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Yoga Journal Conference 2011

This past weekend I had the wonderful opportunity to attend the Yoga Journal Conference held in NYC.  Yoga Journal, considerably the most renowned yoga magazine in existence, hosts four conferences a year in locations across the United States.  I was among 2,000 yogis and yoginis, teachers, teachers-in-training, and students who attended this weekend’s conference.

The event drew an abundance of all the well-known names in yoga, including Shiva Rea, Rodney Yee, Dharma Mittra, Seane Corn, Rod Stryker, Cyndi Lee, and more.  Classes were held all day long (9-5) from a variety of schools of yoga, with sessions available for a wide-range of experience levels and learning goals.  There were meditation-geared classes, standing and balancing-focused classes, specific body part/muscle-oriented classes, continuing-education anatomy classes, taming the mind classes, music and yoga classes, even a chocolate + yoga class, and many more.  It was undoubtedly a yoga teacher’s dream, and also certainly a paradise for the consistent student/yoga lover.

I attended six different workshops during my stay.  I kicked it off with Rodney Yee, who has always been a favorite of mine because of his extraordinarily soothing, caring voice.  His ballet-toned body doesn’t hurt either in providing a little aesthetic inspiration.  Him and his wife, Colleen, instructed a Hips and Twists session, where they guided us into a class full of hip openers and spinal twists.  I was able to wake up in a large room full of excited people, practicing the wonderful art of yoga, with large chandeliers hanging above my head.  It couldn’t of been a better Saturday morning.

I then went to The Art of Adjusting instructed by Matthew Sanford where I received some much needed information about how I can tactfully adjust my students in certain poses.  One of the many takeaways:  Never use your fingers, only the palm and ball of the hand, to avoid uncomfortable situations with students.  I finished off the day with Shiva Rea in a Fire and Flow session.  This was very dynamic and one of my favorite classes of the conference.  All of the many students in the room were angled on their mats towards the center of the room, where live drummers stood setting rhythms throughout a majority of the class (along with a little Bob Marley thrown in there for good spirit).  We were given maraca-like eggs to shake as we moved through the poses in the class.

The next day I attended Dharma Mittra’s class.  The nearly 80-year old man is simply incredible, both in the way he can effortlessly float his body into every pose and how grounded he remains in the true spirit of yoga.  He taught a fun and vigorous class while reminding us of the virtues of nonviolence, in terms of mind, body, energy, and those around us.

I then went to Judith Laster’s class about the Sacroiliac Joint, an area where many suffer from pain.  She is simply an incredible anatomy teacher and opened my eyes to a lot of adjustments that can be made to certain poses.  I finished off the conference with Natasha Rizopoulos who taught a forward bending-based class, showing me techniques I can use to help my students work into these poses.

I also saw Michael Pollan speak about the role of food and the food movement, moderated by Yoga

Journal editor-in-chief Kaitlin Quistgaard.  He’s always very entertaining and informative of why we need to start voting with our fork.

Overall, the conference was an energizing and rewarding experience.  I feel incredibly refreshed and inspired to work this new guidance into my own practice and to continue teaching to my students all that I have to give. If you are serious about yoga, it’s definitely a conference worth attending.  Being surrounded by so many others enthused about the practice and all that it embodies is worth the experience alone.

*Also, don’t forget tomorrow’s the last day to enter the Healthy To Go giveaway!!

Yoga Journal Contest

Hey everyone. I entered a contest to get flown out to San Fran. to be the cover model of the September issue of Yoga Journal. There’s over 2,000 contestants, so I’m going to need all of your help! I’d love if you’d cast a vote for me!! You have from now until April 20th to vote once per day, as many times as you’d like. I love yoga. I love Yoga Journal mag. And I love San Francisco. I’d also love and appreciate your help! Peace and love.

The Philadelphia Area’s Best Yoga Teachers

Corina Benner, one of the areas recommended teachers from Wake Up Yoga

This is for all my Philadelphian readers.  And fellow yogis.  For part of Philadelphia Magazine’s Be Well website, I’ve put together a slideshow of some of the areas best yoga teachers.  Philly is filled with tons of magnificent studios and wonderful teachers as well.  If you’re living in the area or are planning a visit, check out the list to give you a head start in the right direction .

Natural Sleeping Aids

Tossing and turning, and tossing and turning, for what seems like over half the night until you finally fall asleep?  If this describes you, you’re certainly not the only one lying awake at night.

Insomnia, characterized by the inability to fall asleep or stay asleep soundly, affects as many as 55 million Americans.  According to federal statistics, 3 in 10 Americans experience occasional sleeplessness.  Being unable to fall asleep can stem from innumerable different factors, both mental and physical, such as fluctuating hormones, racing thoughts, and/or stress.  No matter the cause, anyone who has ever experienced insomnia knows just how frustrating it can be lying in bed for hours continuously pleading with your body to fall asleep.

To fight what can become an exasperating night-time occurrence, many Americans turn to sleeping pills.  In 2009, 42 million sleeping pill prescriptions were filled, equaling a 60% increase from the year 2000.  However, while sleeping pills may do the trick in putting you to sleep, they often don’t come without numerous negative side effects.  Many also prove to be highly addictive.  What’s worse, these pills fail to ever treat the underlying problems causing sleeplessness, so the minute a sleeping pill-user discontinues use, insomnia often returns.

Instead of resorting to pills that can cause equally frustrating results comparable to those perturbing sleepless nights, try these 5 natural sleeping-aid methods that work to calm and balance the body and bring on the ZzZz’s without the need of any pharmaceuticals.

1)  Roll Out a Routine: Maybe that bedtime your parents used to set for your wasn’t so bad after all.  Setting yourself a consistent time to hit the sack as well as a regular time to awaken helps to keep your body from becoming confused and keep its circadian rhythms in check.   Circadian rhythms are the human body’s 24 hour cycle of biological changes.  When your sleep schedule gets thrown off, such as those late nights when you keep yourself awake much later than usual, your circadian rhythms get thrown off as well.  By keeping a consistent sleep schedule, your circadian rhythms will cue your body when it’s time to go to sleep and when it’s time to wake up, resulting eventually in less time wasted tossing and turning as you remind your body it’s bedtime.

2)  Unplug: Shut the computer and turn off the TV at least one hour prior to sleeping.  A 2003 study published in the Journal of Applied Physiology found that staring at a bright monitor or playing video games before bed not only affects your ability to fall asleep, but may also affect the quality of those ZzZz’s you get once you actually do manage to get to sleep.  The light emitted from the electronic monitors lowers melatonin, a hormone associated with our sleep/wake cycle.  While morning light is beneficial in lowering melatonin and waking us up, it’s damaging when trying to cue the body to go to sleep at night.  Unplugging will also help to calm the mind before hopping in bed.  The TV and computer may slow down the body, but their stimulation can also speed up the mind.  This stimulation immediately prior to sleeping can result in racing thoughts that are hard to slow down once you hit the pillow.  Instead, try relaxing in candlelight with some calming music instead, or engage in one of the activities mentioned below.

3) Teatime Before Bedtime: Having a cup of tea before bed can warm and relax the body.  However, make sure to choose a tea that is free of caffeine (meaning no black, green, or even white tea).  Try sipping on a tea that contains chamomile, an herb that has long been used to calm the body.   One of my favorites:  Celestial’s Sleepytime tea.

4)  Yoga Your Way to Yawning: Engaging in a few gentle yoga poses prior to going to sleep is a great way to calm and slow down the body.  A study performed by Harvard found that those who did daily yoga for 8 weeks improved total sleep time.  Start with a few gentle poses, such as the seated forward bends, spinal twists, and the shoulder stand.  While in the pose, bring your focus to your breath and begin to deepen and lengthen the inhalation and exhalation.  This will help to settle both the mind and body.

5)  Mental Relaxation:  While lying wide awake in bed, instead of resorting to the toss and turn game you may play too often, try resisting the urge to shift around.  If you find yourself wired up or just unable to fall asleep, try doing a mental relaxation.  Lie on your back with your arms along your sides, palms facing up, and legs hip distance apart.  Starting at the base of your body, begin to bring your awareness to your feet, and relax each part of your feet.  Slowly draw this awareness and relaxation up the legs.  Really focus on relaxing each individual part, maybe observing a subtle tingling sensation as you do so.  Shift your awareness to your hands, relaxing each part of the hands, and then continuing the relaxation up the arms.  Shift your awareness to the torso and continue drawing the relaxation to the remaining parts of the body, relaxing each part of the front and back of the body, the head, and the face.  This process helps to focus and quiet the mind, while keeping the body still and relaxed.  If after 15 minutes or so you still can’t seem to let go of those racing thoughts or urges to move, hop out of bed and grab a journal.  Alleviate all your thoughts on paper, and then try the relaxation again.

What tricks do you use when you can’t fall asleep?

Krishna Das May 2010

This past weekend I made the wonderful journey to Yogaville (where I underwent my yoga teacher’s training program) to see Krishna Das.  This was my first time seeing Krishna Das, and I was without a doubt blown away.

If you’ve never heard of Krishna Das, well, he’s kind of a big deal in the yoga/chanting world.  After spending almost three years in India, under the guidance of his beloved teacher, Maharaj-ji, Krishna Das fully immersed himself in learning the chants of Kirtan.  Kirtan, which means “to repeat and chant the names of God” (God in terms of any religion, presence, universal life–atheism included), is a practice that is meant to help purify the heart.  Once Krishna Das returned to America, he decided to begin his path of sharing the blessed gift of Kirtan with others.  This path has led him to becoming a prominent name throughout the world.

The cool part about Krishna Das is that he’s certainly not your typical stereotyped spiritual leader, which lends himself to be relatable to almost all types of people.  He’s incredibly down-to-earth, throwing in tons of humor, wit, and even a few cuss words every now and then as he shares his experiences of India and life in general.  He doesn’t claim to be “right”, is always up for a good debate, and cherishes the fact that everyone’s perspectives are different.

Coming into the program, I honestly did not previously know much about Krishna Das.  Nor did I know a tremendous amount about chanting, and I certainly did not consider myself to have a naturally-talented singing voice, so I wasn’t initially sure what to expect of the Krishna Das program in which I had come to participate at Yogaville.  However, after the first song all my doubts were immediately washed away.

Krishna Das’s concerts are call-and-response styled performances, meaning he would sing two lines, and then the crowd would repeat those two lines together.  Imagine a room full of around 200 smiling faces all sharing the words and tune of the exact same song, singing in harmony with one another.  Such a vivid, powerful energy was created that seemed to burst throughout the room and was able to last for pretty much the entire weekend.

This naturally created energy in combination with Krishna Das’s strong, deep vocals, ringing through the room with such a remarkable power, had a crowd of all different faces, ages, and paths tapping their feet and clapping their hands.  Those who couldn’t keep this tremendous energy created bolted to a seat quickly flocked to the back of the room.  As the night went on, more and more dancers filled the back, eventually spilling out towards the center of the room.

Along with Krishna Das, who played the harmonium, was an incredibly talented violinist as well as a very skillful drummer.  There was also a bassist and percussionist who helped enhance the performance.  The blissful music of the violin with the energy of the drums and the rhythm of the base, all just worked so well in combination with Krishna Das’s warm, deep voice.

Whether you think singing/chanting/yoga is your thing or not, Krishna Das is undoubtedly an incredible performance worth seeing.  I heard more than a few audience members commenting on how they felt a natural high after the 2-hour Kirtan performances, and seeing so many uplifted, happy faces brimming with energy surround you, it’s almost impossible not to feel good yourself.

Below is a short video clip from the weekend.  It doesn’t even begin to capture the live experience of Krishna Das, but for those who are fully unfamiliar with Krishna Das, it’s a decent preview into what he does.