Posts by Yogi Natalia Wieczorek

Starting Over – Again

Posted on: July 24th, 2016 By:
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Hello, old friends! It’s been a while. I’ve been on a hiatus from yoga for a couple of months (mostly due to severely overloading my calendar), but I managed to squeeze in a class earlier this week. Finding that my body had been positively craving being in the studio was a bit of a surprise. The truth of the matter is, I know how I feel when I do yoga. And I know that I need that feeling in my life, no matter how hectic my day-to-day may get. And so, I am starting over!

I would like to publicly set myself some goals for the next few months, because I seem to be better at holding myself accountable for things when I know I’ve put my aspirations out into the world, for anyone to see. So, without further ado, my goals:

  • Go to class at Sanctuary twice per week
  • Go on the Saturday yoga hike at least once per month
  • On days I can’t go to class, I will practice at home – even if just for 15 minutes!
  • Meditate before bed
  • Research yoga history, science, theory, etc. to write useful blog posts

starting over

Life is only going to get more crammed as this year goes on: I’ve decided to sign up for statistics courses at the local college, I’ve been given more projects at work, I have a big trip to Europe coming up, and I am trying to lose a few pounds before my good friends’ wedding in October. Whew. But what I have consistently found is that the higher my stress level / more busy my calendar, the more useful yoga is to me. These past couple of months have burned me out a little, and stepping back into the studio made me feel like I was washing away some of the tension I’d built up. Let’s see if I can go even further! Here’s to starting over — again.

 

Vulnerability in Yoga

Posted on: June 6th, 2016 By:
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One of the greatest, and sometimes most difficult, parts of yoga practice is allowing yourself to be completely open and vulnerable. We grow accustomed to holding in the parts of us that are hurting, or stressed, or angry, and it takes a certain strength to be able to open up and take those things off your shoulders, even if only for an hour-long class. But believe me – vulnerability in yoga is completely worth it.

I was always an incredibly open person emotionally, and a few years ago, it caught up with me. For a while, I would swing between talking about my life and personal experiences to everyone I met (and I do mean everyone), to being a complete shut-in and having walls up around every corner of myself. I’ve mostly found a nice balance now, and a good part of that balance has come from practicing yoga.

vulnerability in yoga

One of the things that has truly stood out to me at Sanctuary Yoga is the fact that at the beginning of almost every class I’ve attended, the teacher will ask each person in the room to mention any pain or tension they’re experiencing in their bodies. Many people say they’re fine (although, some say so through clenched teeth!), but most will mention a sore back, work stress, tight quads, overwhelmed brains, cramped hips, or any other thing they’re experiencing. This honesty within the soft, sweet, safe bubble that is Sanctuary has been the main quality that brings me to that mat over and over again.

So maybe you’re not going through an existential crisis, but I do think that anyone can benefit from opening up a little bit in yoga. The physicality of literally opening your chest or your back or shoulders in certain poses can and will directly impact your mentality. I encourage you all to leave your egos and shyness at the door, and allow yourself to feel whatever it is you need to feel – I had my first “angry” yoga experience a few weeks ago, and as luck would have it (or, more likely, a very intuitive instructor), we were encouraged to just yell and let it all out over a few breaths in Downward-Facing Dog.

Trust yourself. Trust your teachers. Trust the practice. Now, go out there and feel.

Cheering Up

Posted on: May 23rd, 2016 By:
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I have been having a hard time lately. Work, love, relationships in general, my health – all could do with a bit of improving and upgrading. This weekend, I will lay out a strategy for addressing each part of my life that needs some nourishment. There is, however, one thing that I am incredibly, overwhelmingly, superhumanly good at: cheering up myself.

I have innumerable resources for soothing my inner struggles, but here are a few of my favorite techniques that really do always have a positive impact on my day.

  • Listen to music
    • I’ve made yoga playlists before (both upbeat and slow), which have a few of my all-time favorite songs. There is no shame in blasting songs that are nostalgic, or are just happy and upbeat, to help you get over your funk. My go-to song? “Be Gentle With Me” by The Boy Least Likely To. Go give it a listen!
  • Take a bath / get yourself clean
    • I have never felt as pure as when I got to visit a hammam in Morocco a few years go. I was scrubbed down with oils and something resembling a loofah, and I emerged from this dark, humid, cave-like room feeling about twenty pounds lighter. The nearest hammam is in Houston, but going to a sauna, or just pouring yourself a hot bath with Epsom salts can do the trick. Allowing yourself to feel warm and clean will help more than just your body.
  • Move
    • Go for a walk. Get to yoga. Run along the boardwalk. Hike through the Greenbelt. Cycle around the lake. Rock climb. Whatever you do, get your adrenaline pumping, and your heart racing. And then take that bath!
  • Solve a problem
    • When I’m feeling particularly down about work, I like to try and solve a problem. Whether it’s finally finding a solution for my curtains, or working on some Sudoku puzzles, or cleaning the kitchen from top to bottom, having a simple task that can be completed within an hour or so gives your ego the old boost you need.
  • Create something
    • Whether it’s a painting, a song, a shelf, a poem, or a photograph, let your creativity flow! And it’s best if you try something you don’t know if you’re good at – if it turns out badly, that’s okay, and if it turns out well, then hey! You’ve found a new talent!
  • Spill it all out
    • Talk to your friends! Pick up the phone and call your mother. Let someone else share your emotions with you, and be your soundboard. Maybe they won’t have a solution for whatever issue you’re dealing with, but talking out loud might give you a new perspective on what’s happening.
  • Meditate
    • Find a quiet place and close your eyes for a few minutes. If you don’t feel comfortable with meditation yet, download one of those apps (or just put on a video from YouTube), and allow yourself to be guided through some breathing. Hitting pause on your day can really boost your energy and allow you to feel more recharged.
  • Get some human contact
    • If you’re one of the unlucky people that doesn’t have a cat or dog to cuddle with, go forth and hug your friend, your father, your boyfriend, your neighbor, whomever. Touch is a very primal thing, and feeling physically close to someone that makes you happy boosts endorphins and helps you feel more relaxed.
  • Go to sleep
    • If all else fails – go to bed. Fluff up your pillows, put on your pajamas, close your blinds, and get some shut eye. After all, tomorrow’s a new day.

Why You Need a Yoga Fundamentals Class

Posted on: May 11th, 2016 By:
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This afternoon, I took the Yoga Fundamentals class with Sanctuary’s lovely teacher, Amanda Oakley. I’ve prioritized running over yoga the past few weeks, so I thought I could benefit from relearning the foundations. Let me tell you – whether you’re a complete newbie, or you’ve been practicing yoga for years, you will benefit from taking Yoga Fundamentals.

The class began with my favorite Sanctuary tradition – Amanda asked each of us to briefly introduce ourselves and mention any areas we would like to work on. Answers varied from tight quads to a completely tense body, to just feeling a little cluttered and overwhelmed. I’m not sure about everyone else, but by the end of class, I felt like each of my problem areas was loosened up and stretched out.

What separates Yoga Fundamentals from your typical Vinyasa Flow is that each pose is held longer, because your instructor will be walking you through exactly what each part of your body should be doing – from the top of your head, through your chest, hips and legs, all the way to the palms of your feet. The focus here is on perfecting your poses, rather than sweating or pushing yourself farther than before.

For example, Amanda walked us through Cobra Pose to a level of detail that I had not worked on before. I knew that the focus of Cobra is not to bend your back as far as possible, but actually, to stretch out your spine. But Amanda helped us set up for the pose by telling us to press the tops of our feet into our mats so that our legs were engaged and knees came off the floor; she told us to breathe into our pelvis, push into our palms, and lift forward (rather than up!), and allow our breaths and forward stretch to move our upper bodies away from the floor.

We repeated this process for a number of the fundamental poses: Pigeon, Downward-Facing Dog, Warrior, Lizard, etc., and I cannot stress how much this class gave me in terms of re-educating me on how my body should feel and be reacting to each asana.

The Yoga Fundamentals class is offered a few times a week at Sanctuary, and I would love for you to join me for one! Every teacher brings something new to the table, and there is always room to grow in your yoga knowledge and experience.

yoga fundamentals

Butt-Kicking Yoga: Class Review

Posted on: May 2nd, 2016 By:
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Tonight, I went to the 8pm All Levels Vinyasa class. I’ve been to it before; It’s a great class where you usually sweat a little bit, relax a lot, and feel accomplished and “Zen-ed out” by the time you land in shavasana. However, I had not done this class with Lizzie Aguirre – and it was a completely different experience! For the first time since I attempted a Forrest class, I experienced some true, butt-kicking yoga.

This class was different from anything I’ve done so far at Sanctuary. Lizzie began class by asking us to partner up with the person next to us, and talk about something in ourselves that we’re self-conscious about. After a few minutes, we were then asked to talk about how opening up about our vulnerabilities made us feel.

As this was going on, I noticed the room was getting much warmer. I’m used to either doing yoga in regular room temperature, or, occasionally, sweating out of every pore in a hot yoga class at 104 degrees. Today, the room was heated to somewhere in the upper 80s / lower 90s, because within the first ten minutes, I had to grab my towel to wipe off my face.

After the brief partner work, we got into our vinyasa flow. The movements were quick, and we did a few sequences that had us spinning around on our mats (this has a lovely name in Sanskrit, which I promptly forgot, but I loved the idea of there being a name for sequences that have you face each side of the mat in turn), and because things were flowing so quickly, the next 40 minutes flew by. In the last few moments of class before resting, Lizzie had us do some ab work. Now, I’ve done core exercises before in yoga, but none like this – it’s only a few hours after class, and I can already tell I will be sore for the next few days! She led us in three exercises, all of which made my abs feel like they were on fire, and which made gliding into shavasana that much more pleasant.

I’m used to slower, slightly less “athletic” flows in my practice, but I have to say that Lizzie did such a wonderful job of keeping everything fluid and upbeat, that I think I may just have to join her butt-kicking yoga classes more often… maybe once my core stops burning!

Top 10 Inspirational Yoga Quotes

Posted on: April 13th, 2016 By:
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Some yoga classes feel easy and beautiful – you’ve eaten well before, you nail an inversion, and you truly connect with yourself when you lie down for shavasana. Other days are harder – you’re late for the bus, your arms feel like noodles, and you can’t let go of the day’s stresses. Luckily for us, life is all about balance, and the bad days are there to make us truly appreciate the good ones. But on those bad days? It can be hard to stay positive. So I’ve started pinning inspirational yoga quotes in various places (my apartment, my office, my phone) to give myself that little bit of extra help, that little piece of energy, to reset and move forward.

Here are ten of my favorite inspirational yoga quotes:

The attitude of gratitude is the highest yoga.” – Yogi Bhajan

Your task is not to seek for love, but merely to seek and find all the barriers within yourself that you have built.” – Rumi

You cannot control what goes on outside. But you can always control what goes on inside.” – Mr. Yoga

Blessed are the flexible, for they shall not be bent out of shape.” – Unknown

Yoga is the perfect opportunity to be curious about who you are.” – Jason Crandell

There will always be people who can do it better than you, but that’s a good thing! Start to see competition as inspiration – without envy.”- Kathryn Budig

Undisturbed calmness of mind is attained by cultivating friendliness toward the happy, compassion for the unhappy, delight in the virtuous, and indifference toward the wicked.” – Yoga Sutras of Patanjali

In asana practice, we learn to cherish each breath, to cherish every cell in our bodies. The time we spend on the mat is love in action.” – Rolf Gates

The soul is here for its own joy.” – Rumi

Be a lamp to yourself. Be your own confidence. Hold on to the truth within yourself as to the only truth.” – Buddha

Relaxation Techniques: Sensory-Deprivation Chamber

Posted on: April 4th, 2016 By:
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Last week, I had a series of interviews for a new position at work. A position that, if I got the job, would put me on the path towards a drastically positive change in my life. I, along with the two other finalists, were told to expect a decision this week. Quite understandably, I have been a blob of uncontrollable nerves since Sunday night, and was desperately trying all of my favorite relaxation techniques to calm down.

Interestingly, my family had some old friends visiting from out of town who had been looking for a chance to try out a sensory-deprivation chamber. Since we all felt that together, we had a good excuse to finally test it out, we scheduled appointments for Monday morning, and gave it a go.

It was not what I thought it would be.

Reading the FAQs on what to expect from our visit, I learned that floating in a sensory-deprivation chamber is meant to make you feel better both physically and psychologically. The Epsom salts are meant to relieve stress, help your body recover from injuries, and the feeling of floating weightlessly in water in a dark and silent space, with no distractions, has been shown to be a great gateway into meditative states. Websites on floating in sensory-deprivation chambers used phrases such as “your brain pumps out dopamine” and “your level of concentration and creativity is amazing.” Honestly, I didn’t expect to find nirvana, but I did want to relax.

Unfortunately, this did not happen. Slipping into my robe and slippers was wonderful. Sitting in a massage chair for twenty minutes, sipping chamomile tea while soft music played, and watching as the lights danced on the dark ceiling felt soothing. Being led to the room where my chamber / tank was and taking a nice, warm shower got me excited about what was coming. But once I actually got into the chamber, shut the door, and laid down, I felt like the “relaxation” part was over.

I tried floating in the dark at first – no noise, no movement, just allowing my mind to slow down. This did not work. Then, I lifted my hands above my head and spent some time pushing myself back and forth between the walls of the tank (I’ve always loved the sensation of being in water). This also did nothing. I tried singing to myself. I tried putting my hands under my neck. I tried lying still again. Nope.

After what felt like a lifetime, I opened the door and poked my head out to look at the clock – only fifteen minutes had passed. I forced myself back into my tank, and tried to relax again, but I just kept getting more and more frustrated that these relaxation techniques that I’d heard such rave reviews about, were just acting as a stressor for me.

I ended up lasting an entire 25 minutes out of the 60 I had booked. I showered again, went to change, and actually cried in the locker room because I was so upset that I had spent money on such an uncomfortable experience, and had only ended up more tense and exhausted than before.

Our family friends ended up with very similar experiences (minus the crying – that’s my specialty). Afterwards, we all treated ourselves to some delicious Mexican food and felt much better. But I think still I’ll need a few good night’s sleep – and a few classes at Sanctuary! – to make up for my time in the sensory-deprivation chamber.

I will say that my experience seems out-of-the-ordinary. There are dozens of articles online about people’s wonderful experiences with these chambers, so if it sounds interesting to you, go try it! Just make sure to keep your expectations in check.

My Favorite Types of Yoga at Sanctuary – So Far

Posted on: April 3rd, 2016 By:
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Sanctuary Yoga offers a number of different types of yoga classes in their Austin studio. I have not yet had a chance to try them all out (I swear I’ll make it to Morning Squeeze someday!), but of the ones I have done, there are a few favorites that really stand out. In no particular order:

  • Vinyasa Yoga All Levels
    One of the many “flow” classes offered at Sanctuary, this all-levels Vinyasa is great for people who have had a little bit of an introduction to yoga. You’ll get a little sweaty, but few of the asanas will push you past your comfort level. However, if you do want to try something a little more challenging, teachers are always willing to work with you to deepen your pose.
  • Candlelit Restorative / Wash the Day Away
    Something I had never tried before, these restorative yoga classes have made an enormous impact on me, and have quickly become my favorite types of yoga. The point of these classes is to slowly ease your body into relaxation (which is why they’re only offered in the evenings – they make for a GREAT night’s sleep!). You will do fewer poses, but you will hold each one for longer than usual, and you will quite often use props to gently support your body. I’ve found these two classes in particular to be extremely helpful in relaxing the mind, and not just the body.

types of yoga

  • Greenbelt Yoga at Barton Springs
    On Saturday mornings, a group collects at the Spyglass entrance of the Barton Greenbelt to go on a two-hour yoga hike. They hike through the beautiful greenbelt and stop at a few locations to go through a short flow, to meditate, or occasionally to do some partner work. The hike makes for a wonderful start to the weekend, and it’s especially beautiful when the creek is full and trees are green. (If you’d like a step-by-step walkthrough of our Saturday hikes, I wrote about my experience a couple of months ago.)
  • Intermediate Vinyasa
    I love the fact that this intermediate Vinyasa class allows you to really try out new things. The postures tend to go deeper, and there are more opportunities for inversions, arm-balances, and extra vinyasas. The yoga instructors are great about guiding you towards the right balance of feeling challenged without straining yourself or pushing your body too far. This has been the class where I’ve really learned the most about what my body can (and can’t!) do.

If you haven’t yet had a chance to try one of these classes, I highly encourage you to go to one this week. Maybe you want to learn a new pose, or spend some time outside, or even just treat yourself to a restorative class that will help you wash away your workweek. The studio offers classes six days per week, and there are many different types of yoga to try. I hope to see you there!

What Would Marian Do: Trying to Deal with Grief

Posted on: March 22nd, 2016 By:
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Last night, I had every plan to sit down and write a blog post about yoga. In a moment of procrastination, however, I decided to take some time and finally organize my jewelry. I was hanging everything up on my new “jewelry tree”, when I realized that my favorite necklace was missing. This necklace was a gift from my grandmother, who originally got it as a homecoming gift from my grandfather when he returned from a tour in Africa.

We lost my grandfather just over a year ago, and I’ve done an excellent job of putting it all away in the back of my mind, where I don’t have to deal with it. But last night, when I finally found the necklace after turning my apartment upside-down, I had a complete breakdown. I just laid down on the floor, called my mom, and bawled.

Marian Eckert was the most wonderful man I have ever known, and probably will ever know. He was kind and generous, he was brilliant, he was a prolific writer, an influential governor in Poland, a professor of history at the university in Zielona Gora, and a fantastic dancer. He was madly in love with his wife, sweet to his kids and grandchildren, and had that peculiar quality where he made every single person he met feel valued and important. He was one-of-a-kind, and I consider myself the luckiest person for having known him and been loved by him.

grief

Grief is a very strange thing. I’ve been lost in sadness, I’ve been truly irate, and I’ve felt helpless. But grief keeps sweeping back and forth like a wave, where I can push it deep down into my mind most of the time, but can also feel completely overwhelmed when I don’t expect it. I’ve spent a lot of my life tuning my emotions because I always felt everything so strongly, and it was incredible to truly feel something that way yesterday.

Anyway, I suppose the point of sharing the post is to remind myself, and others, that emotions in general are beautiful, and they’re what make us human. I want to honor my grandfather by being true to myself, as well as by trying to be the sort of person that he was. It’s so incredibly hard to lose someone so wonderful, but I hope that each and every one of you has the chance to know and love someone like him in your lives, whether it’s a partner, a friend, or a family member. Allow yourself to feel and love and live fully. Kocham Cie, Dziadku.

 

Yoga and Weight Loss

Posted on: March 14th, 2016 By:
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People do yoga for a variety of reasons: some practice for mental health, some to increase flexibility, some to learn how to meditate, others for self-reflection. All in all, people do yoga to support themselves in their path towards a healthy lifestyle, whatever that specific path may be. One of these paths may be the goal to shed a few pounds. So today, I want to talk a little bit about yoga and weight loss.

The best thing that yoga teaches, and that helps to promote weight-loss, is improving mindfulness. When you are mindful of yourself and your body, you are more in tune to what that body needs. Instead of mindlessly snacking all day, people who practice yoga regularly are more likely to focus fully on individual meals, which can lead to a lower caloric intake. Think about it: when’s the last time you ate lunch and actually took the time to experience each bite? It may sound a bit ridiculous, but try it at lunch tomorrow, and see if you leave food on your plate.

The culture of yoga promotes a more “organic” lifestyle – so whether it’s your stomach or the social cues of those around you, you may find yourself less likely to crave heavy, fatty foods post-practice. It may be my muscles and joints, or it may be the expectation and opportunity of yoga culture to rise to the age-old leaning towards “green” and “fresh” foods, but I, for one, never find myself dreaming about burgers after a practice. I want to reward my body for the hour it put into releasing the day and building up muscle, and that means healthy snacks (if you’d like some wonderful, healthy, yoga-friendly recipes, check out this blog).

Speaking of building muscle, we all know by now that more muscle leads to faster weight loss. This is simply due to the fact that muscle tissue uses up more energy than fatty tissue. This means that a pound of muscle is burning more calories each day than a pound of fat. Although yoga is certainly much more gentle than pumping iron, consider for a moment how much you are using your own body weight in each pose. Downward-Facing Dog? Your back, core, arm, and leg muscles are engaged. Boat Pose? Your abs are holding up your entire body. Chair Pose? You know your legs will be sore tomorrow.

So have faith in the process, if weight loss is your goal. It will happen, slowly but surely, and you will come out feeling stronger, longer, and more at ease in your mind. But please, while you’re on this journey, don’t forget that YOU ARE WONDERFUL, and treating your body well will reward you in ways even more satisfying than fitting into a smaller pants size.