Friday, October 30, 2009

Friday, I'm in Love: Big Yogi Birthdays

As you know, Friday is the day of the week on when I share people, places, products, or pieces of yoga-related information that are successfully wooing my soul right now (and you should feel free to do the same in the Comments). Coincidentally, I'm looking forward to two birthdays this weekend-- of a person and a place close to my heart.

First and foremost, my god-son, to whom you might recall I wrote a letter about spirituality not long ago, turns 2 this weekend. So raise a glass of kombucha, and salute this precious yoga baby! (Mom is my BFF from the recent post about Biggest Loser-caliber workouts).

Next, I'll be setting up shop, literally, at lululemon on Sunday morning to teach a FREE yoga class in celebration of the Prudential store's 1st birthday. As a lululemon ambassador, I am blessed to feel quite a bit of love from the yoga-inspired brand. I hope you'll join me and the lovely crew of lulu heads at the Boston store for class this weekend, proving true the old adage that, indeed, the best things in life are free.

With love,

Om Gal

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Throwback Thursday: The One Time I Showed the Yankees Any Love

As a Red Sox fan, to the core, my ire for the Yankees is well documented, if not here on, then in countless text messages to NYC Gal, wherein I remind her that my yogic compassion ends right around Yawkey Way. I stop short of booing or chanting that anyone sucks or does steroids, but I taunt the bajeezus out of her and her pinstriped platoon from April through October each year.

Nevertheless, there was a time this spring when I put aside the venom and wished the Yankees well. Just once though. Here it is (shot by Om Bro):

Don't get it twisted though; I'm rooting for the Phillies in the World Series.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Happy Birthday, Lululemon!

One year ago this week, Lululemon delivered a bright, new, bouncing, baby store to the heart of Boston. In celebration of the Prudential store's first birthday, there will be plenty of healthful festivities this weekend, including a free yoga class taught by yours truly on Sunday morning at 9:30 AM. See you there! Bring a friend!

Quote: Care of the Soul

"It takes a broad vision to know that a piece of the sky and a chunk of the earth lie lodged in the heart of every human being, and that if we are going to care for that heart we will have to know the sky and earth as well as human behavior."

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Reader Query: Recommended Translation of the Yoga Sutras

Hey Rebecca!

So youre always talking about The Yoga Sutras, and it made me realize that I am long overdue in reading it. I searched The Yoga Sutras on, but it pulled up like a million (OK, not really a million) hits. Is there a particular version that you recommend? It seems like some have forewords or commentaries by other yogis... Is one more enlightening than the other? Help. Im confused.



Hi Jill,

Indeed, your

confusion is justified! Like many ancient texts, there are several translations of The Yoga Sutras from which to choose. The version that I have and to which I often refer is this one, with a foreword by Sri Swami Satchidananda.

I perused some of the others listed on Amazon and a few more piqued my interest:

  • Finally, I always consider yoga resources by B.K.S. Iyengar to be trustworthy, thorough, and clear. His version would likely be a sure bet as well.
I hope that helps, Jill. It's not a definitive answer because I don't think you can go wrong with any of the above options. I like my version very much, but perhaps you want to surf the prices and research the yogis who contribute to each respective translation to see if you gravitate toward one in particular.

Happy reading!

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Is Yoga Safe For Sore Knees?

In English, they're your knees. In Sanskrit, the word for knee is janu. (Think: janu sirsasana). Regardless of how you refer to them, your knees need to be protected-- in life, sports, and yoga. Most of the time, yoga is good for your knees, even those that are compromised by injury and/or overuse (that's you, runners); however, yoga is not always good for your knees. Like anything else, you can do more harm than good if you aren't mindful.

Here are the essential pitfalls to avoid to safeguard your knees while doing yoga:

1.) Stack your joints. Especially in warrior poses and lunges, make certain that your knee does not go past your toe. In other words, stack your knee joint directly atop your ankle joint.

2.) Flex your feet. In pigeon, double pigeon, frog, and other similar poses, flex your feet. This will help protect your knee from bearing all of the pose's emphasis.

3.) Activate the muscles around your knees. In poses where your legs are straight, including forward bends, triangle, and inversions, remember to lift from your quadriceps, the large muscles above your knees (in your thighs).

4.) Never lock. While some poses encourage straight legs (the above mentioned forward bends, triangle, and inversions among them, along with the pose below), it's important not to lock your knees or hyper-extend them. These actions wear down on the joints.

5.) Skip the Bikram classes. In my personal experience, I have known several yogis- men, in particular- who have tweaked or blown out their knees by doing a Bikram-style yoga practice with knees that were vulnerable to injury. As a general rule, it's important to choose a sensible style of yoga for your body. If you're working with an injury, stick to a gentler practice. For a guide to different styles of yoga, click here.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Quote: Hard Work

"Heights by great men reached and kept were not obtained by sudden flight but, while their companions slept, they were toiling upward in the night."

-Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Does my latest favorite quote by Longfellow have much to do with Oprah, her headquarters in Chicago, or this ridiculous picture that looks a like I'm leaping into her flower bed? Maybe. Maybe not.

Monday, October 19, 2009

From Australia With Love

Despite the sleep deprivation due to late-night writer's block and occasionally being wracked with guilt when I fall short of posting regularly, blogging is a rewarding endeavor. It's not rewarding in the sense that I've landed a book deal or TV show, but that's not why I started in the first place (though, don't get me wrong, BRAVO; I'm totally game to talk-- call me?). A favorite writer of mine, Ralph Waldo Emerson, once wrote, "The reward of a thing well done is to have done it," and that pretty much captures it for me. I write because it comes naturally, and I write about yoga and wellness because I've been a yogi longer than I've had a driver's license and a teacher for almost a decade, so it's what I know best. If I had to write a blog about hedge funds or horse racing, it would probably suck. In other words, I abide by a simple writers' credo: Write what you know.

What I didn't know was how much I'd receive in return, for my toiling in cyber space. Because of you, dear reader, this blog transformed from a lark to a labor of love.

I simply didn't expect the level of interaction with an audience that a blog affords. Readers send friendly emails to share their yoga experiences and epiphanies, ask insightful questions that inevitably inspire future posts, post astute comments directly to the blog, and further spread the love by linking, following, re-tweeting, and pledging their official approval of by becoming a fan on Facebook. Former yoga students and childhood friends have tracked me down through the blog-- along with one ex-boyfriend, which was slightly less enjoyable (there's a reason we're exes), but I digress . . .

People cozy up in this corner of the blogosphere to read, relax, and as one om gal put it "counterbalance all the polluting of my brain that I do on Perez." Recently, I learned that this occurs even in the far reaches of the globe, as in, Australia. Yup, it's true; Hugh Jackman wrote me an email this week to say that he loooooooves the blog. He reads it every morning, while eating a batch of my pancakes before his workout.

OK, that's a lie. To my knowledge, Wolverine is not a follower of Om Gal. [Sigh].

However, a fabulous yoga apparel designer is, which to a lycra-loving clotheshorse, like me, is a close second. This designer inquired whether I might accept some samples from her line. After taking a quick looksy at the Abi and Joseph website, I agreed to test-drive new duds from Down Under. By the time my air mail package arrived in Boston, I was overjoyed.

And, who could blame me? The proud owner of a luxe, new pair of yoga pants (that come in "LONG!") and two elegant camisoles, I can't decide if I'm more thrilled about the clothes or the discovery that's readership includes Aussies.

Interested in infusing your own wardrobe with some stylish Abi and Joseph gear? Order online and use the code OMGAL to get 10% off. Like I said, blogging is a rewarding endeavor, ideally, for writers and readers alike.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Happy Sunday, Football Fans

Whether you're a fitness buff, weekend warrior, or armchair athlete, Sunday is the perfect day to stretch out-- on a cushy yoga mat or a comfy couch, for example. For those of you who practice yoga to support other athletic pursuits, I'm curious to know what's your sport, and what yoga pose do you do to limber up for it?

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Quote: Failure

"A man should never be ashamed to say he has been wrong, which is but saying in other words that he is wiser today than he was yesterday."

-Alexander Pope

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

6 Pioneers Who Changed The World of Yoga

For me, yesterday's observance of Columbus Day included a 4:00 a.m. wake-up call in my Chicago hotel, an early flight back to Boston, and gratitude that I didn't have to rush off to work after touching down on the Logan Airport tarmac. Upon arriving home in Boston, I would have ingested my morning dose of caffeine (black tea with rice milk, please) intravenously-- had it been possible. Instead, I sipped the steaming elixir while tackling the laundry, baking some vegan apple muffins, prepping for a private yoga session with a new client, tending to the Facebook Fan Page, tweeting the recipe for said vegan apple muffins, and staring at the blog, miffed that it refused to write itself on this high holiday of oceanic exploration. Admittedly, I was charting my own expedition to the undiscovered racks of Marshalls later that afternoon.

Throughout the day, I occasionally returned to this theme of exploration, eventually wondering whom I'd call the great pioneers of modern yoga-- teachers who changed the shape of the yoga world, from a "flat" existence in one corner of the map, to a rounded, global experience by countless cultures and people. Here's the product of that train of thought . . . (The product of my Marshalls expedition was the discovery of a very cute pair of boots, in case you were curious).

6 Pioneers of Modern Yoga

Patanjali (150 B.C.E.): Like Christopher Columbus, Patanjali is sometimes credited with "discovering" yoga; however, the truth is that people had already been practicing yoga for centuries before he collated the sacred teachings into an organized text called The Yoga Sutras.

Krishnamacharya (1880): Krishnamacharya believed yoga to be "India's greatest gift to the world," and through his teaching and, later, his disciples (Pattabhi Jois and B.K.S. Iyengar among them), he further developed the practice and disseminated it to a larger audience.

Paramahasna Yogananda (1893): Author of the book Autobiography of a Yogi, Yogananda moved to the United States in 1920 and is thereby credited with being the first Hindu teacher to make his permanent home in America. Yogananda had a brother who was also an influential yoga teacher and the guru of Bikram Chouhury, a popular and polarizing figure within the yoga community today and the first to franchise a style of yoga practice.

Pattabhi Jois (1915): The late Pattabhi Jois was one of Krishnamarycha's most recognized students. The creator of ashtanga yoga, Jois was the first yogi to accept Westerners as students at his ashram in southern India. Some of these students included Norman Allen, Sharon Gannon and David Life, of Jivamukti Yoga, Doug and David Swenson, Tias Little, and many others.

Maharishi Mahesh (1918): Perhaps best known for his mentorship of The Beatles and other celebrities in the 1960s, the Maharishi was the most visible yogi to travel and teach outside of India in his day.

B.K.S. Iyengar (1918): Like Jois, Iyengar is also part of Krishnamarycha's lineage. The living legend just turned 90 last December. His books are among the most influential, accessible, and articulate yoga resources on the market. He trained several of modern yoga's top teachers including Boston's Patricia Walden.

For A Guide to Different Styles of Yoga, click here.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Quote: Letting Go

"But what is letting go? I think we don't understand it at all. We've got this idea of something trapped that we've got to set free. Like there's a bird in your hand, and what Zen is about is spreading your fingers and letting it fly away. Whoosh, I'm enlightened! But you and the bird are the same! You and your hand are the same! Nothing needs to be opened! Nothing needs to fly away! Realize this and you've automatically let go."

-Lawrence Shainberg

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Ya Wanna Talk Yamas & Niyamas?

Yoga is a spiritual practice. True, it's also a great workout, reliable means of stress relief, magical mood lifter, and trendy topic of conversation among celebrities, but at its core, yoga is a practice of self-discovery. While it originated within a Hindu culture (India), the practice of yoga is not relegated to a specific religion. Yet, it is a spiritual endeavor.

In fact, of the eight limbs of yoga practice- or eight aspects of living a yoga lifestyle- outlined in Patanjali's Yoga Sutras, a foundational yoga text, only one is purely physical, asana. The first two- yamas and niyamas- are not. This post will focus on those; however, the complete list of limbs is as follows: yamas (attitude toward the world), niyamas (attitude toward yourself), asana (yoga poses), pranayama (breathwork), prathayara (withdrawal of the senses), dharana (concentration), dhyana (meditation), samadi (enlightenment).

Of course, you can practice yoga strictly for its physical benefits, but that's a bit like traveling to a foreign country known for its native cuisine and eating at the nearest McDonald's the whole time. Imagine how much of Italy you'd miss if you eschewed bruschetta made from the most lusciously local tomatoes and basil on the planet in favor of chicken McNuggets? A yoga practice fully nourishes by aligning our bodies, minds, and spirits, and to focus solely on the physical practice is to miss a profound opportunity.

Some yogis, such as B.K.S. Iyengar for example, might argue that one inevitably follows the other-- that by training the body through asana, the mind follows suit. As the body becomes still and strong in a pose, the mind, too, settles and expands. This settling of the mind is the purpose of yoga, as outlined in the first book of the The Yoga Sutras:

"If you can control the rising of the mind into ripples, you will experience yoga."

For anyone who's listened to their own thoughts for a millisecond, you can vouch that quieting the mind is no small task. Therefore, the sutras provide plenty of tips for the journey, the yamas and niyamas being paramount among them. You might experience life-changing results through asana alone, but the journey toward enlightenment requires that you summon greater resources and avoid certain pitfalls. These are known as the namas and niyamas.

The Yamas: Yogic guidelines for how to treat others/interact with society.

Ahimsa: Non-violence. Besides the obvious interpretation of not participating in physical acts of violence toward oneself or others. There is also a subtler translation of not engaging in harmful behavior, through thoughts, words, and deeds. Gossip, for example, is a harmful behavior that, while not physical, has the potential to injure others. Negative self-talk is also an example of harmful/violent behavior. Quit calling yourself fat; it's psychological poison.

Satya: Truthfulness. This one is pretty straightforward: Tell the truth. Moreover, act truthfully. Align your life with your true nature (hint: your true nature is good and honest). People instinctively want to tell the truth, which is why it feels crappy when we lie, withhold, or obstruct the truth.

Asteya: Non-stealing. Hey klepto, put that down!

Brahmacarya: Sexual responsibility. Sexual energy is powerful, and when misused or misdirected, it leads to suffering. This yama advises yogis to express sexuality in a way that respects and honors our partners, rather than using them for one's own benefit. Ancient yogis were traditionally abstinent in observance of this yama, yet the interpretation need not be so literal [insert sigh of relief]. We do need to be mindful of the ways our sexual expression affects ourselves and others. Yoga teachers, in particular, need to treat this yama with care in the classroom. Or, as a fellow teacher pal once remarked, referring to a prominent teacher who tends to engage regularly in, um, relations, with his students, "What part of 'don't [shag] your students' do you NOT understand!" Above all, the goal of this precept is to conserve energy for the purpose of spiritual practice. Therefore, sexual energy should not distract, detract, or undermine the larger yoga journey.

Aparigraha: Abstention from greed. This yama relates to keeping our material desires in check by not seeking to obtain more than we need. It also relates to coveting what isn't ours. Envying someone else's possessions, or their life, is one of the quickest paths to unhappiness-- plain and simple.

The Niyamas: Yogic guidelines for how to treat yourself.

Sauca: Cleanliness. In addition to keeping the physical body clean, yogis also aim to keep clear the energetic body. Eating cleanly, making nutrition choices that support the practice, and minimizing toxins are essential to the path of yoga.

Santosa: Contentment. Put simply, be thankful for what you have.

Tapas: Austerity. This rule relates to keeping the body in peak physical condition, as the vehicle for yoga practice.

Svadhyaya: Self-study. As I mentioned earlier, yoga is a practice of self-discovery; therefore, it's important to engage in self-inquiry and self-examination. Pragmatically speaking, yogis can do this by educating themselves, studying sacred texts, reading and commenting on yoga blog [ahem], asking life's great questions (i.e. Who am I? Why am I here?), and regularly reflecting on the answers.

Isvara prahnidhana: Modesty. Humility. Surrender to God/the universe/a higher power/life force. In other words, we acknowledge and honor a greater energy that connects us all.

Think of it like this: There are lots of ways to hike a mountain. At the bare minimum, you could simply start walking-- hiking gear, map, and provisions be damned! However, taking into account the length and magnitude of the journey, you might consider using additional resources. Life is like this: A long, steep path through uncharted woods. And, the yamas and niyamas are a yogi's compass.

My best to you on your journey,
Om Gal