort.

Back before yoga teacher training was a flicker on the event horizon of my life, I went to Slow Flow weekly. I thought it was Just Yoga. The class had all the stuff one thinks of yoga class as having; opening and chant, sit, breathe, warm-up, sun salutation, standing poses, twisting poses, balance and back-bends, forward folds and inversions though not in that particular order. Things wrapped up with a nice relaxation period and some meditation. That’s a hell of a lot of stuff happening in an hour and a half. It was anything but easy.

I inherited two Slow Flow classes which I now teach at Uru Yoga and Beyond. Since Uru opened its doors and a whole new world of Yoga practitioners crossed its threshold let me tell you something, people act like slow flow yoga is the easy yoga. They act like it’s the yoga you go to when you’re recovering from an injury or sickness or childbirth.

This, my friends, is not the case.

I teach my Slow Flow classes the way I learned to practice, and then teach, yoga. We sit, breathe, warm-up and flow. What distinguishes these classes from what is typically considered an “advanced” or “strong” class is the pace at which the class moves. Hence, the slow flow.

The transitions between poses are given the same amount of importance as the postures themselves. Students spend more time in the postures, deepening their experience of the pose in relation to their own body and breath. This style of practice builds a strong body and a steady mind, neither of which is easily won.

Because it grows tiresome trying to change students’ ideas of what a Slow Flow class is, I have renamed my classes on the schedule. The new class title is Vital Yoga: The Principal Practices.

Here’s the clip from the class schedule –

“Vital means both “absolutely necessary, important and essential” but it also means to be vibrant and full of energy.

The Principal Practices of Yoga is predominately a flow yoga open to seasoned yogis as well as practitioners with minimal practice experience, as postures may be modified for challenging sequences. Flow practices emphasize the unity of breath, movement and intention which leads to increased physical strength, flexibility and mental acuity. In addition to the flowing class style, anatomy and postural alignment instruction is offered.

The classes are designed to strengthen and enhance flexibility of the body through movement and postures. Practices designed to bring stability to the mind through breath work, meditation and mindfulness are also included in the practice session. This hour and a half yoga practice is balanced to support the yoga student in their pursuit of health, wellness, strength and serenity.”

There is nothing necessarily easy about pursuing health, wellness, strength and serenity. However, it is vitally important to do so.

While I’m doing up-dates and all, my Monday 6 pm class is now Kali Natha Yoga so we can practice it together twice a week now. The main difference between the Saturday and Monday class is that on the weekend we will work with the same sequence for a month whereas on Monday the offerings will vary week to week. I love this style of yoga like no other.

The class description from the website says, “Like the dance of Shiva and Shakti keeping the Universe in perfect equilibrium, a balanced and consistent yoga practice balances body, mind and spirit. Kali Natha Yoga brings the exotic and essential elements of yoga to all levels of experience so practitioners can safely and effectively deepen their yoga practice.

Kali Natha Yoga is a series of flowing yoga movements. It is suitable for students of all levels and abilities. The instructor will guide you through movement accompanied by breath techniques. Together, these practices enhance your energy system, energize you, calm the nervous system and leave you feeling refreshed and rejuvenated on all levels. Founded by Ma Jaya at Kashi Ashram, Kali Natha yoga allows the student to feel Yoga’s deep essence and meaning.

At the end of the practice, you will feel a deep quiet as you restore in final relaxation. Kali Natha Yoga is a moving meditation, a prayer in motion and the unspoken poetry of the soul. Prana Devi cannot wait to practice with you.”

I used information from the Kashi website to make sure I represented Kali Natha yoga well on my own teaching schedule. I love the language used to express the practice but really, you’ve got to experience it for yourself. I hope you can join me.

Lastly, for those of you who have been taking my Slow Flow and suddenly see a new description, don’t worry. Nothing is changing in the actual class, just the language used to describe it so people who might benefit won’t stay away just because they equate slow with infirm. Yoga is unity and effort for the good. Most importantly, Yoga is for everyone.

See you on the mat. xo

 

 

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The Seat of the Yogi

In my mind Not Yoga is its own genre in the blogosphere. I have a friend who just discussed wanting to write in the Not Yoga genre, though the Yoga genre is also nice. Her idea got me thinking. Of course I like to write about yoga, but when ya’ll aren’t looking I also write about Not Yoga. I do longhand writing practice to stir up ideas and muddy the waters in my mind so it’ll eventually run clear. I work on my novel.

I had a wing-back chair about ten years ago, but it was actually my writing chair. It was the color of dandelion petals with a broad back like every girls’ first crush. This chair sat on graceful wooden legs and had a nice thick cushion. There were tiny scratch marks that ran vertically on both armrests from my cats gaining purchase when they tried to join me in my work.

This was the era of Pixie and Merry Weather. Those two cats watched me finish two novels, a collection of short stories and no few poems. Pixie was a black Manx with a personality disorder who I love dearly. She had green eyes set in her wide fluffy face. She was missing one fang from the time she attacked the bulldog. I called her Rambo because she drew first blood.

Merry Weather was the softest being I ever felt. She had an aura like golden cashmere draped across my arms. Her fur had a downy quality that billowed in the softest exhalation near her body. Her blue eyes stared like topaz excavated from a King’s tomb. She was beautiful and sweet and ancient when she died. I still miss her.

I miss that damn yellow chair, too. During a move nearly nine years ago my writing chair got put in the back of the garage. It ended up in the we’ll do something with this later pile. I was at work and so couldn’t tell anyone to put it in my room, for heaven’s sake, if I were ever to get any work done.

It is unfortunate that the we’ll do something with this later pile was in the back of the garage. Nothing ever got done with it. A year and a half ago we moved out of that house and that chair didn’t make it out alive. There was something in the way the thick cushion was discolored in such a way that prevented me from wanting to sit on it. There was a smell that prevented me from being able to really lean back into it or want to go near it.

I have made due. I didn’t really think I missed that chair except for when it came up in a memory during which I was thinking of someone or something else. I have been able to get work done since that chair and I parted ways. In fact, I began working on the floor at a table made just for little ‘ole me. It was measured to the perfect height for writing practice on the floor. It is also the perfect height for me to use as a tea table during meditation practice.

Last night there were tornadoes in my area. Living in the south, I’m not really sure what you call what happened here last night. I know hurricanes and squalls and thunder storms like nobody’s business. Tornadoes are something entirely different.

Not one born with strong nerves to begin with, after looking at the weather radar the night before these storms hit I cleared sitting space in a walk-in closet for me, the cats and my mom’s rotten little dog (mom is safely in Colorado for the week, skiing the slopes). The new cat contingent is remarkable, I should add, though they are unseasoned as far as writer cats go. They have not seen me complete one long work of fiction, though to their credit they’ve watched me finish more than a few malas.

The storms started whipping the skies with noise like a bad metal band. We were in the front room when these new sounds started, and so me, the cats – and my little dog, too – move into the back of the house. I’m not really ready to sit in the closet. It doesn’t feel like closet weather yet.

I have enough books and writing materials to keep me busy for the better part of next week but I do not know where to sit with it all. I do not want to get in bed as the headboard is in front of a large window. I do not want to get in the tub, the curve is terrible on the lumbar spine. I don’t want to sit on the floor yet because I already do plenty of that.

Alas, there is a wing-back chair beside the door that is now closed. I do not know from whence this chair comes as it is one of my mother’s salvage finds. It is pink with a moderately broad back, little wooden legs and a comfortable seat. I cover it with a flannel fitted sheet with a Christmas pattern on it.

I sit down. I have my security blanket (you know you have one, too) and a large book on my lap. I cross my legs and settle in just like I have always had a wing-back chair to catch me when I fall. I nestle to the right, just a bit, so my shoulder blade presses against the corner like a hen settling comfortably in her roost.

For a moment I forget the howling wind and remember every time I sat in my favorite chair. The memory floods my mind in an instant as though that entire part of my life flashes  before my eyes.

When the tornadoes did everything terrible they came to do and I retired to my own room my current working chair hurt my back a little more than usual. It felt a little too high and a little too narrow. The cushion was less forgiving and the word count goal for the day was hard won.

That wing-back chair is in my room now. It’s on loan until I find one for myself. I’m sitting in it right now, in fact, composing this endless missive to you. I am leaning just a bit to the right with my legs crossed like Aladdin riding his magic carpet.

Earlier when I said that I was going to write in the Not Yoga genre I lied a little bit. I have to sneak a little bit in here at the end because it fits so nicely. You see, since one’s seat is so important we’re going to be talking about it tomorrow in both of my classes. Of course, I’ll be talking about sitting in meditation, where the magic happens. I hope you can make it.

As for now, I’m going to try to make magic of a different sort happen, the sort that dreams are made of – hard won word counts and wild ideas.

 

 

 

 

Woobie Mala

When I was in teacher training I found a place in India from which I could order all sorts of malas. There is one in particular I still wear all the time. It has Rudraksha, crystal beads, Tulsi, Sandalwood and Lotus seeds all strung like popcorn ’round a Christmas tree. It has a blue tassel, which I am not sure is traditional but what I asked for and what they sent me.

When I ordered these malas I ordered a 27 bead Rudraksha, which is a brown seed sacred to Shiva. I ordered other stuff, too, but these items are what I want to talk about now.

I’ve been making malas since February. Making malas began out of necessity; I had one in mind and couldn’t find it anywhere so I made it. It is awesome, too, and I took it directly to Atlanta and asked Swami to bless it. Since then, it has been broken, re-strung, re-blessed and held with love in the silence of my meditation space.

I don’t take this mala out too much. It is quiet and dark much like the space in which I meditate. I like to feel the subtle energy between the beads and the soft drape of the black tassel. It’s my praying mala.

Not all malas are meant to be kept in the dark. The one from India with all the different seeds on it goes out in public, gets left in the baby’s bed and dropped into my purse when I’m about to teach headstands and don’t want it to fall unceremoniously over my head onto the floor. It’s my teaching mala.

Then there’s the woobie mala. You DO know what a woobie is, don’t you? A woobie is typically a blanket one uses not for warmth or cover necessarily but as something to cling to and rub for emotional support. Woobie.

On the topic of malas and also woobie, I should add for those who don’t know that malas are prayer beads, typically used to count mantras or prayers so a practitioner can keep track of their practices. You know, chant this mantra for 108 times for 40 days and see what happens. See if you can’t transcribe the meaning onto your bones in the process.

Sometimes when chanting it’s a relief to get to the 108th bead, especially if it’s a longer mantra. Sometimes the practice is so grand and sweeping you’ll want to go another round, and another and another. But there comes a time when the mantra doesn’t really stop, but your practice begins to encompass your entire life. Eventually, hopefully, you don’t stop the mantra and the mantra doesn’t stop you. (For more on chanting and kirtan I suggest you listen to anything Krishna Das has to say on the subject.)

If this is so, then why in the hell have a mala to count anything? If 108 times ’round the mala is only the beginning, why bother counting?

This leads me back to the Theory of Woobie. The mala, much like a woobie blanket, is something we can cling to. There is something beyond even the chanting of the mantra, though. After a time of practice I think these malas hold the current of our practices so we can draw on them when we can’t seem to find the resources within.

I’ve found that the mala doesn’t even have to be one on which mantras have been said very much at all. The small hand mala I mentioned earlier, the one made of Rudraksha and with only 27 beads, stays in the same place most of the time. This mala has been known to make it to the top of a harmonium during kirtan, but for the most part it remains draped over a photo.

This mala made it to my upper arm a few nights ago. I wrapped it ’round my bicep and got in bed. I could feel the round grainy texture of those beads pressed gently into my ribs and there it remained all night. Why? I cannot say, but with tender awareness of its presence I drifted into sound sleep.

Counting mantras has been around a long time and they’ve been doing it all over the world. But I wonder if counting mantras is only part of the reason to use malas. I wonder if the malas don’t become some sort of containment unit for Shakti, like She hides in there as an act of Grace. For in our moments of forgetting we may draw on it when our energy is low and when we need sustenance Papa John’s simply cannot provide. Inherent in the design, are malas simultaneously the lasso that ropes us back onto our path and also a conduit for the current we dive into again and again?

 

 

Light for Nepal

On Friday June 26th from 6 – 9 pm Uru Yoga and Beyond is hosting a candlelight meditation, silent auction and raffle to raise money for victims of the Earthquake in Nepal.

The woman putting all of this together sent out an all points bulletin for local artists to donate something to the silent auction. I think, I sure wish I had something to donate. Then, slowly I look up, as though to watch a majestic bird in flight and see about a dozen malas in various states of completion hanging from thumb tacks. It’s an artful exhibition.

I don’t know if you do this, but when I have a fantastic idea right from the heart my mind steps in with an immediacy that would make Bat Man look like a slow poke. But I’d already thought it and there was about thirty seconds between that idea and my mind insinuating itself in my fun (this is one of the advantages of yoga practice – the mind has a slower reaction time to ruin good ideas).

I chose to donate a white quartz on white hemp. It has a blue tassel. It reminds me of Cinderella, an icy cave in which Lord Shiva meditates and my great-grandmother. It’s one of the first malas I made and it’s one of my favorites.

Strange how even though I made something specifically to sell, I have a hard time turning it out into the world. I wonder who’ll want it, who might buy it and where in the world this little string of quartz will go.

I took it to the yoga studio today. I filled out the artist form and I left that pretty mala in a cardboard box. I wrapped it lovingly in a blue tissue, slightly darker than its icy tassel.

Before I took the mala to the yoga studio I let it “rest” on a chunk on selenite. Selenite is named after its association with the moon, Selene, and is a powerful stone for cleansing energy and neutralizing spaces. I figured since I become a little attached to my projects it’s best to clear them on this beautiful salt based stone.

While this mala was resting I took a picture of it, mostly because my sister suggested I make a file of malas I made and sold, but also because I’m sentimental.

White Quartz mala

$10 door entrance fee – you receive a candle for the meditation and one raffle ticket. The raffle is for a gorgeous mala made of pearls, sandalwood, & Nepalese beads.

Back From Outer Space

My weekend in Atlanta was amazing. Normally I get subs to cover my Monday classes when I return from a trip to Atlanta, and when I say “trip” I mean both travel and that sense of tripp’in. Ya’ll, I was up and drinking coffee before the sun came up, and yes, I’d been to bed.

I decided to do something a little differently this trip. I resolved to teach my classes on Monday, for good or ill. I return from Kashi (the ashram in Atlanta) on Sunday evening. This particular Sunday evening when I returned I ate my weight in noodles and, somehow also biscuits. I’m not sure what happened. Eventually I fall into my own bed, which feels nearly as divine as the weekend, and sleep for twelve hours.

Upon waking, I crack one eye and look around. I am not sure where I am, as my room has almost as many images of god adorning almost every wall so I can’t tell if I slept in the ashram lobby or if I am, in fact, in my own sacred chamber. I feel a couple of heavy warm patches on me. It must be the cats. Certainly I am home. To my knowledge there are no temple cats in Kashi.

I make coffee in my own coffee pot and am relieved to find I remembered to restock the coconut peanut-butter. If you’ve never tried it I highly recommend it with your coffee. Eat it right off the spoon for full effect and nutritional benefits (I might have made that last part up).

I realize pretty fast I don’t even know if my ipod is charged (yes, old school ipod) and I think I’ve used the same three or four playlists for five or six weeks. I also have no idea what I’m wearing, I should have washed my hair yesterday and my toenail polish might be chipped.

Given the reality of my situation I try to get me together. I am not sure how this whole teaching right off an intensive weekend is going to go. I arrive at the studio in time to be alone there for an entire four minutes. This is enough time to place the new Shiva statue on the yoga center’s altar. He will sit there for at least a week, maybe longer. If you stop by tell Him hello.

Let me tell you something – teaching yoga the day after returning from an intensive yoga weekend retreat ain’t no joke. It is, in fact, one of the most exhilarating things a person can do. I felt almost manic by the time the last class was over.

I certainly used concepts in anatomy and language I learned over the weekend. There was a whole lot more to it than that and I wish I could tell you what it is. Maybe it’s the investing myself in something and then getting to turn right ’round and do the thing I’m so totally stoked about. Also, I spent time with this Teacher who shows the way on a path that is subtle and challenging and rich with potential for growth. Engaging directly with the Teacher of my heart gives that heart of mine great courage.

Feeling inspired by the weekend I decided to put a workshop on the schedule. Before this trip I made a mala. A mala is a garland of beads on which one says prayers, mantras or affirmations. I know a woman, she’s probably reading this right now, who thinks a girl can’t have enough shoes. My dog thinks she can’t get enough kibble and I don’t think a yogi can ever have enough malas.

I so enjoyed making and then wearing my mala that I decided to offer a workshop teaching folks who want to learn how to make traditional prayer beads with tassel. The workshop is on Sunday March 22 at 2 pm. You’ve got to buy the stuff because I have no idea what you’d like. I suggest you buy something in your favorite color. If you’d like to know more go to the Mala Workshop here where you’ll find your shopping list and more details on the afternoon.

I’m really glad to be back home with the cats. I am grateful to have Uru Yoga and Beyond where I get to teach and participate in the instructional side of these magnificent practices. Also, I am already planning my next trip to Kashi.