Becoming Aware Of Your Breath

Posted on: June 21st, 2016 By:
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Take a deep breath in through the nose. All your anxieties, doubts, and frustrations that may be clutching your mind, exhale them away.

Welcome to a yoga class at Sanctuary Yoga, where becoming aware of your breath is the center of the experience. Of course, you may also find tighter glutes and enhanced back muscles to be a byproduct of these classes. But the root of the experience is the breath and the peace of one’s mind. When you drift too far from your base, and unwanted thoughts pervade your mental space, you may hear a gentle voice reminding you to stay connected and aware of your breath.

becoming aware of your breath

 

Before becoming aware of your breath, you have the opportunity to engage in a small communal exercise of sharing your name and how your body is feeling. Community and tranquility flow within the studio, throughout the peaceful garden, around the 600-year-old oak tree, and right into the little house that serves as the base for Amala Foundation. There is a sense of grounding, connecting, and love.

It is evident in the slow and careful way the yoga teacher guides the session. You won’t feel overwhelmed with technical terms to where you find yourself peeking to your neighbors and trying to understand what you should be doing. Sessions are fluid and not rushed. You won’t feel yourself falling too far behind when you simply want to follow your breath and cater to the needs of your own body.

There is the feeling of being apart of something special. You are allowed to become aware of your breath flowing throughout the room while moving at your own pace. With each practice you learn something new about yourself and experience self-love.

becoming aware of your breath

The Amala Foundation serves youth all over the world, engaging them with activities and resources that help cultivate self-love, artistic craft, leadership skills, and a strong sense of community. It is so pleasing to find that same loving energy in the classes at Sanctuary Yoga.

Breath is the foundation of yoga. Breath strings together mind and body which activates the soul. Mindfulness and becoming aware of the breath is a beautiful tool to go deeper in a pose, to let go, and to calm the nervous system. I’m relieved to finally find more than a studio, but a community at Sanctuary Yoga.

 

 

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.

Yoga Practice Beyond the Mat

Posted on: June 3rd, 2016 By:
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there is a voice that doesn't use words. Listen

When we practice yoga, we often hear, “listen to your body and what it needs” or “be gentle on yourself”. It is implied early on in our practice that the yoga mat is a judgement-free zone. However, sometimes we have a hard time believing that ourselves.

Be it a racing mind that cannot easily find stillness, or lack of personal motivation for whatever reason, sometimes our yoga practice isn’t calling to us, and it’s important that even in those moments we continue to listen to our body to meet our needs. If we don’t, we could face discomfort or injury, and that doesn’t benefit anyone.

I had become a little restless being almost 2 weeks off of my yoga mat, but the summer weather has been so warm and inviting (I certainly don’t mind the rainy weather we have been having), so catching up with old friends took precedence over yoga. One, after my plans for the evening were pushed back to a very late dinner with a friend, I decided to take a much needed yoga class. I looked at the times and thought the 9:15-10:15 PM restorative yoga would do the trick. I wanted to move around and stretch my muscles, but I figured this would be a way to gently get my body moving without an intense vinyasa practice.

The class ended up being too gentle for what my body wanted. The poses were, as described perfectly by our wonderful instructor Melody, ‘yummy’. The poses were fully supportive as we were cradled by bolsters, blocks, and the earth, and able to melt into each pose sinking deeply to relax the body and mind. My only problem was that neither my body nor my mind wanted wind down, so I found a way to push my body and feel a nice stretch, while I’m sure the rest of my fellow yogis were deliciously relaxing the day away. My mind was thinking about everything but restorative yoga.

When I woke up the next day, it hurt to move and sometimes even breathe. I attributed it to not using my body properly and rushing into certain stretches, but then a good friend of mine who studies and teaches yoga said, “Heart opening poses don’t just open the ribcage and stretch the back muscles; they open our hearts so we can release any emotions we hold on to”.

Her simple theory was a hard truth that hit me on the head. I wasn’t ready for restorative yoga and I forced myself to do it anyway. There’s a difference between motivating yourself into something and doing it with an open heart, versus going through the motions because it’s ‘the right thing to do’.

I took a yoga and meditation class a few days later, but my mentality completely changed. I was as present as I could be on my mat. I silenced my mind and welcomed any thoughts that entered without paying them much attention. I honored my practice and listened to my body—something I neglected to do a few nights ago.

We hear people tell us to go out there, even when we don’t want to, and seize the day! Do things that are going to benefit you! Move around, step out of your comfort zone, take risks, etc.! While there are benefits to all of those suggestions (I’m a firm believer in doing ‘one thing every day that scares you’), there is a gentle wisdom in meeting your body where it’s at. Let your intuition is your guide.

As Katrina told us in her Yoga and Meditation class, “Sometimes the pain of holding on is less intense than the sensation of letting go”.

Eating for Yoga

Posted on: May 31st, 2016 By:
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Eating is an aspect of human life that takes up a large part of our mental energy. So many questions run though our minds on a daily basis, not only “What should I eat?” but also when to eat, who to share it with, whether or not we are going to eat gluten or animal products, how much sugar to consume, how much protein, how many plants, etc. The list can be exhausting.

eating for yoga

The other day I was talking to a fellow yogi about the idea of “eating for yoga” in other words, what we fuel our bodies with for a yoga practice. While we both agreed that we don’t like to eat a heavy meal before any sort of yoga practice, our in depth answer was of course, different for both of us. My fellow yogi explained to me that she follows a strict vegetarian diet, choosing not to eat animal meat for moral reasons. This reasoning I completely respect. She mentioned that she loves how energetic her body feels moving in a yoga class, not having to expend energy digesting meat. For myself, I like to base my food decisions more on the quality of where it came from and what it will do for my body and the implications it has on the environment. Whenever possible I like eating locally, instead of eating food that’s been shipped thousands of miles to get here, and I like eating food that will sustain my energy through a rigorous practice. My favorite pre-yoga morning fuel is a banana with a Vega One protein smoothie. My fellow yogi loves wheatgrass shots and oatmeal.

 

Naturally there are pros and cons to any diet we choose to follow as humans. Not a single diet is perfect for every body type, not even for every yogi. The one characteristic I realized that both my fellow yogi and I had in common when choosing what we were going to eat was that we both made our decision consciously. Though our reasons were quite different for our food choices, we both had put deliberate thought into these choices. We chose to eat certain foods over others for reasons that were more than just “because x tastes good” or “because y is cheap”.

Michael Pollan explains this concept of eating with consciousness perfectly in Omnivore’s Dilemma, “To eat with a fuller consciousness of all that is at stake might sound like a burden, but in practice few things in life can afford quite as much satisfaction. By comparison, the pleasures of eating industrially, which is to say eating in ignorance, are fleeting.”

Eating, just like yoga, can be more enjoyable and more meaningful when we do so mindfully. We already know that in yoga, letting go of the need for a posture to look flawless, or to have perfect alignment every time we practice, we are left with mindfulness. Similarly, letting go of the need to eat perfectly, or eat in one certain way we believe is right, we are left with the practice of mindful eating. When we take the mindfulness that we learn on our yoga mats, into other areas of our lives we can derive deep pleasure and satisfaction.

Relieving Back Pain with Yoga

Posted on: May 24th, 2016 By:
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Back pain is a simple complication that, in the western world, we are all too familiar with. Whether it’s from sitting at a desk in front of a computer for hours a day, from unintentionally slouching behind the wheel of a car for long periods of time, from strenuous manual labor, stress, or even menstruating, we have all experienced the toll that back pain can cause. Even in a yoga class, it is one of the more common ailments people choose to share at the beginning of class with their yoga teacher.

A healthy back means a healthy spine, and healthy spine is so important to the well-being of the rest of your body. Luckily, yoga’s got our back (pun very intended) when everyday life brings it pain and imbalance. In yoga we move the spine in various ways, that lead to the strengthening and stretching of our back. These movements can help bring relief to temporary or perpetual back pain. Here are my favorite movements and yoga poses to help combat both lower and upper back pain:
Cat-cow Majaryasana
yoga for back pain
Chances are, if you’ve ever been to a single yoga class, no matter the style, you did a couple of cat-cows. There’s a reason so many teachers incorporate this simple movement into the beginning of a yoga class- it provides a massage to the spine and awakens the back. As you alternate from arching the back to the ceiling in cat pose, to dropping your belly towards the earth in cow pose, you are providing a stretch to the spine in two different directions that feel wonderful after a long day of sitting.
Child’s Pose Balasana
yoga for back pain
Child’s pose is a beautiful thing. Not only does it provide an amazing resting position before or after any asana, it also provides much relief to back tension. When doing child’s pose with the knees together it creates a stretch for the lower back. Holding the pose in this manner, you can easy alleviate any lower back tightness or tension. You can choose to keep the hands along the sides, or stretch the arms long in front of you, pressing into the hands to create more intensity in the back stretch.
Foward Fold Uttanasana
yoga for back pain
Another very simple, yet very effective yoga posture for finding relief from back tension is to fold forward over the legs, with the crown of your head weighing down towards the earth. When we spend our days standing or sitting for hours on end, or spines become compressed. A forward fold is a great way to give the vertebrae a break from this compression, and let gravity create space in the spine again. While the pose is great for both upper and lower back pain, bending the knees deeply while in the forward fold can create more relief for lower back pain.
Happy Baby Ananda Balasana
yoga for back pain
Happy baby is always a welcome pose for me at the end of a yoga class, but especially after a long day of manual labor of any form. In happy baby, as we stretch the tops of the thighs to the earth, our spines gently stretch out on to the earth in a soothing manner. Further, as you rock forward and back, or side to side in this pose you get a nice massage for the lumbar spine and middle back. It feels especially good if the back is tight or full of tension knots.

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.

Yoga Journeys | Yoga Instructor Christine Catalano

Posted on: May 19th, 2016 By:
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yoga journeys yoga journey series

Welcome to the Yoga Journeys Series with Sanctuary Yoga instructor Christine Catalano!

Everyone’s experiences are different, and everyone begins their yoga practice for different reasons and from a different place in their life. In this series, we will be shining the spotlight on our incredible yoga instructors, who pour their heart and soul into each class every single day. By allowing the instructors to share stories from their own practice about their individual journeys, we hope to inspire our students to embrace and enjoy their own unique yoga journeys.

We are so excited to begin this series with a look into Christine’s journey. In the time that she has been at Sanctuary Yoga, she has proven to be enthusiastically passionate about sharing the power of yoga with others. She has witnessed how the disciplined action of mindfulness practiced on the mat transforms the way we relate to the world around us, and she continues to be inspired by the healing freedom that yoga has to offer.

yoga journeys yoga journey seriesHow long have you been teaching at Sanctuary Yoga?

Less than two months.

What is your favorite part of teaching?

I think my favorite part of teaching is making a difference in someone’s day – it is so rewarding for me. Guiding a student’s mind, body, and spirit through a life-altering practice is just so powerful.

How has being a yoga instructor changed your own personal practice?

Teaching yoga is amazing; not only do I get to connect with my students, but I have found that I practice with so much more intention and focus. That practice of mindfulness has been really rewarding, as I’ve seen it begin to transfer off my mat and into my day-to-day life.

How/Where/When did you begin your personal yoga journey?yoga journeys yoga journey series

My yoga journey began three years ago as just another form of exercise. I was a member of Gold’s Gym, but I was getting really bored with basic cardio and weight lifting. I really wanted to try something new. Very quickly after I started practicing yoga, I began to notice how strong I felt – both physically and mentally – after I practiced, and I wanted to keep that feeling. A friend introduced me to a couple of studios in Austin, each staffed with such authentically vibrant and passionate instructors. I always left their classes feeling so encouraged. The turning point in my yoga journey was when I attended the Wanderlust Festival in Austin 2014. Being surrounded by all things yoga for three straight days was so intoxicating that I just knew I had found something special.

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

Forming a Habit through Yoga Practice

Posted on: May 9th, 2016 By:
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After establishing a habit of being out of practice for about 16 weeks (because that’s how long a college semester runs), getting back into a yoga class seemed a little unsettling. I was nervous and out of shape, and quite honestly anything seemed better than squeezing into my old yoga clothes so I can demonstrate to myself how much of I’ve let myself go over the past few months.

At the same time, I knew that if I didn’t begin exercising again and soon, I may be passing a point of no return. I was tired of my own excuses, and I finally decided that today was the day to face the fear and get one step closer to living the sort of life I want to live on a day-by-day basis.

I chose Jenny Lim’s Forrest Yoga class, and I’m glad I did. I had attended her classes before and they were challenging, but the space Jenny created at Sanctuary Yoga always felt safe and peaceful. My first time back went better than expected: aside from spending about the first half of the class re-learning what left and right meant, my body was not as rusty as I thought it was. Actually, the biggest obstacles I had to overcome during my practice were the mental roadblocks I had spent months putting there myself. Months of convincing myself I had no time to practice, not even at home, and that there was always something else that needed my attention. With each pose, I began to feel myself aligning again–physically and cognitively.

It is believed that it takes approximately 3 weeks to form a habit, but research suggests it may take as little as 18 days or it may take longer. The length of habit formation depends on each individual, especially if they are able to replace an old habit with a new one out of personal motivation, which can shorten the time it takes for a new habit to become routine. So, instead of binge-watching the latest TV hit, or putting off for tomorrow what can get done today, shake off those doubts and check out a yoga class. Chances are, you won’t be the only one there working on strengthening themselves.

As I mentioned before, I was so glad I went to Jenny’s class, because it turns out it was her last class at Sanctuary Yoga. She will be in Houston, so if you’re in the area I highly recommend practicing with her. Her classes have always been so wonderful, and I’m going to miss looking forward to her Forrest Yoga class. Best wishes in Houston, Jenny!

form a habit: half lotus yoga pose

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!