Thursday, February 28, 2013

New Weekly Feature

I have a lot of cool ideas brewing for this blog.  Among them is a weekly feature I'm going to call "This Week in Practice..." I plan to do my darnedest to post "This Week in Practice" on Fridays.  It's meant to be a recap of - you guessed it - my week in practice.  The ups, the downs, the struggles, the triumphs.  I know I find a lot of comfort in reading other yoga blogs only to discover that I'm not alone.  It's my intention that "This Week in Practice" might help someone else, too.  However, it occurs to me that before I begin this weekly feature, you might be interested to know exactly what I practice.


(I'm a bit more active than the adorable Theodore... I promise you!)

My local YogaWorks, which I joined in January of last year (see my Welcome! post for more details), offers a range of classes including Vinyasa Flow, Yoga Blend, Iyengar, Restorative, and SculptWorks.  When I was new to the studio, I tried them all but found none of them turned on my firery pitta personality like the Vinyasa Flow classes.  I wanted to be challenged and it wasn't long before I'd progressed through the beginning levels and into the more advanced classes.

OF NOTE:  I wrote earlier that my exercise routine had dwindled down to nothing and that was true.  Yet in my 20's, I was a certified aerobics instructor and personal trainer.  I taught everything from step to cycling to hi/lo to sculpt to stretch to kick-boxing.  I truly believe that the body awareness I had already cultivated in those earlier exploits carried over into my yoga practice and allowed me a certain degree of freedom in the asanas.  Still, however, my strength was depleted and that continues to take time to rebuild.

So back to the story.  There I was, happily learning about yoga and practicing Vinyasa Flow.  As I also mentioned in my Welcome! post, I was hungry for more knowledge.  I bought a lot of books and started reading a lot of yoga blogs.  Many of the blogs I stumbled upon mentioned this thing called Ashtanga and so I bought a few more books and a video on that topic as well - David Swenson's among them.

 

I tried to follow along with David's video, pausing to check each pose against my various books.  Ashtanga was HARD.  Oh my gosh, I hated it!  HATED.  I put the books and video away and decided it wasn't for me.

Yet Ashtanga continued to permeate my consciousness.  Real, everyday people were doing it.  I know because I read their blogs.  One of my very early obsessions was Megan Walker's "Damn Good Yoga".  She broke it down and made it seem approachable.  Ashtanga tugged at my heart strings and kept calling me back.

I tried to get through any semblance of Primary a few more times.  At most, I did parts.  I still didn't like it but my "hate" began to soften somewhat.  Ashtanga had crept into my soul and refused to let go.  I filled my spare time with trying to learn more and more about this crazy practice.

Then, in the fall of last year, I had the opportunity to travel to London to spend a weekend with Kino MacGregor at TriYoga in SoHo.  I only wanted to take her arm balancing and backbending workshops because as far as I was concerned, I had no business doing a Led Primary or a Mysore Style class (which were also being offered).  When I inquired about the workshops though, I was told that the only remaining spots left were those set aside as a package - for the entire weekend.

I expressed my fears and wrote honestly about my experience thusfar with Ashtanga.  I had never even gotten completely through the video, for Pete's sake!  Yet the response from TriYoga could not have been more welcoming and supportive.  One of the women there had worked with Kino before and said that as long as I was willing to learn, I had as much right as anyone else to be there and that Kino would happily accommodate any level of practitioner.  I even wrote to Kino herself to ask her opinion and one of her assistants replied in a similar vein.

So off I went to London.  I was scared but determined to be open to the experience.  The very first time I ever did the Primary Series straight through as it was intended was in Kino's Led class on Saturday morning.  Sunday was Mysore Style and even though I used my cheat sheet (invaluable, by the way, for newbies!) I got through it.  I came home and signed up for a series of workshops with David Swenson the next month.  (He happened to be visiting LA at the time.)

After David's class one afternoon, I patiently waited to ask him about something I was really struggling with.  You see, I knew from all of my research that Ashtanga was something one did to the exclusion of any other style of yoga.  Six days per week with a break on moon days and lady's holiday.  Early morning was preferable.  But I didn't have access to an Ashtanga teacher nearby and in my heart I didn't want to abandon the organic nature of my beloved Vinyasa Flow classes either.  Could I do both?  Would that be allowed?  Would I be a "bad" Ashtangi?  Or perhaps not even worthy of that label at all?

I asked David about all of this and with his warm smile and gentle eyes he said, "You need to do whatever makes you happy."  Wise words.  He advised me not to worry about what I should be doing and just practice in the way that fit best with my life and my desires.

WOW.  What a relief!  One of the most senior Ashtanga teachers in the world had just given me permission to practice as I saw fit.  This gift was a turning point for me.  I had been carrying so much guilt and it was a tremendous release to just allow myself to be open to my own needs.

Both Kino and David were fantastic teachers and I cherish the time I had with each of them.  After those experiences, I began to realize the importance of seeking out a teacher in Los Angeles.  I asked several of my instructors at YogaWorks for recommendations and finally determined I could get to a class mid-day at another studio about an hour from my house.  (LA traffic necessitated the mid-day approach.)  And so I began practicing MySore Style Ashtanga Yoga on a weekly basis.

Today my weekly practice looks more or less like this:
  • Sunday - Ashtanga Led Primary
  • Monday - Vinyasa Flow
  • Tuesday - Ashtanga Mysore Style
  • Wednesday - Vinyasa Flow
  • Thursday - Vinyasa Flow
  • Friday - Home Practice (mixed)
  • Saturday - REST
And there you have it.  I realize this post has been long.  Longer than I intended.  Yet I hope if you have made it this far, you'll realize one thing...  Yoga can be anything you need it to be in your life.  We are all at different points in our journey and wherever your needs may fall, yoga is there with the answers.  It is not one thing.  Yoga is infinite in what it may offer us and is only constrained by the superficial bonds placed there by our own fears.

Namaste.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Chef Chloe Coscarelli

I went to a book signing in Santa Monica last week
and had the extreme pleasure of meeting vegan chef Chloe Coscarelli.


Chloe is every bit as sweet and as friendly as she looks in this photo.

I picked up two of her books, "Chloe's Kitchen" and "Chloe's Vegan Desserts".  They're both filled with ahimsa-laden vegan recipes as well as plenty of mouth-watering pictures.  (Don't you just hate cookbooks that are all text?  How uninspiring is that?!?!)  You can find each of Choe's books in my right sidebar under "Good Reads".

As I type this post, my last batch of Cinnamon-Espresso Chocolate Chip Cookies is just about finished baking.  Oh my goodness, but these are SINFUL!  If you're interested in making your own, I found the recipe online, along with an interesting (albeit somewhat dated) article about Chloe.  Seriously though... if you swoon over chocolate like I do,

MAKE. THESE. COOKIES!

For dinner, I'm going with Chloe's recipe for Falafel Sliders with Avocado Hummus.  I've never made anything like this before and I'm looking forward to it.  If it turns out, I'll be sure to post a picture of my results.


So here's my first-ever attempt at falafel.
I'm no food stylist, that's for sure, but these burgers were SO yummy.

And for good measure, here are the cookies...


Both the falafel and the cookies are from "Chloe's Kitchen", pages 107 and 221, respectively.  I'm so impressed with her books that I'm contemplating making every recipe in them, sort of like that movie "Julie & Julia".  I can't help myself.  I just get so excited when vegan food tastes every bit as good as "regular" food.  I wish more people were willing to try.  I think if folks realized just how good it can taste, they might be open to making a change.  Baby steps.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Welcome!

Hi.
My name is Savannah.
I think I've tried to start this inaugural blog post about fifty times in my head.
Where to begin?
How do I sum up what yoga means to me?

After much contemplation (and over-analyzation), I've decided to just start and see what flows out.
So here goes...

Through the years, I've tried a handful of "gym" yoga classes but they never really stuck.  I just didn't get what the hype was all about.  There was no connection for me.  Nothing to pull me in.

Then I slowly reached a point where my exercise dwindled to the occasional walk of the dog.  I cancelled my gym membership.  The number on the scale crept ever upward and I stopped the little jogging I had been doing because my knees and ankles hurt.  I was depressed and, quite honestly, miserable.

Given my past experiences, I don't know what prompted me to seek out yoga at that time, but I did.  I think that deep down in my soul I needed something BIG.  Something altogether different to shake things up.  To shake ME up.  My weight and my periodic depression are things I have battled my entire adult life.  I think I recognized that my old, tired "solutions" were never going to be the answer.  In hindsight, I think I was also searching for a deeper and more meaningful connection with the divine.  There was no way - given my limited exposure to yoga at the time - that I could possibly know yoga would offer me help with these things.  Perhaps it was a bit of manifest destiny?  Regardless, off I went.

A YogaWorks studio had opened near my home a few years back.  I even went in right after their launch to check it out, but I was turned off by the membership.  YogaWorks stayed in my consciousness though and that is where I returned in search of change.  They had a free week ad listed on their website and I told myself I'd try as many classes as I could in that time and then make a decision at the end of the week.

What can I say?  That free week was a little over a year ago now (January,  2012 to be exact), and I've been practicing 5 - 6 days per week ever since.  I find the teachers at YogaWorks to be extremely knowledgeable and articulate.  The sequencing of the classes is always intelligent and maintains a great flow.  But more importantly, here was a group of people who were willing to challenge me.  My YogaWorks instructors could see more in me than I could see in myself.  Kick my legs up over my head into a headstand?  Are you crazy!??!  Yet they believed I could do it and with dedication over time, I did.

And, of course, MOST importantly, the instructors at YogaWorks slowly introduced me to Patanjali's Yoga Sutras and the seven limbs of yoga beyond mere asana.  For me, this was the missing key.  My thirst for knowledge was (and still is) insatiable.  It felt like I had discovered this fountain of wisdom that I had been meant to drink from all along and now I urgently had to make up for a lifetime's worth of dehydration!

So much has changed in my life since that first week of free yoga.  I've traveled to take classes and workshops from some of the best yogis out there.  I've delved into the world of Ashtanga and I've begun a fledgling meditation practice.  I've grown in delightful ways both on and off the mat.

But life isn't all a field of daisies.  I still struggle with my weight and all of life's challenges.  I'm learning to overcome these though and I realize that a lifetime's worth of patterns aren't going to magically disappear without a lot of hard work.  Rome wasn't built in a day, as they say.  (Can you say samskaras, anyone?)  Still, I truly and earnestly believe that yoga is the tool that will help guide me out of any darkness.  I believe that with my whole heart.

My intention with this blog is to write about my personal journey here with honesty and integrity.  I want to share all of it - the good, the bad, and the ugly.  I have found such insight and support from reading other people's blogs that I feel really compelled to offer what I can.  I write for myself but I also write in the hopes that what I have to say might help just one other soul along his or her own path.  And isn't that what's at the core of our existence on this planet anyway?  Being able to connect with one another and realizing that at the end of the day, we're not so very different after all?...

Thank you so much for taking the time to read my post.  I appreciate it.

P.S.  Look for a list of my favorite blogs and books to appear in the sidebar soon!