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Yin Is The New Black

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In this post, I’m going to discuss Yin Yoga in a broad sense like an overview for those who are new to Yin Yoga. If you’re looking for Yin Yoga practice guidelines you can check out this post.

Yin Yoga has been quietly gaining popularity over the last decade or so, but there still seems to be some confusion as to what Yin Yoga actually is.

Because ‘Yin is in’ many Yoga teachers have now jumped on the Yin Yoga bandwagon without actually studying Yin Yoga or Taoism (the philosophical roots of Yin). This has created confusion as to what Yin Yoga actually is despite the increasing number of people practising Yin.

So what is Yin Yoga exactly and how is it different from other styles of Yoga that you may have practiced? Why would someone choose to practice Yin Yoga?

Before we explore Yin Yoga, I feel like it’s important to clarify that there is nothing that is 100% Yin or 100% Yang. Within the Yin Yang symbol itself, there is a white dot of Yang within the black Yin portion and a little black dot in the Yang or white portion of the symbol.

Yin and Yang are always in a state of flux and interdependent on each other. For simplicity sake, I will be presenting these as a list of opposites for comparison but please know that this is not 100% philosophically sound Yin and Yang are spectrums not fixed.

Other than Yin and maybe Restorative Yoga, most of the Yoga practiced in North America is more Yang in nature, some more so than others (Yang being a spectrum not a fixed point), but they do share some common characteristics.

Yang Yoga

Yang styles of Yoga tend to strengthen and stretch muscles. Often times there is a focus on structure, alignment and the aesthetics of a pose. In Yang Yoga, you’re likely to increase the heat, blood flow and circulation in the body due to movement and its repetitive nature.

 

 Yin Yoga

In Yin Yoga, we spend our time deeply investigating our inner landscape. One of  Yin Yogas’ super powers is the effect on the fascia of the body (fascia is the tissue that envelops, separates or binds together muscles and structures of the body).

Yin poses are more free form and there is an emphasis on function. In Yin, we are more concerned with feeling sensation in the intended areas as opposed to what the pose looks like.

We steer clear of our edge and instead work in 60-70% of our full range of motion.

Because the meridians (energy pathways) of our body are believed to be at the level of fascia, Yin Yoga accesses the Qi (energy/ life force) of our body in a deeper way than a Yang Yoga practice.

The energetic goal of a Yin Practice is also different than other styles of Yoga. In Yang Yoga styles the focus is moving energy up and out, the eventual goal to transcend the body.

Taoist Yoga is a nature-based tradition. We try to stay embodied, to cultivate energy in the meridians of the body and the Dantian or gate of life with the goal being to increase longevity.

Because the energetic intentions of Yin and Yang practices are different so are the breath techniques used. In Yang Forms of Yoga breath, techniques like Ujaii (breath with sound) and Kabalibati (breath of fire) are used to move energy upwards.

In Yin, however, we want to cultivate the energy in the belly and lower body area so diaphragmatic (belly) breathing is a foundation, in addition to circulating the breath in the meridians (energy pathways) of the body.

So there you have it, Yin Yoga 101. Yin Yoga is a Taoist form of Yoga which directs the Qi of the body through meridians of the body and cultivates the energy of the body for improved health the longevity.

Yin Yoga is still a quiet meditative form of Yoga which can be deeply restorative to the nervous system. So what I recommend for you is next time you’re heading to the Yoga studio, give Yin Yoga a try and experience this Yin magic for yourself.

Lions Breath aka The Stress Buster Breath

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Lion’s breath or Simhasana in Sanskrit is a great breath for relieving stress and releasing negativity. It’s great for ‘clearing the air’ or helping you speak your truth.

When I first practised Lion’s breath I felt a bit silly in the beginning but once I experienced the power and release of this breath I was a big fan!

You can also practice Lion’s Breath in your Yoga asanas, I specifically love this breath during cat pose. But you can practice it during class when you need a boost of internal heat and energy. Or you can practice it throughout your day when you’re feeling foggy or slow.

Here are a few of the many benefits of this fierce breath:

  • Relieves tension in the chest and face
  • Simhasana can be a useful pose for those who stutter
  • Stretches the muscles in your face, neck and throat
  • Relieves tension and tightness while improving circulation
  • It’s an energetic and awakening breath that will also help to ease the mind
  • Lion’s Breath opens the throat chakra and helps to boost confidence
  • It’s a warming breath that can increase your internal temperature

If the video below I’ll walk you through this stress busting breath.


It may feel silly at first, but stick with it and you’ll awaken your inner lion.

Ok, Lemme Hear You Roar!

ox

nyk

Yoga Words – What Does Asana Mean?

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In a previous post (what does Yoga actually mean) I discussed the root of the word Yoga and how often when we use the word Yoga we actually mean Asana.

If you’re new to Yoga and have heard the term ‘Asana’ you may have thought they were talking about your butt. Although Asana can mean seat, we are not actually referring to your ass HA!

Although Asana means ‘seat’ the common uses are more like pose or posture.

Don’t believe me? The names Yoga poses themselves include ‘asana’ at the end like Tadasana or Savasana as examples.

So, when most of us say we are practicing Yoga we are actually practicing Asana. Say what…confused? Don’t worry, in the video below I’ll explain in more detail.

 

peace, love and Asana

ox nyk

The Unlikely Yogi – How I Became a Yoga Teacher

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I’m a rock n roll, smoking, martini drinking, latte-obsessed Hairstylist….or at least I used to be…..

When you think of a ‘Yoga teacher’ I’m not likely the image that comes to mind. So how did a rebellious, tattooed, heavy metal lover become a Yoga Teacher?

Allow me to explain:
In 1998 a co-worker suggested that we all register for a Monday morning Yoga class together. Since Monday was my day off and I’m naturally a night owl I was less than excited about this morning idea that’s for sure. Also, I had zero interest in Yoga, sure I had moved my body a lot in my past, I had been both a body builder and a runner, but Yoga seemed a bit ‘woo woo’ for me. It brought to mind images of hippies in white clothing on a commune somewhere, not something I as a rebellious lone wolf could see myself doing. But with promises of lattes and door-to-door delivery, I finally caved in.

That first Yoga class completely rocked my world, in all the best ways. I had never felt so relaxed and centred. For the duration of the class, my mind focused on one thing and one thing only… Yoga. As an adrenaline seeking, type-A personality this was miraculous. I left feeling like I was walking on a cloud. I  clearly remember saying to my friends, “I’m going to do Yoga forever”.

And so I kept going to classes long after my friends had moved on to other past times, and my relationship with Yoga deepened. I started going to classes more often and practicing a few of the poses I could remember at home. Yup, Yoga had begun to seep into my bones, I was hooked. Gradually my practice of Yoga began to create changes not just in how I felt in my physical body but how I saw the world around me, myself and my life outside of my Yoga practice.

Fast forward to 2000, I was now not only a successful hairstylist but also a hair colour expert and platform artist. I was making amazing money, in addition to my clients at the salon, I was travelling around the country, teaching hairstylists what the new latest and greatest in hair colour and colour techniques were.

From the outside, I looked like I had it all. I got treated like a Rock Star, wined, dined, stage, mics, models, music etc. I was in a position most hairstylists dream of.
While I loved my time on the road it was really high stress and hard on me physically and mentally. And all the while I had a closet philosopher hiding in me, I was always reading Yoga and Meditation books on the road.

When I did get back to the salon and worked with my clients I felt less than inspired, it was impossible to let my creative juices flow when every second girl in my chair wanted the same boring blond highlights that I could do in my sleep.

I wasn’t getting the same creative high I did on the road. I also just didn’t feel like I was contributing to the world in any real positive way. I mean sure I was making people ‘pretty’ but even that had lost its importance.

I was helping people feel better about their appearance but what about the inside? I was starting to feel like my job indirectly made people feel ‘not enough’ just like the marketing I hated from major beauty companies. “You’re not pretty enough or good enough without _____”.

I began to feel a disconnect between my Yoga and my livelihood. I wanted to help heal our world, to contribute, make a difference. I had been an activist on and off for years but now I felt called to do more. Now I wanted to help people feel beautiful and happy from the inside out. I knew how much peace Yoga had brought me and I wanted to share that peace with the world.

I also knew I wouldn’t be able to keep up my hairstylist lifestyle forever. Being on the road, the drinking, the smoking, the crazy amount of espresso I consumed to keep going day to day, was taking its toll on my body and my spirit.

I was starting to develop work-related injuries and had to cut back my hours at the salon, so I knew it was just a matter of time until I had to find something else to do for my livelihood.

I did a lot of soul searching and realised what I loved most about my current career was the teaching. I truly came alive when I was teaching or learning (two sides of the same coin). I realised I could keep my love of teaching and just change what I was teaching. I could teach Yoga, something that truly spoke to my heart.

But in order to do this I had to overcome many obstacles:

  1. the voice in my head telling me I was living the dream, that I had it all and had no right to be so unhappy
  2. the fear of going back to school
  3. the HUGE cut in income from my Platform Artist ‘Rock Star’ life to humble Yoga teacher
  4. the guilt of leaving my clients some of which had been with me for over a decade
  5. the confused and less than supportive questions from friends or family (the naysayers)
  6. massive lifestyle changes; the espresso, drinking to excess and smoking clearly had to go
  7. debt, I had a truckload of debt load due to my medical issues from doing hair, while payments were affordable with my current salary, they would not be while I was starting out as a new teacher

But I Knew I had to make a change so I signed up for Yoga teacher training and went to  ‘Yoga school’  while still doing hair so I could work my way through school.

In 2004 I graduated from my first teacher training and with the help and encouragement of my fella, I went for it! I ran eyes on the horizon and jumped, I found my wings on the way down.

But it wasn’t without big sacrifice…

Due to the staggering debt I had incurred from medical bills, I had to declare personal bankruptcy (one of the hardest but best decisions I ever made).  I swallowed my pride, got a part-time job in a coffee shop working for minimum wage and started looking for teaching gigs. It took 2.5 years, two jobs and six days/week before I was able to quit my ‘joe job’ and just teach Yoga.

I now have been teaching Yoga and Meditation since 2005 (fist pump). I get to create and hold space for my clients to heal and recharge their batteries. I get to inspire change every day. I truly believe I am helping to create a more peaceful world one student and one breath at a time.

I am so honoured and grateful to be doing what I love and living ‘on purpose’.

And now I’m doing it all over again, I recently moved from Calgary where I had been teaching full time to Victoria, BC. I gave up my clientele and my safety net moved provinces and returned to school to study Chinese Medicine and Yoga Therapy.

So, I am rebuilding from scratch again. Being a Yoga entrepreneur is not always easy but I wouldn’t change it for the world.

P.S I’m still a purple haired, heavy music-loving rebel, only now I drink Kombucha and OM a lot

Rock’n – Red Lentil Soup

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Growing up with a single working Mom meant that crockpot meals were huge in my home. I’m not a huge fan of cooking truth be told. So while I rarely have the patience for preparing elaborate meals from scratch, I do Rock My Crock Pot on a regular basis. I normally make a whack of this soup, eat it a couple times and then freeze it in meal-sized jars so I have lunch or dinner ready to defrost as needed.

So if you’re a fan of yummy, healthy, vegan meals that even work on a student budget keep reading. Next to my favourite pea soup recipe, this Rock’n Red Lentil Soup is the meal that gets made and devoured most at my place.

I have a very large crockpot (like 6+ quarts) so if yours is smaller you may want to cut this recipe in half.

 


4 cups of dried organic red lentils

8 cups of filtered water (or organic Veggie Broth)

2  14.5 oz cans of organic unsalted diced tomatoes

6 organic diced carrots

2 cloves of organic garlic, I used mine whole but you could dice or mince

1 tablespoon of organic dried basil

1 tablespoon of organic dried  thyme

1 teaspoon organic ground cumin

1 tablespoon sea salt

1/2 tablespoon organic ground black pepper

4 veggie soup cubes (or you could swap the water for veggie broth and skip these)

Dump it all in a crockpot and cook on low for 8-10 hours or high for 4-5 hours

If you’re going to freeze and thaw, let the soup thaw completely in the fridge before heating up. It also tends to thicken from freezing so you may want to add a small amount of filtered water to it as you warm it up.

 

 

 

Yoga Words – What Does Yoga Actually Mean?

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When we say we are going to a Yoga class or we are practicing Yoga, we get a particular image in mind. This likely includes a bunch of people twisting themselves up into pretzel-like position. But what does the Sanskrit word ‘Yoga’ actually mean?

The meaning of the word Yoga is union.  It is derived from the Sanskrit root ‘yup’, (pronounced yug) meaning to join, to unite but also to control, to discipline to master. The English word ‘yoke’ is also derived from the same Sanskrit (Indo-European) root.

So although many of us think we are “doing Yoga” we are actually practicing the postures or Asana (more on that in a later post). The word Yoga actually has a much larger all encompassing meaning beyond the physical poses.

In the video below I’ll go into more detail on this.

 

So now you can tell your friends you are going to Asana class and giggle when they give you funny looks 😉

Peace, Love & Asana

ox nyk

Yin Yoga Breathing-Belly Breathing

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Those of you who have practiced Yin Yoga know that it is quite different than more Yang forms of Yoga. So it would go to follow that the breath techniques are different as well. In more active forms of Yoga the breaths are sometimes used to bring energy up. But in a Yin Practice we want to keep the energy very grounded and in the lower or more ‘Yin’ areas of the body.

One of the easiest Yin Breaths to practice is belly breathing, or Diaphragmatic breathing as it is know in anatomical circles.

Sadly in our culture we are often breathing high up in the chest or rib area and this shallow breathing limits the diaphragm’s range of motion. We aren’t using our full lungs so we aren’t using fully oxygenated air. That can make us feel short of breath, anxious and tired.

Deep abdominal breathing allows for full oxygen exchange. Full deep breathing can:

  • slow the heartbeat
  • lower or stabilize blood pressure
  • calm the mind and help with anxiety
  • bring the body into relaxation response
  • improve energy

Because most of us aren’t breathing from deep in the belly regularly at first it can feel an bit unnatural, but nothing could be further from the truth. We already breath this way when we sleep we just aren’t aware of it.

So with a bit of practice and mindfulness you’ll be able to access this breath as your default way of breathing.

In the video below I’ll walk you through ways to practice ‘Belly breathing’.

 

Deep Bows and Deep Breaths to you

ox nyk

Yoga Words – What is a Kula

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If you travel in Yoga circles long enough you are likely to stumble across words that may sound kinda funny or even intimidating. In some upcoming posts I’ll go into the meaning of these words for those of you who are new to ‘Yoga speak’. Even those of you with Yoga experience may not know some of these terms 😉

 

 

Let’s start with Kula. This word has a very similar meaning to the word Sangha. Sangha is often used in Buddhist circles to describe a group of Buddhists studying and practicing together or a spiritual community. Whereas Kula is less specific and could also refer to a tribe or even a village of people. Most often though when Kula used in Yoga circles it is used to describe Yogis and Yoginis practicing Yoga together.

Check out the video below for more detail:

So now when I call you Kula you’ll know I’m not swearing at you in Sanskrit HA!

Big Love,

ox nyk

Back Pain? Get Off Your Ass.

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I recently read an article entitled ‘sitting is the new smoking‘. Yikes! At first, glance that sounded pretty extreme, but is it really? It’s actually not an exaggeration.

Sadly chairs are indeed wrecking our backs (not to mention increasing evidence that prolonged sitting increases the risk of developing several serious illnesses like cancer, heart disease and type 2 diabetes).

depositphotos_1437052_s-2015

Since I am a teacher who specializes in Back Pain Yoga, I’m going to focus on that aspect in this post. We are hunter-gatherer creatures meant to walk and roam, run, squat and sit on the earth. This is how we are designed to function. Sitting in chairs goes against our fundamental design. Here are some surprising Back Pain Statistics:

  • 80-85% of people will experience Back Pain in their lives and for many it is chronic
  • 56 billion dollars is spent annually on Back Pain treatment
  • The percentage of back pain suffers is the highest in developed nations where people are likely to spend time sitting in chairs

So if you sit at a desk all day odds are at some point you will have pain in your back, hips or neck. If not debilitating pain, you will at the very least have chronic tension or discomfort.

Right now you may be thinking, I know, I know, but what can I do about it? I can’t quit my job.  In the video below I go into more detail about the damage chairs do to our backs and some ideas on how to lessen the damage.

 

5 Things You Can Do To Get Out Of Pain:

  1. Consider investing in a standing desk or at least a better chair.
  2. Take breaks. Set a timer to go off every hour. Then get up, move around, stretch your legs, get a glass of water then come back to work.
  3. When you aren’t working, stand up.
  4. Move more. It doesn’t take long to eat lunch so you can spend half your lunch hour moving instead of sitting.
  5. YOGA! You may already be practicing some Yoga but stepping it up to 5-7 days a week whether in a studio or home practice will really help.

I hope this post inspires you to not take your back for granted and make changes before you are in serious pain.

Here’s To A Healthy Back,

ox nyk

The Magic of Mantras – By Saraswati

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There are as many mantras as there are stars in the sky. Even if you may not know it, you are affected by the power of words each day in both positive and negative ways.

Each of us has a running dialogue within- “I am this. I am that. I can. I can’t.”

What if we could harness the power of words to access greater depths of ourselves and ultimately the world around us?

What if we consciously used these utterances to bring our awareness within and offered these repetitions to ourselves as a spiritual practice, or simply loving self-care?

Or what if they just made us a little more loving, a little more tolerant, a little more peaceful?

This is where mantras come in. Words are powerful, beautiful, transforming…

But what are true mantras? Where did they originate? And how do we create our own personal meditation practice using them?

Om Graphic-3

The ancient origins of mantras:

The word “mantra” is a Sanskrit word. “Man” translates as “mind” or “thoughts” and “tra” can be translated as “tools” or “instruments”. So mantras can be understood as “tools of the mind”.

Mantras are said to have originated from illuminated souls before us, those who were divinely connected to the Earth, the Wind, the Sky. They listened deeply to the vibrations of the Universe, and from them, mantras were revealed and passed down through generations.

They are accessible to all of us at any point in our lives, and need not be connected to a particular faith or belief. The words we choose are powerful, and words that are spoken with deep intention consistently can be the most potent of all.

Creating a simple mantra practice is easy to do and can benefit anyone who is looking to access a deeper connection to the Self, nurture one’s own intuition and inner wisdom.

In most traditions mantras are given by a guru or spiritual teacher, however, this is not necessary. You can certainly choose a mantra for yourself. Some of the most popular mantras are listed below. If you are just starting a mantra practice, simply choose a mantra that resonates with you. Your intuition is always the best place to start!

Three popular mantras to try:

Om

Om (or Ohm, Aum) is one of the most popular and ancient mantras derived from the primordial sound. It is considered the very vibration of the Universe.

So Ham

This mantra is wonderful as it can directly correlate with the breath. Translated as “I am That. “That” can mean the Divine, She, He, Eternal, the Universe. So is the sound of the inhalation and Ham is the sound of the exhalation. It reminds us that we are all One.

Om Shanti

Om (the sound of the Universe) is paired with Shanti meaning “peace”. You can chant this mantra for inner peace and with the intention of peace for all living beings.

These are only a few of the mantras available, so if none of these feel quite right a quick search online will take you to hundreds of mantras from varying traditions. You will know when you find one that resonates!

Starting a practice:

For those who want to start a formal mantra practice, begin by creating a sacred space. Find a place that is quiet where you will be undisturbed when you sit for meditation. You can have a decorated altar or simply arrange a space that is comfortable and that brings you joy when you are in it.

Sit in a comfortable seated position and take notice of the breath. Let your thoughts play without judgement. Soon they will slow and your breath will deepen.

When you feel ready, begin to chant your chosen mantra out loud. This can be on any pitch that feels comfortable for you and at any pace. It may take some time to get used to chanting out loud if you have not done so before, but roll with it and keep going! You will eventually get into a natural rhythm that feels good for you.

After you feel you have reached that natural rhythm, begin to lower the volume of your chanting for a minute, then again to a whisper. Ultimately, we want to bring the chant within and hear the mantra silently. This brings the awareness deeper and is considered the most powerful of all practices.

Set a timer if you like or chant as long as you feel you would like to. If you find concentration is hard, just start small. Your meditation practice need not be an hour a day! Just waking up in the morning and chanting a mantra is a beautiful beginning. The next day chant it twice and so on.

Your mantra will become like an old friend with you always. You can chant your mantra silently while you walk the dog, feed your kids, wash your dishes, brush your teeth, just before sleep, you get the idea!

Mantras aren’t just intended for formal practice. Bring the wisdom you have acquired off the cushion and into the world! Enjoy the benefits of creating a new positive groove in your consciousness and watch your life begin to shift with the magic of mantras.

unnamedSign up for The 7 Day Mantra Challenge! Learn all about the power of mantras in this week-long challenge with Saraswati.