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Need a New Mat?

SUGA matI have been thinking of getting a new yoga mat lately.  My go to ‘forever’ mat is the Manduka Black Mat Pro.  I have had it for years and it seems to get better every day – even though it weighs about ten pounds and is tough to lug around.  I will use it forever but I now need something to travel with and allow me to leave the Manduka in the studio.

 

 

Years ago, when I started doing yoga, I was taking classes in the cellar of a church that had concrete floors covered in tile.  This was cold, especially in winter as well as hard on my knees as you can imagine.   I had to do something. My first attempt was to bring a carpet sample that I simply placed under my mat.  This worked fine for some years.  It was great for the knees, kept the cold out, but was a little unwieldy to carry the carpet remnant and a mat back and forth.  After some research, I found the Manduka and it has been a friend to me ever since.

 

I bought the mat in extra long because, as a student, I seemed to travel a lot from front to back and needed the extra length to keep on the mat.  (I no longer needed the extra length as I have since learned to keep in one position on pose transitions but the mat doesn’t wear out)

 

Lugging around a ten pound mat is awkward, so a new yoga mat has been on my mind lately.  I have been considering getting another mat for traveling and leaving my heavy one behind.  As if by magic, Giancarlos, from Consumer Advocates, contacted me to see if I would be willing to mention their site as a supplementary resource to help yogis find the best mat fitted to their needs. I was a skeptic at first as this was an unsolicited request and wanted to check them out before passing their info along.

 

The biggest difference between this site and others is that they provide a lot of the background research to figure out how much of an environmental impact the mat really has.  They also look into the chemical nature of mats and have recommendations that are non-toxic, easy to clean and just about anything else you can think of.  It has great resources for those who care about the environment and want to practice on a mat that is as eco friendly as possible.   The site not only has a simplified ‘nutshell’ view of each of the mats but options to explore further in depth any mat that you wish.

 

As a yoga surfer, I was intrigued by the SUGA mat https://www.sugamats.com/home1.  SUGAS are made from recycled wetsuits and provide another use for them when they get old or ripped instead of just throwing being put into the landfill.  They come in a 3mm three pound travel mat version as well as a full, 5mm five pound style that even comes in extra long.  I was a bit hesitant, but I bought the 3mm travel version to see if it would meet my needs.  Would it function not only in a yoga studio but also outside – maybe even on concrete?

 

I unrolled my new mat and noticed a little odor – not unlike a neoprene wetsuit and not unpleasant at all. It gets less noticeable the longer I use this mat.  I first used it inside on a carpet floor– noticing how thin it was and marveling at the colors from the wetsuits – it’s not just black!  The mat has excellent feel and great grip.  I feel completely stable in all my poses and it was a breeze on the knees.    But would it function on a harder surface?  For the test I went back to my roots and unfurled it on a concrete deck.  It was 40 degrees outside but amazingly; none of the cold came through the mat.  The mat had the same feel and grippiness as when used on carpet.  I dropped my knee down on the mat and came into a lunge pose – no problem, no feeling of hard concrete.  To make sure, I tried camel pose, placing one knee on the concrete and the other one on the mat – the mat definitely worked great and kept my knee on the mat pain free.

 

The SUGA mat will definitely work for me on the road!  I would have liked to report out on the thicker mat as well but I am sure it will perform great too.  Thanks to my new friends and Giancarlos at Consumersadvocate for putting me onto this mat.    If you are in the market for a new mat you should definitely check out their site at https://www.consumersadvocate.org/yoga-mats

 

 

 

 

 

 

AngelRide a lesson in Seva

 

angelride-siteicon

I have been busy lately getting ready for AngelRide  https://www.angelride.org  – an organization that raises funds to support the Arthur C. Luf Burns Camp.  This camp is  the ONLY one for children with serious burn injuries in United States. The Arthur C. Luf Children’s Burn Camp is a safe, natural outdoor environment for kids ages 8 to 18 from around the world who have survived life-altering burn injuries and the opportunity to make memories that will sustain and inspire them through difficult times ahead.   It provides important life changing experience that allows serious burn injured kids to be kids – all free of charge to them and their families.  Kids come from around the country and even the world to have a life changing summer experience.   A large group of firemen form the core of the camp volunteers. Others, even some of the former campers, become counselors to pass down their experiences and inspiration to the next generation.   http://ctburnsfoundation.org/arthur-c-luf-childrens-burn-camp/

burn camp

There is a lot of work as you can imagine in planning and putting on an event of this size and the number as well as the energy and passion of the volunteers is amazing- I am glad to be a small part of it.  I volunteered to run the ‘SAG’ or support and gear group.  Our job is to travel the route encouraging the riders, as well providing any support we can such as directions, drinks, snacks, or a lift if in need.

 

The burn camp is a beautiful setting and I counted myself lucky to be a part of this.  The burn camp volunteers and counselors are just amazing people who dedicate so much to this important cause.

 

The Friday before the ride, a 70-mile bike ride by the way, is filled with getting the camp ready, bringing supplies to all the rest stops, as well as many other activities. Looking out over the camp lake, I thought now this would be a perfect location for a quick yoga practice before the activities start!

lake

 

So Friday night, I set my alarm and looked forward to doing an early yoga practice.  Unfortunately, by the time I got to the lake with my mat, I was running late.   I had to start the day’s planning and make sure everything was ready.  I felt disappointed.  “Rats, I am missing out” I thought “what a bummer” Then, I thought about those kids that were coming this summer and the hardships they face each and every day – how could I be thinking about me! I was a bit embarrassed. This day was really all about them, as well as giving the riders the best experience that they can have during their long ride.

 

In Sanskrit, there is a term Seva that means the act of selfless service. Seva is composed of two words saha “with that” and eva, which means “too”.  Together it has a meaning of compassion for others and to uplift others together.

 

If there was any time for seva this was it – a time to serve and not think about myself.  I put away my yoga mat and threw all I had into the service of the day.  The funny thing I realized is that I wasn’t alone – all the others involved in AngelRide were also performing seva. The many other volunteers and participants were all in this together.  The more I supported and cheered the riders, the more I enjoyed the experience together with my fellow volunteers and riders. By each doing our individual seva we were making something greater for the community.

bike rider

 

The ride was a great success and we were all happy to help this worthy cause.  I did my yoga practice that night and found myself more centered, more at ease in body and mind.  The gifts of seva are given to both the ones we give service to as well as to the ones doing the serving.  What a yogic lesson in life!

 

Happy Spring! Lunge Pose

lunge

 

Crescent Lunge or Alanasana pose

Note:  A good rule for doing yoga poses is that if it hurts, don’t do it.  Also, check with your doctor before starting any activity.

 

Crescent lunge increases strength and flexibility, while stabilizing the front and back of the body.  This pose uses your chest muscles, arms, shoulders, stomach, back muscles and even more! It is a great pose to start a yoga practice with.

 

For your Crescent Lunge or Alanasana pose start in downward dog.  If this is too difficult, you can also start in table pose.  On an in breath, lift your left leg up and step forward with your foot ending up between your hands.  Your knee should be as close to 90 degrees as you can.  Adjust your front foot.  Drop your right knee to the floor.  Press the top of your back foot into the ground or press the balls of the foot into the ground with the ankle raised.   Stay here or raise your hand skywards.  Tighten your stomach inwards and upwards.  Reach with your arms but notice if your shoulders start to rise upwards.  If your shoulders do rise up, encourage them to resettle on your back.

Without moving your legs, squeeze them toward each other – the left foot pulling backwards and the right foot pulling forward on the mat.

Your back foot should also feel energetic with a pressing action coming from the balls of your back foot if it is pressing into the floor.   If it is not, try it by coming onto the balls of your back foot.  Bring your hands to your hips and slowly rise on your back leg until you are in an upright position.  Feel your hips and ensure both the left and right hips are even – without either being forward of the other.  Bring some sensation into your mid body by tightening your stomach in and upwards.  Now, lift your hands to the sky and align the inside of your arms with your ears. If you want, you can clasp both hands together leaving the pointer fingers reaching upwards.  Pay attention to the back thigh and ensure that it is not drooping downwards.  There is enough going on here if it seems too much, drop the back knee to the ground.  Hold only as long as it feels good, then repeat on the other side.

 

Try a crescent lunge and tell me how it feels to you!

 

Competence and Consciousness

Noel Burch developed a model called the four stages of consciousness  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Four_stages_of_competence.

This model is used to explain how we learn a new skill.  According to the model we learn new skills and pass through these stages.  (Note:  We can use the term skill or competence below)

Stage 1  Unconsciouness incompetence – we don’t know that we don’t have a skill or even that we need to learn it.

Stage 2   Conscious incompetence – we are aware that we don’t have a skill and are bad at it.
Stage 3  Conscious competence – we know that we have a skill
Stage 4  Unconscious competence – we have a skill and we can do it without thinking.

ladder

You might be able to relate to  this model by how you started developing your yoga or meditation practice.  We all start by not even knowing that we need to do yoga or meditation.  We may then realize that we should do it but cannot.  Perhaps we go to a yoga studio and  started our journey feeling pretty badly about our abilities!  We kept at it and then, at least for a few  poses or perhaps a few moments, seem to magically be able to ‘get’ a yoga pose, flow, or still the mind.

But, is there something beyond this? Is there something beyond just developing the ability to do yoga in your sleep?   If you are going through the motions, yes you are doing the poses, or sitting on the meditation cushion and  yes,  you are meditating  but you may not be doing it mindfully.  We need to bring a focus and attention to our practice and what we are doing even if the physical body becomes very good at it.

In our meditation we start just by sitting, then, over time, as we become more comfortable, the mind stills, we bring a focus –  perhaps to the breath.  We learn to stay with the breath and watch with single pointedness.  Perhaps, for just a moment, perhaps for many moments.  We stay alert, not drifting, dozing, or following one thought to another until the bell rings and our time is up.

So the next time you are on your yoga mat and find yourself going from one pose to another, see if you can focus your attention on the action.  Bring mindfulness into your practice – then bring it to the rest of your life and whatever you are doing.

In every pose, repose

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Bellur Krishnamachar Sundararaja Iyengar(14 December 1918 – 20 August 2014), was one of the best yoga teachers we have seen in this world.  He opened up the world of yoga to many and his influence is felt strongly across the yoga community.  I have recently been rereading Light on Life  and, thought I would share with you some of Mr. Iyengar’s advice – obtained over many years from an active practice and teaching.

Balance activity with passivity

Some poses seem to be more energetic than others.  Resting in chair pose seems to be a contradiction – but can we become more passive and settled even in our most active poses?   Is there somewhere in your body that you can relax into even in your more strenuous poses?  Are you efforting too hard in an attempt to power into a pose?  Perhaps you are missing some of the juicy lessons by going so hard.  It may serve you better to approach in a more softer manner.  Bring inquiry to each and every pose you do.  Allow your mind to focus not so much on the efforting but more on the relaxing feelings in other parts of the body when you do the pose.  You may surprise yourself and find relaxation even when you are really struggling.

Pacing your yoga practice

Some of us are Type A – always going at max speed.  We are on all the time.  I like this poster below.  But does this advice best serve us in every activity?  Where can we slow down and enjoy when we do our yoga practice?

 

coffee

 

Bring balance to your whole yoga practice

Bring some balance to your practice by mixing up active poses with the passive ones.  Don’t think of the passive poses as just giving you a time to rest and relaxation- really explore what they are teaching.  Bring a sense of focus to your body no matter what you are doing.

Extending to relax

Bridge the gap between bringing effort in a pose and brining a feeling of surrender into the pose.  To stretch little deeper, go to the place where you feel a good stretch, not to the point of pain, and stay in the pose.  It may take some effort to allow you to stay this way. Take a deep breath in, exhale outwards, relax, and try stretching just a little deeper.