Practice [Alignment] And All Is Coming...

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Alignment

happens     

when   

all

components                      

are

working

together

in

harmony.

What happens when the wheels of your car are out of alignment? The car will not drive straight and that might run you right off the road. Apply that concept to your body during a yoga practice...think of your feet like wheels on your car. If your feet are not aligned properly for an asana such as Trikonasana (Triangle) or Virabhadrasana II (Warrior II), the pose will not have proper form. It will not look right and more importantly it will not feel right. Over time, if a yoga practitioner is consistently out of alignment they will run themselves right off their yoga mat with potential injury or just plain frustration. With constant misalignment in a yoga practice, the body will not be working at its most efficient level and will not receive all the wonderful physical, mental and healing benefits yoga has to offer. It is crucial that yogis who are new to the physical practice learn the basics of yoga slowly and deliberately in order to build skills on how to move and stack their bones properly in each pose. I hope every new practitioner can adopt a healthy yoga practice that will keep them injury free, agile and mobile forever.

 

I believe that the words YOGA and ALIGNMENT could be interchangeable for many circumstances. The word yoga translates to, “the union of the body and the mind”, to yoke, to bring together. The word alignment means, to line up or to organize. These definitions seem similar to me and if I were to use these words as a verb: to yoga (to unionize) and to align, the intended outcome of these activities are pretty much the same!

 

 

When there is precise alignment a machine will work more efficiently. Our bodies are machines and unfortunately sometimes they break down; one small piece might come out of alignment such as a sprain or a fracture in the foot, ankle, finger, wrist, etc. or a huge piece of the machine might break down like an illness or disease might form bringing the whole human machine out of alignment. When these misalignments occur the body will not work as efficiently as it did before until it realigns itself and heals. In many circumstances, the body can be healed and realigned with yoga, a system of alignment, including but not limited to meditation, breathwork, asana, enough sleep, natural healthy foods and water, self-care, self-love and sometimes even mantra and chanting helps to align a body back into health. All of these aspects live under the umbrella of YOGA and must be practiced consistently for optimum health, strength, flexibility and proper alignment in the body and mind.

 

 

Using yoga props such as blocks, straps, blankets and chairs in unique and intelligent ways creates accessibility and can help maintain alignment in a pose for anyone at any level. Using a block on the floor in a forward fold is a supportive way to build the floor up to you to create space. There is no need to force a deep forward fold, jamming your hands to the floor when your hamstrings are screaming and your spine is completely rounding forward. This is not beneficial at all. An intelligent way to practice is to meet yourself where you are at that day. If you are tired and your muscles are tight, place blocks under your hands in uttanasana (forward fold), trikonasana (Triangle pose) and parsvakonasana (Side Angle Pose). Do not have an ego about using props…. Confidently grab those blocks and utilize them in any way you can! This is the sign of an advanced practice! Using yoga props means that you are deeply in tune with your body and what you are capable of on that particular day. You are aware of maintaining the integrity of the alignment of that particular pose. A good example of a place to use a block in a hatha yoga practice is in parivritta ardha chandrasana (revolved half moon). I have short arms, therefore I slide a block under my hand in this twisting balancing pose so I can stay as horizontal as possible from the crown of my head all the way down to the heel of my foot, all the while trying to create more space down the spine for a healthy twist to happen in the thoracic (middle) spine. I witness many practitioners trying to jam their hand down to the floor whilst tilting their body downwards in order to reach the ground and in the process they have rounded their spine, they are dumping weight into the standing leg, their head is hanging heavy and the cervical spine is now not in line with the rest of the spine and they have completely lost the whole point of the pose. Whew! That was a little bit of a rant...but I truly feel passionate about using props when necessary! I could go on and on about misalignment verses proper alignment for each pose...but I’ll save that for another day, another time….

 

 

As a yoga teacher, I look at a classroom of students and I see misalignment due to not engaging proper muscles for the asana we are practicing at the moment. When the muscles are not engaged and the student is sitting in a lazy manner, the practice becomes sloppy, heavy and non-beneficial and potentially harmful. If you do not feel like engaging muscle, there is a cozy spot for you in any Yin yoga class. However, I am talking about a strength based Hatha yoga practice. Muscle engagement gives shape to the pose and keeps us strong and lifted in our asana. In addition, when lifting and engaging the agonist muscles (the key muscles that are being engaged in the pose in question) the antagonist muscles are receiving a nice deep stretch. For example, when you are in Janu Sirsasana, the quadriceps are the agonist muscles, the muscles that should be engaged and lifted. Then the hamstrings (the antagonist muscles), the muscles that are related but directly opposite the quads, can receive a deep long stretch. Therefore, proper muscle engagement is an important part of alignment in a strength based yoga class.

 

 

When you engage muscle you receive many benefits. One benefit is simply achieving the proper shape of the pose and a second benefit is an opportunity to explore the shape on a deeper level. Maybe even trying variations of the shape to explore above and beyond the general asana. With a deep consistent practice, you can build positive samskaras (stored memories/habits) in your mind and in your body. Then the asana/shape is second nature and that is when the fun begins! This is the time you can start to explore, play and tune into the subtleness of the shapes and transitions of your practice. This is a time you can find the moving meditation in your yoga. This is where the magic happens!

 

 

 

Every asana really does deserve its own article about alignment suggestions. If you would like in depth knowledge about alignment and anatomy for each asana check out Ray Long’s yoga anatomy books: https://www.bandhayoga.com . I highly recommend his books and studying with him if you have the opportunity.

 

 

 

Not every pose is for every BODY. We all come to our mat with different experiences, different proportions to our bodies, different levels of endurance, strength, flexibility, etc. Therefore all alignment cues are merely suggestions for your body. It is your job as a yoga practitioner to know if a certain suggestion is beneficial for you or not. There are many variations of the same pose for different kinds of people, different moods, different times of our lives, the time in our life when we are healing something or the day where we have too much energy and we are ready to try something challenging. So many different alignment variations for one pose! Well, we have our entire lives to possibly try them all! A healthy yoga practice evolves and changes throughout our life. This beautiful art form, science and lifestyle should keep you young, agile, adventurous, strong and flexible in our bodies and minds for as long as you live!   

-Brittany Kovler, 500hr E-RYT 

 

 

Prenatal Goddess Yoga Workshop Series with Brittany at Evolution Yoga

"Pregnancy offers a woman the opportunity to tap into and participate in the creative energy of the Universe." -Sue Elkind

Are you or someone you know expecting?

This Prenatal Goddess Yoga workshop series at Evolution Yoga (in Coconut Creek, FL.) will help you find strength and flexibility in your physical body to prepare for pregnancy and labor. Simultaneously, you will find strength in your mental body by centering your mind and focusing your breath to prepare for motherhood. These workshops will help you tap into your inner feminine wisdom and your Shakti Goddess nature.

This workshop series is for women who are planning a pregnancy, women who are already pregnant and anyone who would like to explore the gentle and feminine aspects of yoga. This workshop is also beneficial for yoga teachers who are interested in learning how to safely practice yoga throughout pregnancy by using props, the wall and creative modifications. Each class consists of physical asana practice, as well as other fun and unique ideas, sequences and exercises that you can take home with you. This workshop is designed for women, however men are warmly welcome to attend. All Levels Welcome!

Workshop #1- Saturday February 11th, 11:00am-12:45pm: Prana & Mantra

In addition to our physical asana (poses) practice, a consistent prenatal yoga practice should include pranayama (breathwork) and mantras (a word or sound repeated to aid concentration in meditation). Pranayama and Mantras will cultivate a deeper sense of awareness to the natural rhythm of your body and will help you to connect closer to your baby. We open and close our practice with pranayama and chanting mantras in order to soothe the body, focus the mind and tap into the consciousness of baby and mama. With these yogic tools we connect two hearts and two breaths into one.

Workshop #2- Thursday February 16th, 7:00-8:45pm: Meet the Goddess': Shakti, Kali & Shri

When a woman can truly trust in herself, feel comfortable and content in her own body, even throughout pregnancy, then she will begin to seek the Great (Maha) Goddess within. When a woman connects more deeply to the power of her heart, mind and body, she will recognize this as a manifestation of the goddess named Shakti. Not only do we have the pleasure of knowing Shakti, we also have the company of the goddess' Kali and Shri, who naturally show up in our yoga practice, pregnancy, as well as childbirth experience. 

Workshop #3- Saturday February 18th, 11:00am-12:45pm: Meditating On the Goddess Within

In the last part of our workshop, students will learn ways to reduce stress and create a deeper connection with herself and baby through meditation and visualization. We will open our practice as we always do... with pranayama (breathwork) followed by a gentle physical practice, which will then take us into deep restorative poses that will be the atmosphere for our guided visualizations. This class focuses deeply on the practice of meditation as we journey into and out of the mind. 

~Attend a single workshop for $35 or attend all three for $90~

- Saturday February 11th, 11-12:45pm

- Thursday February 16th, 7-8:45pm

- Saturday February 18th, 11-12:45pm

Evolution Yoga: 6814 N. State Road 7, Coconut Creek, FL. 33073

To sign up directly visit: http://southflorida.evolutionyoga.com/south-florida-studio-events

Email BrittanyKovlerYoga@gmail.com or call 561-239-3294 with any questions or to sign up! 

My sister, the lawyer, has finally found meditation & a little piece of mind.

That's me on the left and Jillian on the right.

That's me on the left and Jillian on the right.

My little sister, Jillian is studying to be a lawyer at the University of Miami Law School. She has always been kind of a high strung, A+ personality type that does not rest until she has reached perfection in all that she accomplishes. If I could depend on anyone in this life, it would absolutely be her! She is the best kind of friend anyone could have because she is loyal, honest to a fault, a good listener and problem solver; she will for sure make a great lawyer! However, her downfall lies in finding personal contentment, being happy with the small things in life and smoothing out any unnecessary anxieties that ail her. All of these downfalls are not an uncommon occurrence in the human race, for most of us struggle daily with these same issues.

Ever since I started teaching yoga I have tried to drag Jillian to my classes. She has attended only a few and every time she tells me "yoga is really not my thing". I always respond with something along the lines of, "with an open heart and an open mind, it absolutely can be your thing!" and that response probably wants to make her puke. Recently, Jillian started taking a Mindfulness for Lawyers course at Miami Law. I am so proud that she is opening up to the possibilities of what yoga can do for her mind. She wrote a beautiful excerpt about mindfulness and meditation.... Jillian writes....

"A doctor once told me that anxiety lives in the past and future; once we learn to be in the present, we no longer experience anxiety. I’ve always been a quick thinker, a deep thinker, a critical thinker. I am highly opinionated and unforgiving of myself. In my merciless quest for perfection, I find myself falling short of the qualities I most admire. I used to think there was something wrong with my brain and wrong with me. “[B]eing out of balance in a fundamental way” perfectly captures my recent state of mind and it resonates strongly within me that there is a sincere problem of unhappiness in my chosen profession. 

It is true, my problems “cannot be addressed by merely rearranging the furniture” and that was a lesson I had to learn the hard way. It took a long time for me to admit that I had issues to resolve within myself. I did not want to concede imperfection. After coming to terms with the fact that I was not a perfect specimen of a human being, the real work began. I tried different medications and coping techniques. “Rearranging the furniture” did not make me who I wanted to be overnight.

I took a leap of faith out of my comfort zone. I took a semester away from my large, greek-life crazed, football loving university and went traveling through South East Asia, India, and Africa where I first came across the concept of mindfulness meditation. This was the first time that I was really trying to fix myself from the inside, out. It seemed to help. 

I’ve never thought about how my dissatisfaction affects others around me. I always assumed my inner suffering was affecting my life alone and never realized that it could affect my relationships with family, friends, and potential clients down the road. It makes logical sense that getting real with yourself will help you get real with others. Learning to see myself without judgment will help me see others without judgment and be a better advocate for clients. It’s a daily struggle, but one I must commit to, to remind myself that “reality is always kinder” than the story we make up in our heads."

By Jillian Kovler

Being a good (yoga) teacher means being a forever student + other related rantings....

            Fearless Heart Mudra at Wanderlust Hollywood studio during prenatal yoga training. 

            Fearless Heart Mudra at Wanderlust Hollywood studio during prenatal yoga training. 

When I was going through my first yoga teacher training, I initially didn't realize how truly important the responsibility of being a teacher is. Being a (good) teacher is a powerful role to fill. A teacher can influence people by shaping their ideas and thoughts about a specific subject or positively (I hope never negatively) change their day, week, month or life. When I connect with a student on a deep level they listen with an open heart and I may possibly affect them in ways that I don’t even realize. It could be one word or one little phrase that I said that might change their day for the better. That alone makes teaching yoga worth it.

 

When I teach a yoga class, I probably learn more from my students than they learn from me. My students are my greatest teachers. They empower me to get up in front of a room, bear my heart and soul, sometimes look silly and at times fail. The failures teach me more about how to be a better teacher next time and how to organize the lesson more clearly, slowly or introduce it in a different way. The times I feel that I succeeded, I learn what works and what really hits home for people. I learn how to connect with different kinds of people from all backgrounds, ages, shapes, sizes, colors, beliefs, learning styles, etc. I learn how to move people physically and mentally. I learn how to make people feel things, whatever it is… anger, joy, fear, happiness, bliss, frustration, confusion, peace, whatever feeling is coming up for them is beautiful because it is so uniquely human and personal to each person. I hear this beautiful phrase all the time: “We are spiritual beings having a human experience.” That really rings true to me.  

 

Completing a 200hour yoga teacher training is not enough to be a good teacher. This initial training is just an introduction to the beginning of teaching yoga, if you choose to pursue teaching. If you are not taking a training to become a teacher, then it is an introduction to deepening your personal practice. Becoming a good yoga teacher, someone who is in-tune with students and is able to connect, influence and affect, is all about hands-on experience. It takes time (many years) to find your own voice as a teacher and to figure out what you have to share with others. Becoming a good teacher is about being a forever student and constantly studying, training, reading, asking questions, experimenting and finding a mentor who can guide you in times of confusion. Being a good teacher means that you are open and willing to change and adopt new ideas and methods throughout your teaching career in order to keep it fresh and updated. Being a good teacher is about observing and listening intently, even though we end up doing a lot of talking, it is even more important to observe with your eyes and ears.

 

Being a teacher runs in my family; many of my relatives have been or still are school teachers with a passion for teaching. I feel I was born with this natural ability to share and to get others excited in what I find exciting. I feel that teaching yoga is a lot like hosting a party and entertaining loved ones. I must capture my guests’ attention for them to stay at the party and then I want them to participate and contribute with tons of love and gratitude towards themselves and everyone in the room.

 

If you are interested in knowing more about your yoga practice, and I’m not talking just about the physical practice of yoga, I am talking about everything that yoga entails (philosophy, history, mythology, anatomy, etc.) look into different 200hour yoga teacher trainings. Don’t just sign up for the first one you look at… research it out and find a school or a teacher that you connect with. First, take classes with this teacher for about 6 months to understand what their style is and if they can offer you what you want and need in a training. Pursue a yoga teaching career because you feel a calling to do it, you have natural teaching instincts and a passion for what you would like to share with students, not just because it’s a fad. Today, in 2016 there is an over surplus of yoga teachers because many of these 200hour teacher trainings churn them out like robots and give them a script to read off of. However, in a sea of too many yoga teachers, it is easy to spot the good ones. They shine bright and have personal yoga insight on specific topics close to their yogi heart that students eagerly listen to.

To all yoga teachers and students out there… keep the exploration and the love going strong.

 

SHANTI MANTRA:

       For harmonious relationship between student and teacher. 

 

 

 

Yoga is NOT just a physical fitness! It was never intended to be!

@10000buddhas street art

@10000buddhas street art

I want to clear the air and let it be known that a true yoga class is not an exercise class. True, you can get exercise from practicing yoga, but that should not usually be the first priority for a yoga class. 

Thousands of years ago there was no such thing as Vinyasa Power Yoga. Yogis did not practice warrior II and Triangle pose in a hot room like we do today. Yogis simply sat in certain meditation poses for long periods of time. Maybe they would practice a mudra (hand pose) and chant... that is what yoga used to look like.  Today, especially in the Western world we think of yoga in terms of handstands and super advanced pretzel-like poses that we see on Instagram. Yoga has evolved and maybe in some ways it has devolved into a physical fitness for gymnasts. I would like to keep the idea alive that yoga is a fitness for the mind and beyond that it can be so many other things simultaneously. 

Many of us first find yoga by means of exercise. That’s the reason why I started to practice yoga (and because I was living in Los Angeles and that's just what you do when you live there) . When I first began my deep yoga journey it started out in the form of hot power yoga. I found the hot moist room to soothe my body and mind and melt them together into one unit. The repetitive, meditative movements along with deep Ujjayi breathing brought more oxygen to my brain then usual and I felt that yoga high every time. Walking out of the hot humid yoga room with my hair wild and my cheeks flushed, feeling as if I had just jumped in the ocean was the best feeling I had ever felt. It was the same feeling as when I used to walk home from a rave in downtown LA with my college friends, but this new yoga high was better because it was healthy and drug-free… the best high you could buy! At this beginning stage in my yogini life I did not yet know the inner workings of yoga- the philosophy, history, anatomy, etc…. but I did know that there was much more to this practice then just the poses and the great work out….

Yoga is not a practice of attaining idealized physical postures, burning calories and attaining a sexy chiseled body, but a process of self-exploration, self-acceptance and self-transformation. This process occurs step by step, within each breath, each asana, and each sequence and extends across all the practices you do in your lifetime. Your gradual self-transformation cultivates an awakening revolving around a sense of samasthiti- equanimity in body, breath, mind and spirit. However, promises of buns of steel, toned arms, and a sexy 6-pack is a great way to get many people to come to yoga and once they are there my job as a teacher is to sneak in a few true yoga lessons in between the gymnastics. 

When I start class, I usually begin with guiding students on deepening the breath. Smoothing and lengthening the breath helps to ease and clear the mind. We must tune into and listen to our breath in order to distract ourselves from whats going on in the mind. Once our mind is focused on breath, then we can start to move the body. The movements and the poses are also designed as a way to distract us from extraneous thoughts, thus we call physical yoga a moving meditation. So we start the work on the inside of our body followed by working the outside of the body.. Yoga teaches us to align the body up properly so we can use our vessel in its most efficient manner throughout life. And yes, of course we are going to move a lot and challenge ourselves immensely. If we happen to sweat and burn a few calories, that’s just the cherry on top, but that is not ultimately what this practice is about.

The more we practice yoga, any type of yoga, with keen awareness and deep full breaths, the more we bring our individual lives into alignment with the whole of existence. Eventually, we may feel nourished and at peace with ourselves.

However you like your yoga served is by all means personal preference. There is really no right or wrong way to practice. Everyone is entitled to their own version of yoga. I just wouldn't want students to be ripped off by never truly experiencing something that was beyond a fitness class.