Class update!

27 Jun

Starting this Saturday, July 2nd, I will be teaching a weekly Saturday class at Fred Segal Yoga in Santa Monica. The class is from 10-11:30 AM, and it’s an all-levels class set to upbeat, hip hop music! Come have fun, sweat, and start your holiday weekend off right!

The studio is located at 420 Broadway, Santa Monica, CA, 90401. There is free parking in the lot. Enter through the salon, and you can check in for yoga where you check in for salon appointments. There are mats and props available at the studio. They have a new summer schedule starting in July with more classes being offered. In addition, FSY is the studio of the month at Lululemon this month! Come check them out for free classes on Sundays in July!

Tripod headstand splits. Copyright Jasper Johal 2011




My Top 10 Reasons Why Handstands are Awesome

5 May

Handstanding in Brazil

While taking classes this weekend with my favorite handstanding couple, Brock and Krista Cahill, I realized that handstand is a microcosm for my yoga practice. Now, I’ve often heard this said about tadasana (mountain pose), but handstand? Oh yes. Read on for my top 10 list of why handstands are awesome πŸ™‚

Brock and Krista handstanding

1. There are many health benefits to doing handstands! Click on the link to read the article from Yoganonymous. Inversions are great for increasing your energy levels and stimulating your metabolism. Also, they’re excellent for finding balance.

2. They’re fun and help you find your joyful, childlike side πŸ™‚

3. Hello core work and ripped arms! Per Light on Yoga, by B.K.S. Iyengar, it “develops the body harmoniously. It strengthens the shoulders, arms and wrists and expands the chest fully.”

4. Handstand is a pose that I have to start fresh with every day. One day I need to put more power into my hops up. The next day, I need to ease off. I can’t think of any other pose this is truer for. It keeps me being creative and focused during my practice as a result.

5. Handstand is not a pose I can do mindlessly. If I don’t pay attention and am not present, I will fall. OK, sometimes I fall even when I am being present πŸ˜‰ It forces me to stay in the moment more than most poses, which helps me clear my mind and let go of mental chatter.

6. Handstand helps you to be brave and conquer your fears. It’s pretty scary to toss (ok, gently float is the ideal) your feet up over your head, especially away from the wall. It helps you realize how you face deal with challenges in your life. Do you back away and not push yourself out of fear? Do you fling yourself in too hard without being safe?

7. You don’t realize it at first, but handstand is a heart opener as a well (see above quote from Iyengar).Β  Not only are you facing your fears (see previous point), but you have to try to do so with your heart open. The temptation is to push out of your shoulders and collapse your chest, in an effort to protect yourself. It’s so hard to challenge your feels AND stay open!

8. To quote George Michael, when you do handstands “you gotta have faith!” Handstand make you trust yourself. To do the pose correctly and eventually learn to do transitions, you have to lean WAAAAAY forward and trust that you are strong enough to do it. Admittedly, this is NOT my strength in handstands πŸ˜‰ It’s constant work to trust yourself.

9. Handstand helps you change your perspective when you look at the world upside down!

10. Finally, handstands are crazy sexy cool πŸ˜‰ They make you a badass. Check out this yoga scene from the Oliver Jackson movie “Faster”. The body is my teacher Brock Cahill.

Check out this article about making sure to care for your wrists while practicing inversions by my lovely friend and one of my favorite teachers and people, Angela Kuhkahn.

Go forth and handstand!

Marysia and Angela handstanding. Copyright Jim Knowles 2011.

What IS Healthy Eating?

13 Apr

Eating chocolate treat at the end of a yoga retreat in Brazil

These days it seems like everyone has a specific diet:Β  Vegetarian (no meat), pescetarian (no meat except fish), vegan (no animal products), raw food (primarily uncooked food), low-carb (e.g., Atkins, South Beach), gluten-free (gluten is a protein found in many grains), lactose-free…. The list goes on and on. People become vehement in defending their food choices, often to the point of becoming preachy and judgmental (major turn-offs in my book).Β  With all of these choices, what constitutes healthy eating?

People pick specific diets for a variety of reasons, many of which are not necessarily health. One might chose to be lactose-free or gluten-free due to a specific allergy, though it seems like people often believe that it is inherently healthier to be lactose- and gluten-free, which is not necessarily true.Β  Other diets are chosen for ethical reasons (e.g., vegetarian, vegan) in an effort to have a more cruelty-free diet and consume less resources. However, choosing to be vegetarian or vegan does not necessarily mean one is eating healthier (e.g., you could subsist on bagels and pizza if you were vegetarian, it is hard to get all of the required nutrients as a vegan). Other people choose a diet because they are primarily interested in losing weight (e.g, Atkins, South Beach). While being overweight is not healthy, these diets are not necessarily healthy either (though the idea of a diet that lets you eat bacon is appealing to many people).

In the field of psychology, there are a number of eating disorders classified in the DSM-IV-IV (the diagnostic manual)Β  including anorexia, bulemia, and body dysmorphic disorder. To provide a very simple definition of each, anorexia is the refusal to maintain a minimum body weight needed to be healthy. Bulimia can include both binge eating (eating vast quantities of food at a time) and purging (e.g., throwing up, use of laxatives, over-exercising) thought doesΒ  not necessarily mean the individual is underweight. In body dysmorphic disorder, an individual is overly concerned with imagined deficits in their physical appearance. Binge eating disorder falls under the category of Eating Disorder Not Otherwise Specified (NOS). Binge eating disorder includes similar binging as is found in bulimia but none of the purging behavior. An interesting additional disorder has been proposed recently: orthorexia. This was a term coined to describe people who have a fixation with healthy or righteous eating.

So does this mean that healthy eating is unhealthy? Recently, someone wrote an article for the Elephant Journal asking if cleansing is the new bulimia. What is a yogi to do?

Here’s how I choose to look at it. I see eating behavior as falling on a continuum ranging from healthy to disordered. Disordered eating is exemplified by the DSM diagnoses provided above. The person has an unhealthy fixation with food and/or body image and spends an inordinate amount of time worrying about it. Eventually this impacts relationships with other people (e.g., you don’t want to go out to social dinners, you’re embarassed of your weird eating habits, you’re too annoying and preachy about other people’s food).

So what is healthy eating? Sure, I think we can agree healthy eating should be balanced and nutritious and not have too many preservatives and include lots of fruit and vegetables. I’m not really talking about what makes something have nutritional merit as a diet. Rather, what makes someone a healthy eater? I believe it’s the opposite of disordered eating. This means that you enjoy eating, but not so much that you’re binging. You listen to your body. You eat in moderation, within moderation. Sometimes you splurge (within normal limits) and have that bacon cheeseburger with fries. Sometimes you eat comfort food (pizza, ice cream). You’re not restricting food intake obsessively. You generally try to make healthy choices but you don’t beat yourself up when you don’t. You can be flexible because you make good choices overall.

My guess would be this actually sometimes leads to weight loss because you are more in touch with what your body truly wants and needs.

Plus this means I’m justified in still eating chocolate and pizza πŸ™‚ Mmmm…. pizza…



Finding Your Handstand

4 Apr

Scorpios doing Scorpion, Copyright Jim Knowles 2010

Two of my good friends, Angela Kukhahn and Marysia Weiss (pictured above with me), have put together a series of instructional videos about the foundations of handstand and how you can practice handstand in everyday poses. They’re both amazing teachers and people. On top of that, they’re funny and hot πŸ˜‰ How much better does it get? Check it out! πŸ™‚

Handstand prep

Handstand in Tadasana (Mountain pose)

Handstand in Plank Pose

Handstand in Down Dog

Angela is also in the Yoga Journal contest! Check out her link and vote for here:

Happy handstanding! πŸ™‚

Yoga contest and other announcements

3 Apr

Flying pigeon pose. Copyright Jasper Johal 2011

Hey everyone!

So Yoga Journal (premiere yoga magazine) is having a talent search contest for a new cover model. I entered a photo. I would LOVE your support! You can vote once a day until the contest ends on 4/15.Β  Here is the link (the photo is the one linked to this post:

You just click and vote πŸ™‚ I’m up against people with a ton of followers so I need all the love I can get! Spread the word, vote, etc πŸ™‚

In other news, I’m no longer teaching at Fred Segal Yoga. I’m still a sub at Yogis Anonymous and available for private, semi-private, and corporate classes. Let me know if you know of any good teaching opportunities (that I can do with a full-time job) or anyone looking for a private instructor. Once I have more regular classes, I’ll post it here.

Thanks again for your support! πŸ™‚

The Heart vs The Head (or Why Can’t We All Just Get Along)

21 Mar

Drop back. Copyright Jasper Johal 2011

While I was reading one of my favorite blogs last week, The Hot and Healthy (written by my two very hot and very healthy friends Marysia Weiss and Mackensie Miller), it reminded of a blog post I’d been meaning to write for a while.Β  Mish and Mackensie talk about the importance of balancing the emotionality of the heart with the groundedness of the head. I also feel frustrated at times in yoga classes where I feel like all you hear is the importance of being heart-centered and opening the heart and listening to the heart and the head is discounted.

One of my favorite parts of Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) in psychology talks about this balance between the heart and the head. DBT is based in part on Eastern philosophy and incorporates mindfulness. I find it an interesting treatment modality.Β  DBT was created by Marsha Linehan for patients with Borderline Personality Disorder, which means their emotions are highly labile and they rarely stop to think things through.Β  This is also typical of the children with whom I work, who are diagnosed with severe emotional disturbance. All heart and no head is one way to think about them (though more realistically they’re all impulse and no control).

However, I personally am someone who tends to overly intellectualize and analyze.Β  I would venture to say that this is common for many people who practice yoga and probably why the leading with your heart concept is so popular. Many of us do need to get out of our heads and check in with our emotions.

Back to DBT. There is a point here πŸ˜‰Β  Here is my favorite diagram of my favorite concept in DBT: at the intersection of rational mind and emotional mind is wise mind.

Wise Mind diagram

(Also I love that it’s a Venn diagram.) Most of us tend more towards one extreme than the other. Either you’re someone who lives in the head and creates distance and can discount emotions through rationalization and intellectualization (rational mind), or you live in the heart and act primarily on how things feel and don’t always thing through the consequences of actions (emotional mind). The idea of wise mind is that you are able to think through options and consequences while still listening to your emotions and intuition. That is our goal: to achieve our own personal balance and find our inner wisdom.

I think that therapy is one option for helping oneself to find this balance. (Let’s hope so, since it’s my career!) However, I also think that yoga is a great place to work on this. The practice of yoga (and meditation) helps you learn how to observe and create distance between yourself and both your thoughts and feelings. It’s a chance to see which tends to have a stronger pull for you. As I said in a previous post, I tend to get caught up in my head during practice. Either I’m thinking about my to do list or giving myself negative self-talk or thinking about the class and how I’d like to incorporate aspects into my teaching. Whew! It’s tiring and I love the chance to shut down the mental chatter, even if only for a bit. I would posit that for those who tend to be pulled more strongly by their emotions, yoga is a chance to just exist and notice the emotions without getting too wrapped up in them and acting on them immediately.

Simple concept: in between thinking and feeling there is wisdom. It’s all about the balance.

Since I started with a picture of leading with the heart, I’ll throw in my picture of leading with the head πŸ™‚

Leading with the head

Letting Go of Expectations

14 Mar

Handstanding in Brazil

Each morning when I open my eyes I say to myself: I, not events, have the power to make me happy or unhappy today. I can choose which it shall be. Yesterday is dead, tomorrow hasn’t arrived yet. I have just one day, today, and I’m going to be happy in it.
β€”Groucho Marx

Last Thursday night I finally made it back to Flight Club at Yogis Anonymous with one of my favorite teachers, Brock Cahill. I hadn’t been able to practice as much as I prefer due to a host of reasons (house sitting, adjusting to work being busy, getting locked on a rooftop and rescued by firemen… you know, the usual lol).Β  I was exhausted from being sick and a stressful week at work. Clearly, I was making excuses for myself before I could begin class. For those of you who have never taken a class with Brock, he teaches one of the hardest classes I’ve ever taken, and even when I bring my A game, it kicks my butt every time.


I found myself on my mat starting to list all of these excuses as to why I wouldn’t be able to have a good practice or keep up. I caught the stream of chatter flowing through my mind, and was able to recognize what was going on. I gave myself a little pep talk and reminded myself the practice was not about mastering every trick pose or transition, and it didn’t really matter what I could or could not do. What mattered was attempting class with an open mind and just being present to how I felt in the moment instead of telling myself before I even started that it would hurt and I couldn’t do it anymore.


I did my best to clear my mind and let go of all of the negative self-talk and doubt while centering during class. And it actually worked! Maybe I was too exhausted to keep up my usual running commentary during class. I suddenly felt truly present and open to each moment as it unfolded. I felt my tension and exhaustion begin to melt away as I poured my focus into my present. When I realized my expectations about my ability to do hard poses, suddenly I found myself holding my handstands much longer than I usually can without much effort. I startled myself so much at one point I fell out of the pose.


Even though I went into class super tired and stressed and feeling out of practice, I actually had a stronger practice because I was able to let go of my expectations and just be πŸ™‚


Maybe the key is to be too exhausted to over-think πŸ˜‰




Is Ignorance Really Bliss? (Or in Defense of Planning)

23 Feb

Tripod headstand splits. Copyright Jasper Johal 2011

I wanted a perfect ending.
Now I’ve learned, the hard way,
that some poems don’t rhyme,
and some stories don’t have a clear beginning, middle, and end.
Life is about not knowing, having to change,
…taking the moment and making the best of it,
without knowing what’s going to happen next.
Delicious Ambiguity.
β€”Gilda Radner

OK, so I know that in yoga we’re supposed to do like the above quote says. We’re supposed to be ok with ambiguity, with not having a plan and just living in the moment.

I don’t totally buy it.

I mean, I’m all for trying to stay present and appreciate the moment. Intellectually and philosophically, I comprehend how it is a lovely idea to not be attached to an outcome and to not need a plan. This would mean you’re never disappointed because you never had an expectation. You could live completely in the moment and no longer spend time obsessing over what your boss meant by that comment yesterday or how your upcoming date will go. You’d probably be calm and happy and worry-free and all that good stuff.

Again, I don’t totally buy it. I don’t think it’s human nature. Nor do I think it’s an ideal way to get through life in our modern world. Here’s my argument.

Evolutionarily speaking, being able to anticipate danger and plan accordingly is crucial to survival. If you were unable to think about your future hunting expedition enough to know how to avoid being someone else’s dinner, you wouldn’t live long enough to pass on your genes.

Bringing it to the present, for a large number of people who have jobs that involve lots of tasks and scheduling, you cannot succeed (or avoid being fired) if you are unable to plan things and anticipate. I will use myself as an example. I don’t think I could have completed my doctorate had I not been able to juggle a full-time student schedule, 3 part-time jobs (yoga teacher, teaching assistant, and therapy trainee), my dissertation research, exercise,and my social life. I really probably could never have finished all of those tasks without an insane ability to schedule, plan, anticipate deadlines and work, and prioritize. I definitely would not have been able to squeeze in time for self-care (yoga, alone time, etc.) or time with my friends if I hadn’t been able to maximize time in my schedule. In addition, I’d argue that having a goal (an outcome) and working towards it is a useful thing.

That being said, I was able to be flexible when things didn’t go according to plan (especially when I worked at a residential treatment center with adolescent boys where crises constantly erupted). I learned to not be completely attached to outcome (our motto in grad school was B = Ph.D., which is a hard motto for a group of overachievers). It’s true, I couldn’t always know what would happen in the future (would I be a teaching assistant or a research assistant in the fall), but trying to schedule and control what I could let me do the best I could do in school, taking the minimum amount of time to complete it that was possible for me, and maximizing the fun I could have in that time.

To temper my point at the beginning, I am the first to admit I can be overly anxious and waste unnecessary energy stressing about stuff I can’t change. I find that when you have to nurture certain qualities (e.g., organization, planning, being detail oriented) in your professional life, it can be a challenge to turn them off when you’re not at work.Β  THAT I think would be a great thing to work on (and stress about how I’m not doing it right lol). I also agree it is good to be flexible and not too rigid with planning and to be able to be spontaneous at times. I just don’t think that never planning, never committing, and never hoping for things should be a lifestyle that one necessarily strives for.

Some psychologists argue that a certain amount of tension is necessary to obtain goals. We can all think of an iconic character, like Sean Penn’s character in Fast Times at Ridgemont High. Sure, he’s not stressing about anything and he totally lives in the moment. However, he’s not achieving any goals either (aside from getting laughs from fellow students). A little stress is a good thing. It keeps you on your toes and moving towards the things you want. Goals don’t have to be materialistic. They’re not inherently bad to have. It’s good to know what you want and align your life accordingly.

In addition, I think anticipation and hoping is part of the fun! I love looking forward to something and thinking about how fun it could be. Sure, sometimes the reality isn’t as good as my fantasy, but sometimes it’s just as good or better. It’s kind of like the saying, “’tis a far better thing to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all.” Sometimes youΒ  risk disappointment, but it can be good to put the energy out there and think about what you would like to happen. When the event is done, it’s fun to reminisce about the good times (within reason).

Finally, as a psychologist, I have to say that it can be helpful to think about the past and how it impacts your experience of the present and possibly your future. No, ruminating and obsessing and living in the past does not help. But I think that being self-aware, accepting responsibility for what you did in the past and letting it inform your future actions is definitely helpful. It’s important to learn from your mistakes so that history doesn’t repeat itself.

In sum, I think that planning and having goals is often helpful and necessary to be able to survive in today’s world. I think the trick is to maintain flexibility and accept that even with planning and hoping, the outcome is not within our control. We don’t get to know what will happen. All we can do is try our best to prepare, know we’ve done our best, and hang on for the ride.

Good thing we have yoga πŸ˜‰

You Can’t Always Get What You Want…

7 Feb

Me being a rockstar πŸ˜‰

So this Rolling Stones quote popped into my head after class tonight. I went to Exhale tonight, thinking I was going to take class with Annie Carpenter. When I arrived, the staff informed me that Micheline Berry would be teaching instead. Both teachers are very popular and quite well known, though have very different teaching styles (in my past experience).Β  Annie is known for focus on alignment and intelligently sequenced classes that help you move safely and deeply into advanced postures (e.g., scorpion). Micheline teaches a Prana Flow style that is focused on fluidity and movement. Sometimes there is trance dance in class. Both master teachers, just very different styles.

When I first learned the teacher I expected to be teaching wouldn’t be there, I wasn’t sure what to do. Going with the flow is not my strongest point (bad pun intended). A number of students left. I decided that even though the class wasn’t what I had planned (and I hate it when things don’t go according to plan), I’d stick it out and see what class had to offer. Prana Flow is hugely popular, but it isn’t the style I typically practice. I sometimes have trouble maintaining my alignment and can hurt myself, so I tend towards the more structured classes where you hold poses a little bit more. Also, I’m totally shy about trance dance. I love dancing in a club, but for some reason I have trouble letting go in yoga. Weird, I know… I like to blame the music (I prefer hip hop to trance) but I don’t REALLY think that’s the reason. πŸ˜› But I digress… It’s easy to get stuck in a yoga rut and just take the teachers you know like and practice the style of yoga you think you like the best. I’m totally guilty of it myself. Pushing the boundaries can be good, right?


Wheel on a sunny day

I came to class expecting to hold poses and focus on alignment. Micheline’s class was PERFECT for what I needed for the night. We had a little bit of Prana Flow to get nice and warm, and we went really deeply into our hips and into backbends.Β  She gave fantastic alignment cues and adjustments. We did what I think might be my new favorite sequence after a day of sitting at a desk behind a computer: warrior 1, revolved side angle, anjane asana, lizard, hanumanasana, anahatasana, vinyasa. Twisted the spine out from sitting and helped counter the rounding over the computer. Delicious! πŸ™‚ We ended class with a little restorative poses. Funny enough, when I signed up online for class earlier in the day, I saw there was a restorative/yin class offered later in the evening. I thought it sounded fantastic but I have trouble getting myself into those classes since they’re not “a workout” though I love when teachers throw the poses at the end of a class. Somehow, the universe knew that was just what I needed. (Side note: we didn’t trance dance. I guess the universe didn’t think I needed that lol πŸ˜‰ )

I’ll leave you with the Rolling Stones lyrics (and music in the link): You can’t always get what you want, but if you try, sometimes you might find you get what you need


The Sure Way or the Fast Way

31 Jan

Non Sequitor by Wiley, copyright Wiley Ink, 1/30/11


While taking class with Annie Carpenter at Exhale tonight, I found myself thinking about this comic from the Sunday paper. As I blogged about a couple of weeks ago, I’m still recovering from a shoulder injury. The theme of class tonight was inversions, and we spent a lot of time working on opening the shoulder girdle and keeping the shoulders on the back body instead of letting them roll forward. All great things I need to work on in my practice to rehab my injury. Annie had us work on floating into forearm stand instead of kicking. She demonstrated and, of course, made it look effortless.Β  When it was my turn, I found it hard to float instead of hop (the same problem I have in handstand, and part of what contributed to my injury). I often make excuses, claiming I’m not strong enough or my hamstrings aren’t open enough to press up, and I “need” to take the easy way and hop. When I started the self-doubt talk tonight though, it cued this comic strip for me. I realized I tend to want to take the “easy” way into the pose (if there’s an easy way into pincha mayurasana lol), instead of wanting to do the “sure” way. By taking the sure way, it might take me a lot longer to get it, but the odds are, I’ll be doing it with correct alignment and not exacerbating injuries.

I’m not going to lie: it’s hard work to do things the sure way. It’s been really frustrating being injured and having to relearn poses and retrain my muscles to move correctly. Those muscles are weak and don’t want to work, and my body begs me to take the easy way. My ego begs me to take the easy way, so I can just do the pose already and get there. But it’s not about “getting” the pose if it’s not done correctly, right? Silly ego, (cool yoga party) tricks are for kids?

Yoga was a lot easier when I didn’t do the poses correctly πŸ˜‰ I commented to Krista after class that my new least favorite pose is revolved ardha chandrasana. I used to like the pose and think it was fun and not all that challenging. Then I realized I was “cheating” the pose. I let my lifted hip drop and sag (easy to do if your hips are open and hard to tell when you’re doing it), which puts the twist in my lower/middle back instead of my upper spine. With help from Brock and Krista in class, I’ve been learning to truly keep my hips squared, thus moving the twist more to my upper spine (thoracic). Wow. It’s SO much harder! I now struggle whenever I have to hold the pose if I maintain proper alignment. I’m telling myself that with practice it will get easier. It had better πŸ™‚ For the meantime, it’s my challenge pose… Deep breaths…

Back to the present… So all of these thoughts were going through my head while I was lying in child’s pose after a couple of botched attempts at levitating into forearm stand. I regrouped and decided to stop telling myself I COULDN’T float up or that I HAD to make the pose (and therefore jump into it), and just play with it and see what happened. I checked my alignment and got myself into the prep pose. I kept scooting myself forward until I hit my normal stopping point where I take a little bounce. I took a deep breath, and decided that instead of trying to keep walking my back leg further in (where my hammies eventually stop me), I’d try to lean into it more. Leaning forward into the unknown is NOT my strong suit! Low and behold, suddenly I was floating into pincha mayurasana and was able to hold it longer than normal since I maintained my alignment the whole way up.

The sure road may be long and hard, but it feels darn good when you reach the top πŸ˜€


Scorpios doing Scorpion, Copyright Jim Knowles 2010