“The inner fire is the most important thing mankind possesses.” Edith Södergran
As we begin the new year, you may consider using Heat on and off your mat to kick start your resolutions and fuel your inner fire. Heat is one of the Pillars of the Baptiste Yoga practice; in the studio, the most obvious source of heat is the room itself. Power Yoga uses the warmth of the room to allow muscles to loosen up quickly, and your skin to detoxify itself through sweat.
But this isn’t just “hot yoga” it’spower yogabecause, with each movement of your muscles into the poses, you are generating heat within your body. This internal fire is encouraged byujjayi breath. Ujjayi breath is created by breathing in and out through your nose with the back of your throat constricted. This friction of the breath and the throat actually warms the air entering your body; if you’re like me and remember little else from grade school science, you might, at least, remember that friction creates heat.
In his book Journey Into Power, Baron Baptiste says, “The strong flow of power yoga fuels the inner furnace, and the breath fans that fire throughout your practice.” We are responsible for creating heat in our own bodies, and though 502 keeps the studio at about 90 degrees, generating our own heat is crucial in our practice.
Gaining a new kind of access to stiff muscles, or finding a new range of motion and flexibility in them, can help to heal old injuries and teach your body new muscle memory. And, if on your mat you can stay grounded in a pose in the heat of the moment, just imagine where that can serve you off the mat.
“Your Ass Looks Fat in Warrior II.” It’s all I could think as we held the challenging pose and my Drishti settled right on my rear end. All through the practice at another Louisville studio, I couldn’t resist checking myself out in the mirror as we moved from pose to pose. But not necessarily because I was checking my alignment—although that’s what I told myself—it was because I was concerned for looking good. And I was constantly being disappointed.
I’ve been uneasy with how I look for decades. At 11 or 12, I noticed the uniform skirts fit the other girls in my class differently, and after intense examination in the mirror and self-criticism, I determined what was “wrong” with me: Short torso. Wide hips. Huge ass.
These self-judgements have traveled with me through several decades, through many fashion trends, through pregnancy and childbirth (contrary to popular belief, wide hips do NOT help with childbirth), and now into a career where I live in spandex. Fortunately, my yoga practice has been a space to practice self-acceptance and appreciate my physical strengths. I know that I’m capable of so much more than your average mom-of-a-2-year old, but once that mirror is in front of me, I’m immersed in critical self-talk.
I don’t know a lot of other mommy’s (besides my yoga mama friends) who can do this!
This is why we don’t have mirrors at 502 Power Yoga. Some argue that a mirror is a tool to help you find alignment in a pose, but at 502PY we provide more valuable tools to help you find alignment:
Skilled instructors who don’t practice while they teach so they can see you and speak to what they see and assist as needed.
Assistants who move about the room to help with alignment and foundation in your postures.
Spacefor self-insight so you can create a pose for yourself and truly immerse yourself in their moving meditation without concern for what they look like.
Practicing without mirrors allows me the opportunity to feel as beautiful on the outside as I feel on the inside. For someone with image issues, this 60 minutes of going inside and feeling powerful goes a long way for my confidence. This empowerment causes me to make bold moves in my life, for example, that one time I opened a yoga studio.
The most beautiful I have ever felt in yoga was in a blindfolded practice–it was so liberating to drop all concern for looking good that I actually practiced with my shirt off for the only time in my life. I felt sexy, glowing, and powerful for weeks. Had a mirror been present for that practice, I would probably still be wallowing in a bout of self-pity, drowning my sorrows with pizza and cheez-its.
Every day I am bombarded with images of what the female body “should” look like and then catch my reflection in my mirror at my home and see the discrepancy. Then I roll out my mat, turn inward, and am reminded that I’m strong. I’m powerful. And in that, there is beauty.
What have you experienced in your physical practice or in your self-inquiry by practicing without a mirror? Do you feel like you’re missing your reflection?
#ProTip: If you really need a reflection of yourself, the spots up by the front window often act as mirrors when it’s dark outside.
My hand towel addiction was real. I never entered a class at 502PY without one. Even when we started charging $1 to rent them, I found such joy in asking Kelly to just put another one on my tab (a.k.a card on file). Any time a pose got hard or I wanted to take a break, my towel was there for me, waiting to wipe the sweat from my brow, or nose, or hands, or arms, or well you get where I’m going with this. I had convinced myself that there was no way I could practice without it. You’ll fall. You’ll be so sweaty. What will you do when you need to catch your breath? THE STRUGGLE.
One ambitious afternoon, I decided to see what happened if I didn’t take a towel into class. My water bottle and block looked so lonely at the top of my mat but I powered through that first slippery class like a toddler who has just had their blanket taken away would, with some scowling, regret, and at the end of the day feeling a little bit proud. I found myself looking for it while holding Warrior II as my legs fatigued, when Dancer was called, and before Bridge pose; all of my usual hesitation poses. It wasn’t until that first class without my towel that I realized just how much I used it to cheat myself in class.
Now let me be clear, this is not a post to encourage you to stop using a towel. For me, giving up that 8″x16″ white, cotton crutch was about giving up hesitation, giving up my distraction, and about growing my practice. I had an easily accessible excuse to cheat my way through class and I used it like it was a final exam where the teacher left us in the room with our books. For you, it might be fixing your hair, adjusting your clothes, or getting another drink of water that takes you out of your practice. Believe me, there are many reasons why a towel is helpful during class, and since giving up my hand towel I do occasionally have to use a full mat towel.
The biggest realization for me was how much this applied to my life. I am the queen of procrastination. Seriously, I have been thinking about writing this post for two months. I’m constantly working to catch myself when I start to create distractions when things get hard. There is so much possibility when you can create space by giving up what you must. For me, it was not bringing a towel into class. It opened up being able to hold poses longer, dropping hesitation, and being fully present to the sensations in my body instead of the sweat dripping down my arm. Whatever it is that keeps you from taking yourself to your edge whether in the studio or off the mat, it might be time for that security blanket towel to take a rest. It might be scary, and may take a lot of self-restraint, but you may surprise yourself when you remove hesitation in your life and go for it.
It is the one-week countdown for Winter 2015-2016 Teacher Training (see Becca’s guide on what to bring) and I know I’m not the only one who has mixed feelings about it. Starting something new is always a little unnerving, even if it is a positive thing. Lately, life has been crazy and at times things have been packed so tight that it seems impossible to shove in one more responsibility. And yet starting next weekend, that’s exactly what is going to happen.
When I feel myself start to resist the process, I try and lean into that resistance. It makes me think about Frog Pose and how sometimes I just want to cry, or how I feel I can barely breathe but in a really weird way I kind of like it. It can still hurt, but taking it to that edge makes me better. I’ve learned these lessons already on my mat as a student. I think that through the training I’m going to start to see what it means to take that surrender off my mat.
For those who don’t know, Tina Guelda wrote all the incoming trainees a letter and she didn’t sugar coat anything. She suggests bringing Ibuprofen regularly because, “Your body and your brain will probably hurt at some point.” She concludes the letter by reminding us all that we are going to need support from family and friends even when we won’t be able to see them. When I first read Tina’s letter, I may have freaked out a little. What have I gotten myself into? But re-visiting it I realize that while it wasn’t coated with sugar, Tina instead dumped a whole lot of salty flavor all over the truth. And my mouth is watering just thinking about it.
What surprises me the most from all of this is how even though I’m a little nervous and I have definitely already held back a few melt-downs, I’m not doubting myself one bit. I’ve seen the support system 502PY has created already through its programs and when it comes down to it, I am not afraid. I have doubts about myself, my abilities, my schedule, my finances, and my mental will to carry on when things get tough, but I have zero doubt that when things get rough that I will have my support system to push me through it all.
As this new challenge sits in full Lotus Pose right on the strong, sturdy, and looming gate of Friday evening, I shudder to think of all the tears, frustrations, and emotional highs that wait for me right on the other side. But then I lean into the challenge, I read comments from my fellow trainees, and in a really weird way, I realize I’m going to like this.
Yoga lingo. We throw it around like everyone speaks Sanskrit. One of our favorite Yogi phrases to throw around: off the mat.
When we are “On the mat” we Tadasana, Utkatasana, Utthita Trikonasana, and Adho Mukha Svanasana But when we talk about a practice “off the mat” – we mean the stuff yogis take with them out of the studio and into the world.
5 Things I Have Taken “Off the Mat”
1. I think I’m a good listener, but am I? I have always identified as a “good listener.” But in classes at 502PY, I’m realizing that I am not always listening.
In yoga, you know when you aren’t listening. When you’re in Mountain Pose and everyone else is Chaturanga-ing, you definitely weren’t paying attention. On the mat, I laugh these moments off and find my way to the correct pose. Off the mat, it’s made me think more critically: where else and with whom am I not truly listening?
2. Where do I add extra crap in my life? I can hear Sarah’s voice now. “GUYS, some of you are tugging on your tank top, fixing your hair, wiping sweat from your face before moving into Crescent Lunge. Just go into Crescent Lunge. Go there, without adding that extra crap.”
I add a lot of “extra” to my life. When I get home from work, I notice that I spend the first 20 minutes thinking about what I need to do. “I should roll up my yoga mat.” “I should put a load of laundry in.” “I should make dinner.” Why on Earth am I not just doing these things instead of thinking about doing them? My tendency to make mental lists stalls me from taking action. And life is about taking action. I know what I need to do and where I need to be. I need to just go there; anything else is extra crap.
3. Breath builds power. This has been my simplest, and most entertaining, lesson learned from practice at 502PY. Remembering to breathe is so important to our yoga practice. And we don’t just breathe any old way; we practice Ujjayi breathing. Ujjayi breath is “victorious breath” a.k.a. “sounds-like-the-ocean breath” a.k.a. “Darth Vader breath.” It builds heat in your physical body; it builds calm and focus in your mental body.
Two recent moments when I took Ujjayi breathing off my mat:
1) At work. When an incident at work left me wanting to scream at the top of my lungs, I closed my office door, took a few deep Ujjayi breaths, and brought myself back to calm/appropriate/professional Carrie.
2) Before a date! When some last-minute nerves crept up, I paused, breathed, and kicked the worry and stress to the curb.
4. Together we can do things we cannot do alone. This has been the biggest breakthrough, and the biggest challenge, for me to take off my mat. I’m an extremely independent person. I used to cringe when people spouted, “Together we can do things we cannot do alone.” I thought it was baloney. I thought it only applied to those people who couldn’t figure out how to do things on their own. I’m not exactly proud to write that, but it’s true.
I’ll never forget the first time the 502PY community proved me wrong. The class was in Tree Pose, and we were asked to go back, to try on a mini-backbend. I went, I bent, I did okay. Then, the teacher told us to stay in Tree, press our hands against our neighbors’, and go back again. And I went back deeper, more gracefully than I ever had. I stood up, mind blown. It was undeniable, anatomical proof that with the pressure and support of a row of yogis, I went somewhere I could not go alone. I still have a lot of work to do on this topic, but today when I think about my career, my relationships, my interactions with strangers, I often catch myself going back to that Tree Pose moment.
5. Rest is how you rebuild, how you come out stronger. I love this. I love Savasana at the end of a yoga class, and I love what it stands for. Savasana, or final resting pose, isn’t about napping or checking out from all the work you just did. Savasana is when you give yourself permission to rest and absorb the benefits of your practice. It’s the part where your body rebuilds so that when you sit up in a few minutes, you are stronger than you were when you entered the studio that day. (You know how when you install updates on your computer, and, after all of the whirring and downloading, the computer needs to close all programs and restart? Yeah, Savasana’s kinda like that.)
We need to be taking Savasana all the time off our mats.
We live in this fast-paced, crazy, demanding world. Self-care, rest, and fun is so important, and often so overlooked. In the studio, the teacher tells us when to take Savasana. Off the mat, we have to create our own Savasana, and we have to do it without feeling guilty. Savasana is our reset button.
If you’d asked me a few years ago, I’d have said I wasn’t buying “off the mat.” No way. But today, I spend my days with an incredible community at 502 PY, and I’m seeing the off the mat practice come to life.