Posts by Yogi Amanda Casco

Spring Cleaning Yoga

Posted on: February 3rd, 2016 By:
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This year has been a rather warm winter for Austinites, and the line between the seasons seems as blurry as ever. However, as we move towards the official end of winter, it is a good time to reflect on what we can learn by the season’s changes. Historically, the winter has often been a time of uncertainty and fear, and for some who live in less comfortable situations, it still is. As the warm rays melted away the frost, relief could be felt among the people who survived the force of cold and possible starvation through their own long term planning, luck, and generosity of neighbors.
Sanctuary Yoga has consistently been a place of refuge for me because of the instructors and the beautiful yogis who help create a nurturing space for my yogic practice, but sometimes that’s not enough to shake out my less than desirable state of mind. My first instinct can be to push away what I’m feeling, but I’ve found that to be an  ineffective reaction. Last week, my instructor said something that really stuck with me. Allowing yourself to feel and acknowledge what feels wrong in the body and mind, gives it space to move on. I have friends who often use exercise as a means of escape. I have found that rather difficult to do with yoga. Thank goodness.
You see, negative emotions for example, often get a bad wrap. We’re told to find a way to chuck those things out the window, blow sage smoke at it, or take more vitamins. But all emotions have a purpose even the ‘negative’ ones. Sure, they don’t feel great, but they’re here to send you a message and let you know that something is wrong. And just like an unattended notification, it’s not going to go away if you ignore it. It’ll probably just get more annoying and frustrating. Similarly you also get to decide (once you’ve finally read it) what you do with the news you’re given. Being angry doesn’t mean breaking a window. Being jealous doesn’t mean lashing out. And being sad doesn’t mean that you give up. Your emotions are a part of you, but they’re not who you are. You get to have control with what you do with them. It’s not super easy at first, but giving yourself the space to acknowledge them, gives you a better shot at regulating what you really want your reaction to be. As well as helping you get rid of cluttered emotions that you no longer want or have use for.
Yoga is often seen as a place to find peace and contentment, but that road is not always so smooth. Part of that journey is messy and terrifying, but by paying attention to it, you allow yourself to prepare and equip yourself. Ignoring it on the other hand, keeps it inside of you. It gets stuck in whatever crevice of your body it’s settled in.
I often hear that you are your greatest teacher. I had a hard time believing that at first. Until I realized that this “you” is not always the conscious self. Sometimes that “you” is a tight chest or a twitching eye. Sometimes that “you” is a dream that repeats every night like a stuck record. And in some cases, that “you” is a really scary blizzard that howls at your door.
One could only guess how well prepared one would be during that year’s winter during harvest, but would only ever find out when the nights got longer and the outside world was barren. Those who survived, celebrated by cleaning the homes that sat collecting dust and grime for all those months. I encourage you to take this spring as a call to address the dusty corners of your heart and body. Yoga is not a practice for those who have reached perfection. Yoga is a practice that helps you figure out how to mindfully grow and nourish yourself. Spring cleaning is about more than just beating up your dusty rug, it’s also about re energizing yourself. Congratulations! You’ve survived to the next spring!

Being One With Yourself

Posted on: December 15th, 2015 By:
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I’ve heard the phrase “being one with yourself” a couple of times, but it’s hard for me to think about what that necessarily means. How can you really separate what you are from the forces that the world is putting on you?

One way I like to think about this, is to think about it in terms of the force I am applying to the world. I have a finite amount of energy that I have to choose to use every day, and whatever that ends up being, that energy creates a reaction. And part of the way that we tend to define things, is by what they do. I define a can opener as a utensil that I can use to open my cans or a lamp as a device I can turn off and on to give me a significant amount of light. In the same way, I can start to understand who it is that I am being.

However, humans are a little trickier than lamps. Because we also have who we are now in this moment and who we actually are. Which sounds kooky, I know, but here’s the thing. How many times have you had an immediate reaction or thought to something, and immediately felt some sense that it wasn’t right or that we shouldn’t have said/thought that? We all have conditioned reactions at the ready, but many times, those reactions don’t reflect the reality of who we are.

Being able to reflect on those moments and catch what is conditioning and what is us is so important. It fosters the ability to think critically and analytically about who you are as a person and what is right for you, but a lot of the time our world is so loud and rapid, we don’t have the space to reflect. Doing yoga, is about taking that space and getting closer to yourself and your body.

When I began at Sanctuary, the first thing I realized, was that I didn’t know my own body. I didn’t listen to my body. All of a sudden, I was aware of aches I didn’t know existed and was able to take care of myself in a more intentional way. I slowly learned to flow with my body and become one with my physical form. Something, that I am still not always able to do.

Then, I became aware of my emotional body. How strange is it that before yoga I would live my life unaware of emotions that now seem so present? I allowed myself to be uncaring of what I was feeling. Moving with intention and mindfulness allowed me to not control my emotions, but fully process and regulate them. Finally I could say, ‘oh this is unpleasant’ or ‘this is pleasant’ and then ask myself why.

A big part of yoga is about making a home within yourself that you fully reside in. Becoming mindful allows you to have agency over who you are now, so that you can become more of who you truly are. Many of us are not living a life that is truly ours. We do the things we think we are meant to do. We react the way we have been taught to react. But how many of use can say we are truly one with our self?

How you cheat yourself and others

Posted on: November 24th, 2015 By:
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In yoga, there are ten living principles that are meant to help guide one through life. The third principle is non stealing and/or non cheating. There’s an obvious way to interpret this principle, but sometimes we go through life stealing and cheating people and ourselves in some not so obvious ways.

The first thing that one needs to do to address this principle in their lives, is to work on another one of the ten yogic principles, truthfulness. I covered this principle in a previous post, but basically if we can’t be honest with ourselves and others about our actions and intents, it becomes hard to understand the more subtle ways we steal and cheat.

For example, there are things in our lives that can really benefit us from a physical, emotional, and spiritual point of view, but sometimes we end up losing track of those things for one reason or another. Lately, I’ve been having a hard time making it to yoga. I have a lot to do in my professional life, and even though I could have made the time to go to Sanctuary, I ended up mismanaging my time and cutting it out of my schedule. Without yoga, I end up cheating myself from time that helps me grow spiritually and physically. I end up feeling more anxious and tired. And ultimately, I end up being unable to hold as much space for my friends and family. I see this happen a lot of with the people around me as well.

It’s easy to chuck out the small things we enjoy doing when we feel like we don’t have the time for anything, but ultimately, you can be doing more damage than you thought you would.

Sometimes it isn’t so easy to figure out how you’re cheating yourself. Taking the time to do something means that you may end up cutting time in another area of your life. However, when we really take the time to think about things, it’s not as hard as it first seems. You have to be honest about what’s really important in your life. Let’s be honest, is that extra two hours on netflix really going to bring more enjoyment in your life? Or will you end up feeling kind of lukewarm after the 6th straight episode of your newest show of the week? Sometimes the choice isn’t that simple. Sometimes you have to choose between that extra shift at work that could go to your savings account, or taking the time off to self care. In the end, you have to remember that what matters in this life is you and your growth. For me at least, making time to go to sanctuary yoga to work on myself, ends up being an investment. It can be easy to lose sight of that at times, but it’s important to be mindful about what will ultimately matter.

Along that same vein, there’s also an easy way we cheat others. It’s easy to demand things from others, especially when one is in a position of power, but you have to remember that everything that you gain from your friends, your family, your employees comes at a cost. There’s a fair amount of time and energy you can demand from the people around you, and then there’s an unfair amount of demand that you can impose on others. When people have to give too much, it drains their own quality of life and their ability to be generous to themselves and those they love.

Finally, there’s reciprocity. A good friend, family member, (and in my opinion neighbor) won’t keep a tit for tat score of what they’ve given you, but a relationship goes both ways. Part of entering any kind of relationship with someone is an understanding that there will be a level of reciprocity. If you have a friend you always lean on in your worst of times, is it really fair to make yourself scarce when it’s their turn to cry into the nearest tub of ice cream? There will always be an imbalance in a relationship, but it’s only fair to attempt to make that deviation as small as possible. If you take take take, you must be willing to give give give.

If you’re reading this right now, it probably means that you have the space in your life to be generous. Don’t get me wrong, generosity never has to be a glamorous show, the smallest gestures of charity can make a big difference. I’m at a place right now where it’s difficult to give financially sometimes, but it’s amazing how much being generous with compliments can do for the way I see my friends carry themselves. This has taught me that being generous can also mean being creative.

We’re all apart of the same ecosystem. The world is so interconnected that it’s difficult to escape the consequences that effects other people. By being generous to others and avoiding stealing and cheating, we end up making a better world for ourselves.

The Truth in Yoga

Posted on: November 2nd, 2015 By:
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In yoga, there are the “ten living principles.” These principles are a guide to living your life in a yogic way.

Satya is commitment to the truth. This principle can be used in our lives in a variety of different ways, but let’s start with its relevance to yoga. In yoga, it is very important to be mindful about your body and listen to its needs and thresholds.  Part of that, is being honest with yourself. It doesn’t matter how mindful I am when I do yoga, if I’m not honest about what I am interpreting. For example, there is a difference between the feeling of my body naturally stretching and adjusting to exercise and the feeling of my body being in danger because I am not capable of or ready to do something. The consequences of being dishonest about this is a potential injury. Similarly, commitment to the truth also means communication. There have been times at the beginning of my yogic practice when part of my body isn’t feeling too well, but I don’t mention it in class. Or sometimes, I don’t know how to do a pose, but I’m too embarrassed to ask. How is my teacher supposed to make sure I am safe and growing in my practice? These things can sound small, but they can prevent one from truly enjoying and bettering their practice.
Similarly, this principle can be applied to one’s life. We often hear that it is wrong to lie, but this isn’t the whole story about the truth. Fully embracing the truth doesn’t mean just avoiding lies, but it also means being open and honest about how you feel, what you think, and who you are.

There are times when it is easier to say nothing, and at those times, it may seem like it was the right thing to do, but just because something is not said, doesn’t mean it goes away. Being able to communicate gives our ideas and thoughts a chance to be discussed, evaluated, applied, and/or corrected.

For me, the hardest thing for me to be honest about is my jealousy. Society has told me that being jealous is not only a shameful, unattractive thing, but that it should be suppressed so that is not seen. However, I have noticed that discussing my jealousy with the people it involves helps in several ways. It helps me understand the root of my emotion, it helps me and the other person come up with a solution, and lastly it prevents a bigger issue from developing. This can be applied in almost every issue that comes up in the most tentative or deep relationship that one has with others.
The other side of that coin, is the ability to listen to feedback for what it is, instead of becoming defensive. When someone is open with you, it is important to be willing to receive what they say even if it is hard to hear. It is difficult to receive what sounds like negative feedback about oneself, but in the end, it can save you a lot of time and trouble by allowing you to have a clearer picture of how you effect others.

The truth also means being true to yourself. Has there ever been something about yourself that was different, that you hid because it wasn’t what was ‘normal’? I think everyone does. There are bits about ourselves that we hide because we think it will make us less desirable or strange, but being true to who you are, and expressing that, allows you find a better community and a better sense of self. It also inspires others to be who they are! What is the point of living a life that is not yours?

Lastly, being committed to the truth, means being mindful about the truth. It’s easy to say this and that about a person or a situation without being aware of what is truly happening. It’s important that when we say something, it’s because we know it to be true. It’s easy to say things in the moment, but being able to track down what you said after discovering the truth can be difficult. There is a constant spread of misinformation around us, and a lot of it comes from quick judgements and even quicker mouths. I’ve been guilty of this, and it just never turns out well. It gains nothing, and can only hurt others.

Pursuing the truth is something that can benefit the individual, but just as importantly, it can benefit society as a whole as we move to further understand ourselves on a global level. This pursuit can start as simply as getting on your mat and being open about your practice.

Compassion in Yoga

Posted on: October 19th, 2015 By:
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In Yoga, there are the Yamas. They are ten characteristics that help you live your life in a way that benefits you and others. These characteristics can be applied to your life both on the mat and outside the mat.

The first Yama is Ahisma, compassion to all living things. Compassion can show itself in a variety of different ways. When I think of compassion, I usually think about other people, animals, and the environment at large. However, I believe it’s important to start with the self.

If one is mean or more mildly neglectful of oneself, it’s hard to be compassionate to others. At its worst, those who neglect themselves can experience anywhere to a mild or extreme form of “compassion fatigue.” This fatigue is a deterioration of compassion over time that can occur when there isn’t enough self care and too much expenditure of personal resources.

I think about the worst things that I say to myself, and realize how much this outlook can effect my relationship with others, as well as the way I treat my body on a day to day basis. If you find that you are low on compassion, for either yourself or others, the best thing you can do is take care of yourself. Among other things, yoga is a great way to do that. Becoming more aware of your body, mind, and spirit helps you check in with what’s going on.

But here’s the thing. No amount of self awareness will do you good if you don’t apply understanding to the situation and work to address what’s going wrong. Compassion is something that leads to empathy, care, mercy, leniency, and a whole other slew of action oriented solutions.

The great thing about being compassionate towards oneself is that it branches out to being compassionate towards others. The overall well being of others is tied to, and therefore benefits, the individual.

When I observe my yoga class, I can see this in action. My classes at Sanctuary are hardly an individual centered practice. When I am in that room, I become part of a space that is being held by my instructor and my fellow yogis. The energy that is being raised in a class always feels different to me, and is influenced by the attitude of those in the class. I have been to classes that were fitness focused and devoid of the spirituality of yoga. I could definitely feel the difference in the space. I truly believe that in classes like Sanctuary Yoga’s, the time that one spends (little as it may be) hearing one’s fellow yogis, empathizing with their successes and troubles, and growing as a community, is invaluable.

Expanding that, learning to become more mindful and full of gratitude allows me to feel compassion to the surroundings that provide me atmosphere and the gifts of nature. I love doing yoga outside or in a studio with windows to the outdoors. It’s amazing how much gratitude one can discover when spending time with nature and becoming aware of the difference a breeze or a sunny day can make.

This gratitude transforms into compassion as I become more aware of my environmental impact. On the mat, you just start noticing things like how difficult tree pose can be and how amazing it is that trees are sturdy and strong. Or you begin to see your furry friends as teachers as you realize that your cat’s downward dog is better than yours will ever be. It’s these little things that helps me be kinder and more appreciative to others and my world. It really has given me a more positive perspective in my life and therefore strengthened my relationship with myself and others. In the end, compassion is a gift to yourself as much as it is to anyone else.

Listening to Your Body

Posted on: October 6th, 2015 By:
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When I first started doing yoga, I was absolutely convinced that it could do no wrong. In fact, there was a part of me that stopped every time I had a problem and asked “Can I fix this with yoga???” It was an absolute honey moon. But the truth is, there is a way to do yoga wrong, and the consequences for it can be kind of ugly. Don’t get me wrong, I’m still absolutely obsessed with yoga (and the answer to the previous question has been ‘yes’ a great many times) but it’s important to be realistic about where the limit line is.

You can obtain yoga injuries. So how can you prevent this?

The first thing I want to say is something that you’ll hear yoga instructors say all the time, “listen to your body.” If something genuinely hurts or you feel like you’re not ready for a pose yet, do not do it. Come out of the pose and talk to your yoga instructor about it during or after class.  If an instructor attempts to push you beyond your limits, don’t be afraid to say no or go into child’s pose. A good teacher will make an adjustment for you. The goal of yoga is not to be able to do super impressive asanas or be the most flexible in your class. It’s important that we realize that we can’t do it all. I promise you that yoga is not a competitive sport.

Yoga instruction is pretty easy to get a hold of online right now. But here’s the thing, going to a yoga class is not just about setting the right mood. Investing in yoga classes (especially if you’re trying something new) is invaluable. Your yoga teacher is there to correct your poses, account for your bodies injuries, and create yoga sequences that are safe and balanced. At Sanctuary Yoga, the teachers are there to make sure that you’re safe in your practice. If you ever have any questions, they’re a great resource for helping you work with your body and not in spite of it. That’s why at the start of every class, you have the opportunity to speak about what may be a concern for you. Even if something seems minor, it can easily turn into a bigger issue than it needs to be. I have been very fortunate to have instructors at Sanctuary that have been able to provide tips and exercises to protect my body.

This past week, it became important for me to adjust my usual schedule both yoga and work alike. My body was telling me that it needed to be taken care in a way that I was not doing. It was frustrating for me. Like a lot of people, I live a pretty fast paced life and I need my body to work at its maximum capacity. More than I care to admit, it’s fairly easy for me to be rude to my body and push through so I can get my week done. This helps no one! My body is doing its best to support me and when I don’t provide that same support, I am betraying it. Before doing yoga, I saw my body as just another thing that I owned. But that’s not how it is. My body may belong to me, but I have a responsibility to it to be respectful and kind. Not doing so is harmful to me, to my community, and of course to my health.

I’m happy to say that this past week I was able to be kind to myself. I rearranged some of my responsibilities, I made sure to find out what was causing my body distress, and I did my best not to push myself too hard. It’s important to remember that yoga is a constant lesson that is not limited to the physical body. It is a lesson that links the mind and body into a greater sense of understanding and harmony.

Working Through Anxiety

Posted on: September 28th, 2015 By:
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You know when you’re out at night and you accidently make eye contact with a possum and that possum kind of just falls over and pretends its dead so that you won’t eat it? And I mean, you both know that the possum is totally alive, but you just walk away because what are you going to do?
Well I’m that possum. At least, I’m that possum when I’m feeling overwhelmed, and my deadlines are stacked higher than they should be. It would be great if my response to a crazy amount of work was to take it one step at a time, but it’s not. Instead, my body and my mind just kind of collapse into a big pile of human spaghetti. Which just doesn’t help anybody involved because unlike the human who will probably just look the other way, my responsibilities are more than happy to play chicken with me.
Fortunately, there is a solution. If you guessed yoga, you’re right! A few years ago I would have said “What are you crazy? I don’t have time for that!” but let’s be honest. In triple the time it would take me to get to yoga, do the yoga, and come back; I would probably have made five cups of tea, stared out into space, and watched a ton of crafting videos that have no relevance to my life whatsoever.
So how does yoga help? Well my anxiety tends to be like slimy goop. It makes it harder for me to move, to think, or to accomplish anything. That’s when I apply heat! Yoga that raises energy, and the heat in your body, is a great way to reset yourself. It’s kind of like taking candy melts and microwaving them so you can mold them to whatever you need. As one of my instructors says, “You cannot make change without heat, without passion”

Yoga also allows the body to be more aware of itself and its movements. And of course the period that you take at the end of your practice in savasana helps you come to a point of rejuvenation.
There’s also another kind of anxiety that I feel in my life sometimes and this one is almost the complete opposite of playing possum. It’s more like a rabbit that takes off into the distance to who knows where. The jittery feeling that I experience moves my body into non stop motion that makes it very hard for me to concentrate. Instead, I’m off in all sorts of directions that lead no where. Or I run around in circles. This is equally non productive and in my experience, worse.
This kind of anxiety tends to grab me by the heart and stomach, making it easy for me to feel sensory overload (and sometimes pretty crabby). Fortunately, yoga is equally effective in bringing me back to my center. For this particular feeling, I prefer a more relaxed yoga like restorative yoga. Sanctuary yoga has a lovely candlelight restorative yoga that is conveniently in the evening (usually when this is more likely to strike for me). However, alternate nostril breathing always works in a pinch (haha get it?). And if I’m feeling especially agitated, I focus on the left nostril for a little longer (as it is said that the left is for calmness and right for energy).
It’s important to get things done, but the best way to do that is to take care of yourself first. Feeling anxiety from time to time is nothing to be ashamed about, but not taking the time to center yourself can often make things worse. Making sure you’re in your best form is ultimately beneficial for everyone and not at all selfish! Thank yourself for taking the time to engage in your practice. Trust me, it’ll make things a little bit easier for everyone.

Vulnerability in Yoga

Posted on: September 22nd, 2015 By:
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When I look at an experienced yogi stepping onto the mat and smoothly moving their body from asana to asana, I am left with a feeling of awe and inspiration. So when a dear friend of mine suggested that I give yoga a try, I was horrified.  I had never been particularly athletic, my track record for bumping into things was infamous, and I couldn’t even touch my toes.

But eventually I did, and if there was something that I have never regretted before, it was definitely this. Don’t get me wrong. It wasn’t easy. In fact, the day I walked into my first yoga class, I was ready to bolt out of there. But the look of excitement on my instructor’s face when I told him this was my first yoga class and the gentle corrections that he provided, brought me to a state of belonging. All of a sudden, my wobbliness and weak wrists seemed more like the beginning of a journey and less like the ugly stumbles of an embarrassed newbie. In that moment, my vulnerability was met with a nurturing environment that would lead to a newfound spiritual experience. And the truth is, that even though I still feel embarrassed and frustrated when I can’t do something just so, that feeling becomes less and less pronounced as the love and triumph of my yoga community is reinforced with every class at sanctuary.

Recently, that feeling of embarrassment resurfaced. I live in co operative housing, which means we make all our major household decisions together. This means that whether or not things go your personal way is dependent on whether it’s best for the majority of the members. Well about a week ago, it had been suggested that we needed to figure out a more advantageous parking situation. Which sounds like a great idea, except the solution was to cut down two magnolia trees in the back of the house. When I heard this, I was absolutely devastated. My stomach lurched and I felt more anxious than I have in a very long time.

That whole week I was consumed by the thought of having these trees that I felt such a spiritual connection with, torn down for the sake of two extra parking spots. I had no idea what to do. I was so scared of what our house’s final decision would be. After all, for someone who looks at trees as just another object, my sentimental attachments would seem frivolous. Needless to say, I couldn’t find solace with anything. I was sure that my argument would lose out. The last thing on my mind was the yoga class I had Friday afternoon. But I went anyway, more because I didn’t want to go home and less because I was in the mood for it. When I got there, I could not concentrate. I did not feel any peace.

My instructor starts in on his introduction to that class, and to my utter shock, he begins talking about the heaviness in his chest that had struck him that week. That same heaviness that mirrored my own. He speaks about prana and the way it takes shape in the body like water in a vessel. He tells us how he found solace in breathing into that heaviness. His honesty and vulnerability woke me up. All of a sudden it’s so incredibly clear to me that instead of lurking in my anxiety, my mourning, and my fear of being seen like a nutcase; I should have been vulnerable. I should have reached out to my housemates and allowed them to see the depth of what those trees meant to me. So, I did. And although some of them point blank told me they just didn’t understand my sentiment, they also told me that they could see the reality of my feelings.

We didn’t end up cutting down those trees. Instead, they still stand tall, representing the strength that came from the vulnerability that initially seemed like a weakness. I still feel self conscious when I get on the figurative & literal mat and can’t do something I see so many others accomplishing with ease. When I do, I think of those trees. My wobbliness is a part of my growth. My community is here to support me as I allow the places I have closed off to find space. Even though it means stumbling more than I want to, I am blessed with the capacity to get back up again and try another tree pose.