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Yoga Tips for the Summer

Summer and Yoga. Those words look great together, don't they? If you are like me, Summertime Yoga is what you yearn for as you get out of bed and step into a cold dark room, onto a cold mat in the dead of Winter.  What Yogi hasn't had romantic visions of practicing in the sand, on a dock, or anywhere we don’t need to wear 3 layers to keep warm? But, like many of my students, I have found that the fairytale-like conditions of more free time and beautiful weather don’t always lead to a more disciplined practice. Students who take a break or drastically reduce their sessions over the summer, usually have good intentions.  Some promise themselves to practice yoga every evening on the dock at sunset during their time at their cottage, or strengthen their home practice by getting up with the sun and doing yoga before work during the week on their patio.  Without a doubt, there are some lovely aspirations to continue to build everything we have been working on together throughout the year. Sadly,  a good number of my own students return to their regular routine in September with dusty yoga mats, riding high on guilt and shame because they haven’t practiced in weeks or even months. It can be frustrating to feel like we starting over and it may take a long time for students to carve out a groove comparable to where they were before the long break. If this sounds familiar, I have a few simple ideas to help maintain your yoga practice this summer.
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What is Elemental Yin Yang Yoga (and why is it the BEST)?

What is Elemental Yin Yang Yoga? Anyone who has practiced yoga more than a handful of times, probably has a very clear idea of what they like. Some students use Hatha Yoga (physical yoga) to de-stress by moving slowly and prefer to take part in classes that are more relaxed in nature.  A slower approach where you hold postures for long periods of time, exerting little muscular heat and energy, would thus be considered a more “yin” approach to yoga. Other yogis, however, prefer a vigorous practice on the mat. In "yang" forms, students push beyond their assumed limitations of strength and flexibility in order to build heat through breath work and movement. In my signature style of yoga called Elemental Yin Yang, we combine these two approaches to practice in a way that make the class both accessible and challenging for most students. In the yang portion of class, you can expect to move at a fairly quick pace without too many long holds, except for the odd posture one wouldn’t want to hold for too long.  Utkatasana for 15 breaths anyone?
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The Trap of the “Yoga Goal”

In the last ten years, I have taught a wide range of people.  I have led class for professional hockey and football players, MMA fighters , world class musicians, stay at home parents, high powered executives, surgeons, school teachers and even a few circus performers. While one would think that all of these people from different walks of life would approach yoga in very different ways, I have noticed that the trap of the "Yoga Goal" can gobble up anyone, at any time. Photo by Anita Ritenour But wait. "How is having a goal for one’s Yoga practice,  a trap?" You might say. "Isn't is good to have goals?" Here is what I think: On one hand, goals are great. They give us a benchmark. They give us something clear to strive for and work up to, and when we achieve our goal’s, it is a clear sign that progress has been made.  However, the trap of the "Yoga Goal" has caught us when any posture becomes an obsession.
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Standing Balance Pose and Avoidance on the Mat

Balanced Rock by Alan Vernon We all have postures in our yoga practice that we find challenging. As a Yoga instructor however, postures we dislike or avoid can become pathological gaping holes in our classes. For about 4 years, I turned a particular blind eye to anything that had me or my students standing on one leg. One reason was of course that, I didn’t want to risk falling over in a standing balance. Literally falling flat on your face does not instill confidence in one’s “yogic” abilities as a teacher.  Another reason for my own avoidance, was that I couldn’t stand the tortured look on my students faces as they tried in desperation to stand on one leg. (A Note for newer yoga teachers: DO NOT LOOK AT THE FACES OF YOUR STUDENTS WHILE INSTRUCTING A MODERATE STANDING BALANCE.Even the most self-assured instructor will feel a cold chill creeping up their spine if they dare gaze upon the stone cold death stare of their students at this point in the practice. Trust me, stand at the back of the room. Imagine everyone is smiling. Pretend they still love you.) One day, while taking a class with Hart Lazer in Montreal, I was made to stand on one leg holding my other big toe. I wobbled around, felt my ankle burn, hated every moment –my typical experience of the pose. Then, he made us all repeat the posture….while standing on a chair. To be clear, the ground wasn’t far, but falling off a chair while standing on one foot was not a particularly appealing option to me, so instead of fumbling around, I took the risk of falling very seriously and I stood on one leg. The undeniable truth was that I had previously been looking for ways out of the posture, waiting for it to be over and using every uncomfortable microsecond and micro movement of my body as proof that the whole thing was a waste of time and I would never “get it”. Standing on that chair gave me a very real reason to take the posture seriously. I made sure my foundation was strong and focused on nothing other than my responsibility to breathe and do what needed to be done to make the posture work. The whole dramatic story I had been telling myself for years, with the myriad of reasons why I couldn't do the posture was just a lie. While it was true that when I began yoga, I really didn’t have the strength and stability to stand on one leg for more than a few seconds, after years of practicing, I still believed wholeheartedly I was just terrible at balance postures and that would never change. This type of insight comes up a lot in yoga and it is a helpful metaphor for how we view ourselves in the world. Most of us put so many limitations and restrictions on what we believe is possible for ourselves, often because of some outdated experience we once had. Years later, we may still be relating to that old way of being, simply because we haven’t allowed ourselves to explore what is new and possible. This is the real power of yoga and it is just waiting to be uncovered while you stand there on your mat... on one leg.
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