Length Matters

By Uncategorized, Yoga No Comments

Now that I have your attention, let’s explore the concept of the size of your torso and the length of your limbs in navigating yoga postures. You may struggle in binds like extended side angle pose or hip openers like double pigeon. You may feel strong in dolphin pose but hesitant to kick up into a forearm balance. You may not understand why, after decades of diligent stretching, your hamstrings are so tight.

Have you ever considered that the underlying obstacle to your bind, hip opener, or arm balance is related to the unique architecture of your beautiful body? The length of your humerus (from your elbow to shoulder) can dictate success in a forearm balance. If you have a short humerus, you may not be able to clear your head from the mat.

What about long legs and a short torso? Or short arms? If you have shorter arms, attempting to interlace your hands in bound side angle pose creates a hunched and collapsed torso rather than a twist and heart opening. Using a strap might allow the bind with the desired opening. Based on the length of your arms, you may never be able to achieve the bind without the use of a prop no matter how determined you are to successfully persevere.

Yogis with long arms might effortlessly bind behind their back and grasp the opposite wrist with ease. Shorter arms make it more difficult to balance in toe stand if your fingers don’t touch the floor as you try to find your sweet spot of balance before floating your hands to heart center. If you have shorter arms, you may not be able to place the palms of the hands on the floor in low lunge postures. These examples reflect anatomical differences and have nothing to do with motivation, talent, or “yoginess.”

Students with longer torsos and shorter legs have an advantage in boat pose as well as floating into handstand from downward facing dog. These postures aren’t inaccessible to long-legged students, but they might be more challenging.

The bony structure of the hip also affects our yoga practice. It’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking we need to continue vigorous hip stretching because we don’t look like Instagram images. The shapes of the bones in the pelvis, like the shallowness or depth of the acetabulum (hip joint) and the length and angle of the head of the femur, are factors that won’t change no matter how many hip-opening postures we do. The challenge with the pelvis is that, unlike the length of arms, we can’t see what the bony structure looks like. For this reason, it’s easy to assume we need a lot more stretching which ultimately may not be appropriate for our bodies.

So aside from the pose, why does length matter? It has to do with why you’re stepping on your mat in the first place. In a social media world with perfect yoga postures streaming through our feeds, it’s easy to compare ourselves and our practices to others and their practices.

Each one of us has our own unique and beautiful practice. The power of yoga lies in its simplicity. Yoga is connecting to our center through movement and stillness, using the breath as a vehicle for grounding. Just as there is no perfect song or perfect food, there is no perfect yoga or perfect pose. Yoga is a reflection of our own anatomy, our own individuality, and our own journey.

In light and love,

Sandy

Breaking up with #facebook

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Preparing for the connection component of our upcoming Rakta Fall Challenge, I decided to experiment with a social media break. It would be a pre-determined short-term break-up. I was testing the hypothesis that so many of my parent-friends allude to: if I removed Facebook from my phone and stopped habitually scrolling, then I would: 1) increase my productivity; 2) improve my mental health; and 3) re-establish my sense of self.

I’ve been in a 10 year relationship with Facebook. I love the cute animal pictures, the funny and heroic animal videos, and keeping up with friends and family (especially those far away). But the connection to others is an empty or pseudo connection. I feel more like a voyeur in others’ lives, sometimes liking posts and pictures or commenting on them, but mostly just peeking without really committing. I don’t have time to reach out to all my friends sharing pictures of their trips, kids, and funny or special moments, and it makes me sad to realize how disconnected I’ve become.

Starting a business is an incredibly vulnerable experience. Since I opened Rakta, I felt a shift and a need for more personal privacy. I no longer wanted to share many pictures of my personal life and decided to use social media primarily for business. As much as I love smiling faces of my friends enjoying the outdoors and going on adventures together, I found myself feeling sad after scrolling through Facebook. I didn’t realize how much these feelings stayed with me during my day, sometimes impacting my general perspective and overall satisfaction for hours.

Day one of taking the app off my phone, I felt relieved. I didn’t miss it at all. A burden had been lifted, I immediately felt free, and my productivity went up. If I wanted to see friends’ smiling faces, I made a point to meet up with them in person. If I wanted to hear their voices and talk about something in particular, I called them. The pictures I took of my friends and family stayed private. They were just for me.

After being off social media for over a week, I decided to check in and see how I was doing, what kind of progress I made, and what I missed. Right away, I fell hard into the casual scrolling trap. I wasn’t getting as much done and I was losing my focus. I quickly determined that keeping social media off my phone was a better way to go—for me.

In our fall challenge, I’ll ask people to check in with their electronic relationships, especially their relationships with social media. Why and how do you engage? What does it do for you? How much is necessary and how much is too much? Just as I encourage curiosity and observation with movement and food in our bodies, I encourage you to take an intense look at social media and the effect digital platforms may have in your lives. Is hyper-connection creating more positive opportunities? How do we hold space where there is no real privacy or safe place? Depending on how we use digital apps, are our thoughts, opinions, and values changing?

For our Rakta Fall Challenge, let’s “yoga” the digital world. Let’s watch how we react to social media and technology, understand why we crave it, and figure out who we are when it’s in front of us and who we are when it’s not.

In light and love,

@fallonsandy

Balance

By Energy, Health, Mindfulness, Seasons, Transition, Wellness, Wellness Challenge, Yoga No Comments

I’m currently finishing off a bag of Unreal Chocolate Crispy Gems and talking myself into running back to Natural Grocers for something nutritionally important… and maybe if I think of it, I can grab another bag of these delicious dark chocolate quinoa vegetable coloring hard candies. Veggies, chocolate, and quinoa: that’s three superfoods in one!

But it’s all about balance right now. A number of people have approached me over the last few weeks asking for another challenge to get back on track, or commenting on just how out of balance they feel right now. I don’t usually eat bags of delicious candies especially while writing a blog on wellness—so what’s up?

We’re in transition right now. Families are shifting back into school routines and the day/night cycle is coming into balance.  But it’s confusing when we have flirty 80 degree days full of summer and sunshine, sunglasses and flip-flops. Many folks in Steamboat played hard after the prolonged winter weather in June, doing everything possible to squeeze four months of expected recreation into two. The end result for some of us was feeling way out of balance or even getting injured.

In my world, summertime is carefree. I love the sounds of birds, and I even love the sound of a sprinkler coming on at 4am. I feel light and I’m more apt to be spontaneous, or lazy, or kick routine and scheduling to the curb. From May through September, one of my favorite evening rituals is the date I make with my front porch. I sit with my dog, taking in beautiful valley views, listening to summer sounds, and feeling the breeze on my skin.

Over the next few weeks, I’ll slowly feel this time slipping away as schedules get busier, darkness arrives earlier, and temperatures becomes cooler. Soon I’ll store my coveted chair away for the winter. As school settles in to the new normal, things just feel different.

I’ve polled adults without kids and fully grown kids. Everyone I’ve talked to notices a change as soon as school is back in session. The contagious carefree spirit of summer leaves, replaced with a heavier feeling related to routine and regimen.

Our yoga practice begins to change at this time of year as well. We incorporate more balancing postures and our breathwork focuses on balance in the body. We add more grounding postures to reconnect with our center. Embrace this shift. Use this time of year to be more introspective.

Add in some forward folds and child’s pose connecting the center of your brows to the ground (or a prop) and breathe. You don’t need an established home yoga practice or a fancy space for child’s pose. Take a restorative yoga or wall yoga class and just slow down. With cooler temperatures, baked or steamed apples with ginger, cinnamon, and clove is a great food to eat.

Carve out some time every day just to observe. Observe the beauty of the green we have now and the hint of gorgeous colors to come. Feel the breeze on your skin. Drag a stick along a fence. Be aware of your breathing. Come back to your center.

The focus of our next challenge from October 21st through November 22nd is balance, ground, and connect. It’s never too early to start making little steps towards balancing, grounding, and connecting.

In light and Love,

Sandy

Get Outta Your Head

By Energy, Mindfulness, Values, Vulnerability, Wellness, Yoga No Comments

I spend a lot of time in my head thinking, analyzing, overthinking, planning, dreaming, and creating. One of the reasons I was initially drawn to yoga is the freedom of getting out of my head and connecting with my breath and my body. I liked it so much that I became a yoga teacher, opened my own yoga studio, and started my own yoga business.

Instead of living in a stretchy bliss of ease and acceptance, I began to overthink and overanalyze all things yoga. I can tell after a class I taught if I was too in my head—the class didn’t feel right and I’m left dissatisfied.

When I take yoga classes or practice at home, I’m still in my head. “What a great cue,” I think, or “wow, I never thought of that sequence.” As much as I try to simply receive, I’m stuck in the mode of creating, learning, and trying to improve and evolve as a teacher. Have I lost yoga to my monkey mind?

I was recently invited to preview a Qi Gong Equine Therapy model a friend of mine created. She wanted to test things out before working with caregivers of hospice patients. Having no exposure to Qi Gong, I had no idea what to expect.

I grew up riding and raising horses, so I figured I had that part down. I was with a wonderful group of women and we were warned that emotions could arise. I trusted we would hold space for each other.

After a brief introduction, we did a few basic Qi Gong exercises. I was immediately blown away by how grounded, peaceful, open, centered, and calm I felt. I didn’t notice until later that I was actually out of my head for a bit. The purpose of these exercises was to get into our hearts to connect with the horses.

We went into the arena to find our equine partner. Some horses might choose us, we were told, or we might choose the horses. Entering the arena, I had butterflies. I had memories of walking into a middle school dance. The horse I was drawn to passed me by. Feeling like we were playing musical chairs, I quickly chose a handsome chestnut gelding named Doc. Doc looked completely disinterested in me.

I wondered if I made a bad choice. We all circled up. The horses came over and circled up with their human partners, too—except Doc. He turned away from us and took a nap.

My brief relationship with Doc felt a bit like my current relationship with my 14 year old son. Before transitioning to the next activity, I asked if I should pick another horse. I wasn’t sure Doc and I were a good fit.

I was assured that I absolutely had the right horse. I was skeptical but started the work of learning to connect by leading with my heart and getting out of my head. Without using verbal commands or touching the horses, we were to use our eyes, our heart energy, and some movement to invite the horse to walk with us. This is based in Qi Gong as the mind goes where the eyes go and energy goes where the mind goes.

It’s hard for me to put into words what this experience was like. Before I began, I was instructed to close my eyes, come into my breath, get out of my mind, and assess my energy level on a scale of 1-10. We were reminded that all relationships look different and we were encouraged to just be.

My energy level was a 7-8. I was nervous that Doc and I would fail. And if I failed to connect with Doc, then naturally I’d fail to connect with my son. Realizing how in my head I was, I started questioning my ability to teach yoga, berating myself until the big question finally reared its ugly head: am I enough?

I found my way out of my head, focusing my gaze and opening my heart. As Doc and I connected, I felt something I can only describe as a pleasant electric shock in my heart. My heart felt like it was bursting open. I could feel myself beaming and fighting back tears. The connection was immediately lost when my monkey mind kicked in, but we could re-establish connection when I came back to my center, my body, and my breath.

It was one of the most profound experiences I’ve had with a horse and I struggle to accurately describe it. For days afterwards I experienced euphoria while also feeling like I could burst into tears.

What did I learn? That I had more connection with a simple Qi Gong exercise than I’ve had recently with my yoga practice. That I’m in my head. That relationships that don’t look like you think they should can still evoke connection. I learned what pure, innocent connection feels like. And most importantly for me right now, I’ve become even more inspired to get out of my head and teach from my heart.

In light and love,

Sandy

 

Keep Your Cool

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As summer approaches and the temperatures rise, we’ve got you covered at Rakta. In Ayurveda, summertime is pitta season. Pitta is the fire element. When it’s in balance, it gives us drive, motivation, and ambition. The summer heat can produce too much fire element in us, which can manifest as anger, GI upset, heartburn, joint pain, and skin rashes.

Summertime in Steamboat is full of heat. Many of us don’t use air conditioning. We enjoy being outside to hike and bike in the sun at high elevation. When we add in a hot yoga practice, we can end up with a lot of heat in the body and start to not feel so good.

Many hot areas of the country have busy hot yoga studios during the summertime. These communities usually have air conditioning and don’t recreate outside as much as we do in Steamboat. So how do we keep our cool and continue our practice?

If possible, practice heated yoga early in the day. The temperature inside the studio will be lowered slightly. Yoga postures change seasonally as well. During the summer, it’s important to keep the energy and breath moving in order to avoid creating too much heat around the heart or in the head. Summer may not be the best time to bust out a ton of headstands, arm balances, and other high exertion postures which can often induce breath holding. Instead, a slow, steady vinyasa practice may be a better idea.

Breath techniques such as sitali breath, curling your tongue like a straw or pursing the lips and inhaling, helps cool the body. What you eat after yoga is also important. Meeting up for margaritas, spicy salsa, and chili rich food right after a hot class may sound like fun, but adding more heat in the form of alcohol, chili peppers, and seasonings can increase pitta and leave you with heartburn and an stomach upset.

The body’s digestive fire is not as strong in the summer. Integrate cooling foods like watermelon, cherries, grapes, pineapple, cucumber, zucchini, asparagus, ghee, milk, and rice as well as spices like fennel, mint, and coriander. Avoid spicy foods and foods with heating properties (tomatoes, radishes, onions, ginger, and mustard). Beverages shouldn’t be ice cold as that can disrupt the digestive fire. Carbonated beverages should be avoided.

The most important guide to pitta and hot yoga in the summer is to be aware of how you feel. If you don’t have any issues, that’s great! If you find yourself getting angry at your houseplants, consider looking at your diet, the times of day you’re outside, the time of day you practice yoga, and the temperature of your showers.

In light and love,

Sandy

Pushing Through Fear

By Goal Setting, Health, Yoga No Comments
Becky Kuhl
Becky Kuhl: strong and perfectly imperfect.

I love fitness. And now, I can officially call myself a fitness professional. I decided to change my career in my 40s which was super scary, but that’s not what I want to focus on right now. I eat, breathe, and dream about different exercises, programs, and playlists. I wake up in the morning and put on workout clothes. I’m 100% passionate about teaching Yoga Sculpt and training people one-on-one. What I do is important to me, and helping people through whatever they may be going through is where I want to be in life.

For continuing education credits for my personal training certificate, I decided (with encouragement from a good friend) to take the Level 1 CrossFit Trainer course. I’ve wanted to do it for a while, but it’s expensive and quite honestly I was nervous and scared. I saved my pennies and mustered up the courage to do it.

I showed up the first day nervous but ready to go. The coaches were absolutely amazing and inspirational. We broke out into small groups to practice movements and fine tune them. Very quickly I realized that my ability to perform certain movements to perfection was extremely challenging, if not almost impossible. Now what I’m about to say is not an excuse, but rather a reality. I have mobility issues in my shoulders and thoracic spine. I also have a pronounced lumbar curve. I even have a partial knee replacement, but that wasn’t causing my issues in these particular movements.

I went through the day trying my best to achieve perfection, but to no avail. It just wasn’t happening. That evening I went back to my parents’ house where I was staying and bawled. How can I coach and instruct others to do movements that I can’t achieve to perfection? My confidence was shattered, and what I eat, breathe, and dream (my passion) was being challenged.

After I got all my tears out, I was able to think more sensibly. First I thought about body mechanics, and how achieving the perfect position in a few of the movements was not ideal for me. I decided that those positions are good goals to work toward by working on my mobility issues, but knowing in the end, although I may improve, it may not be the perfect standard. Then I thought about what is safe. My lower back was aching that evening, so I knew that something was out of whack. I realized that forcing myself into a few different positions was not necessarily good for my body. I believe that body mechanics and technique are very important for injury prevention, but that may look a little different for different people and different bodies.

My last thought was: how great is it that I can have a different perspective? Ultimately, it will make me a better coach and instructor because I understand that everyone has different issues to work on and not everyone has the perfect athletic body, including myself! So, by the second day I had my confidence back along with a new perspective. Sometimes it takes a few tears to be able to overcome difficulty.

My point of sharing this is to hopefully build up your confidence. When you walk into yoga class, whatever modality, remember that you’re on your own journey. It doesn’t matter what the yogi next to you is doing or looks like. What matters is that you showed up because you want to improve, whether physically or spiritually. You have strengths and weaknesses. So does that person next to you who looks absolutely perfect. So stop judging yourself. And definitely stop comparing yourself. It’s been said that, “The enemy of contentment is comparison.” Give yourself some grace and high five the yogi next to you because everyone has their stuff that they may be hiding. Physically and emotionally. Even in that person who looks perfect. Encourage each other, love extremely, and have confidence that you’re right where you’re suppose to be.

Although my weekend started off rough, I was able to turn it around and become more empowered. I’m so happy I pushed past my fear. You never know what you may miss if fear holds you back.

Stay strong.

Love, Becky

Brene Brown, Netflix, and my Rabbit Hole

By Brene Brown, Values, Vulnerability, Wellness No Comments

As many of you know, I’m a huge BBF: Brene Brown Fan. I love her books, Ted Talks, and most recently her Netflix documentary, Brené Brown: the Call to Courage. She’s a born storyteller and as she humorously shares stories, you almost don’t realize how much learning, contemplation, and reflection you’re experiencing. In her documentary, she talks about what it means to dare greatly, or to be vulnerable.

Because I believe the world would be a better place if everyone watched Brene’s videos and read her books, I enthusiastically encouraged students to watch her as I began teaching class the other day. I even used the quote that inspired the title of her book Daring Greatly. While I could easily conjure up so many past examples of being vulnerable in my life, it seems ironic that I didn’t see my very next experience in vulnerability and shame as I was heading right into it.

Over spring break, I changed up my flow and it had some tricky transitions. I had already taught it successfully a few times, but this time I ad-libbed some new poses and I got lost. Getting lost in teaching happens—you lose your train of thought, miss a posture, confuse the left with the right, no big deal. But I was really lost, completely disoriented, and without traction. I was so far down the rabbit hole that I couldn’t get out. I was distracted by stories and thoughts in my head: “I’m not good enough to teach” and “I don’t belong here.” After class, a friend who gives very honest feedback told me the class wasn’t as bad as I thought it was, but I was a complete mess. I know it’s just a yoga class, but I still felt inadequate, embarrassed, and ashamed.

Any kind of teaching is generally considered a vulnerable experience. You put yourself out there—your knowledge, ability, values, and emotions. By nature, I’m an introvert. I’m fairly shy. Big parties overwhelm me. When I’m not teaching, I spend a lot of time alone.

Even though teaching yoga isn’t rocket science, time and care go into creating a playlist, theming a class, coming up with a sequence. You don’t really know until you’re in the middle of class if things will come together as you planned or fall apart. I was watching myself fail and it was a perfect reminder of Brene Brown’s lessons. I started my class with her wise words and stumbled into a rabbit hole. I was living her Netflix documentary in my 60-minute flow.

As we approach the two-year anniversary of Rakta Hot Yoga, I think back on all the times I felt vulnerable as I ventured through the process of starting a business in a small town. I’m so glad I chose to dare greatly. I’m so thankful to the Rakta community for all the love and support we have for each other. Brene Brown emphasizes the value of embracing the ordinary versus always chasing the extraordinary. After traumatic events, she says, it’s the small and ordinary things we don’t have anymore that we miss the most—the unremarkable moments that hide between the momentous occasions.

I feel privileged to be able to spend ordinary days with this community coming together on our mats. I do love the extraordinary gatherings (goat yoga, guest teachers, donation classes), but it’s the everyday classes and connecting with people that I love the most.

As we enter into a new year, I vow to continue to dare greatly. I vow to keep taking chances and trying new things. I vow to keep being vulnerable, and I invite you to do the same. Let’s not miss the ordinary for chasing the extraordinary. Let’s allow for vulnerability on our mats, through our flows, and in our lives.

In light and love,

Sandy

Do it for Drew

By Fundraiser, Yoga No Comments

21 years ago my (now) sister-in-law Dana took me to my first yoga class in Austin, Texas. “It will be fun!” she blurted.

45 minutes into the 90-minute class, I was flooded with doubt and a little bit of fear. Down dog felt like infinity. Was my blood sugar low? When I shampooed my hair the next day, muscles I’d never noticed before were sore.

Somewhere between the active aching and residual tenderness, I realized I felt great. In my very first yoga class, I struggled and strained and I fell in love with Savasana. I knew I would do yoga again.

More than two decades later, it’s easy to see how much yoga has changed my life. It took just one class and, of course, just one person.

A few years ago, Dana was diagnosed with breast cancer. She underwent surgery and reconstruction with grace and bravery that humbled me. Unfortunately, she has recently experienced a recurrence and is about to face another battle against cancer, this time with surgery and aggressive chemotherapy.

Now when I do yoga, I dedicate my practice to Dana. I send intentions for healing and health and I send prayers and positivity. I send her as much as I can as often as I can.

For the month of March, I’m encouraging all of us in the Rakta community to dedicate our practice to someone. Live like Sancy, Fight like Charlee, Do it for Drew. You can send strength to someone who needs it and love to someone who has passed. You can encourage someone to be bold or have faith. You can soothe someone’s anxiety or anger. You can send joy. Bring and keep a part of someone else with you as you move on your mat.

On Thursday March 7th, Rakta will be honoring the memory of Drew Rushton. Dedicating our practice to his memory, all classes will be donation based with the donations going to the Steamboat Viking Youth Hockey Team. Wake up and flow, take a sculpt lunch, and get fire hot sweaty after work. Join us all day long. In community, we will love and remember Drew.

Sign up for classes or drop on in! #doitfordrew

Meditate for Heart Health

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Happy February! In addition to Valentine’s Day, Groundhog Day, Presidents’ Day, National Heart Health Month, I just learned it is indeed National Bird-Feeding Month. In Steamboat, we’ve also got Winter Carnival and Blues Break—it’s amazing we can fit all of this into 28 days.

This year, I want to take a different approach to Heart Health. What does Heart Health Month entail? Usually, it’s a month of reducing heart disease by smoking cessation, eating heart healthy foods, getting exercise, and reducing stress. I want to focus on meditation.

Meditation has been shown to decrease blood pressure, decrease depression and anxiety, improve sleep, reduce stress, improve focus and concentration, help with cravings and addictions, and according to a recent study in the American Heart Association Journal Circulation, improve blood flow to the heart and reduce mortality risk from heart disease.

We’ve had some great wellness speakers at Rakta this year including Jennifer Meister and Dr. Kristen Race. Dr. Race introduced a very simple and effective breath-based meditation technique that only takes 3-5 minutes a day. This breath-based technique was part of a lecture on overcoming obstacles in breaking and creating habits. During any meditation, we improve the function of our prefrontal cortex in the brain. The prefrontal cortex is responsible for planning, decision-making, moderating social behavior, and keeping our reptilian (impulsive) brain in check.

Studies support meditating during the day if you’re having a hard time sleeping at night. Just as one style of yoga doesn’t appeal to everyone, there are also lots of ways to meditate. Some people like going to a community guided meditation, others prefer an app on their phone. Some people choose a specific seated position and incorporate chanting, mantras, or certain hand gestures (mudras). It really doesn’t matter how you meditate, just that you do it.

What are the obstacles that prevent us from meditating? Most often, I hear people say: “I don’t have time.” If you fall into that category, try replacing one time a day that you typically spend scrolling through Instagram, Snapchat, Facebook, or emails with 3-5 minutes of meditation. Often I turn to social media as an escape—I’m overwhelmed and just want to check out for a few minutes. Meditation is a great way to improve energy, clarity, and focus, and even though funny animal videos and cute animal pictures are so super funny and cute, they can wait.

Another comment I often hear is: “I can’t meditate, my mind is too busy.” Thanks to modern society, we ALL have monkey minds that are continually bombarded by everyday responsibilities as well as the pressure to multi-task and achieve. Allowing your mind to free form wander with gentle reminders to come back to the breath or a certain word (mantra) starts to create space between thoughts.

At a wellness conference I attended last June, I took meditation classes by Light Watkins, author of Bliss More: How to Succeed in Meditation Without Really Trying. He presented a great analogy for the brain during meditation. Imagine your brain is a toddler let loose in your kitchen. All the drawers and closets have been opened and explored, and maybe things are pulled out and moved around. That’s the brain during meditation. Let it wander and explore without expectation or judgment of the experience.

We’ll be kicking off our February 10th through May 1st Meditation Challenge during our only Sunday Free Wellness meeting this month on February 10th at 3pm. Come learn more about the power of meditation, connect with an accountability partner, pick up easy meditation techniques to use at home, and take care of your heart!

In light and love,

Sandy