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This is written by guest blogger/yogini Bridget. Bridget is a super rad Yoga Loft yogi.  We share a love for handstands and all things arm balance.

handstand

When Cassi asked me to write a guest post on her blog, I asked her what it should be about.  Her response was, “It can be whatever you want. As long as it has something to do with yoga.”  Well, that’s open-ended!  I could write about how I love doing handstands and various other inversions, but I think the best place for me to start is how I actually found yoga, and how it’s helped me heal.

Almost three years ago, my father and grandmother passed away exactly one week apart from each other.  To say it was hard on me is a grotesque understatement.  At the time, I was working roughly 90 to 100 hours a week, at a huge company, where I typically felt like I made no difference.  It was a job, straight out of college, that paid my bills and allowed me to party with my friends on the weekend, but it was not fulfilling.  What I did not know at the time was that the worst week of my life would also be the best thing that’s happened to me during my 28 years.

I know; you’re thinking WHAT?! How can that possibly be the best thing that happened to you?  No, I am not happy my family members are not here.  However, every cloud has a silver lining, so doesn’t it make sense that the darkest clouds have the most brilliant silver of them all?  After they passed, I took about a month off of work, and watched the entire World Cup tournament on TV.  I did not work out, or call anyone back, or make any kind of effort to really live; I was existing.  When it was time to come back to Chicago, my roommate at the time flew one way from Chicago to Detroit, and rode in the car with me, so I wouldn’t have to be alone.  Over the next few months she gently suggested I see a therapist, and since I was constantly drowning in my own tears, I did.  It was helpful, but I didn’t feel like I was really healing; I was still breaking down crying when I would go for a run (in an effort to lose the 30 lbs I put on from doing nothing).  I had changed my job, too, but didn’t like the people I was working with.  They weren’t very accepting and didn’t understand me.  They didn’t know about my losses. 

The truth of the matter was I didn’t understand myself.  I asked myself often, how did I end up here?  How can I be happy again?  I felt like I was on the outside of my own life, looking in.  One morning, after yet another crying spell on the treadmill, I decided enough was enough, and I needed to try something different.  There was a 6:30 am Sunrise Yoga class about to start, so I jumped in.  I’d never done yoga before and I, like many people, thought it was guided stretching.  I’m so happy I was wrong.

That morning didn’t heal me, but it sparked something inside me.  I realized very quickly how weak I had become, and how strong these yogis are; I wanted to be strong again.  I started going to that class every Wednesday morning, and about a month later I started going every weekend too.  I found myself feeling more confident, and taking more responsibility for my own happiness.  One of my best friends asked if I wanted to go to a studio in River North for their 2 year anniversary.  I went with her, not sure what to expect from a real studio; I’d only practiced a couple of days a week at my gym.  That day I realized just how much I needed yoga.

The class was packed, and hot, but everyone was accepting, and willing to make space for someone else to put down their mat.  I realized I needed to accept myself exactly as I was; broken, self-conscious but willing to try to put my life back together.  I was hooked, and I started going to classes 4 to 6 days a week.  I didn’t realize I was changing until after it happened.  I noticed I felt strong again; not just physically strong, emotionally and mentally, as well.  I was happy and content to be alone (something that used to terrify me).  Yoga offered me a warm, open, unbiased space to focus on myself, without judgment, and I loved it.  Through yoga, I’ve learned the importance of making yourself happy first, and that you’re responsible for your own happiness. If you’re not happy, change your perspective.  Yoga literally offered me the ability to change my perspective.  Maybe that’s why I love inversions so much.

I am a firm believer that everything happens for a reason.  If I hadn’t lost my family members that week, I would not have needed yoga, and probably wouldn’t have found it.  I can’t remember ever being as happy with myself as I am now, and I have my dad and grandmother to thank for that – what an amazing gift!  Although they are never really gone, maybe I needed them to physically leave, so I could make space for something more in my life.

This is written by guest blogger Kendra Staley.  Kendra and I met while both teaching yoga at Orange Sky and working at Kansas State University.  We shared a lot of early morning carpool rides to class where our friendship blossomed beyond yoga.

kendra!!!

The Joy of Not Teaching Yoga

Now, don’t get me wrong. I really like teaching yoga. I enjoy constructing different classes to meet different student needs. How will this sequence address different parts of the body? How can I provide modifications so that all students can receive the same benefits, even if they are adapting poses due to injury, age, pregnancy, etc? How can I weave in elements of yogic philosophy or spirituality without sounding like some far-out hippy girl (which I basically am) and thereby alienating my down-to-earth, church-going, Kansan yoga students? I would love to talk about chakras, the third eye, and energy lines all while chanting ‘Om’ but fear that most Americans just want to get their physical, not their spiritual, work-out on.

Or, when teaching in other countries, do I make any sense teaching yoga in a foreign language? Are the students looking at me strangely because my language skills and explanation are so confusing, or is it just because I’m white and therefore already bizarre enough? Here’s a prime example of linguistic and cultural confusion, all while trying to teach asana: I taught English for two years in Indonesia, a predominantly Muslim country in Southeast Asia. My second year there I taught one yoga class per week at the nicest gym in town, whose membership consisted largely of ethnic Chinese-Indonesians, the majority of whom are Christian. Still, the country is influenced by Islam, much as Christian beliefs, holidays, and morals permeate American society. An example of this is that many Muslims, such as Indonesians, believe dogs to be unclean. Even though I knew this, when teaching downward facing dog during Sun Salutations, I used the Indonesian word for dog ‘anjing’. As dogs are considered unclean, calling someone or something ‘anjing’ could be an insult. Later, after talking to a friend whose Indonesian was better than mine, I better understood my students’ laughter in class.

But, all of that mental discussion aside, as many yoga teachers will agree, being a yoga student has a special pleasure when you yourself teach yoga. When I was able to attend yoga classes regularly, while simultaneously teaching my own classes, it was a relief to stop thinking during a yoga class, to remember why I liked doing yoga in the first place. Namely, it feels good and results in me being a much nicer, calmer, reasonable person. Unfortunately, being a yoga teacher and a yoga student at the same time can cause some complications. It’s hard to turn off teacher-mode when taking a class. This can result in making mental notes about sequences that you’d like to include in your own classes, turning a yoga class into a type of observation. For example, a teacher could link a sequence of poses together in a way you hadn’t thought of, or perhaps focus the class on a theme that resonated with you. Or, if the teacher read a religious or thought-provoking quote, from a yogic text or other spiritual source, you might connect well with the underlying meaning of the class, quite apart from any physical benefits received.

While this can be a great way to get new ideas, it can also be frustrating. Part of the appeal of yoga is the focus on the breath and the movement to quiet my ever-active mind. The very nature of asanas in yoga requires a break from the constant (and not always particularly self-loving) voice inside my own head. Not being able to create that distance between always partly being a teacher, even while being a student, can take away some of the very purpose of doing yoga. And, it also makes me grumpy! Analysis and awareness of oneself and surroundings is positive; constant analysis is not. The whole goal of asanas is to quiet the mind and prepare the body to sit and mediate, in order to connect with a Divine Power. An ever-analytic mind gets in the way of this.

When I decided to move to Colombia (South America) to teach English, this meant that I would not be teaching yoga, for a time at least. As mentioned earlier, the first year that I lived in Indonesia, I didn’t teach yoga and welcomed the chance to do so my second year there. My final semester teaching English full-time in Kansas also included teaching 8 hours of yoga classes per week. I was one busy yogini and, frankly, was looking forward to a break from teaching yoga. While I learned a lot about teaching yoga, taking on extra yoga classes that semester meant that my own practice had dwindled from at least four classes a week to two, if I was lucky. (One of the fastest ways to produce an unhappy yoga teacher is one who isn’t able to consistently do their own practice.)

One of the first classes I was able to take as simply a student was Cassi’s in Chicago, at Tula Yoga Studio. It was so refreshing to only concentrate on my own practice, my own breath and movement. I was reminded of how much I love to do yoga. Here in Colombia, I practice regularly at www.yogaglo.com/ and am constantly reminded of what a gift yoga can be. I always, always, feel better after doing yoga. The postures release tension from hunched shoulders due to computer time preparing lessons and grading as well as release tight hips and swollen feet from too much time sitting at a computer or too much time standing in front of the class. Mentally yoga calms and quiets the irrational, unreasonable reactions that happen when physical and mental fatigue occur. And, lastly (truly, most importantly) if a yoga class is really, honestly centered around more than just a work-out, a peacefulness and contentment happens in meditation, akin to the feeling some people have when praying or worshipping. Sometimes the best classes are the ones I really don’t want to take; the days when I force myself to get out my mat are the days that I need it the most.

kendra

After living in Colombia for 9 months, I’ve begun to want to teach yoga again. I miss interacting with people on a physical/spiritual level and seeing students find their own practice. That being said, sometimes not teaching yoga is the best thing for a yoga teacher (not) to do!

Kendra Staley has yoga-ed, lived, and traveled throughout 27 countries, on four continents. She’s studied yoga, mainly Hatha and Vinyasa, for 10 years and taught it on and off for 5. Check out her rather outdated yoga blog. If you’re interested in Intercultural Communications, check out her class blog.

kendra!

gmacute

The ole’ girl has been with me for 75 years, setting the beat of my life and she decided to change her beat (this heart condition is called ‘atrial fibrillation’)  around mid February this year.  The cardiologist decided it was time to try to shock my heart back into what the medical profession calls, ‘sinus rhythm.’  It was supposed to be a simple outpatient procedure that landed me in the hospital for 10 days.  My massage therapist, who should get paid for psychiatry therapy for being a great listener said,

“Your grand-daughter Cassi is into yoga, right?  You should ask her about correcting your heart rhythm with yoga”.

As soon as I asked Cassi she emailed me several articles with all kinds of information about yoga and the heart.  Although I’ve attended yoga classes for the last 12 to 13 years and worked on poses that keep my ole’ body flexible and hurting less (cat/cow is a fave) the information in these articles has renewed my interest and dedication.

I have one question and one piece of advice.  The advice is: take good care of and speak nicely to your heart.  My massage therapist reminded me to do this one day when I was bad-mouthing my heart,

“It’s the only one you have and your heart has done well for you through the years”.  It seems even body parts work better with encouragement and love.”

The question is, do you believe in type-casting? I ask Cassi what yoga poses she thinks I should work on and her answer is always,

“Keep working on crow pose!”

Then I watch a PBS documentary about how intelligent crows are and this inspires me some.  Granted it’s a big jump, but, maybe Cassi thinks her grandma is a wise old bird and that’s why she recommends crow pose.  I’m going to focus on that thought and also on using yoga to encourage my ole’ sweet heart to beat in her normal rhythm.  Or maybe I’ll focus on accepting my heart’s new beat and continue to march right along.

gmaandme

This is written by guest blogger/Tula yogini Becca Wise.  Becca recently finished the Tula Yoga 30 day challenge where she did 30 days of yoga…in a row.  Becca is amazing and bad-ass in a lot of ways (I’ve also heard her described as ‘sunshine’) but this is especially inspiring, here is her story.

becca!!

 

A Lesson in Perfection

Life, by nature, is challenging enough.  Once we button up one problem, another is sure to replace it fairly quickly.  Or sometimes, just as we’re feeling so completely overloaded, another bomb drops and we’re forced into a deep dark place we never even thought existed.  I guess I feel pretty fortunate that striving for balance is a main priority in my life.  And this balance comes in the form of yoga, lots and lots of yoga.  So when I was presented with a challenge to attend one yoga class each day for 30 days at Tula Yoga Studio in Logan Square, I thought, “Sure, why not?”  The reward offered by the studio for completing this challenge was a waived monthly membership fee, but I should’ve known that the lessons would reach far beyond this monetary incentive.  The takeaway helped me better understand the concepts of the spiritual practice, including translating the equanimity I take with me after class and back into the real world, which isn’t always filled with sunshine and rainbows, especially during the brutality of winter in the Windy City…

The best part of the challenge was that each and every day, no matter how strong or absent-minded I felt during class, I felt good simply knowing that I was working toward a goal and that I hadn’t given up.  Even when my mind would wander, exacerbating feelings of negativity, blame and guilt, I still had my practice-one thing to feel good about each and every day. The strength of mind and character that I built during the challenge carried over into my real day-to-day life, offering me courage, insight and wisdom.  I was able to challenge myself to say the hard things, to speak up and be heard.  I also began to feel steady progress physically as well.  All of a sudden, I could touch my head to the floor in a wide-legged forward fold and even push my legs up into a headstand!  The more challenging my personal life got throughout the 30 days, the more I went into my breath during practice, keeping my eyes closed through most of the poses and feeling that I was really “getting” what this whole yoga thing was all about.

It shouldn’t have surprised me that my life would continue to balance itself throughout the 30 days.  All of the warmth and positive energy I created inside the studio was counter-balanced by the difficulties presented outside the studio.   There was no reserve of serenity, my life off the mat had literally soaked up every last drop of yoga bliss, pulling me off-center and taking me to a dark, unfamiliar place.   At the time, I felt like my commitment to the 30-day challenge was almost all I had…my only chance to feel good each day.  And I learned that no matter how much yoga I do, nothing will ever be the exact way I want it.  I remain who I am: perfectly imperfect.  The more I struggle for perfection; the more my life pulls me back into reality, wakes me from the unrealistic notion that I can do it all seamlessly, if only I practice yoga each and every day.

Now, after the dust has settled and I am back in a balanced place, I see the effects of my sustained effort much more clearly.  It was a life lesson.  A deep yoga practice doesn’t prevent us from the natural ebbs and flows of life.  Couples have challenges.  Work can be intense.  The magic of yoga lies in the fresh, clear perspective it offers.  If we can learn to accept challenges in our lives and look at them as opportunities, we start to gain wisdom.  And when we truly understand that the one thing for sure in life is change, we’re golden.  Until the next challenge, that is…then we start fresh and learn it all over again.

I have been asking my mom and grandma lots of questions about their pregnancies and births since I’ve started studying for my prenatal/postnatal yoga teacher training and since I’ve started teaching ‘Baby and Me’ yoga classes. My grandma typed out her journal that she kept when my mother was pregnant with me and during my first  years of life. She included a bunch of photos I’d never seen. Here are the highlights from my grandma’s journal:

pregnantmama!

(My mama right before she had me)

 April 21 1986 at 3:00 AM

The phone rang.  It was your mom.  Breathlessly she said,

“Mom we’re doin’ it – wait I’m having another pain.”

The nurses were just ready to take your mom into the labor room so the doctor could help deliver you.  The nurses told your mom it was too late to call but she did it anyway.  Your mom is like that.  I talked to your dad too.  He sounded very excited and pleased.  He said it was like helping one of the old cows deliver.  He was teasing your mom of course.  Then, at 6:15 AM on April 21, l986 they called to say you had arrived all safe and sound.

momanddad

(This is right after we got home from the hospital–I still wear the shirt my mom is wearing in this photo all the time.)

April 1986

So I finally got to hold you. You sneezed a big sneeze on me the first time I picked you up, but I didn’t care. Couldn’t think of anyone I’d rather have sneeze on me.  Today your mom and I took you in to be checked for jaundice again.

July 19, 1986

We haven’t visited for a while because grandpa and I have been in New Jersey where grandpa is going to school. He has worked and studied very hard. I’ve helped and had a good time but I’ve missed you too. Every time I talk to your mom you’re doing something new and I’m afraid I’m missing so much. Today when I called your house you talked to me and I could hear you talking and giggling in the background.

gma

(Me and my grandma)

November 12, 1986

Dear Cassi,

Haven’t written for a long while.  I’ve had good intentions and have often written in my head but that doesn’t help.  This is the day after Thanksgiving 1986 and something happened last week that made me resolve to really write down what I want to say to you.  A lady about my age was killed in an auto accident.  She has 4 granddaughters who are too young to know her very well and know how special they are to her.  Now she can’t tell them unless she’s written to them like I intend to do to you.

firstcobra

(My first cobra pose)

April 3, 1987                                

Oh my, it has been so long since I’ve written.  At least a long while since I’ve put anything down in the book.  I often think about you and talk to you in my thoughts and think “ grandma you must put that in your book for Cassi”. Right now you’re here with grandpa and grandma.  You’re playing with your toys.  I’m sitting on the steps and you’re climbing.  Your mom said she wanted you to have experience with the steps so you are getting experience. You’ve mastered going up.  That took about two seconds.

oneyearold

(Me mastering steps)

July 1, 1987

There is a sample of hair in my journal, a beautiful golden blond.  You are 14 months old.  You’re here visiting your grandpa and grandma now.  We met you and your mom at the park just west of Stafford yesterday.  Mom and dad were going on a trip but something happened and they didn’t get to go.  Your mom could hardly let us have you.  She called last night too to check and see if you were ok.  This morning grandpa cut your hair.  I saved it.  You have such pretty hair. Just like your dad’s.  Oh yes, you liked grandpa last night and he was so excited.

funny

(Still make that face)

Andrew Wicklander is a guest blogger and the creator of Tula Software and married to Maile, the owner of Tula Yoga Studio.

andrew

No One May Lay Claim On You

As the internet turns all of us into artists, freelancers, and entrepreneurs, it also turns us into creators of ‘things’ that allow us to live the lives we want, in a way that makes us happy, and most importantly, in a way that allows us to be independent and self sufficient.

My ‘thing’ may be different than your ‘thing’ of course, but none the less we now all have access to the tools that allow us to inspire, educate, build, etc., etc., etc.

Yet as more and more of us tweak and remix the things we’ve learned from others, it’s easy to worry about whether we’re making something that’s the result of our own genius, or whether it belongs to or was inspired by something else.

I think about this constantly.

I’m inspired by other web designers. I see useful things all around me and I think about how I might be able to leverage them and make our own products better.

But it’s important to understand that just about everything is a remix. Every creation is built atop something that was made by someone else.

The temptation to question our own genius is not one of respect for those who have inspired us. It’s the disguise that our fear arrives in.

Because the scariest thing in the world is that maybe you actually are as awesome as you know you can be. If you do make that ‘thing’, maybe it will change your life. Maybe people will start coming to you for answers.

Our creative efforts are the sum of ALL of our experiences. And as individuals only we are able to create the ‘things’ that we’re creating.

People may inspire us. And you may give yourself freely to another. But you and your creations are all yours – in all of your awesomeness.

No one else may lay claim on you.

This is written by guest blogger/yogini Sammie Swan. Sammie works at Chicago School of Yoga and is taking Annie Carpenter’s teacher training this summer in LA.  She is a sweet and positive yogini and I know she will be an amazing yoga teacher.

sammie

Two and half years ago, I walked into a yoga class on accident thinking it was just a regular group fitness class at my gym. To say the least, it was one of the best things that had ever happened to me. Leaving my first yoga class, I felt refreshed, calm, and couldn’t stop smiling! I was hooked and would soon find out that yoga would lead me on a lifelong journey. I know that people have many different reasons for getting on their mat. I find myself asking: Why do we all practice? I do have to say that lately, my reasons are because in yoga, there is unlimited growth. You can dig deeper and explore! It’s a time for possibility and play. The practice of yoga has changed my life to say the least. Through yoga, I have found appreciation for the world and people around me. I have found a love for myself and for the environment. It’s amazing to me that every class I go to I learn something new whether it be through a pose or through an intention… and that is why I have great love for yoga! It is through us, Yogis, that peace and love can be spread…kind of like a yoga epidemic. After all, the practice of yoga can be both on and off the mat!