This is my advice on how to be a good yoga student based on my observations. This is in no particular order and is not exhaustive:
1. Go to class prepared with a clean yoga mat, two blocks, and a belt if possible.
2. Put the world aside for the time you are in class. Phone off. Honor this time with yourself, it is deserved.
3. Learn to listen and be open to being guided. The mind can be very resistant causing anxiety and tension to manifest during the practice. Some think you have to be supple in body in order to even start yoga when in fact it is the mind that needs to be flexible.
4. Let the person guiding the class know if you are pregnant or have contraindications. Some poses will need to be modified if not avoided depending on your situation.
5. Be conscious of your breath, it is your best guide. When it is not calm, you are not calm. Take a moment, pause, listen, and then come back to the practice if it is appropriate.
6. Try the modifications that are proposed before diving headfirst into a posture. This is valid for beginners and not so beginners. The way to build a strong foundation is to go step by step, even revisiting basic postures to be prepared for more "advanced" variations. Just because you can do something does not mean it is good for you at the moment or is in fact functional.
The only way to know is to go step by step.
7. Do not concern yourself with other people's capabilities. Each persons proprioception, range of motion and strength are different. Not better or worse, different. Respect your asana journey and the know that it will be a long and interesting one if you go about it wisely and remain open to good instruction.
8. You are your own best teacher. If it does not feel good or causes pain, don't do what is proposed. There is always an alternative.
9. Not every teacher will guide the way you need to be guided.
There are as many ways to teach as there are teachers. Find a teacher that works for you but don't give up on yoga.
10. Above all, don't give up on yourself.
In this time of self-love, self-care, and well-being, an increasing number of people are beginning to be more physically active, which is a wonderful and necessary pursuit for the mind, spirit, and body. One thing I have noticed though is that amidst all of this activity there is little emphasis placed on physical recuperation and its importance in any sport, including yoga. In this short article, I will share three different methods I use in addition to drinking water and eating well that help me to recover physically and maintain the physical system balanced so as to be fully present in every way. As always, if you experience a disorder that is persistent, speak with a medical or psychological professional (whether in the Western or Traditional systems) in order to assess and find a remedy for what ails you.
Go to bed!
I mention this first because it is the most important in our overstimulated urban environment. Now I am the first one to admit that I am a night crawler. As much as I make an effort to be in bed no later than midnight every evening - which is already quite late- I sometimes lose that battle because I really enjoy the quiet of my flat after a busy day of running through Paris. Nonetheless enough emphasis cannot be placed on the importance of getting a solid evenings slumber. According to Chris Gosier in his article about the mysteries of sleep, “While we slumber, the brain is tuning itself up to keep thoughts and memories flowing smoothly while also clearing out debris that could sow the seeds of disease. The brain tends to the rest of the body too, cueing a state of relaxation—shallow breathing, low blood pressure, slow heart rate—that helps restore us and prepare us for the day ahead.” When taken into account that sleep deprivation causes at the minimum grogginess, less presence of mind, and irritability as well as has links to serious conditions such as depression, anxiety, hypertension, obesity, and cancer, making the effort to turn off the screens (phone, television, computer) an hour before bed so that the body can go into a restful state seems like a small sacrifice. Of course there are other sleep inhibitors, start with basics first. Go to bed before you are passing out tired. Deep breathing is one way to signal your brain that it is time to relax and drop down into a sleep inducing state. An evening meditation can also help prepare the mind and body for a restful evening. Again, not always easy to do but the effort should be made. If you are amongst the growing number of people who experience insomnia or another more serious sleep disorder, do not hesitate to speak to a professional as these conditions can and eventually will take their toll on your overall well-being. As stated above, sleep deprivation is a very real issue with serious consequences. Do the necessary work to rest well in order to be at your best.
It was only recently that I realized that getting regular adjustments and body work is not a given to anyone but in particular yoga practitioners. Whenever I mention that I am going to see my physical therapist (kinésétherapeute) for prevention and not an injury, people are always surprised. As I have stated in previous posts, I come from the school of maintenance is better than repair. Maintenance may take time but it is a lot less time-consuming and taxing than having to repair a strained muscle, tendinitis, or a shoulder injury. Yoga practitioners especially forget that asana is a physical practice that solicits every part of your body in repetitive movements that, if not tended to on a regular basis, can go from being sweet spots to sore ones. This goes for Crossfit, dance, running and all other physically demanding disciplines. We are not symmetric beings and can create more imbalance when we do not regularly go in for “tune ups”. Why wait until you are uneasy in order to pay attention to the very thing we spend our time dropping down into? See your kiné, see your osteopath, go get that massage...do what you need in order for your physical body to remain in good working order. It’s just logical.
Warm Baths & Foot Soaks
In my last post about how I use essential oils in my yoga practice, I mentioned that I grew up in a household where we used primarily natural alternatives to keep our health optimal. One of the many methods that my grandmother would relax her muscles after a long day of working on her feet when she was a barber was to soak her feet in Epsom Salt on occasion. Epsom Salt is definitely not something well known here in France but very popular in England and North America. Makes sense as Epsom Salt comes from a town in England, Epsom, where it was discovered as a naturally occuring compound composed of magnesium-and-sulfate in the 17th or 18th century. It has been employed ever since for a myriad of uses from internal detoxification, soothing of arthritis and hemorrhoids, and most commonly muscle relaxation which is how I use it primarily thanks to my Grandma’s influence.
During my time living in Brooklyn, taking an Epsom Salt bath or at least soaking my feet every two weeks, once a week if I was particularly active, became a staple maintenance routine along with regular sauna and steam room visits. Soaking in a hot bath relaxes the muscles on its own, adding Epsom Salt just takes it over the top. In my personal experience, using this mineral after exertion helps me to have less muscle aches the next day and facilitates better recovery time. As of the last two years, I will oft-times use Epsom Salt along with either Pink Himalayan Salt or Dead Sea Salt to get a real kick.
Himalayan Salt has magnesium and sulfate plus 82 other minerals and trace elements, including sodium and chloride. Unlike Epsom Salt, Himalayan Salt is an actual salt that is found primarily in the Punjab region of Pakistan. Although there are no scientific studies proving the benefits of using Himalayan salt as table salt or as a soak, the thousands of years of its use and testimonials prove differently. Heck, maybe it is the placebo effect but it works for me.
Anecdotal evidence has found that Himalayan Salt helps to relax and provide relief to cramped muscles and muscle aches, due to the presence of calcium and other trace minerals. It can also help strengthen bones and soothes connective tissues that may contribute to body soreness by reducing inflammation. It acts as a useful therapy for eczema, acne and psoriasis sufferers, improves hydration and energy, and helps to stave germs and viruses as well as improve circulation and sleep. I have to say it does induce a deep sleep state for me...drooling and the whole bit!
As you may know already, Dead Sea Salt is sourced from a 15 million year-old lake bordered by Jordan, Israel, and Palestine. Although incredibly rich in 20 minerals, the abundant presence of magnesium, potassium, sodium, calcium, and sulfates make this salt one that has been lauded since antiquity for its health benefits. Deeply hydrating, exfoliating, Dead Sea Salt cleanses, disinfects, and has been shown in studies to heal chronic skin conditions such as eczema and psoriasis treatment. For sports enthusiasts, it has been found to relieve muscle cramps, soreness, and connective tissue discomfort.
In addition to using my daughters homemade organic and natural sugar scrubs, I also use her Dead Sea Salt Scrub which she has just commercialized as it is was until recently still it’s home testing phase. Me being the sole tester because that’s what moms do. So if you see me with an extra arm one day, don’t worry. I’m probably just testing one of my child’s products!
Deep Blue, dōTERRA Essential Oil Blend
Of course this article would not be complete if I did not mention how I integrate oils into my maintenance routine. In my foot baths, I have a tendency to use dōTERRA Melaleuca (Tea Tree) and Peppermint. Tea Tree for the antifungal properties as I am oft barefoot and am not at all interested in catching any foot cooties, Peppermint for its fresh smell and the cooling and relaxation properties. In my baths and as a all over body rub, I regularly use Deep Blue which is a incredibly effective proprietary blend of Wintergreen, Camphor, Peppermint, Ylang Ylang, Helichrysum, Blue Tansy, German Chamomile, and Osmanthus essential oils mixed in fractionated coconut oil. Heaven in a bottle...just writing about it makes me want to go put some on!
Having previously used an essential oil based version of Tiger Balm to prepare the muscles prior to an intense practice or to recover from one, this blend goes further in that it has a really pleasant smell (I personally love the smell of camphor and wintergreen) and penetrates deep into the muscle and tissue to invigorate the muscles and help relieve the aches with its cooling effect. I will drop three to four drops in the tub or just mix some in a bottle with sweet almond oil to apply after the bath so I can float to sleep on my cloud of camphor and wintergreen.
On a serious note, as with most health products, misuse and overuse can lead to negative side effects. Please consult your physician if you have doubts about using any of these products and/or research if you may have any contraindications to their use, especially if you are using antibiotics/prescription medicine. Moderation is a good guide and a 20-30 minute soak once a week or once every two weeks is sufficient to have the benefits in general.
Be well and see you soon on the mat!
“So we’re creating a new generation that’s doing yoga poses, but in a fitness manner. It’s diluting yoga. It’s a lot easier to sell, because when you’re required to observe your mind and look at your stuff, it’s harder!” - Maty Ezraty, co-founder and former owner of Yoga Works.
As I grow in the asana practice and as a teacher, I find myself returning to my “yoga roots” and exploring a more holistic approach to my time both on and off my mat. Finding new ways to integrate this complex science within my personal life and my teachings proves to be challenging at times; we live in a society that favors the dynamic over the subtle, the tangible over the abstract. Not many are interested in standing in Tadasana (Mountain Pose) for several moments with Pada Bandha actively rooting down to the earth and all the lovely sensations of that connection flowing from the root to the stem(s) of your subtle body. This subtle but necessary work does not make for a pretty Instagram photo. It does cultivate an experience that can only be had through a consistent, conscientious asana practice. It is this practice that will lead you to be comfortable enough physically to go beyond just that, the physical, and search the more subtle aspects of a living sadhana.
So let’s take it back a little bit...okay well a long bit to be honest. My grandmother was a hothead, lived fully and was not fond of tomfoolery of any sort - her four ex-husbands and my grandfather could attest to that! In the early 70’s, she had to have a heart bypass - listening to the sound of the tick tock in her chest was one of my favorite things to help me sleep but I digress. Surprisingly, it was her primary doctor who suggested that she give meditation a try in order to channel her anger into a more positive space and sent her to Siddha Yoga in Los Angeles to begin her path. Well, it became a family affair and for three years starting at five-years-old, I found myself going to the center once a week for group meditation with my grandparents and other alternative seekers of lightness of being. Before you ask, no I did not make any noise while sitting there and, yes, I loved going. To this day, the scent of Nag Champa brings back memories of sitting in the meditation room, the candles, the incense, and above all the sound of the people sitting and...breathing. The diversity and conviviality of the community there informs my life in many ways to this day. It was there that my love of chai and my understanding of yoga began. Um, chai. Again, I digress.
“In today’s world, yoga is practiced a little bit more for physical reasons. Making your practice whole is about exploring the bigger picture: your attitudes, the way the mind works, what your intentions are. It means looking at yoga from a holistic perspective, less from a strictly physical point of view.” - Maty Ezraty
Once information started to float of scandals from the leader of the center, my grandparents left without hesitation. While my grandmother had definitely calmed down, her tolerance for tomfoolery did not, in particular when it comes to so-called spiritual guides. We never went back and I all but closed that chapter to my life. It was in my early twenties that I was reintroduced to yoga at my then neighborhood gym. As a dancer seeking a group class to stretch out the kinks, the manager recommended that I try a yoga class - he said it was like dancing. The first thing in my mind was no way we were going to meditate in a space that smelled like a funky mix of dirty socks and sweat but I gave it a go. Been giving it a go ever since so there was something to it!
As I explored this physical form of yoga, I became increasingly focused on the external aspects of asana and performance. It was easy for me and I wanted everyone to see how “good” I was at it. Hanumanasana? No worries! Eka Pada Sirsasana? Let’s go! It was so external that I am surprised I did not injure myself. My passage through what I consider to be our natural inclination towards the external was brief but I remember it well because I see it in other practitioners. Both old and new ones, students and teachers alike. The need to push themselves without attention to the subtle energy that the physical practice builds. People will fight themselves into postures, breath shallow, shoulders up near their temples but will stay there and have no explanation as to why. There is nothing “wrong” in my opinion. Many of us must take this route to truly understand how we navigate our lives psychologically and emotionally. It is through the careful observation of our thoughts while we practice that we can achieve the transition from the gross to the subtle body. Do we go with force and determination to “get” whatever we seek? Do we attach to a goal? Do we give up? Are we as attentive to our transitions as we are to our postures? Do we take our time to build a solid foundation before exploring our physical possibilities?
This is where the integration of sadhana into my asana practice began, with the awareness of my mind-state, softening the hard bits and going with the breath. Finding the balance between doing and being has evolved over my many years of practice, yogic studies, and time spent sitting with my shadows, there is a strong correlation to my early yoga experience and my present sentiments around yoga. Realizing that I was not finding a comfortable space in simply going through the motions with gusto but through bringing my consciousness into the practice. A revolutionary idea in its simplicity. Easier said than done however.
“Everything can be sadhana. The way you eat, the way you sit, the way you stand, the way you breathe, the way you conduct your body, mind and your energies and emotions – this is sadhana. Sadhana does not mean any specific kind of activity, sadhana means you are using everything as a tool for your well being.” - Sadhguru, Isha Yoga Center
Take time to stand in Tadasana and welcome the breath as you would a dear old friend, warmly. Sit and feel your sit bones root down, inhale and harness your root chakra, Muladhara to the earth, breathing the energy of that liaison up through the energetic body to the sky and exhaling and sending it back down to the earth in a natural exchange. How I approach sadhana in my practice may not correspond to what works for you. There is no one way, there is no right way. Find your path to the essentials and let your yourself “root down to grow” as I say. It can be hard...no it will most likely be very hard if done correctly. Truly worth it. This presence of mind in asana will also benefit you by helping you find a sustainable practice that will carry you throughout many years. Whether that practice be dynamic or subtle or ebbs and flows with the waves of your life, it will be there and it will be mindful.
Now isn’t that a lovely idea?
“Therefore, the ultimate object of hatha yoga is to experience yoga.” - Hatha Yoga Pradipika
In my classes and workshops, I invite the practitioner to go deeper into their practice via observation. Taking a moment to sit and find sukha, their well-being during all phases of the practice. Ofttimes we mistake the practice as a means to an end. That somehow if we go far enough in asana, we will find some sort of joy (bubble burst that end of the class joy you feel is just endorphins doing what they do, it is no different than doing a HIIT class). The asana is not the vehicle that carries us to joy, it is work we do while in the asana that builds a presence of mind, body and spirit. Observe where you are, how you feel, why, and how to breath and be easy with it, no judgements, no expectations, just possibilities. Living your asana as a sadhana.
May you be present in your practice both on and off the mat. Antonée Lua
This has been said over and over again but it holds true. We in the west have places too much emphasis on the external practice of yoga. In particular in this era where the image is more important than the content. I am not innocent in this matter so I restrain from pointing the finger. However, it is my sincerest hope that through my sharing what little I know of this vast and complex science that is Hatha Yoga, someone will be willing to go a little further, beyond the physical practice and start doing the internal work. Again, I am not the most adept at being steady with my meditation practice or even applying the Yamas and Niyamas into my daily but I try. That is all that one can do really isn't it? Try to go a little further, try to understand a little more, try opening up and sharing, try not being afraid of living fully, deeply, and completely with love.
Here is an illustration that I found on the internet credited to the Raleigh NC Yoga website. It is a nice and easy reminder of all eight of the pathways to liberation. A guide as it were to how to live correctly, holding space for your truest self, and knowing that you are an extension of God/dess. A being of incredible light and infinite possibilities.
This is a reminder for myself as much as it is for everyone else.
life, peace, and prosperity through movement.