Saturday, February 27, 2010

Thank You Runners, Yogis, & Runners/Yogis!

It was a full house at today's Yoga for Runners Workshop! Thank you to the fun, spirited, and strong group of athletes and yogis who attended, Stil Studio for hosting, and Puma for its stylish trunk show. A few pics for those who couldn't join . . .

What the heck am I doing here? Anyone?

Demonstrating Dolphin Push-ups, a great way for runners to counter-balance the over-emphasis on the lower body that running creates.

Playing dress up in a piece by Alexander McQueen for Puma during the boutique's trunk show. Rest in peace, Mr. McQueen. The Puma peeps and many more miss you and your talents.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Quote: Never Imitate

"Insist on yourself; never imitate. Your own gift you can present every moment with the cumulative force of a whole life's cultivation; but of the adopted talent of another, you have only an extemporaneous, half possession. That which each can do best, none but his Maker can teach him. No man yet knows what it is, nor can, till that person exhibited it. Where is the master who could have taught Shakespeare? Where is the master who could have instructed Franklin, or Washington, or Bacon, or Newton? Every great man is an unique . . . If any body will tell me whom the great man imitates in the original crisis when he performs a great act, I will tell him who else than himself can teach him. Shakespeare will never be made by the study of Shakespeare. Do that which is assigned thee, and thou canst not hope too much or dare too much."

-Ralph Waldo Emerson, Self-Reliance*

*The Norton Anthology of Literature, Fifth Edition, Volume 1

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Reader Query: I Need a Yoga Retreat!

Hi Rebecca,

I recently started following you on
Facebook & have been reading your blog. I find you really inspiring and have great insights about health and well being.

I am turning 30 this year and am interested in going away on a yoga retreat for a couple of days, and wanted to get your opinion on places that you would recommend. I have been practicing yoga for about five years locally here in the Worcester/
Framingham area. I split my time in Worcester & South Boston, and am looking for a place that is drive-able (w/in at least 3-4 hours) around here... any recommendations you have would be greatly appreciated!

Thanks in advance for your help!

Hi Andrea:

This might be weird because we don't know each other, but TAKE ME WITH YOU! Sorry, let's focus on your question . . . Apologies.

Celebrating 30 with yoga, meditation, wholesome meals, fresh air, and plenty of rest was the best gift I've ever given myself. I am thrilled to hear that someone else is contemplating doing the same. Considering your geography, a few options in New England, ranging from rustic to ritzy, include: Karme Choling in Vermont's Green Mountains, Kripalu in the Berkshires of Western Massachusetts, and Canyon Ranch, with multiple locales nationwide including one in the Berkshires. While I've heard raves about Karme Choling and Canyon Ranch- the former for its authentic, organic atmosphere and approach; the latter for its elegance and sanctuary- I only have personal experience with Kripalu. Coincidentally, my first visit was- you guessed it- on my recent 3-0. From Worcester, it's an easy trip; hop on I-90 and keep driving!

There are two basic choices for your agenda while at Kripalu, and I recommend either one. First, you can register for a guided program by a guest teacher (March and April feature visits from experts such as Rodney Yee, Dharma Mittra, Bryan Kest, and Caroline Myss), or you can book a few days of the "Relax and Renew" program, which allows you to create your own itinerary from a wealth of in-house classes, seminars, and activities offered daily. Typical options include yoga classes, Ayurveda lectures, cooking demonstrations, chanting, dance, and more. It bears mentioning that Kripalu yoga classes are not very vigorous if you are a seasoned, intermediate student. They are enjoyable and taught by quality teachers; however, if you are aiming to take your practice to another level, it's better to register for a program with that kind of focus, say, the workshops by Yee or Kest. If you want to come and go as you please, opt for bodywork with a healing arts appointment; hike, eat, meditate, and do yoga at will; then Relax and Renew is a perfect fit to fete your 30th. Accommodations run the gamut at Kripalu, from shared, dormitory style rooms, to private rooms with a private bath (example above), and prices vary accordingly. You can book online or call and speak with the attentive and caring (just look how well they treat the St. Francis of Assisi statue outside!) staff via phone.

Best of luck planning your trip and a very blessed, happy birthday to you.

Om shanti,

[Photos: All original, taken by me. Kripalu, 2009].

Monday, February 22, 2010

Fun with a Foam Roller!

Among my favorite yoga and exercise props or pieces of home equipment is the simple foam roller, largely due to its versatility. When rolled along tight muscles, it serves as a poor gal's massage. It also creates some great abdominal workouts, a la Pilates. Finally, I like to use it as a companion for certain asanas, similar to a yoga block, when practicing at home or stretching at the gym. Check out the simple hip series below, beginning with a low lunge (a.k.a. a runner's lunge) and progressing into a supported half pigeon on the roller. This is a perfect little sequence for athletes, runners, desk jockeys, or anyone else with tight hips. Try it, and tell me what you think!

Start by lunging over the foam roller. It's nice to place your hands on it, for added support, similar to having a yoga block under each hand. Breath, here, deeply for 5-10 breaths.

Toe-heel your foot across the top edge of your mat, so that you are sitting on the roller. You'll notice it fits snugly into the crook behind your knee.

Walk your hands forward and start to move your torso toward the floor.
Eventually, you will fold forward completely, as in half pigeon pose. By rocking slightly forward and back along the roller, you'll feel added support and emphasis in your hip, hamstring, and outer thigh. The roller will also help adjust your shin toward parallel with the top edge of your yoga mat (the fullest expression of the pose). Be sure to flex your front foot to protect your knee, and if you feel any twinges in the knee, back off right away. Hold for 10 breaths or more on each side.


Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Yoga for Runners

Experience a fun workshop at a new studio! Runners, yogis, and runner/yogis of all levels are invited to join me for a special, personalized class to complement your current athletic training. See how yoga prevents injury, creates opportunities for purposeful rest, enhances body awareness, and provides a mental edge in competition.

What: Yoga for Runners Workshop

When: February 27, 2010, 2:00-4:00 p.m. (preceded by an Alexander McQueen for Puma Trunk Show)

Where: Stil Studio, Legacy Place, Dedham, MA

How to Register:

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Will YOU Be My Valentine?

Dear Readers:

I love you. There, I said it. You're loyal, warm, and witty. You listen. You communicate. And, I don't mean to gush, but you inspire me.

We've been together for a while now, going on 3 years (if you can believe it), and I think it's high time we made it official:

Will you be my valentine?

Instead of a sappy card or ho-hum flowers, I have a few yoga experiences and prizes up my sleeve to show you how much I care (and- full disclosure- to highlight a few cool partners this month). Enjoy!

Enter to win 2 tickets to this week's 1st Virtual World Yoga Conference (value = $197.00 per ticket), where you'll enjoy the inspiration, personal development, and access to some top names in the yoga and meditation field without the travel of a conventional conference. No schlepping your yoga mat through airport security, splurging on a hotel, or navigating your way around a strange city. Heck, you can even run a load of laundry while logging on from your home computer. Here's how to enter this week (the winner will be selected on Wednesday; the conference runs from the 19th through the 21st):
Be sure your name/screen names are easily identifiable and you can be contacted if you win.
Take a Free Class with Me, and Influence a New Yoga Brand. A few gal pals of mine are starting a company that will produce high performance yoga props, and they want to hear feedback from insightful yogis like you. To apply to participate in this fun focus group, which includes a free class taught by me and compensation in the form of a gift certificate to a topnotch yoga-inspired apparel store from this yoga start-up, take the survey in the upper left-hand corner of the blog. (The class will be held on Sunday, February 28th, at Inner Strength in Watertown, Mass.; space is limited.).
Win Bling Like Om Gal's or Make Your Own Design. reader Sarah Clayton of Tag You're It Designs is a crafty little thing, as evidenced by her line of customized jewelry. Choose meaningful, words, dates, or initials and keep them close to your heart, in the form of her disc necklaces. Enter to win your own "tag," simply by visiting her website. Go to the Giveaway page, and enter keyword: OM GAL. I chose the words "karma" and its English translation "action" for my design (pictured above). Get creative with your own and good luck!

xo Om Gal

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Asanas That Kick A**

I know I shouldn't play favorites. As a yoga teacher, I should love and appreciate all yoga poses equally, right?

Wrong. I can't help it; some asanas get preferential treatment.

You might recall that I've disclosed the pose I loathe most in the past. However, I've never divulged the one I love best, which is probably because I can't decide on just one. With so many kicka** asanas out there, it's nearly impossible for me to narrow down the choices.

Therefore, if it's okay by you, I'd like to settle on the Favorite 5:

1). Upward Facing Dog: Urdhva Mukha Svanasana

2). Wide-Angle Seated Forward Bend (variation): Upavistha Konasana

3). 8-Angle Pose: Astavakrasana

4). Lotus Pose (modified): Padmasana

5). I saved the best for last: Headstand (Sirsasana), known as the king of all asanas. It's uplifting yet grounding, restorative yet energizing, fun yet introspective. Well, look at that; maybe I do have a single favorite after all . . .

Post a comment with your favorite yoga pose and be entered to win 2 tickets to the first ever Virtual World Yoga Conference, on February 19-21. To be entered twice, become a Fan on Facebook. To triple your chances, follow Om Gal on Twitter at (Please be sure it's easy to record all your entries, i.e. with your name, the same screen name, etc.).

More details coming soon. The winner will be contacted by February 17.

[Photo credits: 1. & 4. by Jonathan Pozniak for lululemon, 2. Shot for Reebok 3. Shot for Ryka by Tyler Gourley].

Monday, February 8, 2010

One Yoga Hottie Wants Heated Classes to Cool It

Dear Om Gal,
I have been practicing yoga for about a year and found your blog around the same time. I really love reading your thoughts and advice. Please keep up the great work! I actually took your class last Sunday at Inner Strength. It was by far one of the most challenging and different classes I have taken; I really enjoyed it . . . except for the heat. I have been discussing with my husband and friends recently, all who swear by heated yoga, on why they love it so much. I have taken a handful of classes and it is just not for me. Part of me feels like it is a a gimmick to get you to workout harder. Shouldn't you be able to challenge yourself without the discomfort of the heat? Also, to be completely nitpicky and maybe a little silly, I really can't stand the smell. The deep breathing really becomes an issue when there is such a foul smell in the room! So I am wondering your take is on the issue. Do you only practice/teach in a heated room? What do you believe are the benefits? Any advice on how to push through? Thanks!

Dear Yoga Hottie:

First, thank you for coming to class on Sunday evening. Second, I'm really sorry about the smell. You see, I was snowboarding in Vermont all weekend and didn't have time to shower before class. I thought the incense and a little Jo Malone orange blossom fragrance would do the trick. Eeek, I guess not . . .

All joking aside, you should be able to enjoy a heated yoga class without it being stinky. Typically, the funk you smell at studios is more related to dingy mats and blocks rather than the bodies in the room, and you should feel free to share this feedback with the studio manager or teacher so he/she can help address the situation. I know Inner Strength will. From the sound of it, however, you may not enjoy hot yoga at all, which is perfectly OK. With so many styles of yoga available, many non-heated, there is bound to be an alternative to better suit your needs. Here's a guide to many popular styles of yoga including several that are more moderately heated, if at all.

But before you put hot yoga classes on ice for good, I'd like to address the rationale behind and benefits of a heated practice. With greater understanding of the reasons behind a heated practice, perhaps you'll enjoy it more, and you and hubs can continue to attend classes together, assuming this appeals to you both.

It's important to note that while not all yoga classes are hot, none of them are cold or even cool. The primary reason, of course, is that muscles contract in the cold, which presents a problem if the aim of an asana practice is largely to relax and lengthen your muscles. To that end, a heated practice accentuates the body's ability to open, move, stretch, and twist. Consider how much more willing you are to submerse yourself in a heated whirlpool than an ice bath or take a dip off the shores of Mexico than those of Maine. The heat also encourages greater joint mobility, blood circulation, and plenty of sweating, which is a healthy function of the body, in particular the skin, our largest organ.

Not only do lower temperatures make it more challenging for muscles to loosen and less likely for perspiration to occur, they're also not common occurrences in India, where yoga originated. More often than not, it's hot in India, so to a degree (excuse the pun) a heated room is closer to yoga's natural environment.

Still, I can see why you're wary that cranking up the thermostat is a bit of a ploy, a "gimmick," as you said, because you're not alone. For some, all that perspiring and panting and purifying seems a bit much, one more example of Westerners figuring that if a little bit of something is good, a lot must be even better (like, say, reality TV), and eventually, we go overboard. Or, perhaps, its the sinking suspicion that steamy temps skew a yogi's perceived exertion? "Shouldn't [we] be able to challenge ourselves?" as you aptly put it.

Indeed, we should, and relying on an external element for challenge defeats much of the purpose of practice. With that said, adapting to the heat becomes less of a challenge over time. For me, a heated practice feels normal and pleasant, so that's how I practice and teach most often. Moreover, I think this point helps illustrate a larger distinction as well:

Does the heat enhance asana practice and support the opening and cleansing of our bodies, or is it a mind trick to "push through?"

If you sense it might be the former as opposed to the latter for you, and hot classes could become pleasurable experiences that leave you feeling more stretched and serene than a room-temperature class might, then stay with it a bit longer. My advice for now is simply to take it slow. Here are a few additional hints to consider as well:
  • Take class more often; this will help you adjust quicker.
  • Be sure to pace yourself by taking child's pose when you feel fatigued or overheated.
  • Keep yourself hydrated all day before class so that you're not playing catch up on your mat by needing to guzzle water (a surefire way of feeling depleted).
  • Scope out areas of the room that are draftier or cooler than others. They certainly exist, and any teacher (or studio regular) can help you find a spot that's best for you.
If, after all this, you still discover that you'd rather unroll your mat in cooler pastures, then take heart that you will receive most, if not all, of the same benefits that you would through a heated practice. Your body may take longer to open, so move gingerly at first.

Have fun exploring different styles, and good luck acclimating to the toastier temps in heated classes.

Stay cool,
Om Gal

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Quote: Individuality

If I had not created my whole world, I would certainly have died in other people's.
-Anais Nin

Friday, February 5, 2010

Friday, I'm in Love: Blinging Out with My Ommies

Thank you to the gals at Sisco Family Jewels for the gift of these gorgeous, stackable bracelets. They include (clockwise from left): labradorite, rough pyrite, and matte black glass with a bit of bling in the form of a pave diamond Om symbol charm.

Don't you love these?

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Is There Such A Thing As Bad Yoga?

For the most part, yoga is like pizza (or, perhaps more accurately for this particular Thai cuisine obsessed gal, Tom Yum soup) . . . Even when it's bad, it's good. Are some variations better than others? You bet. Are some off-the-charts authentic masterpieces while others are pedestrian meals that simply get the job done? Absolutely. On the other hand, for those of us who know our pizza or our spicy, tangy Thai soup, there is such a thing as a bad slice of pie or not-so-yum Tom Yum.

From its inception more than two years ago, set out to reveal the best classes, teachers, products, trends, and tips in the world of yoga and wellness. If something isn't worth the word count, I save my syllables for another topic. However, I also aim to be authentic, and, to that end, I have to admit that sometimes bad yoga is, well, bad yoga. Hence, here are my top 10 culprits for a crummy yoga class, as compiled through highly scientific research including 15 years of yoga practice, my own teaching experience, and listening to my friends, students, and you, O.G. readers, kibbutz about what you like and don't while doing yoga. Please feel free to add your own.

The Bizarro Fake Accent: Thankfully, this trend has waned in recent years, but yoga teachers concocting bizarre accents and awkward patterns of speech in order to sound more exotic or authoritative was mysteriously prevalent at one time. Surely, this trend originated from the first generation of yogis to bring yoga to mainstream America, all of whom were foreigners (e.g. Sri K. Pattabhi Jois, B.K.S. Iyengar). Thus, it made sense that they had accents; English was their second language. But, you, native of the United States who grew up in Massachusetts or Pennsylvania or Colorado or wherever: Stop talking like you're British or Indian or a Shakespearean-New-Age-Surfer. You sound ridiculous. It confuses and distracts your students. So, please, STOP IT.

The Bait & Switch: If you order tofu and vegetables at your favorite restaurant, the waiter better not bring you veal parmigiana. If you ask your hair stylist for Giselle's long, sultry layers, you'd be miffed to leave the salon sporting Posh Spice's pixie cut. If you order a smart looking wrap dress online but open the package at home to discover a moo-moo, you'd want a refund. Where yoga is concerned, expectations and consistency are equally important. If the class is described as advanced, then the level of teaching should fulfill that description. If the style is listed as Vinyasa, it's poor practice to serve up a Forrest class and hope no one notices (or vice versa). Of course last-minute changes and substitutions occur in all small businesses, and students are understanding of this; however, a persistent lack of consistency on the part of a studio makes for spotty classes and sub-par yoga.

The Chronologically Challenged: When assembling a yoga class, timing is an art. The most obvious examples of this point are studios and teachers starting and ending classes on time; however, the timing of the class's sequence is also crucial. Any style yoga class should have a rhythm, whether it's a flowing, fast Vinyasa class or a slow, languid Hatha practice. I once attended a 2-hour class during which the teacher's lack of preparation became painfully obvious when the class seemingly concluded after 90 minutes (the traditional time allotted for most classes). The teacher knew he/she needed to fill an additional 30 minutes of "air time," so the result was a poorly organized afterthought of a sequence tacked on to the end of a traditional class. Alternatively, it's no fun to plod along through most of class, then have to rush through the latter portion (including sivasana!) to finish on time. Like a good pizza, timing is key. The crust should be crispy, not burnt; chewy, not undercooked.

The Inconsequential Sequencer: Similarly, a fine meal follows a logical sequence-- appetizer, entree, and dessert. A sequence of yoga asanas should do the same. Does yoga class have to be a narrowly defined set of poses performed in the same order each time? Heck no! But, the sequence should make sense for the students' physical, energetic, and emotional bodies. The best teachers know how to craft sequences that maximize their students' energy and ability level. Perhaps there's an anatomical focus (e.g. hips or backbends) or central theme (e.g. balance or clarity); whichever the case, the order of poses should build and evolve in a way that keeps students safe from injury by not doing too much too soon, work the body in a balanced and mindful manner, and allow students to integrate each movement fully through the use of counter-movements and rest. Put simply, each pose should make sense independently and as part of the larger context. Arbitrary or disorganized sequences lead to inconsistent experiences for students or, worse, injury.

The Agenda Pedaler: Ever walk into a studio, think your going to a yoga class, and end up getting a lecture in politics, religion, or veganism? Or, you sense that a portion of class is a thinly veiled sales pitch for something? This isn't to say that yoga teachers shouldn't have opinions or should dilute the content of their classes to be utterly uncontroversial. However, yoga classes shouldn't be confused with soap box opportunities. The best yoga classes inspire change naturally, rather than force it upon students.

The Incessant Talker: I don't need to belabor this point. Good yoga classes contain quiet moments of reflection for all. Bad ones often contain aimless yammering.

The Over-share: Sharing is good when it comes to dessert while on a date, a bottle of wine over dinner, comfy sweatshirts among roommates, or toys between siblings. Over-sharing, however, can be bad. Teachers who over-share personal information without applying it to the context of the yoga class are a drag. Typically, this characteristic is a strain of the Incessant Talker.

The Copy Cat: Nothing encourages students to check out mentally more than a teacher who puts on airs. It's natural for teachers to absorb the habits of each other, particularly if they work together or mentor one another. Mimicry is another story, and whether intentional or not on the part of the teacher, it's a snoozefest for students.

The Control Freak: Classes without freedom usually aren't fun. From teachers who discourage drinking water during class to those who cannot handle students who modify or substitute poses, teachers stunt their students' growth when they can't relinquish a little control.

The Hypocrite: Hypocritical teachers are still capable of teaching good yoga classes, which makes this topic more of a hot button issue. Whether it's having more dalliances with students than Tiger Woods with cocktail waitresses or talking more trash than Perez Hilton, a teacher might be able to relegate his/her shadowy quirks to outside the classroom. Eventually, students sense a discrepancy, and the yoga quality suffers.

And, people might begin ordering their pizza elsewhere.