Tag Archives: Vinyasa

Yoga Snob or Yoga Hobbit?

It has been quite a long time since I’ve blogged.  I’ve written novels in my head but actually having the time to sit down and write it is the problem.  However,  recently I had a student ask me about my own personal practice and in my response I came to the realization that I might be a yoga snob!  Holy crap!  Am I an uppity yogi?   It hit me like a ton of bricks because I’ve always considered myself part of the yoga community.  So the mere thought of myself being a snob is pretty disturbing.  After I got home and was able to really sit with my thoughts I asked myself a few questions to maybe make sense of my new found title.

Was being a snob really all that bad?  What is a snob?  Or maybe I wasn’t a snob at all,  maybe titles are the snobs.  So first things first: What is a snob?

Snob:  A snob is a person who believes a correspondence between status and human worth.  The term also refers to a person who believes that some people are inherently inferior to him or her for any one of a variety of reasons, including real or supposed intellect, wealth,   education, ancestry,  power,  physical strength,  class,  taste,  beauty, nationality, fame, extreme success of a family member or friend, etc.   Often this form of snobbery reflects the snob’s personal attributes.

On no! I am not a snob by the means of Wikipedia for sure.  Not even close to who I am.  So, I’ve cleared that matter, but there is still a problem: I have some issues with the practice of my asanas.  And by no means do I ever what to consider myself better than anyone, so the search continued until I started to ask deeper questions.

The real matter is I’ve become a hobbit in my actual asana practice.  In other words, I’m not going out there anymore and practicing with different teachers in different local studios.  So when students ask about advice on studio practices I’m a bit stuck.

So why have I become a hobbit?  Recently in the last few months my teaching schedule has doubled.  In addition to teaching 10-15 classes a week I’m also recording 2 classes a week on my phone, editing, recording audio and publishing videos for virtual clients.  I’m still being a mom to two busy little girls, a wife to my husband of 10 years and trying to maintain some sort of ‘self’.

I use to love to drop in to local studios and just be a student.  Now I only get that freedom when I’m away traveling or at trainings or on those very rare mornings when I can pull myself away from life to visit my favorite Ashtanga studio here in Durham.

So with all of this in mind,  I’ve put together a few ways to help you not to become a Yoga Hobbit.  For while it’s great to have a home practice (and I’m always preaching to my students about being able to practice at home on your own), it is also important that we do visit studios.  Particularly for the community aspect of it for this is usually where we adults meet friends.  Not only that but it supports local small businesses and it keeps you from becoming a Yoga Hobbit.

  1. Once a month visit a studio you’ve never been to.

This is by far the easiest way to try something new.  Studios pop up every week, so there shouldn’t be a shortage of places to try.  I find using the Mindbody app is a great way to find studios close to you that maybe you didn’t know they were there. Read reviews or maybe just go blindly into a new space with an open heart and unroll your mat to new experiences.

  1. Practice a style that’s different from your preferred style.

We all get caught up in what we like verses trying something we are not sure of but yoga is about union and growth.  We can’t grow if we stay in the same space.  I practiced Vinyasa Flow for almost 6 years before I ever tried Ashtanga, and I was horrible at it, so bad that I didn’t even think of returning to that style until 3 years later.  Yet after coming back with an open mind and a lot less ego I found it was humbling and quite refreshing to know I could learn more, and my glass needed a refill.

I’ve tried just about every style out there and some I like, some I’d never do again but I tried them and that’s the beauty of the practice.  So go try something new.  There are lots of teachers practicing a whole variety of different styles on Muuyu – so you could start there!

  1. Find a Yoga partner to keep your practice fresh.

It is so hard to find a friend, and even harder to keep that friend.  However if you’re one of the lucky ones who have a friend and they share your passion of unrolling the mat make them your practice partner.  You both will hold each other accountable and bring new ideas to one another.  Having someone next to you allows for energy to bounce and creates a universal pull of magic – and who doesn’t need a little magic in their lives?  So find that partner, and get to sharing the magic.

  1. Change your home practice location.

If you’re one of the lucky ones you have a studio of your own and you can change your space accordingly.  However some of us just have a corner or maybe even just the kitchen floor.  But don’t let that stop you from freshening up that space.  Change the plants in your practice space.  Use new scents and oils with the change of the seasons or your moods.  If you can’t revive your actual space, try a new location all together.  Go outside and practice in your backyard.  Try the park, that fishing pier, the local walking trail,  maybe even the hallway while you wait for your kids dance class to end.  Just don’t be afraid to practice anywhere.

Look, life is a major juggling act and sometimes we get so busy we forget that there is a vast world outside of our own little universe.  I lost myself in my own world and I forgot that I too need to try new things even when I was sure that I didn’t have enough time to do so. We’ve all seen that little hobbit that locks himself in his cave, and could care less about the changes that are happening outside that rock.  However one day that rock is going to crumble and that little lonely hobbit is going to have to change, or become stuck right there. So start the change now.  Try something new so you’re not that Yoga Snob or a Yoga Hobbit.

briana_pranamYoga teacher and practitioner Briana Young Roane has over 350 hours teacher training and workshop experience. She started her teaching career in 2005 and since then has owned and run two different studios.  Born in Inglewood, California, and now living and working on the East Coast, Briana brings her sunny CA disposition to each and every class that she teaches whether private or group.  You can find more information about Briana and the classes she teaches on Muuyu here or continue to follow her on her own yoga blog.

 

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Angela’s Yoga Lab: Yoga for All Seasons – Fighting Winter Depression

I am a native Australian.  I was born in Sydney and spent the first 22 years of my life there.

Moving to Berlin in the height of winter I experienced for the first time a physical and emotional coldness as well as a darkness I had never known was possible.  The coldest it gets in winter in Sydney is around 5 degrees (usually overnight or early hours of the morning). And even in winter it would be light outside until at least 7pm in the evening.   Before moving to Berlin I had never seen or touched snow!

Berlin winters can sometimes drop to -20.  It can snow and it is pitch black by 4pm.  It can be harsh.  In fact, it is not uncommon to wake in darkness and to come home in darkness.

Like a bird flying south,  the past few winters I have flown to warmer countries or back home to ‘escape the winter’.  However, this year we will be staying in Berlin and so I have a plan to get me through and to fight fatigue and winter depression through yoga practice and specifically inversions.   (I’ve talked in greater detail about inversions here if you would like to read more).

Research on the use of yoga for depression, which was published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, included studies with a total of 3,515 participants.  Findings highlighted that just 30 minutes daily meditation can improve the symptoms of depression, anxiety and pain.  Furthermore, when the researchers compared the magnitude of the gains with those taking medications the effectiveness was similar but with no side effect.

A Swedish study published in The British Journal of Psychiatry and which was built on previous research from 47 clinical trials, also discovered that group mindfulness training proved as effective as the established psychological treatment for depression, cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT).

As mindfulness and the meditative state can be a vital part of yoga practice it stands to reason that incorporating yoga into your routine can thus have a therapeutic effectiveness in beating back the blues.

Yoga asana builds confidence and strength in the physical body and helps to calm the mind.  By balancing the hormonal endocrine system, strengthening the balance between our para-sympathetic nervous system and sympathetic nervous system,  asana practice maximizes our opportunity to allow the body to function at optimum by producing the right hormones to keep us balanced and feeling in control.

I believe the yoga mat is a monitored environment to work under the controlled stresses that we apply in varying degrees to body and mind,  an environment where we can develop effective coping mechanisms.  When I am feeling unbalanced or depressed yoga has become a useful go-to-tool for moving through it.

During winter time when we have less exposure to Vitamin D (i.e. less hours in sunlight) and have less opportunities to exercise due to extreme coldness and darkness yoga asana takes on even greater importance.

Here are some instant mood and depression boosters:

  • Yogic Breathwork

Yogic breathing clears and maintains healthy internal organs. Pranayama such as Agni Sara connects the mind to the core of the body, actively pumps fresh blood around the body and creates internal Agni (fire) that heats us from the inside out.

  • Flowing Asana Practice ( such as Vinyasa or Ashtanga)

This type of practice keeps the joints supple and lubricated, which is great for when coldness causes crunchiness and stiffness.  Asana where we sweat detoxes us and flushes our system.  This works to boost our immune system which is also essential at this time of year when we are more susceptible to colds and flu.

  • Inversions

Going upside down is a great way to chase depression from cell tissue as it offers an instant mood-shifter and energy boost.  The key in mastering this is to take baby steps to build your core and upper body strength. This journey itself can be deeply healing and gratifying – seeing something build and build to the point where you exceed your preconceived limits of what you thought or imagined was possible on a physical and mental level.

Entry level / Intermediate Inversion Practice

  • Downward Facing DogAdho mukha śvānāsana

After some time and when ready to up-level you can move downward dog onto the wall.  Press your feet into the wall with legs at a 90 degree angle.  Hold here for up to 10 breaths, come down and pause in child’s pose, then move up again for a round of 10 breaths, building up stamina and confidence.  Explore transitions with one leg straightened, and then the other.

  • Dolphin

This asana is ideal for those with tweaky wrists or sensitive people who also cannot do downward facing dog.

Again, after some time when you’re feeling more confident, you can move dolphin on to the wall. Keep legs at 90 degrees to the wall, straightened if possible, bent legs if new to the pose)

Intermediate/ Advanced Inversion Practice

All of the asana listed below can be built up to variations such as straddle, lotus or baddha konasana:

  • Headstand – Shirshasana
  • Handstand – Vrikshasana
  • Forearm Balance – Pincha mayurasana

Do remember that when trying for the first time, only attempt the mentioned asana under the guidance of an advanced teacher, and be sure that you do not have any contraindications to inverting the body or going upside before attempting them.

If you would like any further advice or guidance with anything mentioned in the post also feel free to contact me here.

Yoga Teacher; Forrest Yoga; Asanas; Vinyasa; Muuyu;

Australian-born Angela Collins is a yoga teacher based in Berlin.  RYS Certified, trained in Vinyasa Flow Yoga, and a graduate of Advanced Teacher Training in Forrest Yoga,  Angela is committed to nourishing  mind and body both off and on the mat.   She has had the privilege of teaching Yoga across the globe in Australia, Thailand, Germany, UK, France and with people of all differing ages, nationalities, and needs.  Having trained alongside Mark Stephens, Kathryn Budig, Kino McGregor and Ana. T Forrest, Angela now teaches a number of different Yoga disciplines including Pregnancy Yoga, Yoga for Addicts, Yoga for Athletes, and child Yoga.

Connect with her here on Muuyu.com or on her own website  www.endorphinyoga.eu as well as on Twitter.

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United Nations Declares 21 June as ‘International Day of Yoga’

The United Nations have adopted the India-led resolution to declare 21 June International Day of Yoga.   India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who appointed a Minister for Ayurveda, Yoga and Naturopathy,  Unani,  Siddha and Homoeopathy (AYUSH) last month,  also used his September address to the United General assembly to promote the practice and to create a global day of yoga (we wrote about it on the Muuyu blog here).

Obviously his words created a huge impact for the resolution, which was introduced by India’s ambassador to UN Asoke Mukerji, also had 175 nations joining as co-sponsors,  the highest number ever for any general assembly resolution.

Additionally, what makes the adoption of this proposal even more unique and shows just how influential yoga has become, is the fact that this was the first time such an initiative has been proposed and implemented by any country in the UN body in less than 90 days. Now, that’s pretty impressive!

Siobhan01

Siobhan is the Head of Communication and Content with Muuyu and a co-founder of the company.  Born in Ireland she has close to 20 years’ experience working in the areas of PR, communication and journalism.  She is also the editor of the Muuyu blog.  Siobhan has been practicing yoga on and off for most of her adult life.  However it was while doing a post-natal yoga class when pregnant that she really began to connect with her practice and she has been a regular practitioner ever since.

Connect with Siobhan here.

How Your Words Can Prevent Injury

When you take a yoga teacher training, a lot of concepts are thrown your way in a short period of time.  You may even start dreaming in Sanskrit. The experience is intense and by the time it is over, you may feel the same way first-time parents do when they take their child home from the hospital. It is the whole, “What the F$%# am I doing?”

You remind people to breathe deeply on a regular basis, so the first step is to take a deep breath for yourself.  Remember to put on your oxygen mask first before anyone else’s.  Then, when you have a class in front of you, it is about them.  As you teach, the words you use can be as important as the sequence you prepare.  Here are six phrases to make part of your repertoire:

 

  • Use your breath. You may start to feel like a broken record. “Move with your breath.” “Use your breath as a guide.” Or sometimes: “Just breathe.” You can never say it too much. Students have the tendency to hold their breath when they are holding a pose.  The quality of the breath will help to enhance the quality of the yoga practice.  Also, if they are listening to their deepest inner teacher, they will notice if a pose affects their breath.  Make sure that they know that if there is an abrupt breathing change that they must listen.  It may be their body’s signal to get out.
  • Everything you do in yoga is a pose.  Make sure the students keep their transitions slow and mindful.  Otherwise, students may have a tendency to snap out of the pose as soon as you cue the second side.  The body is likely already in an unnatural position and a quick exit can be the quickest route to injury or exacerbating a pre-existing condition.
  • Do less. When we get into a shape, many students try to take it to its full extension right off of the bat.  Make sure that they aren’t overzealous and that they are giving the body time.  Yoga is a way to rush less and be more.  Even so, many people are using the yoga mat as a microcosm for the rest of their lives by rushing the process.  By doing less, they will be very clear of their ‘edge.’  The edge is not the edge before they fall off a cliff.  It is the edge of bliss.
  • Start with bent knees.  It is the lucky few who can forward fold with a long straight spine and straight legs.  Most students have tight hamstrings, tight shoulders or a tight spine and will have to round to get closer to the floor.  Rounding causes the spine to bend in the opposite way that it is supposed to and may leave the student achy (not what you’re looking for).  In Uttanasana or Paschimottanasana  you can cue bent knees for everyone to start.  After five breaths, you can invite them to move further if you see that your class is more flexible or advanced.  Nine times out of ten that will not be the case.
  • Move within the space of the joint.  Yoga is about becoming more spacious and flexibility is determined by the amount of movement available at the joint.  We can access our students’ hamstrings by getting them to note their knees and hips.  This is also why it is important to know if your students are nursing any particular injuries.
  • Start from the ground up.  Alignment helps your students to find their energetic anatomy, but also to stay safe.  So many time, poses may look off kilter or unsafe by something as simple as the fact that the feet were turned out.  Start there and have your students build a solid relationship with the ground.

Your students come to yoga to get out of their own heads.  This can be a good thing and a bad thing.  You want to be sure that they aren’t listening to your words more than they are their own bodies.  As a teacher, it is your job to help them to find their inner teacher. Accessing this benevolent voice can help to keep their injuries to a minimum.

CourtneySunday

Courtney Sunday is a freelance writer and RYT500 who teaches globally.  She runs small and affordable Yoga Alliance teacher-training programs set on developing conscious and well-versed teachers.  It is her belief that every teacher has a specific light and a specific gift to give the yoga world.  Contact her at www.courtneysunday.com if you are interested or if you would like to practice with Courtney through muuyu.

First Ever British Yoga Festival

The first ever British Yoga Festival, organized by UK’s best-selling YOGA Magazine, runs next weekend (Friday 5th until Sunday 7th December) at the Business Design Centre in Islington, London.

The Festival, which is expecting a turn-out of approximately 15,000 people from London, the UK and around the world, will showcase a host of yoga workshops, classes and demonstrations.  The line-up includes everything from Acro to Ashtanga with some Fierce Grace, Full Moon Flow and Yoga Rave  stirred in for those who like their yoga a little on the weird and wonderful side.

The impressively starry line-up of teachers includes Claire Missingham, Howard Napper, David Sye, Sonia DoubellRachel Okimo, Vena Ramphal, Dirish Shaktidas and Radhanath Swami.

YOGA Magazine and Festival organizers told Muuyu, “”When we launched in 2003 YOGA Magazine was the first dedicated UK monthly magazine to promote the benefits of a yogic lifestyle.  Now, after building up a solid reader base over the last 11 years, we felt that this was the right time to host our first ever British Yoga Festival due to the increasing appeal of yoga, and industry and reader demand for a yoga show to offer something different.”

With that in mind attendees can also look forward to a vast range of stalls and an array of activities including Ayruveda, diet and nutrition, green living and meditation and a full children’s programme.

To mark their first ever festival, YOGA Magazine will also be aiming to set a new world record for the UK’s largest indoor yoga class. This will take place on Saturday 6th December at 1.30pm and organizers are hoping for over 2,000 people to join in.

So if you’re in London next weekend, grab your mat and make your way to Islington.   To keep the industry thriving it’s important to support new and ambitious events such as the British Yoga Festival. And chances are you’ll  have fun, meet other like-minded folk and find a great class or workshop to do that you wouldn’t have had a chance to find otherwise!

For further information look here.

Siobhan01

Siobhan is the Head of Communication and Content with Muuyu and a co-founder of the company.  Born in Ireland she has close to 20 years’ experience working in the areas of PR, communication and journalism.  She is also the editor of the Muuyu blog.  Siobhan has been practicing yoga on and off for most of her adult life.  However it was while doing a post-natal yoga class when pregnant that she really began to connect with her practice and she has been a regular practitioner ever since.

Connect with Siobhan here.

 

Asana Investigation: Focus Backbends

Angela’s Yoga Lab: Exploration on the Mat

In my classes of late, I have been focusing on habitual pattern forming, working with the Amydala, (two almond shaped glands situated in the brain) that are responsible for memory function, patterns and relationship forming.  As part of this  I have been tapping into those Asanas that involve backbending.  Backbends are also fantastic for exploring and tracking sensation, a topic I discussed in my previous Muuyu blog article.

Going backwards allows us to address our fears.

Journeying into Yoga backbends you will quickly meet your emotional and physical edge/s –  which is a juicy and interesting place to begin to name and track inner sensation!  Often going backwards can evoke a lot of fear regardless of the ‘level’ you are at.

When we address fear on the Yoga mat, it also provides an opportunity to confront ourselves and investigate our habitual ways of dealing with fear which,  as I have learned,  can be a great catalyst for change.

Being curious when our fears become exposed, we can quickly see what is functioning within us and what is not.

For example  I love the transition from dropping back from Tadasana into Urdhva Dhanurasana (wheel)  which can be viewed as “literally dropping backwards” into the unknown. To master the drop requires a steady,  controlled mind,  an equanamous mind,  in the face of the unknown.

Asanas are there to serve us.

Asanas going into spinal extension involve going into the central nervous system of the spine. The spine is responsible for efficient nervous response, motor control, efficient functioning of the organs and providing accurate feedback to the brain in response to stimuli. When we are not rigid in our responses we can train to become more flexible in our mind.  When we have blockages in the mind or the body, using Asanas such as backbends are a way to find new ways serve us, and where fear is involved, to investigate the fears that limit or hold us back.

Backbends also assist the reproductive organs and help to cleanse the digestive system, stomach, colon, intestines and the prostate aiding in preventing disease.

Backbending also works with The Shushumna Nadi line – the channel that allows energy to flow from the base of the spine – up the central channel of the body toward the crown of the head.  With regards to Nadi shoma  we can view backbends as a way of cleansing out the Shushumna channel and potentially any old patterns that exist within the central nervous system.

A healthy, regular backbending practice removes blockages along the spine allowing energy to flow more freely within the body.

Be mindful of how to avoid injury.

Of course, as with any Asana, be aware not to push past your edge in backbends.  Injury is a definite possibility and if new to backbending in Yoga practice,  work with an experienced Yoga teacher who understands the anatomy of safe backbends to ensure you do not compress the spine.  Ensure your teacher is someone who makes you feel safe and who can offer modifications, props and hands on adjustments.

Be sure to warm the body efficiently before attempting back bending.  Intermediate to advanced backbends are always the peak Asana in my classes allowing time to build up to them.  Do not jump into a backbend cold and always use twisting to neutralize the spine post back bending.

Entry level backbends such as Urdhva Mukha Svanasana (Upward Facing dog), Cobra and Ustrasana ( camel Pose) are a good place to start.

Q: have you encountered fears, mental blocks during back bending?

Do you enjoy backbends or find them intimidating?

I love to hear your feedback, so please share your thoughts. Thank you for reading!

 Request a backbending themed class with Angela on Muuyu.com

Yoga Teacher; Forrest Yoga; Asanas; Vinyasa; Muuyu;

Australian-born Angela Collins is a yoga teacher based in Berlin.  RYS Certified, trained in Vinyasa Flow Yoga, and a graduate of Advanced Teacher Training in Forrest Yoga,  Angela is committed to nourishing  mind and body both off and on the mat.   She has had the privilege of teaching Yoga across the globe in Australia, Thailand, Germany, UK, France and with people of all differing ages, nationalities, and needs.  Having trained alongside Mark Stephens, Kathryn Budig, Kino McGregor and Ana. T Forrest, Angela now teaches a number of different Yoga disciplines including Pregnancy Yoga, Yoga for Addicts, Yoga for Athletes, and child Yoga.

Connect with her here on Muuyu.com or on her own website  www.endorphinyoga.eu as well as on Twitter.

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India Appoints First Ever Minister of Yoga

India’s recent cabinet reshuffle has resulted in the creation of the first Ministry of Yoga and natural medicines.  India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi, a devoted yogi and vegetarian, hopes this new Department of Ayurveda, Yoga and Naturopathy, Unani, Siddha and Homoeopathy (AYUSH) will revive the regular practice of yoga among India’s citizens.  He has appointed former tourism minister Shripad Yesso Naik to take charge of the new department, which was previously under the authority of the Health Ministry.

Determined to spread the benefits of yogic living, Modi even used his September address to the United Nations General Assembly to promote the practice and call on member countries to mark June 21 as International Yoga Day.

In his speech he said, “Yoga should not be just an exercise for us but it should be a means to get connected with the world and with nature.  It should bring a change in our lifestyle and create awareness in us, and it can help fighting against climate change.”

India’s mission to the U.N. has started preparing a draft resolution on the possibility of an International Yoga Day with support already from countries such as the United States, Canada, China, Nepal and Bhutan.

Siobhan01

Siobhan is the Head of Communication and Content with Muuyu and a co-founder of the company.  Born in Ireland she has close to 20 years’ experience working in the areas of PR, communication and journalism.  She is also the editor of the Muuyu blog.  Siobhan has been practicing yoga on and off for most of her adult life.  However it was while doing a post-natal yoga class when pregnant that she really began to connect with her practice and she has been a regular practitioner ever since.

Connect with Siobhan here.

 

My Yoga Journey: Donna Davidge Connecting Life, Yoga & Theodore Roosevelt

Muuyu recently had the privilege of interviewing prolific yogini Donna (Amrita) Davidge about her life, practice and Kundalini yoga.

How long have you been teaching yoga and what types of yoga do you teach?

I have been teaching yoga nearly 3 decades. For the first 14 years I taught exclusively Kundalini.  Then I added Ashtanga, Dharma Yoga and finally Iyengar to my Kundalini teaching and practice.   So I teach all of these and have a regular, weekly Kundalini class on Muuyu.

How did you find your way to yoga?

I found my way to yoga first in a class at University of New Hampshire in the 1970’s where I was a distance runner.  Later, in my early twenties in the late 70’s, after I had earned my masters as a nutritionist, I picked up yoga again via audio cassettes – remember yoga was not mainstream at that time!

However, my real path to yoga came via Kundalini, which I discovered in NY City in 1985 with Ravi Singh.  I had been on an outer journey, adventuring to Europe to model from 1982-1985, which had been challenging in many ways, and the inner journey of Kundalini yoga resonated with me immediately.  What drew me to this style was its inner focus, the work from the chakras and with energy.  I was an athlete so I was not as concerned with physical prowess as with how the energy worked in my body, particularly as I am high energy and tend toward nervous energy. Having this type of energy is a great gift if you learn how to channel it.

In yoga you often hear mention of Kundalini energy, but what exactly is that?

Kundalini is the life force energy in the body, often envisioned as a serpent as exhibited in the medical symbol. The idea is that the kundalini is awakened from the base of the spine when the shushumna (central spine channel) is opened through yoga and meditation.

For someone approaching a Kundalini class for the first time how should they expect it to differ from Hatha and Vinyasa?

First of all Kundalini is not a left brain yoga! Though it works the brain and, of course, you need both parts for the practice it is very different than, for example, Iyengar, which I love, but which but is very focused on facts and proper physical alignment.

Let me explain that a bit more- our teacher Yogi Bhajan, with whom I studied for about 15 years before he died in 2004, said that Kundalini Yoga was taught to give the student an experience.  So for someone used to doing Hatha or Vinyasa I would say simply have an open mind. I often say do not expect a trikonasana or headstand here and no flowing sun salutes. Instead leave your expectations at the door.

How did you get your name Amrita and what is the meaning behind it?

Amrita was given to me by Yogi Bhajan in 1987.  Ravi Singh, who had encouraged me to start teaching, said I needed a spiritual name and took me up to Yogi Bhajan on one of his NYC visits.  He bases it on your birthday- mine is the same as Joan of Arc and Martin Luther King. Yogi Bajan wrote my birthday 1-15-55 on a small scrap of paper and said “Princess of the Nectar of God, very special name” and that was it. In Sanskrit it means the elixir of immortality and nurturance.

In yoga we are meant to believe our soul is immortal and as I get older I see myself more as a nurturer to students,  almost like a mother.  I think the yoga retreat I established at Sewall House is a big part of that.  Alongside this I am very big into preserving life, being an animal activist and vegetarian for example.

Can you share with us the origins of and current activities at your yoga retreat, Sewall House?

Sewall House originally belonged to my great grandfather, Bill Sewall. I never met him, but an interesting fact about him was that he had been a very instrumental part in Theodore Roosevelt’s life.  When TR was a sickly college student he visited Sewall House three times, with each visit lasting for three weeks.   Sewall House was, at the time, an informal Inn in this tiny northern Maine town my family had founded. Trekking in the woods, sitting by the lake and rivers, meeting the loggers and climbing Mount Katahdin were all part of TR’s healing and he remained lifelong friends with Bill Sewall.  There is one book in particular, ‘Becoming Teddy Roosevelt’ by Andrew Vietze, that focuses on their journey.

I purchased Sewall House in 1997, really on a wing and a prayer. The house had stood empty for 18 months after my great-aunt died and I wanted to maintain the contents, the history, the tradition and the legacy of healing and bring it back into modern times through yoga.  I broke my back when I was 22 skydiving and was hit by a cab on my bike in NYC when I was 41 so I truly believe in yoga, healthy eating and nature as healers.

This now is the theme at Sewall House.  We have no corporate backers or investors- we are simply run on yogic principles of living in the moment and with as much truth and integrity and fun as we can. We like to think we are as loving and welcoming to our guests as Bill Sewall was to TR and many come back and do become friends.

Since we only have 5-7 bedrooms available at any time (depending on staff and work study) the experience is personalized and much smaller than the many yoga retreats that have come on the scene since I started 18 years ago. We hike, kayak, do yoga and eat together but everyone has private rooms and the area is beautiful and the town is quaint and quiet. We have always offered massage as well.

What is it you hope most to impart to students?

I wish to inspire them to know and accept themselves better, to understand yoga as a lifelong, individualized practice. I like to make people laugh so occasionally in a class I throw in something to make them happy I hope (a story or quote ). I also like to see my students’ progress at their own pace. That way they can make their own breakthroughs without me pushing.  I think in teaching we need to create a space of allowing and see what happens. Of course, sometimes we may see something and need to speak and see if the student trusts our intentions. This is what Yogi Bhajan would call poke, provoke and elevate …with love!

What is the most important gift or lesson yoga has brought to you?

The most valuable gift yoga has given me is the ability to work on myself and hopefully set an example to others even if they have no idea what yoga means totally.

The other day I got to speak briefly at a conservation group in Maine regarding an environmental fight I have led in Maine and lost. The loss is really painful because ridges are being dynamited, pristine previously preserved forests are being clear-cut in huge acreage and animals and birds will die and be gravely injured as a result of this.   A naturalist I had not seen in years but who had studied yoga with me was at the meeting and wrote me afterward that my words moved her to tears and that despite this battle, which has been very challenging, my light showed through.

I think Yoga shows us how to keep going, not just in our progression from one pose to something more advanced, but to a lifestyle where you can turn to yoga instead of things like alcohol and drugs when you have to face challenging feelings about yourself and your situations in life.

Yoga has been such an integral part of your primary life experiences for over 20 years, so what does yoga actually mean to you now?

Yoga is a lifestyle, yoga is my family and yoga is a path and a journey which changes during different phases just like life and our bodies and minds.

 

Yoga, Kundalini, Yoga Retreat, Asanas, Ashtanga, Iyengar Yoga

A former student of Yogi Bhajan, Donna also studied with Pattabhis Jois, the father of Ashtanga yoga, Rod Stryker, Ana Forrest, David Life and Gurmukh.   She has worked consistently for the last 30 years as a yoga teacher to a wide range of clients from A-list celebrities to people with life-threatening illnesses.   Her joy is to help people pave their own path to a consistent yoga practice and over the years she has shared her expertise through appearances on syndicated TV and radio shows across the States and numerous national publications.  Contact Donna at her website or on Muuyu to request a class.