Move It Or Lose It —Variety is The Spice of Embodiment..

foot and hand danceby Julian Walker

I have been reflecting lately, as I continue my own studies and experiential exploration of mind-body practice, on the old adage “move it or lose it…”

In neuroscience there is the relatively new (20 years or so) concept of neuroplasticity.

This is defined as how the brain changes both function and structure in response to experience.

In terms of practice, it is very pertinent that mindful states heighten neuroplastic change in the brain, as does the feel-good reward chemistry activated by physical activity, meditation etc..

The sweet spot for neuroplastic change combines:

* Familiar beneficial routines: yoga sequences, dance warm ups, meditation techniques, familiar locations, communities, and rituals, with
* Novel experiences: new physical and mental challenges and discoveries, all held in
* The mindful, warm-hearted sense of exploration and self-care
* An open-ness to acknowledging and taking in what feels good, while cultivating resilience and compassion in the face of our difficulties.

So, mix it up, friends!

Come to yoga, come to Dance Tribe, meditate at your desk for 2 to 5 minutes before you reply to THAT email, roll around on the floor at home before dinner for 15 minutes, experimenting with new movement patterns that use familiar shapes or sequences as a platform for improvisation.

Notice the blind spots you usually avoid and get interested in how you can reclaim resilient, courageous, compassionate engagement of how you work with that shoulder, low back, sense of gratitude or forgiveness, open-ness to new experience and healthy risk taking etc…

 

My Evolving Sequence: Stability & Variety in Movement

If you take my classes regularly, you may have noticed that my yoga sequence has evolved over the last few years to include a couple significant new innovations:

1) I have been seeking to highlight moments of the kind of joint stability work that has been sorely lacking in the last 40 years or so of yoga instruction.bracing

This has included refining certain aspects of the core work I learned from Ana Forrest many years ago, when she was pioneering the inclusion of abdominal exercise in yoga.

Because human knowledge keeps evolving, in the years since, the “draw your navel toward your belly” instruction has been replaced (based on newer research) with more of a focus on “abdominal bracing” or firming up your core as if expanding a cylinder form the center of your abdomen outward in all directions.

I have also been really exploring how to focus on shoulder stability, because this is our most mobile, versatile, and therefore vulnerable joint —and the fast swooping caturanga that has characterized the popular flow sequence since the last 90’s has a massive blind spot in terms of bearing all your weight rapidly down to the floor in that fancy-looking (but bad for your rotator cuff) transition!

In addition to emphasizing more of a joint stability awareness (hips, low back and shoulders) you may have noticed me seeking to inspire an attitude of inquiry around movement…

The transitions in and out of postures, rotating certain joints as part of the more static posture, and reminding your brain and neuromuscular system that there are ranges of motion, and responsive articulations that have to be used in order not to be lost!

Routine is good —but if we always do the same things in exactly the same ways, we run the risk of conditioning a very limited sense of embodiment, and also of going into auto-pilot mode and missing the alive, intelligent, curious exploration that always unfolds only in the present moment.

For me, yoga, dance, martial arts, fitness, and any kind of mindful practice, are all part of one continuum that invites adaptive health in response to experience and placing demands on our system.

I am excited to keep sharing this process with you!

See you soon,
~Julian

You know your yoga practice is working when your life gets better NOT when your yoga gets better.

You know who I’m talking about.  Maybe this was you; maybe this is you.  The mala bead wearing, namaste talkin’, slightly arrogant, super neurotic, i-never-eat-meat-refined-flour-or-non-organic-food,  type. The person who looks down on anyone who doesn’t do yoga, isn’t vegan, has “negative energy” or has a corporate job.

I know this person because this person was me.

When I lived in New York City, I would pause when I walked by a McDonalds and pray for the people inside. I prayed that they would find enlightenment and stop eating such low quality food made with tortured animals and additives.  Then I would walk off, feeling better than everyone and very satisfied with myself.

You see, yogis don’t overtly judge, we cover it up in spiritual guise.    621855_336352119784529_1103007688_o

I practiced yoga religiously, I was a vegetarian, I had mantras memorized, I’d been to India, and could get both feet behind my head. Meanwhile, I was stuck in a codependent relationship, addicted to sugar, and in a constant battle with a core belief that I wasn’t enough.

For me, yoga is a tool for self-awareness.  When we are self-aware, we can cultivate compassion.  Compassion for ourselves is where it starts; if we don’t have that, we’re destined to idealize or demonize others. Yoga teaches me to remain grounded in the moments when I want to be reactive.  My yoga practice has forced me to face my inner critic and start to let go of my perfectionist (who believes that I only deserve love if I’m perfect).  If I think that I need to be perfect to be worthy of happiness, then I will subconsciously be thrilled when I see others being imperfect (like the folks eating Mc-y- D’s, or someone doing an improper chatturanga), for this gives my flailing self-esteem a fleeting boost.

Back when I used yoga as a whip with which to beat myself, I was drawn to more punitive teachers who made me feel worthless and want to strive for their approval.  I wanted to master the inner spiral, and the rooting of the big toe while doing perfect Ujayi breathing and staring at a drishdi.  As I started to get wiser and see that perfectionism is a dead end road, I started making different choices.  My practice turned into an opportunity to love and accept myself exactly as I was in that moment (that concept would have made me throw up in my mouth previously).

Today i know this:  the purpose of discipline is to create more freedom. If your discipline just leads to more discipline, it ain’t workin’ baby!  I knew my sugar addiction was cured, not when I stopped eating sugar, but when I could have one or two pieces of chocolate without inhaling the entire bar and then going for another one while drowning in my own shame.

If you are like I was, and you’re imprisoned by a quest to be the perfect yogi, ask yourself this question, “what am I afraid would happen if I let go a little?  What am I trying so hard to control?”

I am not suggesting that discipline is bad.  In fact, it’s necessary.  As a step towards freedom. I don’t look back on my years of discipline and think i did the wrong thing; Ijust see now that I was mistaking the boat for the shore.  I know my yoga is working because I’m happier.  My relationships are health, I don’t have a voice in my head all the time telling me that I’m worthless.  I can’t get my feet behind my head anymore, I don’t do full splits or balance in handstand, and I have a slightly pudgy belly.  And I’m happy! Not perfect- I have a lot more to learn, and I’m OK with that.

Next time you’re on your mat, ask yourself this question, “who am I being right now?” Many years ago I was in a very packed, sweaty, vinyasa flow class filled with overachievers.  At one point the teacher said to us, “So you can do all this fancy yoga, but does anyone want to hang out with you?”  Do they?

-Hala Khouri

Early-Bird Pricing is NOW Good through 12/15 —Find Out More Here:
2016 Training

The Thing You Can’t Not Do

by Jay Fields

I had wanted to learn how to ride a motorcycle for almost ten years. For as much as I wanted to, though, my internal arguments against it were so strong that it kept me from doing it. It’s not safe. It’s too expensive. I probably couldn’t do it even if I tried. My mom would kill me.

But last year the idea of riding a motorcycle started hanging around me more persistently. Even though I hadn’t said it out loud to myself or anyone, I knew after a couple of months of the idea hanging around that it had passed from “I’d maybe like to do that someday,” to “I know that it is inevitable that I am going to do that. Soon.”

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And I knew that because I got that feeling in the quiet part of myself that I simply couldn’t not do it. That to not do it would be to say no to something important about the very nature of who I am—or who I was becoming. And though I really wanted to know what that was, I sensed that it wasn’t my privilege to know what I was really saying yes to before I said yes to it. It was simply my responsibility to say yes.

So I did. I took a weekend course in how to ride, and discovered that I loved it. I bought a bike and rode it 100 miles up and down the road I live on before I took it out on another road. (Sorry, neighbors!) For the first few months I was more terrified than I had ever been doing anything in my life. But in the midst of wide-eyed terror, I also had felt types of freedom and joy and agency and love that I had never felt before.

One year, two motorcycles, and 9,000 miles later, I could write a book about all that I’ve learned from riding—in part because there’s so much, and in part because what I’ve learned has been truly remarkable and surprising. It’s the kind of self-learning that before I had only gained through my yoga and meditation practice, and through seeing a therapist. It still kind of blows my mind the power that riding has had, and continues to have, for me.

And though I might, indeed, write that book one day about what I’ve learned from motorcycles, that’s not what I’m really writing about today. What I’m really writing about today is the category of things that we deeply want to do and that make no practical sense. The kind of things that though you, or anyone else around you, could argue six ways to Sunday why it’s probably not the best thing for you to do at this time, you just know in your bones that you really, really want to. More, that you must. It’s the thing you can’t not
do.

Along with learning to ride a motorcycle, doing a yoga teacher training also typically falls into that category. Because let’s be honest—how many people say to themselves, “I’m going to train to become a yoga teacher because it’s the practical thing to do.”

People come to training to be a teacher (even if they suspect they’ll never teach) because they get that sometimes sickening feeling that it would be a disservice to their own development if they didn’t. That they must, because it feels like for some inexplicable reason that’s on the opposite side of an imaginary spectrum from “practical,” it holds a key that will unlock some special kind of something they need.

If you’re that person, I’m here to whisper to you that it’s ok—it’s reason enough. And then some. (And just for perspective, that’s coming from one of the most practically-minded people out there.) Because here’s what’s true from my experience as a student in and a teacher of yoga teacher trainings: they aren’t about learning how to teach yoga.

Well, they are, in that you will learn the basic information you will need to teach yoga. But they aren’t in that you will learn so much more about yourself and other people and the practice of yoga than you ever imagined. It’s one of those learning experiences where it seems almost universally true that people go in thinking they’ll get one thing and they come out with something bigger or deeper or different than what they thought they were saying yes to in the first place.

Side note: I think AHEM is an especially potent incubator for this kind of transformational experience because Hala, Julian and I are committed to giving you the practical information you will need to teach yoga as well as to really creating a learning environment that supports self-awareness and self-responsibility.

So if you know exactly why getting a yoga teacher training is actually the most practical step for what you want to do next in your life, great. Sign up. Be willing to be surprised.

And if you have a list of ten reasons why it’s probably not a great idea for you to do a teacher training—but you also have that feeling that you can’t not do it, great. You don’t have to know why. It doesn’t have to make sense. You don’t have to know how you would apply this training. You don’t even have to want to be a yoga teacher. You just have to say yes to the part of you who senses it’s important to say yes, and then open yourself to learning.

Early-Bird Pricing is NOW Good through 12/15 —Find Out More Here:
2016 Training