Teacher Feature: Maria Villarreal

Meet our latest Teacher Feature, Maria Villarreal.  Maria teaches at Yoga For All Beings on Saturdays from 11:30am-12:45pm leading a Level 1-2 Vinyasa.  You can also find Maria subbing classes on occasion.  To see when Maria is teaching next, check out our current class schedule.  Learn a few fun facts about Maria in her own words below…

I came to yoga almost 10 years ago hoping to try something that I’ve never done before – looking for a clean slate. I went to a 90 minute all levels vinyasa class, and spent most of the time in child’s pose. After that class, I decided that I would keep showing up on my mat.

🏖 I love the beach – any beach. I can sit on the sand infront of water all day – reading, daydreaming, people watching, and munching clementines.

 It’s a goal of mine to visit as many Spanish speaking countries as possible. Last year, I traveled to Cuba on a yoga retreat and it was magical.

✏️ I’m an educator to school-aged youth. My current role allows me to support 6-18 year-olds as they discover their passion and develop their voice and skills as writers. Hearing students write about what excites them, or what they’re feeling, or what they’ve created in their imaginations is one of the rewards of my job.

🎶 I think that music is a great way of connecting with people. I like to curate playlists for my yoga classes that bring all kinds of cultures and sounds together. Also, I regularly dream about becoming a DJ.

📖 Reading is one of my favorite things to do. I read about a book a week and am always looking for recommendations!

Read more about Maria in her bio:
Maria began her yoga practice back in 2010 when she walked into her first class. She was totally unprepared for the 90 minutes that followed but, she knew the only way to be prepared was to come back to her mat the next day. Maria loves a strong vinyasa class that incorporates pranayama and good music to help facilitate the flow. She loves creating a class that has yogis moving, breathing and being playful in their practice while fostering a sense of calm.

Sustaining Our Intentions

by Jenni Antonicic

 

January is here, and with it high hopes and noble aspirations! We all have habits that we recognize as causing us and others suffering, as well as habits we know interfere with our deepest desires. A desire to learn, grow and change for the better is at the heart of our Yogic program, but the details, ah the details present impediments pretty quick. By anticipating those moments when our energy will fail, and distractions or setbacks threaten to set us off track, we can be ready with skillful means to sustain the project of taking our next step.  One of the first sets of skills we need to cultivate as we try to make any positive shift in our life is self-awareness, coupled with kindness and compassion. Paying attention to our habitual thoughts and feelings and how they manifest in our bodies and through our behaviors is a prerequisite to consciously changing those habits to net positive results in our lives. Kindness and compassion enable us to meet negative energy ruts with positive energy choices.

Great harm comes from our un-examined conditioning.  I do believe that people rarely move through the world trying to do harm, nonetheless we all do a great deal of it.  We don’t realize the extent to which our actions are overly protective or needlessly self-serving.  We don’t realize the extent to which fear and the more “empowered-feeling” emotion of anger generate our actions.  Mostly we don’t realize the quotidian nature of passing our suffering on to others.  Our egos minimize the offense we give and maximize the offense we take.  Most often we are completely oblivious. I have been humbled several times recently by the realization that I hurt or irritated someone and had no idea at all at the time.  Avoid the tendency to think someone else is “overly sensitive” – that is our own egos using righteousness to protect us from shame, which only leads to a further spiral downward. Examine it all closely.  Humility and a sense of humor are very useful with this work.

What happens when we try to be more persistently self-aware?  For most people trying any skill, at the beginning it is tiresome and may even feel impossible.  Exhaustion indicates too much effort, giving up far too little.  “Effortless effort” is the excellence-in-action of yoga. (Spiritual teacher Adyashanti talks about effortless effort in this link). Frustration is normal. Keep acting with principled intention and expect that there will be mistakes or oversights. Our practice is to return again and again to the task.  This is a mature attitude towards meditation, study, or a difficult project of any sort – anything we apply our energy towards in terms of long-game results.  There will be setbacks or the pace may not be what we hoped for.  At this point we dig in a little, have faith, and reapply energy in a calm, grounded way.  We must update our strategies as our understanding deepens and get better at apologizing if we’ve not been kind.  Chagrin is par for the course.

Self-forgiveness is the key to dealing with the ways we disappoint ourselves, and that is one of the greatest internal difficulties we face. Tara Brach has written and spoken extensively on this. Regardless of the magnitude of the mistake, if it wasn’t hard to forgive, it wouldn’t really be necessary. The “easy to forgive” infractions haven’t really caused offense. They are the “difficult” or “impossible to forgive” offenses that poison us. We need to forgive things that seem unforgiveable.  Grasp the radical nature of the spiritual path!  Only in the heart are such paradoxes resolved. It’s likely we’ll need to keep revisiting the same experiences and reactions repeatedly with new resources each time to digest something thoroughly.  All things have their own time-line. Any impatience with ourselves while we work through the process is actually more subtle violence to ourselves, as Jeff Foster has recorded.  Resiliency comes with practice, faith in our highest intentions, and compassion for all beings, most especially ourselves.

 

Ditch the Resolution and Set Your Sankalpa

by Danielle Dickinson

 

A sankalpa can be thought of as a heartfelt desire or as a specific intention that both stem from a place of inner wisdom and aim to bring us towards our highest self.  If you’ve ever heard your yoga teacher ask you to set a sankalpa at the beginning of class (Yoga Nidra is a practice where it’s traditionally done each time), they are referring to a vow that you resolve to set for yourself- something that is deeply personal and comes from a place of loving intention.  When we think of new years resolutions, we often think of some big change.  Sometimes these new years goals are ego driven with superficial reasons behind them.  A sankalpa is formed by our heart-mind and is void of judgment.  So, we can distinguish a sankalpa from a resolution because with a sankalpa practice there is a recognition that we already have inside of us that which we are seeking.  We look beyond the what and the how by also seeking out the why behind our intention.  This provides us with insight into our own selves- who we are and who we want to be at our deepest core.

A sankalpa should be made in the affirmative.  And when reciting our sankalpa, we should use be using the present tense.  As Richard Miller, PhD, a psychologist, author, and yogic scholar explains, “A sankalpa isn’t a petition or a prayer.  It is a statement of deeply held fact, and a vow that is true in the present moment.”  Instead of saying something like, “I will loose weight” or, “I will get in shape,” you might say something like, “I have respect for my body and I treat it well with nutritious food and healthy exercise.”  Instead of saying, “I will start a yoga and meditation practice,” you could say, “I am healing my body and nourishing my mind.”  More simply, if your intention is to be more loving, instead of saying “I will be more loving,” you’d recite to yourself, “I am loving.”

Void of ego, a sankalpa can take us towards our greatest potential.  In the words of spiritual teacher and author, Sally Kempton, “When you make a true sankalpa, you call on the power of your personal will, and align your personal will with the cosmic will.”  Because new years resolutions often have goals that stem from a place of ego, see if you can look to an affirming sankalpa instead.  Let your heartfelt desires direct your dharma (living your true purpose).  A new year doesn’t have to mean the need for a ‘new you,’ but it can encourage the wisdom to look within and foresee a better and attainable version of the same, wonderful you that was always there.

 

Teacher Feature: Caitlin Pike

Meet our latest Teacher Feature, Caitlin Pike!   Caitlin graduated from Yoga For All Beings very first Teacher Training program and starting teaching at YFAB in October 2016.  Read on to learn a few fun facts about Caitlin in her own words below.

  I’ve been practicing yoga since my early 20s. Though I quickly came to love it, I was so intimidated in my first few classes that I never corrected a teacher who for some reason thought my name was April until it was too late… I let her call me that until I moved away.

✂️  Besides yoga, my passion is making things by hand. I’ll try almost any craft (weaving, pottery, sewing, embroidery, bookmaking…) but I always come back to my first love, knitting. I also like to make soap, candles, and various bath/body products. You can read some craft tutorials I’ve written at http://f52.co/1ZSUf5d.

  I love being outdoors and in nature – camping, hiking, biking, etc. This summer I’ve gone on (and absolutely loved) my first backpacking and bike camping trips. 

🐱 I have a big, fluffy black-and-white cat named Henry Bear. He loves belly rubs and is the apple of my eye!

Find Caitlin on the regular schedule Mondays at 6:15pm for Vinyasa Level 1-2 and you can also find her subbing classes at YFAB on occasion.

Read Caitlin Pike’s full bio below:

After a decidedly unathletic adolescence, Caitlin found vinyasa yoga in 2009 and loved how at home in her body it made her feel. As she continued to practice, she found that her physical, mental, and emotional wellness were more deeply intertwined than she had ever imagined. Yoga helped her find more balance and ease in everyday life, along with space for exploration and play—yoga is fun!

Caitlin joined the Yoga for All Beings community shortly after the studio opened and completed her 200 hour teacher training with YFAB in spring 2016. She is honored to share this practice with others in classes that create space for mindfulness and self-care. Most of all, she is grateful for how yoga can teach us to inhabit our poses and our lives with integrity, strength, and grace.

Teacher Feature: Melissa Kirschner

Our latest teacher feature is YFAB yoga teacher, Melissa Kirschner.  Read on as Melissa shares some fun facts about herself with our community! 

1. I took my first yoga class in college almost 15 years ago…and didn’t like it at all! I could not get my inhales and exhales to match the teacher’s cues. I reluctantly returned to the mat three years later and I’m so glad I did–I have been practicing ever since!

2. I LOVE travel. Aside from yoga it is truly my passion. Especially international travel and experiencing new cultures.

3. I work, in addition to teaching yoga, in study abroad 🙂

 4. I was an art major in college and still enjoy drawing and painting…when I can find the time!

 

 

Melissa teaches at Yoga For All Beings on

Mondays  6:30am-7:30am  Sunrise Vinyasa

Thursdays  7:15pm-8:45pm  Candlelight Effort & Ease

You can also find Melissa subbing classes at the studio.  To see our current weekly schedule, click here.

Read more about Melissa Kirschner in her full bio below: 

After over a decade of practicing yoga, Melissa Kirschner was inspired to deepen her practice by participating in OmBodies teacher training program. It was a transformational experience! Not only did she learn more about her own practice, but came to realize how much she enjoyed teaching and sharing yoga with others.

Melissa’s goal as a yoga instructor is to make yoga accessible to everyone, with a particular interest in sharing yoga with underserved populations. Her classes focus on alignment, breath, and providing space for students to explore each pose. Students can expect a balance of effort and ease, and to leave class feeling more relaxed and centered.  

Wild Thing vs Flip Dog: What’s the Difference Between These Two Poses?

A common question I get from yoga students is about Wild Thing vs Flip Dog… what is the difference between these two poses?  Let’s first start with their commonalities.  Both of these postures are backbends, where the spine is in extension, but the degree of backbend (usually) differs in each of these poses.  Both poses are also balances where the individual is baring weight on just one hand (with both feet on the earth).  The shape of the legs and feet, however, is quite different in each of these poses, including each pose’s variation that might follow its initial expression.  In wild thing, the legs and feet are asymmetrical while in filp dog, they are symmetrical. 

In this black and white collage, you can see in the first two photos of wild thing pose (the 1st being the initial expression with the right leg leg bent and the 2nd being the expression with the right leg straight).  The toes, while of course pointing in the same direction as the knees, are pointing in different directions with respect to right and left feet.  And the left foot is (usually) not completely flat onto the ground but rather pressing firmly into the pinky side knife edge of the foot.  The reason the feet are doing different things has to do with what the legs are doing. In both the 1st and 2nd photos of wild thing, the front leg (pictured here as left leg) is rotated externally in the hip and the back leg (pictured here as right leg) is internally rotated in the hips.

 For flip dog, the legs are symmetrical and the thighs are internally rotated.  If you look at the 3rd and 4th photos in the collage of flip dog and wheel pose, you will see the toes point in the same direction on both sets of right and left feet- in other words, the feet are parallel to each other and the legs are doing the same thing on right and left sides (seen in above photos of flip dog and wheel, respectively).

To help you understand these postures a little better, consider the starting positions for each. For Wild Thing, you’ll {typically} start in side plank where your hips are about in line with your shoulders (see photo on the left).

For Flip Dog, you’ll {typically} start in downward facing dog where your hips are well above the height of your shoulders (see photo on the right).  And in the final expression of each respective posture, the hips are at different degrees of height. You’ll notice (and hopefully feel in your own body) how the hips are lifted higher in flip dog than in wild thing.

Here is the initial expression of the wild thing, where the leg that moved up and over (landing off of the mat) stays bent with the leg in about a 90 degree angle.  And, like mentioned earlier, t’s good to note that on the stationary foot (on the mat), the big toe side is usually lifted, with the pinky side edge of the foot firmly pressing into the mat (which you cannot see very well in the photo here).

Here, you can see a photo of the flip dog pose… which is really like a one armed wheel pose (urdhva dhanurasana).  The leg that came off of the mat is similar to that of the same leg in wild thing… it’s the stationary leg that has changed shapes.  In flip dog, the leg on the mat adjusts to bend at a 90 degree angle making both legs parallel to each other.

A variation of the wild thing is where the leg off of the mat straightens completely like in this photo here.  To find this variation, you will start in the initial expression of wild thing and then adjust the pose in order to straighten the leg off of the mat.

A variation of the flip dog is where the arm that initially extends overhead plants next to the

grounded hand at a distance of about shoulder width apart (and the grounded hand has to first adjust to face the opposite direction… towards the feet) and this expression becomes wheel pose.  It should be noted that not only is wheel is an advanced pose that requires a lot of opening and warm up in various areas of the body to move into it safely, but the transition from flip dog into wheel is particularly tricky and should be taught and practiced under the guidance of an experienced teacher if trying this out for the first time (or few).  In each of these poses, we want to find continual lift in our heart space and firm grounding though hand(s) and feet while maintaining a constant flow of prana (think smooth and steady breathing) and slow transitions in and out of poses.  I also recommend engaging mula bandha in these poses (including while transitioning in and out of them).

It is always a good idea to address specific asana related questions directly to your teacher in person so that you can be certain of proper alignment and staying safe in your practice.  Come see us for class at Yoga For All Beings to learn more about the wonderful world of asana and so much more that the yoga practice has to offer.  Our current class schedule can be viewed here.

Yoga is Balance: Sthira & Sukha On & Off the Mat


Yoga is balance. A fine and tricky balance, to say the least.  But if attained, this balance can provide both calming and grounding energy in addition to giving way to enlightening inspiration and positive change.  In order to get to this sought-after neutral place, one must play with the delicate dance of opposites… hard and soft, dark and light, rough and smooth.  How can we navigate our way to this sweet nectar in the middle where bliss lives?  How can we find our own sense of peace and calm amidst the the back and forth see-saw of lows and highs that is life?  In a word… yoga.

One of the greatest gifts we receive from our yoga practice is that irreplaceable feeling of pure bliss that we are afforded after practice.  And in practice, what we are truly doing is balancing out effort and ease, the well-known yoga concept of sthira and sukha.  In Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras, he gives us the following aphorism (from sutra 2.46): “sthira-sukham asanam.”  This sutra is most commonly translated as “asana (postures) should be stable {sthira} and comfortable {sukha}.  Being established in a good place- that is, getting grounded, finding proper alignment, diligent focus, engaging the right muscles, and harnessing energy correctly coupled with maintaining a healthy prana (breath/life force) is what this sutra is all about.


We aren’t looking to feel exhausted after a yoga class… in fact, many teachers would argue we’re doing something wrong if we feel this degree of depletion after practice. Instead, we should feel alive yet relaxed at the same time.  We should be practicing in a way that regenerates our energy, not in a way that depletes it.   To achieve this, we ought to be checking in with our breathing often (is prana moving freely?) and we can also do a post class check to see how we are feeling as a whole (are we feeling balanced?).  In the words of T.K.V. Desikachar, we are looking to find and maintain sthira, “alertness without tension” while also finding and maintaining sukha, “relaxation without dullness.”

Hard to both attain and maintain, balance is really the key to one’s yoga practice and if we’re
thinking about yoga in it’s entirety, this translates to balance being the key to living blissfully.  Sure, we need to find both steadiness and ease in downward dog and warrior II, but we also need this delicate balance of embodying enthusiasm and liveliness while at the same time staying focused and keeping our feet firmly planted in our everyday lives.  This is where the yoga practice becomes a life practice.  Striving for that sweet nectar in the middle will bring us toward our perfect happy medium… our own personal bliss.  That nectar of bliss only becomes attainable to us when we are living a life in balance, a life of yoga.

Teacher Feature: Denise D’Agostino

Meet Yoga For All Beings teacher Denise D’Agostino! We are so fortunate to have this lovely yogini on our team. If you haven’t made it in to one of her classes yet, you’re missing out!  Learn a little more about Denise below…

-Denise used to have severe & almost daily migraines until she found nutrition and yoga as a young person. She has been fully vegan for over a decade!

-She loves music and has studied singing since college.

-Denise is a committed Ashtangi and loves the discipline and progression of the daily practice.

-Denise hopes to bring others the gifts of self inquiry that yoga asana and philosophy have and continue to give her.

Meet Denise on the mat at YFAB on Thursdays at 12pm for All Levels Vinyasa and find her subbing other classes at the studio as well!

Read Denise’s full yoga biography here:

Denise guides her students towards the natural balance, peace and potent, unconditional bliss in body and mind that the yogic teachings have to share. She started her health journey when severe allergies and migraines consumed her life during college. Through the help of self-study on nutrition and lifestyle, she was able to slowly unravel her feelings of sickness and to begin a corporate career in NYC. After moving to Chicago, she began a more regular practice of yoga battling stress and the feeling of being overworked, which quickly left her partially transformed and curious about this vast “new” world of experiential knowledge called yoga. Moksha Yoga Studios opened her entire world up to the classical, pure roots of yoga where she received her 200hr training. She is a committed Ashtangi and enjoys a strong but healing practice.

In class, you will experience the full integrity of the physical postures, ease of the breath and tools to explore the inner self. Denise aims to guide each individual towards discovering his or her unchanging spirit in a safe and nurturing environment. It will be a gift to teach you!

Find Denise online at https://www.facebook.com/DAGyoga/

 

“Why Sadness is Unprofessional… And Why That’s Total Bullshit.” Some Good Advice from David Romanelli

Yoga teacher and author of the best selling book Happy is the New Healthy, David Romanelli recently wrote a post that was too good not to share.  You can find more of these touching and inspiring real life stories shared by Dave from his own experiences of traveling the world and meeting all kinds of different people on his website.

“WHY SADNESS IS UNPROFESSIONAL (and by the way, THAT IS TOTAL BULLSHIT)…

Indigenous people believe that your medicine is not something you take but something you give, your great offering that makes your world better.

Last week I had the amazing experience of sitting with 1000 years of wisdom in 60 very special minutes. 

I had lunch with a group of ladies who met in college…in the 1940’s. They joined the same sorority, and have continued to meet every month…for the past 70 years. Now they are in their 90’s. 11 people in their 90s is equal to about 1000 years of life experience.

These ladies have been there for each as they got married, raised families, became empty nesters, celebrated grandchildren, became widows, got old, and now some are on breathing machines and in wheelchairs. And through it all, they have stuck together.

The immense wisdom in this room was different. It wasn’t a wisdom based on accolades and resumes and fame. It was a wisdom based on reality.

Each of these ladies had amazing stories of success and love. And each of them had tragic stories of loss and pain. Maybe it was just me, but I perceived happiness and sadness sitting side by side at this lunch.

In our modern culture, there is rarely a seat at the table for sadness. It’s something we endure in private, maybe on the couch of a psychologist, or in some bursting out of tears in your yoga class.

Psychology researcher Joseph Forgas found that people in a sad mood had better judgement and memory, were more motivated, and more generous than the happier control group. Periodic feelings of sadness widen our circle of concern.

Now look. I wrote a book called Happy is the New Healthy. I’m all about happiness and I’m not saying it’s any fun to mope around and drag people down with you. But funny stories and pretty pictures of sunsets can only get you so far.

The more I have listened to the elders, the more I realize the pure and lasting happiness can only come from finding the courage to share your sadness and in turn, inspire others to share theirs.

These ladies went through some terribly hard times, but they went through them TOGETHER.

There’s a lady named Deena Metzger who talks about how In the old days, the Chiefs, Medicine people, Shamans, and Elders called Councils. They looked for solutions to their problems by aligning themselves with the ancestors, the natural world and their wisdom traditions.

Sitting around the table with these elder ladies, I felt a sense of what these “Councils” must have been like.

Everyone at the table took a turn sharing what’s been happening in their life. And everyone else listened.

It is that giving and taking, going around the circle, face to face, heart to heart, that struck me as something missing from my world.

So let me ask you…

What have you been stuffing away, deep inside, that seems impossible to address because it would be impolite or unprofessional or just cause a mess that nobody wants to clean up?

Instead, we see our shrink and take our pills and do our yoga and keep it stuffed away.

Remember, your medicine is not something you take but something you give.

What a unique gift…to give your sadness, and give another permission and space… to give theirs.”

Teacher Feature: Erin Zastrow

Meet our latest Yoga For All Beings Teacher Feature, Erin Zastrow!

Learn a few fun facts about Erin in her own words below: 

– I stumbled on yoga 6 years ago when I bought a Groupon to a studio so I could take a belly dancing class with a friend.

– I am mom to an 8 month old baby boy, and a very needy husky.

– I grew up riding horses, and was on the equestrian team in college.

– I have been a speech pathologist for 10 years.  

– I believe I could survive on coffee, donuts and cheese, they are my 3 favorite foods!

 

Catch Erin’s classes at Yoga For All Beings on Saturdays at 4pm and you can also find her a subbing for many other yoga classes on the schedule.

Read on about Erin Zastrow in her biography below.

Erin’s journey into yoga began in 2011 as a gentle form of exercise following a knee injury. After exploring various styles, she grew to love the vinyasa practice. The physical healing that occurred had her hooked. In later classes and trainings she really began to explore the yoking of body, mind and spirit and made the decision to enroll in teacher training so she could share her love for the practice with others.  She completed her RYT at Zen Yoga Garage, followed by an apprenticeship with Margo Kellison-Lightburn.  Erin’s classes encourage self exploration, focus on breath work and alignment based flow.