I studied breathing and meditation for years before attending a yoga class, but really the story of my relationship with breath began much earlier. As a child I was obsessed with breath, I marveled that something so important could happen without me thinking about it.
I will admit that part of it was a morbid fascination in that, once I learned about death and understood that part of death meant the lack of breath, I became hyper vigilant about my own. I learned that when I laid in bed alone and thought about dying I would feel like I couldn’t breathe. I also learned that when I purposely slowed down, taking deep breaths and blowing all the air out, that I could calm down and go to sleep.
It moved onto a more healthy fascination as my mother taught me to breathe when she taught me to sing. I remember lying on the floor with her instructing me to pay attention to how it felt to breathe from my belly, and trying to emulate that feeling once I stood up. Breathing was always an important part of preparation for any performance, whether it was singing, playing the piano, or later the cello.
I was also a swimmer, so being aware of when and I how I breathed was something that I learned to think about. I often think of swimming while performing Forrest style Abs, actually; I think it’s the short holding of breath that triggers those memories.
I’m wandering down this trail of memories because I’m preparing for this week’s classes and our focus is breath: the first pillar of Forrest Yoga. The next four weeks we’ll be making our way through all of them leading up to our retreat on May 19th.
I I was thinking of you all as I took my walk, listening to the melt working it’s way through the culverts on the sides of the road. Between the snow melting, the mist in the air, and the intermittent rain, water has been my constant companion today.
Water can be a cooling element to work with when the fire gets too intense. It is the cleansing of springtime. It is also heavily associated with emotions and can bring relief when we’ve bottled them up. Part of our work as humans is learning to navigate our own emotional flow.
Water is perhaps the most mutable of the elements to work with, it can quench our thirst, cool our heat, be as magical as a drop of dew, or as powerful and patient as a river carving our landscape.
On the mat we’ll be inviting awareness of our emotions during our practice, playing with the concept of flow; when we can direct it, and when we are along for the ride. We’ll also work with a few different meditations to invoke this important element.
Last week we connected with the element Air by inviting in our inspiration and paying attention to the unseen forces in our lives. We also celebrated the Vernal equinox and the full moon.
This week we will work with the energy of Earth and grounding. This is somewhat of a surprise to me, as in my original lesson plan we were moving from Air to Fire using the inspiration to stoke our flames. As I have been working on my lessons plans this weekend, that felt… well, ungrounded. So I have been inspired to change course. What is that saying? You can’t control the wind but you can adjust your sails!
I look forward to prating with you, let me know if you have any questions.
The most obvious connection between Air and yoga is breath, and in the past, if I’ve brought this element into my classes, it’s as pranayama. However, when we unpack the symbolism of the element Air there is so much more there. And since our practice focuses on breath to begin with, I thought it was about time to get a bit more creative.
Air is associated with Spring, change, transformation (winds of change); it can be chaotic and admittedly feel ungrounded. It is associated with mental energy, ideas, and inspiration.
Last week we concentrated on beginning, setting intentions, looking within to connect with inner longing and yearning, this week we’ll be connecting with some powerful energy to help us toward our destinations. While we can’t control the energy of the wind, we can choose how we adjust our sails.
This week we will begin our Journey into Spring Series and all of my classes will have themes around Intentions and Beginning (Again).
It can be a challenge to bring a beginner’s mind to a practice you do regularly. Heck, part of the inspiration for this series was finding a way for me to organize my own practice and my teaching in a different way. I invite you to join me and be intentional about bringing a beginner’s openness back into your practice.
Here are a few questions that might help:
What assumptions do you bring to the mat and why? For instance, if you always opt out of a pose and do your own thing, what’s behind these choices? Are there health reasons, or are you perhaps limiting yourself?
When was the last time you felt inspired on the mat? What did that feel like? See if you can remember where in your body you felt inspired.
What are things you love about your current practice?
When does your practice get challenging?
On Monday and Wednesday you’ll have opportunities to set your own goals for yourself for the next 10 weeks. I’ll hand out cards for you to write them on; these are just for you. Bring them to class, set them up under your mat, keep them with you.
I invite you to use the opportunity to think about your life off your mat as well. What are the things you are passionate about drawing into your life?Where are areas that need some extra energy? Are there areas you are looking to transform? There’s a sanskrit word, sankulpa, which translates as “inner resolve.” While we can resolve to work towards anything we think we want, I have found it’s most effective to combine this with getting to know ourselves and learning to listen to what our hearts yearning. Friday and Saturday classes will end with guided meditations that can be helpful to form one’s own sankulpa.
My students know this is not a new theme for me, and for anyone who reads my personal blog you know it’s not even new that I’m writing about it.
Finding that place within us where we are developing and yet not straining or stressing is multifaceted work. So this week I’m going to take a look at what it means to practice at our edge through the lens of the four pillars of Forrest Yoga: Breath, Strength, Integrity, and Spirit.
Forrest Inspired Vinyasa
Integrity. Monday is inversion day and a great day to look at how we take care of ourself on the mat with Integrity.
Breath. Flow into your weekend linking your breath to your movement.
Forrest Inspired Basics
Breath. Let’s look at how breath supports our poses and keeps us present at our edge.
Strength. We’ll be preparing for chataranga and exploring low cobra, cobra, and up dog. If you have questions about these poses (like “what’s up dog?”) this is the class to get them answered!
Spirit. Enjoy a flow designed to feed your body, mind, and soul.
Thank you all for your support and inspiration. Truly, you guys are the BEST, and I love you!
Below is my plan for the week. I hope to see you there!
Forrest Inspired Vinyasa
Twists, Something to Crow About. It’s what it sounds like, twists and opportunities for Crow poses. Along the way we’ll be taking excellent care of our wrists, shoulders, and neck so it’s also a great class for stress relief!
No class due to Holiday
Forrest Inspired Basics
This is a great stress busting class working towards a pose called, The Hammock… what could be better than that?
Attitude of Gratitude. We’ll concentrate on things we can be grateful for in our own practice (rather than all the things we might think we want to change) and end sending some of that Love out into our community.
We’ll continue with the Yin/Yang format this week. Meaning we’ll start with some longer held postures and then move into our gentle flow format.
One of the first personal breakthroughs I had in my own yoga practice was realizing how critical I was of myself. While I considered myself a kind person to others, I said horrible things to myself all the time! I was reading a book on mantras, I forget which one, but it suggested paying attention to the kinds of thoughts that you habitually repeat to yourself. The idea was to learn to replace these with mantras of your choosing.
Well I learned that I habitually told myself I was inflexible, weak, and ugly. There was a mirror in the room and instead of using it to perfect my alignment I used it to criticize my body. This had to stop.
For a long time I used my yoga mat as a place to practice being kind to myself. Even though it’s not the main intention I work with these days I still retain those habits in my personal practice.
Forrest Inspired Vinyasa
We’ll be working towards Bug on a Windshield asking ourselves, “what part of this pose can I do right now?” each step of the way.
We’ll be flowing in and out of balances poses, learning that the sense of flow comes from within.
Forrest Inspired Basic
We’ll be opening up our hip flexors. This class is perfect for those of you who spend your days sitting!
We’ll be exploring pigeons and pigeon options. Between Forrest Yoga, Vinyasa, and our creativity there are a lot of ways to be kind to ourselves in a pigeon pose.
We’ll begin with some luxurious Yin poses and once we’re opened up we’ll move into a gentle flow. Expect to be supporting yourself the whole way.