I Am Not My Circumstances

MONDAY MANTRA: I am not my circumstances.

Sometimes life is so wonderful, that we believe this is how it always should be. Sometimes life is overwhelmingly difficult, and we wonder what we did to deserve such challenges.

Throughout our lives, our circumstances are constantly changing. As our situations change, our minds label what is happening around us as good or bad. We believe that life is good when things go the way we want, and life is bad when things do not unfold as planned. Our analysis of what is happening founded in perspective, and not necessarily truth. And because analyzing our experiences is engrained in our thought patterns, our conclusions often bleed into our opinion of ourselves. In the process, we can damage our self-esteem, our motivation, and our judgement. We cling to a temporary and false sense of who we are, founded in that which is fleeting.

In order to be happy—truly, sustainably happy–we must anchored that which never changes. We must remember that, although circumstances are always changing,  who were are at our core can never change. Our essential, authentic self is created at birth, and we remain that same person through our entire lives.

Think about who you were at age 5, age 15, age 20. What made you, you? Has that changed?

You will face many trials–everyone does–but the challenges are there to refine you. They are your greatest teachers, leading you to become more of who you are intended to be.

Stay present through the good and bad times in your life, and never forget what makes you, you. Circumstances are simply part of your journey. Nothing that ever happens can change your essential self.

 

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Trust Your Struggle

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MONDAY MANTRA: Trust Your Struggle

One of the highest values in yoga is the concept of tapas–the heat that is created through refinement. Tapas is created when we stay in a difficult pose, even though we think we want to release it. The heat that builds through this resistance serves us by making us stronger, wiser, and happier.

The chatter in our minds can make it difficult to create tapas. It is human nature to avoid that which is difficult. We cycle through all kinds of stories–it’s not important, I’m not in the mood, I don’t want to do this. But…if we step outside of our thoughts, and push through the resistance, we see new opportunities to grow stronger in our bodies, minds, and hearts.

Trust your struggles instead of avoiding them. Ask yourself: What might be waiting beyond the challenge? There is joy in overcoming. A sense of pride and resilience that can only be achieved by working through difficulties with intention, awareness, and the belief that everything is possible.

 

 

 

We Can’t Get Happy, We Can Only Be Happy

MONDAY MANTRA: We can’t get happy, we can only be happy.

What’s the one thing everyone wants in life?

We all want to be happy. We chase happiness, as if it is a material possession that we can claim as our own. We think if I only had this or that, I would be happy. If only I was richer, thinner, or smarter, I would be happy. The longer we wait to “get happy”, the further out of reach it seems.

The truth about happiness, though, is that it is not as elusive as we think.  It is not a thing to be chased, but a state of being that we choose. We are, at our core, already happy. Our bliss might be hiding behind our attachments to the past, or our fears about the future, but happiness is always within, waiting to be revealed.

All we have to do to connect with our inner joy is learn to quiet the chatter of the mind. Be the witness to our thoughts, and practice non-attachment to outcome. In so doing, we realize that our thoughts are the only thing standing between us and happiness.

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Why Does It Take 100 Days To Get Crazy Healthy?

Summer 1998–After breaking my shoulders in a car crash, I could not lift my arms above my waist. I had to ask for help dozens of times each day, to reach things I needed. What I remember most, though, is not being able to wash my own hair. Hubby washed it for me, all summer long. It was frustrating, to not be able to do something so simple, that I had hardly thought about, until I lost mobility in my upper body.

It took years of consistent yoga practice to reclaim my flexibility in my shoulders. In the beginning, I thought the goal was to get back to where I was before the crash, but I was wrong. Something even better was waiting for me, when I embraced yoga as a lifestyle.

Little by little, I reclaimed my mobility. It made me happy, and made me thirsty for more. I wondered what would happen, if I kept doing the work, and kept trusting the struggle. Could I actually be more flexible than I was before the crash? Stronger? Happier?

The more I surrendered to the poses, the greater the rewards became. Learning the poses and reclaiming my flexibility was not the end game…something even better was beyond the goal.

This is why our summer challenge is 100 days long. The best things in life are cumulative, and earned little by little. Friendships, careers, faith, health, proficiency in the arts and sports, happiness–all of these have many levels that must be acquired over time. Patanjali, author of the Yoga Sutras, says it best:

“It is only when the correct practice is followed for a long time, without interruptions and with a quality of positive attitude and eagerness, that it can succeed.”

This photo, taken last month in Vero Beach, FL is a reminder of what happens when we practice crazy healthy for a long time, with awareness and commitment. There are no shortcuts to crazy healthy, only daily reconciliations with who we are, and what we want out of life.

Broken bones were my greatest barrier to reclaiming my health after the crash. What’s your greatest barrier today? No matter what it might be, there is a way to move past it. If I can do it, anyone can.

Join me for 100 Days of Crazy Healthy, and trust the process. You can start any time you’d like, but don’t put it off. Reject the voices that tell you it’s not important, it won’t work, it’s too difficult to change, or you don’t have time. These thoughts are founded in false beliefs, and bred by fear.

Seek the truth and believe that you can. Something bigger than your dreams is waiting on the other side.

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3 Simple Ways to Practice Ayurveda

Ayurveda is a big word that simply means “life science”. It is also the world’s oldest system of medicine, with many practical applications in our busy, modern lives. Here’s three simple daily practices that will help you begin to explore the benefits of an ayurvedic lifestyle:

1. Balance the skin. Toss commercial cleansers and lotions that interfere with your body’s natural oil production, and replace them with less expensive, holistic alternatives. Coconut oil, massaged into the skin (even the face!) and rinsed with warm water, clears toxins and leaves a healthy glow.

2. Balance the gut. Drink a large glass of warm lemon water first thing every morning, before eating. This practice stimulates elimination, essential for total body health.

3. Balance the mind. Close the door, set a timer, and sit in silence for five minutes each day. Listen to your breath. Notice what is happening. Are your inhales longer than your exhales? Are you breathing into your chest, or all the way into the belly? Let the breath get deeper, and allow the mind to quiet. It will seem like nothing is happening at first, but you will, over time, learn how to use this practice to heal your mind, body and spirit naturally.

Little by little, these practices will shift the way you think about food and self care, and open doors to the may other practical applications of this time-proven science.

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photo: kimberlysnyder.net

100 Days of Crazy Healthy, Week By Week

Are you ready to get crazy healthy with me this summer? If so, here’s what you should expect:

We will start out slow, adding 7 minutes of exercise and self-care in the first week (congrats who have already started–how did it go?). Each week, we will add a new focus that requires a few extra minutes out of your day. It will force you to make different decisions about how you use your time. Some of the distractions that you are used to, will have to fall away, such as TV, and social media. Remember, we are only doing this for 100 days. You can decide afterward if you want to go back to your old habits. For now, just stick with the program, and let go of that which is not essential, to make time for getting healthy.

The idea is to create new habits every week, and keep repeating them all summer long, until they become a part of who you are. Some of the habits will feel boring, such as repeating the same sun salutations every day. This is on purpose. Others will feel difficult. This is also on purpose. Your mind will try to dismiss them as unnecessary. Stories will show up for you about what is possible, who you are, who I am, and they will all create resistance to the journey. Pay attention to these stories, and ask yourself if they are founded in truth. If they are not serving your desire to get healthy for good, reject them, and get on with the work you need to do, to feel better by Labor Day.

By the end of summer, you will be spending about an hour each day on healthy habits, but it won’t feel like an hour, because it will be broken up into small increments, all day long. You may choose to do your yoga all at once, for approximately 30 minutes, or you may break it up. An example would be to practice sun salutations and core work in the morning, and twists, hips, back strengtheners, and balance at night.

Below is the the framework we will follow, to get crazy healthy before summer’s end. It may change slightly, based on feedback from participants, so check back here every week for specific instructions.

Also, feel free to leave your questions below, or contact me through my Facebook page. I’m here to help–don’t hesitate to reach out! And send me photos of your journey. Bust a pose in public whenever you can and invite strangers. They might hesitate at first, but eventually they will smile, when you tell them about your commitment to getting healthy, and you will leave them with a reminder to take care of themselves. And that’s what this is all about…being the change we hope to see in the world.

Namaste~

Amber

100 Days of Crazy Healthy

Week 1: tongue scraping, warm water first thing, 5 sun salutes (7 min)
Week 2: 2 extra minutes smoothie for breakfast (9 min)
Week 3: 2 extra minutes veggie snacks and 5 minutes core work (16 min)
Week 4: 3 extra minutes soup/salad for lunch or dinner (19 min)
Week 5: 3 extra minutes hips (22 min)
Week 6: 3 extra minutes quinoa for breakfast (25 min)
Week 7: 3 extra minutes stretch in public (28 min)
Week 8: 2 extra minutes back strengtheners (30 min)
Week 9: 1 extra minutes twists (31 min)
Week 10: 4 extra minutes green juice for snack (35 min)
Week 11: 1 extra minutes backbends (36 min)
Week 12: 5 extra minutes balance for core strength (41 min)
Week 13: 5 extra minutes meditation (46 min)
Week 14: 15 extra minutes preparing foods from earth (61 min)
last two days: 1 extra minutes of reflection and reconciliation, twice daily (63 min)

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How I Deal With Autoimmune Disease

I’m supposed to go to a cookie exchange in a few hours. Which means that, right now, I should be in the kitchen making cookies, or in the shower, washing my hair.

But instead, I’m sitting here, on my yoga mat, in a wide legged fold in front of my laptop, listening to Butch Walker, and wondering if I can pull myself together enough to get dressed and drive myself to her house, with or without cookies.

My autoimmune thyroid disease has reared it’s ugly head again today, and it’s taking everything I’ve got, just to get through the day. My eyes are puffy, my head hurts, I had to take a nap this afternoon, and I really want to crawl back under the covers again right now.

I don’t talk about my autoimmune thyroid disease with most people because my mama always told me that, if you don’t have anything good to say, then don’t say anything at all.

It’s hard to think of something good to say about this struggle, but I think it’s about time I told you a little about it.

I have fought this battle for at least five years, maybe longer. I’ve learned a lot, but I still wonder: how do we make sense of the fact that our bodies attack themselves?

For me, it’s an internal battle steals my energy, and makes it hard to get the simplest things done.

Especially on days like today, when I am expected at this party, that is being hosted by someone who is really important to me. Missy is a good friend, and someone I care about a lot. I know she has gone to a lot of trouble to open her home to her friends, and in my heart I want to show up tonight.

It’s just that the divide between what my heart wants, and what my body is willing to do, is seeming too big to cross right now. I know, however, that this is an illusion, so I am going to get past it.

First, I am going to stop telling myself that I can’t, and believe that I can.

Next, I am going to spend 45 minutes on my yoga mat, working as vigorously as I can manage, to burn off the brain fog and joint pain. I’ll wrap it all up with a 5 minute meditation at the end.

Afterwards, a cup of green tea, and a green juice will help ease some of the inflammation and boost my energy.

A whole body coconut oil massage (abhyangha, as the yogis call it), followed by a hot and cold shower (5 minutes hot, 30 seconds cold, three times) will give me energy and help my liver detox more efficiently.

And then I will put on my sassiest holiday outfit, pull my hair into a ponytail, apply a little bit of makeup, and walk out the door, whether I feel like it, or not. I’ll buy cookies on the way to the party, because I decided to get healthy instead of bake, and I’m sure Missy will understand.

Because the truth is that I can make it to this party. And it’s what I really want, even though it might not feel like it right now.

In the end, I refuse to succumb to autoimmune disease. I am stronger than this disease will ever be. I have beaten it before, and I can do it again. All it takes is a little bit of intention, and a whole lotta crazy healthy.

Wish me luck.

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Photo: http://www.yoga-online.ca

The 6th Discipline of Yoga: Where Meditation Begins


Believe it or not, I was in a sorority when I was in college. I proudly wore the wine and silver blue, and chanted the Pi Beta Phi creed, every monday night at Chapter Dinner:

“Whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, if there be any praise, think on these things.”

I didn’t go to church when while I was away at school, so chanting these words from Philippians was the closest I got to scripture during four of the most transformative years of my life. I’d like to say that this weekly reminder to think virtuous thoughts kept me honest, but like most people, I had more than a few ungodly moments in my college days.

Now that I know what I know about dharana, the sixth limb of yoga, I wish had taken these words to heart during those years, and actually spent time contemplating what was virtuous, and what was worthy of praise, and less time losing my soul at mixers and keg parties.

The word dharana means concentration. It is the act of focusing our mind on a word, or a set of words, that we would like to absorb into our soul, in preparation for connecting with God. We practice it in savasana or seated meditation, and it really is as simple as it sounds. We tune out the world around us, and focus our minds on the mantra we have chosen to meditate upon.

Dharana is where meditation begins, and where a lot of confusion arises about whether Christians should practice yoga at all. Yoga arose from Hindu and Buddhist traditions, so it is true that dharana was originally practiced by chanting verses from eastern scriptures. But that was then, and this is now, and other religions have explored yoga as a practice that deepens relationships with God. Personally, I don’t see any reason why dharana cannot be a Christian practice.

Words are just words, and they don’t actually mean anything until we associate a meaning with them. God knows our hearts, and by focusing our mind on His words, such as peace, love, forgiveness, and salvation, we draw closer to Him.

Perhaps more importantly, I believe, with all my heart, that God wants us to practice dharana. He gave us beautiful psalms, and insightful parables, and timeless wisdom. Why wouldn’t He be thrilled if we chose to dedicate time each day to think on these things? They are powerful, and we honor Him by purposefully focusing on His guidance through the fifth limb of yoga, dhrarana.

Namaste,

Amber

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Photo: jimmiescollage.com

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What In The World Is Kirtan?

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One of my favorite yoga instructors will perform kirtan at The Grammys tomorrow night! Steve Ross (pictured above), of Maha Yoga, and Inhale with Steve Ross, will appear with Krishna Das, who has been nominated for “Best New Age Album Of The Year”.

You might be asking yourself, “What is kirtan? And why should I care?”

Kirtan is a call-and-response approach to chanting hymns or mantras, which is a form of meditation. Kirtan is most often performed in groups, and is led by musicians with instruments. It can be religious if you want it to be. Or it can just be a meditation experience. It all depends on how you apply the vibration to your life.

You don’t have to participate in kirtan to be a yogi, but many yogis enjoy it as an approach to meditation. Meditation is one of the eight limbs (practices) of yoga in Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras, and chanting is one of many ways to approach it. So, if you hope to use yoga as a path to a crazy healthy life, you might want to experiment with kirtan.

There are no two more appropriate musicians to learn kirtan from than Steve Ross and Krishna Das. Steve has been a musician for most of his life, having toured and recorded with Fleetwood Mac, and many other highly respected musicians. He’s also a classically trained yoga instructor, who has helped bring yoga to the mainstream in the US, through his TV appearances, books, workshops, and teachings.

Krishna Das is also loved by many, and is often called the “rock star of yoga”. His nomination for Live Ananda is a big deal because it’s only the 2nd time a kirtan album has received this honor.

Still, you might be thinking so what?? New Age Music is a far from mainstream, and has a limited following. Personally, I love rock n’ roll, and resisted new age music for years. Eventually, though, I came around, and developed an appreciation for kirtan. Much like asana (yoga pose) practice, I had to surrender to the experience, before I could embrace kirtan’s place in my practice. And once I did, I never looked back.

So, if you enjoy yoga, and hope to expand your practice, kirtan is worthy of investigation.

If you’re not into yoga, and are still wondering why you should check out the Krishna Das performance online at grammy.com/live tomorrow night, here’s why:

1) The fastest way to create a crazy healthy life is to keep an open mind, and seek new experiences. Experiment, try new things, no matter how unconventional they seem. The more you expand your experience, the more discerning you can be in your wellness efforts.

2) Kirtan, when embraced, can make you feel really groovy. The call-and-response approach to chanting creates an internal vibration. Vibration releases blocked energy, facilitates healing of the mind, body and spirit, and creates a powerful, and authentic, sense of well-being. If you want it to be a path to God, it can deepen your relationship, and strengthen your faith. If religion’s not your thing, kirtan will, at the very least, improve your health.

3) Steve Ross and Krishna Das are legendary musicians and healers. You might not experience the kirtan high, just by watching their performance, but you will at least appreciate their talent and contributions. Yogis certainly need to know who they are, and jump at the chance to chant with them, if they happen to perform at a venue nearby.

Be forewarned, kirtan might seem crazy at first, because the lyrics are unfamiliar, and the music is repetitive. This is by design–it is within the repetition that mediation arises. Stay in the moment, and notice how the music makes you feel. Pay attention to the musicians, and what arises for you as you listen, without judging the experience as good or bad. Maybe it will make you want to hear more, or maybe it won’t. Either way, you will have explored the possibility of new way to fully embrace a crazy healthy life.

Photo: http://www.examiner.com

How To Create a Home Yoga Practice

HomeYoga660For many people, it’s really hard to practice yoga at home.

I struggled with my home practice for years, even after I earned my teacher training certification in 2002, and especially after I had kids. Every time I got on my mat, I would remember the laundry that needed to be put in the dryer…and the snack I forgot to prepare for my kids…and the trash I should have taken out…and on and on.

I finally realized that staying on my mat is difficult by design. The poses aren’t the work in yoga. They might stretch and tone my muscles, but the real yoga happens when I arrive on my mat, and surrender to the experience.

If you think you might be ready to practice yoga at home, remember that you don’t necessarily need books, DVDs, or podcasts. All you need to practice yoga at home is a quiet space, a mat, your breath, and a willingness to listen to your body. You can add a little music, too, if you feel moved to do so.

Here’s an easy way to think about sequencing your practice:

1) Warm Up

Sun salutations are a great way to begin a home practice (I recommend starting with 3-5 rounds). Move through the first round slowly, holding each pose for several breaths. Add in some stretches as you see fit. For additional sun salutations, listen to your body, and decide whether it is best to transition between poses with every breath, or every few breaths. There are benefits to both applications (read more about that here). Remember to always keep your mouth closed, and breathe through your nose.

2) Build Strength and Awareness

Next, pick 3-5 standing poses, such as side angle pose, triangle pose, chair pose, or any others you remember from previous experiences. Hold each pose for 5-10 full breaths. Find your drishti (focused gaze in front of you, or looking up) in each pose, and hold steady. Practice each pose 2-3 times.

3) Balance

Afterward, challenge your balance in tree pose, and dancer pose for 10 breaths each. Again, focus on your drishti.

4) Stretch

Hip openers, such as pigeon pose, and backbends, such as bridge pose, are best saved for the end of practice. Hold each for at least twenty breaths (and don’t squeeze your butt).

5) Twist and Reconcile

Finally, it’s always best to finish with a twist and savasana.

This is an introductory approach to practicing at home, so of course you can substitute more challenging poses as you feel prepared. You can also add more sun salutations, to increase the intensity of the experience. As you grow in your home practice, you may also feel called to play with arm balances, inversions, and maybe even the poses on the cover of Yoga Journal magazine. Take your time easing into more challenging poses, and trust the process.

Before you know it, magic will happen, and you will look forward to your home practice more than you ever imagined.

Photo: http://www.mindbodygreen.com

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The Day I Talked To A Tree

It was just about a year ago, that I reconnected with an old friend from my pre-yoga life. Lisa Agostoni and I had worked in the same marketing group in the late 1990’s, but we lost touch when we both left the organization a decade ago. Amazingly, we have been on parallel journeys ever since, both exploring and teaching the ancient practice of yoga.

In recent months, Lisa has become a good friend and mentor for my blog. So, of course I was incredibly honored, when Lisa asked me to write a guest post for her yoga blog. It’s the story of a crazy yoga challenge, that ultimately empowered me to live a healthier life.

I’m sharing it here, in case you missed it earlier this week at A Charmed Yogi. Have you ever had a similar experience? Let me know in the comments section below.

Namaste~

Amber

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I’m an all-American girl, raised on MTV and Julia Roberts movies. Never spent much time in the woods before I got into yoga. So, when my yoga teacher training (YTT) mentor asked me to tell my life story to a tree, I thought he was out of his mind.

It was September 2002, the first weekend of YTT. I was working toward my certification, which meant 200 hours of classroom training in 5 months. I knew it would be a lot of work, but nothing could have prepared me for all it would entail.

In the first two days of YTT, I practiced yoga for twelve hours, cleared my chakras, experimented with transcendental meditation, and participated in a Native American smudging ceremony. I felt like Alice in Wonderland, tumbling down The Rabbit Hole, wondering what was next.

That first weekend of YTT was scary, fascinating, and overwhelming all at once. By Sunday afternoon, however, I was tired and wanted to go home. As we packed up our mats, water bottles, and notebooks, our homework was assigned:

Before we meet again in two weeks, spend a full day alone in the woods. Get there early enough to watch the sun rise. Tell your life story to a tree, and write an essay about the experience.

SERIOUSLY? I can’t do that.

I thought about quitting the course, but something inside me told me I shouldn’t.

The next morning, I pulled out a map, and made a plan. I worked full-time in Corporate America back then, so tree-talking had to wait until the weekend. I dreaded it all week.

Saturday finally came. The weather was cold and drizzly when I awoke at 5:30 AM, so I packed a lunch and a raincoat. It was a 40 minute drive to Sweetwater Creek Park, and I spent the entire ride wishing I could call it off.

Instead, I walked into the woods as the sun rose. No compass (forgot it), no trails (huh?), and terrified that I might get lost.

Ok, so how do I know which tree I’m supposed to talk to?

I picked the fattest tree I could find, and sat down, and started talking.

It felt silly, baring my soul to a tree. I kept looking around to see if anyone was watching. I went back and forth between hoping someone would rescue me, and fearing what might happen if someone did find me. Why am I doing this?

I didn’t get it. But I did as I was told, and kept talking. From birth to age 30, I laid it all out. My hopes, dreams, and fears. Traumas and dramas that had never healed. Secrets I had never told another soul. Mistakes I had a hard time admitting, even to myself. And then I was done, with nothing left to tell. So I went home.

It was an unforgettable day, that taught me something extraordinarily valuable:

We all have a story about who we are, and we tell it to ourselves over and over again, until it becomes our “truth”. The problem is that there is often great disparity between our “truth” and reality. The story is founded in perception, yet we build our entire lives around it. Through repetition, the story gains power, and ultimately prevents us from finding happiness.

With time, and a lot of yoga, I learned how to reject the story, so that I could live my life with clarity, awareness, and purpose. And in the process, I found that the happiness I craved was actually inside me all along.

Photo: http://www.jessicadenison.com

Lunge a Little

When people learn that yoga helped me get crazy healthy, they usually respond in one of two ways:

A) “Oh, I could never do yoga. I am not flexible at all.”

OR

B) “I love yoga. It changed my life.”

Some might assume that this means that person A is more flexible than person B. Not true. What it actually means, is that one has explored the possibilities of yoga, and the other has not. Person B knows that everyone can do yoga, if they simply move with awareness, intent, and consistent breath. The goal is to unite the mind, body and spirit, so even the most inflexible person can become a yogi.

I have taught yoga for eleven years, and specialize in helping students learn how to create a personal yoga practice. Group classes and private instruction are a great approach to learning the basics. But, if you don’t have time to get to the studio, there are some simple ways to explore yoga at home.

If you want to learn how to practice yoga, I suggest you lunge a little. Lunges connect us with what is happening in the body. They also strengthen and tone the back and legs, release hip muscles, and help to prevent injury in the lower body. A yoga lunge is just like the lunges we did in gym class as a kid, but with better awareness, and a sanskrit name: Ashva Sanchalanasana (Horse Rider’s Pose).

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Here’s how the yogis do it:

On hardwood or carpeted floor (or better yet, a yoga mat), separate your feet wide apart, with one foot in front and the other behind. Bend the front knee to a 90 degree angle. Adjust your stance, so the front knee does not come forward of the ankle. Use your hands to support you. Rotate your thighs internally, as if squeezing everything toward the midline of your body. Hold for five breaths, and then do the same thing on the other side. There, you just did yoga.

The cultivation of a personal practice begins here. If you want to “get into yoga”, all you have to do is lunge a little, every day, with breath and awareness. When you are done, keep listening to your body. From the lunge, you might feel the need to twist, with one hand on the ground, and the other reaching up. Or perhaps you will drop to your knee, straighten the front leg, and sit back toward your heel. Whatever you do, surrender to each experience, and let it grow organically.

If you are a person A, who wants to be a person B, lunges are the perfect place to start. Lunge a little this week, and check back here next week, for more insight on creating a personal yoga practice. Before you know it, you might just fall in love with yoga, too.

Namaste,

Amber

Photo: Jasper Johal for Yoga Journal