Saturday, January 30, 2016

Self-Care Saturday: Self Reiki with Chona

To Harness the Energy:

Sit upright with the head in line with the spine and both feet on the floor (or cross legged), and hands gently placed on your lap. Close your eyes. Become relaxed by slowly breathing in and out for a few minutes. Now, visualize the universal life force as a glowing ball of light from the sun, and draw it into your body as you breathe in. See it as a white light and direct it from the crown of your head down the spine all the way to the base of the spine. On the out-breath, bring the white light back up the spine but push it out through the heart chakra. Allow the heart chakra to be charged with this white light. You are now charging yourself with universal life force or prana.

Resource: Amma Magi,

Chona offers Reiki on a donation basis on Thursday evenings at the studio. You can sign up on our workshops page. 

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Teacher of the Month: Hannah Skye

Hannah was one of the first people to call herself a teacher at Namaste Highland Park. She has watched our community grow, and we are forever grateful for the part she has played in that growth. Hannah is our NHP teacher of the month.

Namaste Highland Park: Where could we find you as a child?
Hannah: I had a lot of pets as a kid, so I was often seen with a cat or some sort of small rodent in my arms. I also played really involved games with elaborate stories (usually with Barbies, if I'm honest), sometimes with other kids, but often by myself. When I got older, I got really into writing and journaling; by the time I was in high school it was all about theater. Most of my free time after the age of 14 was spent in rehearsal for something or other...even if I wasn't acting, I was backstage doing hair or makeup, or at the local middle schools teaching improv classes.

NHP: Do you remember your first yoga class? What was your experience like?
Hannah: I think my first yoga class probably happened sometime pre-college. I'm sure it was mortifying to me since I wasn't in very good shape and had zero flexibility. I took Bikram yoga in college with friends and got really into it because it seemed like a challenging workout. I was one of those people that thought more was always better, so I always tried to go lower into the pose and to put my hand on the ground in extended side angle and triangle, even though my alignment was probably painful to look at. It took me a long time to develop an understanding of alignment and body awareness, and how to balance strength and flexibility. I eventually fell in love with vinyasa yoga because of the variation and the space to play and experiment. The flow seemed to me almost like an expressive dance married with meditation.

NHP: At what moment did you go from thinking, "I like yoga," to, "I'm a yoga teacher?"
Hannah: Post college I had to move home because I was broke. I was working a job I hated, trying to save money. I started going to yoga even though it was an expense because, frankly, I needed SOMETHING to keep me sane. Eventually I came to the realization that yoga was the best part of my day, every day. I was going to a chain studio and they were constantly selling their teacher training. Even though I didn't feel like I was good enough at yoga, I asked about the training, just in case I wanted to do it "some day." Before I knew it, the teacher had convinced me that I should sign up NOW. Since I was moving to LA, she contacted one of their sister studios in Sherman Oaks and got me registered so that I was able to jump right into the training after relocating.  I found out as soon as the training started that I was much more equipped than I realized to teach. It seemed like everything I was interested in (movement, the mind-body connection, the creative aspect of theming and creating playlists, the study of people) came together in the yoga studio. I still had (have) an acute awareness of what it felt like to be a beginner, and I remembered what I wished teachers had explained to me then...and it seemed to make sense as I began to sequence and cue my own classes.

NHP: What do you hope people take away from your class?
Hannah: This is a big question. I'm always working at becoming a better teacher, but ideally I would hope that students leave class feeling like they just attended a $50 workshop. I hope that students can learn something (even a small something) about themselves, their yoga, or that they gain some sort of perspective each time they step onto the mat.

Realistically though, I know that sometimes being good teacher simply means holding a space for people. I say this a lot in my classes, but it's a huge part of what a yoga practice is to me: Yoga gives us context. The poses themselves don't change very much from day to day, they're just shapes. But we (humans) change. And maybe the pose becomes the context needed to become stronger, or more flexible, or maybe it illuminates something deeper like how we confront challenge or how we see ourselves off the mat. Maybe it allows us to laugh at ourselves, or gives us a space to process something happening in our lives. We can all make roughly the same shapes with our bodies (with some variation), but the experience of that shape can be drastically different from person to person and day to day. I'm not here to tell anyone what to think or feel, but to give students the space and time they need (and deserve) to go on their own journey.

NHP: How does yoga go beyond the mat in your life?
Hannah: My mom tells me that yoga has "softened" me. In a good way. Before I had a regular practice and before I was a teacher I was more judgmental, more temperamental, and certainly moodier...not because that's who I actually was, but rather, because I was so anxious and stressed all the time. I went around making snap judgements and panicking about non-issues. Yoga on the mat has helped me to slow down, breath, and put things into perspective. Before yoga, I dealt with a lot of health issues related to Crohn's disease. And while yoga hasn't "cured" all of my problems, it has brought my mind and body back into some sort of balance with one another at least in terms of understanding and awareness. I've learned to be gentler with myself and others.

NHP: What does your personal practice entail?
Hannah: Whether I'm at home or in a class, I love a sequence that really flows, and I love to play with different qualities of movement. Sometimes I pretend that I'm some kind of animal and wonder what it would be like to move in that kind of body, or I practice with different kinds of music that you wouldn't normally hear in a yoga studio to see how that flavors the rest of the practice. I also consider other types of physical activity to be a part of my yoga, even though it isn't specifically an asana practice. I run stairs, sometimes work out with weights, hike, climb, run...and all of that contributes something different to my physical health and body awareness, which in turn becomes part of my yoga practice.

NHP: What is something we'd be surprised to learn about you?
Hannah: As a child, when my parents told me that I could grow up to be anything I wanted, I it took very literally. I usually planned on becoming some sort of animal, which changed depending on my mood. Once I remember deciding that I wanted to grow up to be a pig. Yoga teacher was not on my radar back then.

NHP: You lead retreats through Namaste. What inspires your retreats, and why do you think they are an important part of yoga?
Hannah: Vacation and having time to reset is so important. A lot of the time though, we equate R&R with indulgence and mindless relaxation. Having time to step outside of the daily grind and to actually spend time investing in personal development and self-study is kind of magical. Having a yoga practice is invaluable. But normally we go to class, leave, and then immediately jump back into traffic, or work, or taking care of kids, ect. In a retreat setting, there's time to really bask in the after-glow and to get some perspective on the practice. There's time to connect with other yogis and to see and be seen for who we actually are. There's time to reflect and when we talk, to actually be heard.  Usually things in life are prioritized based on what's most pressing instead of what's most important. Getting a weekend away from it all is like a pause button to reassess and work on the personal stuff that really does matter. In terms of the physical practice, classes are smaller and everyone (for the most part, it is optional) attends all the classes. Because the classes are cumulative, students can retain more of the information and work on their specific challenges, while building up to some of the bigger poses that may be more intimidating in a normal studio setting.

Hannah will be leading our annual studio retreat in April. For more information, visit Retreats by Namaste.

Saturday, January 2, 2016

Teacher's Book Stand: Bethany's books

We asked our teachers to snap a picture of their nightstands and tell us what they're reading. Here is a glimpse at Bethany's very full list.

I swear this wasn't staged. This is actually what my nightstand has looked like for months as I dig through some incredibly sacred texts (and some modern self-help nonsense). Here's what I'm reading and why:

  • The Living Gita is a translation of the Bhagavad Gita, a sacred Hindu song-story about the warrior Arjuna and his guide, Krishna. I first read this book probably seven years ago, when I was starting my yoga and sobriety journey. The message of needing to totally "kill" some things, even some things you have loved in the past, was powerful and resonant with me as I started such a major life change. Recently, I've been rereading this translation as part of a self book-study, using a guide book to read and answer questions about the text.
  • The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali is a book most yoga teachers are constantly reading, reflecting on and referring to. Every so often in my classes, I go back through the themes of the Sutras with my students, helping people to understand the broader messaging of yoga. To me, that messaging is not about uniting body and mind but rather about discerning the fact that there is an element of life and self that is separate from body and mind. I am also rereading the Sutras right now as part of my self book-study.
  • Five Good Minutes is the hokey self-help book on my nightstand. It suggests an exercise to do each morning to set out with intention. Sometimes I use it, sometimes I don't, but I always try to get at least five minutes (and typically a whole lot more) out of my morning for my own personal practice. 
  • The (upside down) Complete Guide to Yin Yoga is something I turn to at night when I want a few Yin poses before climbing into bed. I also use it a lot for Yin sequence inspiration. 
  • Then, two iPads. Because, for real, I also watch old episodes of Friends at night when I have insomnia. It's a practice I started in college when my insomnia was terrible. I know all the episodes, so I never have to focus too much. I just lay there and listen to the familiar voices as my eyes close. I'll go through years at a time without insomnia, and I won't need this. With my health issues, I've been having sleep trouble recently. Watching stupid television beats taking sleeping pills as far as I'm concerned.
  • Finally, you'll see my very well-worn copy of When Things Fall Apart by Pema Chodron. This book has been my best companion for the past year. Many of you know I've been through the ringer with health and infertility. The traditional messaging I'd heard for hard times, things like "it happens for a reason" or "it's all part of the plan for you," well those things just didn't seem to work for me. Chodron's message is something more attuned to "shit happens, sometimes lots of shit happens, but it will help you understand life and be a better teacher." That was something I could get behind. I've probably themed more yoga classes from this one book than from any other. So, yea, I'm that teacher. The teacher who runs around telling everyone, "Man, life is gonna be so shitty!" when all the others say, "Man, life is ALL GOOD!" I'm okay being that teacher. It's more real for me.
I'll add that reading is a huge part of my personal daily practice. Before I do any yoga or meditation each morning, I sit down and read passages from my books. I always come to class with a message I want to share from what I've been reading. Whoever invented books, you have my never ending gratitude. They have been there for me in the deepest trenches.