How to Really Advance Your Practice

As yoga teachers, we sometimes hear students categorize themselves and others as “beginner” or “advanced.” It is interesting to hear people talk this way because they usually base the label on the number of classes attended, length of time they’ve practiced, or whether they can do certain postures. The fact is that everyone is advancing–it just looks different for each individual.

Everyone has room to advance their practice, and there are tons of ways to do it! Focus on small things like:

  • Maintaining steady, six-second inhales and exhales throughout class
  • Branching out into a new class series (have you tried Earth and Metal yet?)
  • Deepening one particular posture. Ask your teacher to help you with it! We love that 🙂
  • Pushing yourself, within a safe range of motion for you, to deepen in a posture past your usual stopping point (like Half Moon)
  • Taking a private lesson
  • Using your exhales to soften and deepen into postures if you are less flexible

The above pointers focus on the physical part of yoga, but there are many other ways to deepen your practice by extending beyond the physical and working on a deeper mind & life focus. For example:

  • Come to class focused and listen with an open mind
  • Stay mentally engaged throughout class
  • Take a step back and nurture yourself when you need to
  • Focus on your own body for the entire class- really look at yourself in the mirror
  • Be completely still in Savasana; resist the urge to wipe sweat or adjust your clothing
  • Be still and return to your breath between postures
  • Set an intention at the beginning of your class and return to it throughout class
  • Attend a workshop or a special class
  • Take your yoga off the mat. Use your deep breathing when you are faced with stressful situations outside the studio

Remember that being able to do Standing Splits does not an advanced yogi make. Define your own version of “advanced” and keep working at deepening, strengthening, and improving. In life, and in yoga, there is always room to advance.

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When To Take A Break

Everyone needs to take a break sometimes, even from something as wonderful as yoga. Have a conversation with your teacher about your experience and be ready to give yourself permission to take time off if:

  • You are injured  (or something doesn’t feel quite right). If you have a serious injury like a broken bone or torn hamstring, listen to your doctor. If it’s something less obvious like a persistent ache in your shoulder, back off your workouts entirely or don’t do postures that could potentially aggravate it. Give your body some time to heal and recuperate.
  • Or maybe you need to not take one particular class for a little while. For example, if your wrist is bothering you, cut out Earth for a week (and talk to your teachers about how to not put pressure on your wrists during Downward Dog!).
  • You are ill. Whether you have a bad cold or are just feeling tired and a little run down, your body is telling you it needs time off. Rest is what you need. Whenever you are feeling better, ease back into your practice until you truly are back to feeling 100%.
  • You’re tired. If you can barely keep your eyes open, give yourself permission to go home and go to bed early rather than battling through a 90-minute class.
  • You haven’t seen your family and friends lately. Yoga is all about balance–inside and outside the studio. Spending quality time with your loved ones is just as important as practicing Triangle.
  • It feels like a chore. If you’re forcing yourself to go to yoga and not enjoying your time there, you are suffering from burnout. Ask yourself whether you need a few days off. Or maybe the solution is to take a different class style or try a workshop.
  • You’re engaging in negative self talk. Do you think mean things about your thighs throughout Fire? Are you mentally berating yourself for not being able to do every posture “perfectly”? Taking time away to explore why you’re having these feelings and thoughts may be just what you need.

And when your break is over, come on back – we’ll be waiting for you with open arms (oh, and a mat and a towel).

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Walk The Talk

Don’t you just wish life had instant replay? Just for a second have you wished that you had the chance to clearly view a past interaction or conversation from an outside perspective – to have the opportunity to learn from what you see? We do.

We want to be clear about who we at Sunstone want to be. More importantly, we want you to know what our values are and to see us demonstrate them consistently in our actions. We like to refer to it as “walking our talk”.

Since instant replay in life is (sadly) impossible, we have to find other ways to check in on the impression we’re leaving through our behavior. Being introspective is one way to gain clarity on this. It is more effective however, to go outside of one’s self, to ask someone else what they see. Sound familiar? Uh hmmm…surveys anyone?

Asking the hard questions and wanting the honest answers, good or bad, is a key part of aligning words with action- “walking the talk”. Learning opportunities abound in asking “are we acting in a way that is in line with our core values”.

Feedback is a funny creature, though. It can be kind and encouraging, spiteful and destructive, or it can illuminate your bright spots while tactfully revealing the holes in your game. Knowing how to give effective feedback is important to inciting improvement. Effective feedback is:

  1. Frequent (tell us how we did every time–the more your teachers hear, the better)
  2. Timely (fill out your survey today–not at the end of the month…you’ll remember what happened more clearly)
  3. Future-oriented (tell us what we can do better next time)

We work on putting opportunity into action. We encourage you to do the same in your life, and in your practice. Your survey responses and your comments tell us whether we are living up to our values, our 5 Teaching Principles and tells us what we can improve.

Thank you for your continued responses that will keep us “Walking our Talk”!

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The Importance of Savasana

“Lie down, heels together, palms up. Close your eyes.” Your teacher has put you into your final Savasana. She turns out the lights and leaves the room. Do you:

A. Open your eyes immediately, hop up, hang up your mat, and flee the room?

B. Lie there for a few minutes, worrying about “to dos” still on your list?

C. Acknowledge the effort you just exuded and allow your breath to assist in clearing your head and calming your body?

D. All of the Above.

We are all guilty of D, but as part of our yoga practice the goal is to find ourselves engaged in C more often than not at class end. Savasana allows the body and mind to reset.

WHAT: Savasana (corpse pose) is often the most important and most difficult posture in a yoga practice. “Posture” you say? Yes, just as Triangle is a posture, so is Savasana, and it must be practiced consistently to reap its numerous benefits.

HOW: The alignment for Savasana is internal, focusing on stillness and single-pointed awareness, as opposed to a physical “feet here, arms here” arrangement. It challenges us to turn inward in order to relax the body, regulate the breath and focus the mind.

Practice calming the body – refrain from adjusting your clothes, wiping away sweat, or chugging the rest of your water. Instead, quietly get a sip of water if you need it and lie down on your back, keeping the eyes open so that you stay present mentally in the room.

WHEN: During our Hot Yoga class, Savasana is first introduced as a transition into the floor series. Use it to reconnect with your breath, slow your heart rate and let your muscles recover after the rigorous standing series. Try to repeat this same observance of Savasana as you return to this pose throughout the floor series and at the end of class.

WHY: Your practice has given the nervous system lots of new information, and Savasana allows the body integrate all it has done and experienced. It needs this time to pause before you reenter the busy world outside the yoga studio.

Calming the body and mind gets easier (and faster!) with practice. The more you practice this technique in the hot room, the easier it will become outside the room–even in stressful business meetings and traffic.

We understand the time pressures our students are under during their busy days, and we are always grateful that you make time to come practice with us. Savasana is part of your class experience.

Practice this posture with the same commitment you give the others. Give yourself this reward at the end of class. The mental “I did it” and time to breathe will give you even more energy for what is left on your plate whenever you do peel yourself off your mat.

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Why We Teach Yoga

One word: change. It’s why we teach yoga.

We chose yoga because of the changes that occurred when we brought yoga into our own lives. Many people, even your teachers, began practicing yoga hoping to lose weight or affect some other physical change in their bodies. But months (and years) later, we find that we stuck with it because of the amazing mental and life changes that have come out of our practice.

Our CEO and co-founder, Brandon Hartsell, began practicing yoga over 15 years ago, and began teaching in August 2000. As a former professional basketball player and avid athlete, Brandon has actively participated in many forms of physical fitness: weight lifting, running, cycling, spinning, rock climbing, aerobics, and martial arts. While pursuing a career as a personal trainer, he gathered evidence that led him to understanding the effectiveness of a regular yoga practice. Thus, Sunstone Yoga was founded.

Whether they realize it or not, many people come to yoga at a transitory point in their lives. Hear what some of our students have to say. It is not always just “wanting to get flexible” that drives people to yoga. Teachers and students alike are often seeking a life change, a way to enhance their relationships with themselves…not just a new form of exercise.

Your teachers were inspired to transition from student to teacher because yoga opened doors for them and provided insight and change in their lives. Some took one class and signed up immediately for teacher training; others had to wait until life gave them an opening to go to do so. There’s lots of great teacher testimonials out there. At the root of it all lies the desire to assist others in creating positive change in their lives.

Why do you care? Your yoga teachers understand that people look to yoga for inspiration, for validation of strength, for an outlet. We have seen the differences it has made in our lives, our bodies, and continue to want to help all who are looking for change a wonderful vehicle in which to accomplish it.

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A Catalyst for Change

We like to see fitness as a catalyst for change, and fuel for sustaining mind, body and life balance. It is a tool, and like any other instrument of change, can be used by amateurs or experts on a variety of levels to accomplish an end goal. So, whether you’re a couch potato considering beginning a regular fitness practice, an avid exerciser looking for another outlet for releasing energy and building strength, or an experienced practitioner looking to “kick it up a notch,” baby steps can help take you where you want to go in your relationship with yoga and yourself.

  • Begin. Think of just one thing that yoga can do for you today. A.k.a. “define a short-term goal.” Don’t be scared. We said short-term. We have a few ideas to get you rolling:

“Seeing my teacher and connecting with my fellow students today will help me get my mind off of the person who hasn’t returned my call.”

“Today’s barre class will help me let go of the fact that my boss is insane.”

“This yoga class will get me back on the right path after all of the bad stuff I ingested this week.”

“Today HIIT will help me feel accomplished.”

  • Decide. Don’t just try to go to class, go. Get off Facebook. Don’t turn on the TV. Go. Now. We promise that deciding to go is the hardest step, and that you will only feel better from the point that you actually do it. No down side. Get moving.

  • Shake it up. Break the monotony of doing nothing or doing the same thing. We like to call this our little “shock and awe” secret to success. The body loves challenges, the mind craves variety. Feed them. Try something new. A new class, a new posture, heck, maybe even a new outfit! Just shaking it up will often give you the energy you need to stay on a path, or remind you what you loved about practice when you began.

HIIT_WelcomeHopefully, if you are feeling like you have let your practice slide lately, or if you have never actually put the thought of developing a practice into motion, these little hints will help.

Many of us are conditioned to see change as scary or bad. Change in and of itself is neither. It can be as simple as deciding what areas of your life you would like to see become different, and then putting a plan into action.

There is one detail that cannot be underestimated in its importance: your choice. While you may not always be able to control all the changes in your life, you are always able to control how to receive it. To choose whether it produces anxiety or excitement.

Make the decision to own the change in your life, beginning with getting out the door and into the studio.

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Practice?

By now you have been in Sunstone classes or researched yoga enough to have heard instructors, our social media, and fellow students speak about the “practice” of yoga.

The term “practice” is used a lot in the yoga world. Why? What do the phrases “I practice yoga”, “How is your practice coming along”, or “develop your practice” actually mean?

Most importantly, how is a practice different than simply exercising? Merriam Webster defines the two words in the following ways:

Practice (noun):
a: systematic exercise for proficiency
b: a repeated or customary action

Exercise (noun):
a: bodily exertion for the sake of developing and maintaining physical fitness
b: something performed or practiced in order to develop, improve, or display a specific capability or skill

Essentially, creating and maintaining a yoga practice is the difference between doing yoga solely as a form of exercise and choosing to incorporate it into a lifestyle.

While exercise exclusively focuses on the goals of the physical body, a yoga practice encompasses initiating and implementing change in the body, mind, and life. We count on the term “practice” to connote consistency and a on-going commitment; it is not something we just do and then it is done.

The practice of yoga is long-term. As you progress in physical awareness and capability, you also focus on clearing the mind, relieving mental stress and creating good, sustainable habits that will carry into all areas of your life. At Sunstone, we want to transform your idea of fitness from isolated physical activity into a body, mind, and life practice. Check out this brief video to learn more: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LCG1VM3lgBc

Just remember, it’s yoga practice, not yoga perfect. We know we will never be perfect, but practicing consistently will get you on the right path.

Live FIT. Live Well.

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Be Kind & Grateful

“Be kind whenever possible. It is always possible.” -Dalai Lama

Be kind. Be grateful. Wow. Are we really going to tell you to be kind, love everyone and yourself, create world peace, and sing Kumbaya day and night? Not exactly 🙂 However, all of us at Sunstone Yoga are taught that being kind and grateful are two of the stepping stones to learning to love yourself and others. Let us break it down for you in our terms…

Be kind to yourself.

Being kind starts with internal kindness. In our hyper-critical, fast-moving, image driven world most of us spend our time bouncing from task to task indulging internal chatter that judges our actions and interactions and provides a soundtrack of constant nit-picking. Many of these little thoughts are not kind — they only make us feel bad — and for some of us spiral into even worse self-talk like which produces feelings of defeat. These thoughts are ultimately counter-productive because you haven’t resolved the issue underlying the first negative thought. So … how can you turn this type of situation into a kinder experience?

  1. Being kind to yourself begins, first, with simply noticing when you are engaging in negative self-talk. Become aware whenever you are not thinking kind or grateful thoughts about yourself.
  2. Next, evaluate why you are thinking that way. What do you really want? What is your ultimate goal?
  3. Finally, find a “next step” toward what you really want. This is not a huge, overwhelming thing like “I will never eat cake or anything unhealthy ever, ever again.” It is a small, accomplishable goal like “I will take a Hot Yoga class tonight.” It is a baby step.

And … be grateful.

Give yourself gratitude for your little accomplishments! Say you were in the scenario referenced in point 3, and you went and took that Hot Yoga class, turning negative self talk into positive action. Be proud of yourself and grateful for your fortitude. With so many work and family demands, it is often difficult just to get yourself to the studio. Recognize it the moment you walk in (“I am grateful to be here tonight to take this class.”).

Carry that kindness and gratitude into class with you (i.e., don’t let the negative self-talk start again). During class, focus on only yourself in the front mirror. Focus on how good it feels to be doing yoga. Don’t worry about whether your postures are “perfect” or better than yesterday. Be kind to your body grateful for your body’s unique abilities.

By practicing kindness and gratitude in your own mind, it will become easier to extend that same kindness to others.

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What to Wear for Hot Yoga

You have decided you’re going to practice hot yoga. Good for you! (Psst…we have a confession. SunstoneFIT is actually body temperate yoga, not “hot,” with our warmest class at 98.6 degrees Fahrenheit, with 60% humidity.)

Your body and mind will thank you as you enjoy cardiovascular benefits, build strength and flexibility, and naturally manage your weight and stress levels. The studio will feel warm and humid, and you are going to sweat. What you choose to wear can have a major impact on how your body handles the heat and on your ability to get into certain poses, so don comfortable clothes that will breathe and not hinder your movements.

Fabric types. Avoid 100% cotton tops because they will soak up your sweat and become heavy and uncomfortable. Instead, look for lightweight materials with some Spandex in them. Many activewear companies now utilize sweat-wicking fabrics that draw sweat away from the body and push it through the clothing’s surface, where it evaporates, helping keep you cooler. Avoid your favorite fleece sweats. They will hold moisture and “drag you down.”

Fit. Opt for clothes that are not too tight, nor too loose. They will move easily with you in poses. Super-loose t-shirts and pants are more likely to get in your way or gap or reveal too much in certain poses. Also, well-fitted clothing allows your instructor to better assess your alignment and offer appropriate adjustments.

Transparency. Whether you’re trying on clothes at the store or going through your closet at home, make sure that you are selecting pants that fit. Spandex is a wonderful thing, but stretch it too tight, and clothing can become more like a window than we realize, especially in certain poses. If your pants stretch a lot when you’re just putting them on and then stretch again in a forward bend, you may be opening up more than your chakras to the rest of the class. So try on your potential duds and do a wide-legged forward bend in front of a mirror. This way, you can ensure you won’t be the focal point of a peep show.

Coverage. It is up to you how much (or little) skin you want to show in the yoga room. From pants to short shorts, bra tops to fitted shirts, our students wardrobes run the gamut. As long as all of your personal bits and pieces are covered, your fellow students and teachers won’t mind what you are wearing, so wear what is most comfortable for you.

Men who choose to wear looser fitting shorts should wear a compression garment underneath to ensure full coverage. Ideally, men’s shorts should fit closer to the body. Many of our male students wear wear lined bathing trunks, biking shorts, athletic shorts. Men have the option to go shirtless (and many do).

For ladies, while you might think that the shortest shorts are the best due to the heat, some of our students prefer pants and capris because their legs are less slippery for certain poses (like Crow).

Jewelry, Hair and Makeup. Leave any big jewelry or watches at home or stored safely outside of the hot room. They will only become hindrances in the studio and if you take them off in the hot room, you may accidentally leave them behind. If you have long hair, pull it back into a ponytail, bun, or braid so it won’t get in your face. Headbands and bandanas are also helpful to keep wispies and flyaways out of your eyes. Think twice about your makeup choice – anything that can smear, drip or move will in our environment. We want you to be able to focus on your efforts in class.

You don’t have to worry about footwear as bare feet are best. We’ll provide a spot for you to store your shoes at the beginning of class. Finally, consider whether you want to bring an extra change of clothes with you to change into

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Taking Care of Your Hair and Skin

So you are regularly attending classes at Sunstone, working hard, sweating like crazy, all the while loving the change that your yoga practice has created in your life. BUT, as you spend more time with your practice, you are noticing changes in your skin and hair.
We have been there! Here are a few tips on how to care for your external body during your practice… Fellas–this isn’t just for the ladies 🙂

Skin: Although we think of skin as external, it must be cared for from the inside out. Be mindful of what you’re putting into your body–it will be reflected by your skin’s hydration and clarity. Hydrating throughout the day and eating lots of fruits and vegetables (which contain lots of water naturally, as well as antioxidants and nutrients) will help you feel good during class, and your skin will benefit looking fresh, even dewy.

Embrace sweat! Through sweat, your body is flushing out toxins and opening up the pores. Resist the urge to constantly wipe away sweat during class. During class we are grabbing our feet, touching the floor and the mat — no matter how recently you pedicured your paws, you don’t want to be touching your face after Forward Bending, or Hands to Feet. Just let the sweat flow. (Consider trying a YogiToes hBand or other type of headband to keep your hair out of your eyes and face.)

Before class make sure your face is clean. You do not want to wear dirt, grime, or makeup into a heated room–all of these things can clog pores and lead to breakouts. Lots of companies now make pre-moistened facial cleansing cloths that make it easy to wipe off makeup or environmental buildup before your workout.

Do not load up on lotion or scented body products before entering the hot room. Your neighbors will not appreciate your Drakkar Noir in hot, sweaty proximity, and recently moisturized skin turns into a slippery mess when you’re sweating hard, making it tough to keep your grip in Standing Bow.

After class, your pores are open and clean. Rinse off using gentle, non-comedogenic cleansers, followed by light moisturizers, if necessary. If you struggle with breakouts on your back, be sure you’re getting everything thoroughly rinsed and cleaned back there; some of our students have successfully treated their back breakouts with Neem and Tea Tree Oil.

Over time, you may find that your skin reaches its natural balance and you don’t have to use heavy creams or stringent cleansers. Finally, make sure you are changing your sheets and pillowcases regularly.

Hair: If you’re noticing your hair is a little drier after consistently practicing in the heat, consider putting a little hair oil or leave-in conditioner on your ends before class. It will soak into your hair throughout class and protect it from the heat. Just be sure you aren’t using a super-pungent product–it will be even more powerful in the hot room and distracting to you and everyone else. (Some people use coconut oil instead of buying expensive hair products.)

Many of our students and teachers have found that they use shampoo much less frequently–if at all–as their hair and scalps adjust to the heat and humidity. Experiment with what works for you and your hair type. Some people just rinse and condition their hair after class. Others shampoo every other day or just a couple of times a week. Consider trying a sulfate-free shampoo that will not strip the hair of its natural oils and moisture.

Remember that your exercise routine has changed, and so your skin and hair-care regimens will, too.

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