Tag Archives: Yoga

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

Class level update

28 Jan

Just a reminder that there will be no class at Fred Segal Yoga this coming Sunday, 1/30/11, due to an event at Fred Segal.

Starting the following Sunday, 2/6/11, my Sunday 12-1:30 PM class will become ALL LEVELS! πŸ™‚ A number of people said they would prefer an all-levels class, so I hope to see you there! I promise to give advanced options, and handstanders are always welcome πŸ˜‰ There will still be fun music (reggae, hip hop, R&B, jazz), and we will definitely sweat and do some strength work.

Remember, your 1st class at Fred Segal Yoga is free! After that, you can buy a class pack of 10 classes for $100 which is a GREAT deal! Get it while you can! Parking is free in the Fred Segal lot on the west side of the street. There’s a smoothie bar in the cafe for you healthy types, and Umami burger is there too πŸ™‚ Enter through the hair salon.

Hope to see you there! Namaste and have a great weekend!

Photo by Jasper Johal

Teaching update

20 Jan

I will be out of town this Sunday (1/23) and Brian Hyman will be subbing for me at Fred Segal Yoga. The following Sunday (1/30) class will canceled because Fred Segal needs the space. When I resume teaching on Sunday, 2/6, the class will be ALL LEVELS. So all you people who keep saying that you don’t come because you’re scared of a 2/3 have no more excuses! πŸ˜‰

Photo by Jasper Johal

Updated flier with all levels coming soon! New website coming soon too! πŸ™‚

So you want to start doing yoga…

10 Jan

While people frequently tell me they intend to start doing yoga, one complaint I often hear is that people become overwhelmed with all of the options and don’t know “yoga speak” in order to determine which class they should take.Β  I also frequently hear people say that they tried one class, didn’t like it, and now don’t want to take yoga ever again. If yoga is really not your thing, that’s cool with me: to each their own and all of that. However, I think there are SO many styles of yoga and different teachers that it’s worth shopping around. Below is an attempt to demystify some of the common types of yoga so you know what to expect when looking for a class. This is NOT the definitive list but hopefully gives you some basic ideas of what to expect!

Styles of yoga:

  • Anusara: based on alignment, tantric principles, and is “heart-oriented.” In my experience, it flows a bit more than Iyengar but is more alignment oriented that vinyasa. You will probably hold poses more than 5 breaths each. Presence of music depends on the instructor.
  • Ashtanga: an athletic style of yoga that follows a set sequence. You will hold poses about 5 breaths each. You will do a TON of yoga push-ups, jump backs and jump throughs. Expect to have very tired arms when you start. No music in class.
  • Bhakti: means devotional yoga. Typically there will be chanting in a call and response style. Often times there will be live music in class.
  • Bikram: done in a heated room (up to 115 degrees). Bring water and a towel and don’t wear much clothing. You will sweat a ton. It is a set series of 26 poses that are done the same way in the same order every time. There are no vinyasas or inverting (going upside down). You don’t hold poses for too long. A lot of people love the intense heat because it makes you more flexible. No music in class.
  • Hatha: technically, all forms of asana (the physical practice) are hatha yoga. I’ve found people use this description when they don’t necessary fall into any of the other camps.
  • Hot yoga: depends on the studio. Sometimes this means Bikram (see above) and sometimes it is more of a vinyasa-based class but in a heated room (anywhere from 85 to 115 degrees). Advocates claim the heat helps you detox, is healing, and lets you move deeper into poses. Bring a towel and water. Presence of music depends on the instructor.
  • Inversional flow: A form of vinyasa yoga (see below) that incorporates lots of arm balances and inversions (poses where you are upside down like handstand). Expect to use a ton of arm and core strength and spend the bulk of the time on your hands. Presence of music depends on the instructor.
  • Iyengar: very alignment based. You hold poses a REALLY long time and use a lot of props to find the proper alignment. Often you have to start at the basic level and move up when the teacher approves you. Class moves slowly. No music in class.
  • Jivamukti: a philosophy-based, intellectual approach to yoga. Classes tend to be in a more vinyasa style (see below). Classes typically incorporate music that matches the theme of the class. Classes typically include music than ranges from yoga music to trance, hip hop, reggae or rock. Classes typically start with a mini philosophy lesson that serves as theme of the class.
  • Mysore: Once you are familiar with the basic, primary series of Ashtanga, you can move to a Mysore class. The class is self-guided through the series and the teacher comes around and helps individual students wherever they are at. No music in class.
  • Power: similar to vinyasa, it’s a faster-paced, more athletic style of yoga. Typically power yoga classes will have a focus on strengthening poses that work the core, legs and arms. Typically you would hold poses around 5 breaths, but it depends a lot on the instructor. Presence of music depends on the instructor.
  • Prana Flow:Β  a style of vinyasa. VERY fluid and fast-paced. You typically do not hold poses for long and often move with each inhale and exhale. Sometimes classes will involve “trance dance” which is kind of free form movement to music. Classes typically include music than ranges from yoga music to trance, hip hop, reggae or rock.
  • Restorative: a very slow-paced class where you will use lots of props to get into poses that you hold a long time. You probably won’t break a sweat. It is super relaxing and helps stretch the body out. As close to getting a massage as you can get without actually getting a massage. Presence of music depends on the instructor.
  • Vinyasa or flow: a faster-paced, more athletic style of yoga that links movement with breath. Less alignment focused than other styles since more focused on linking the movements. Often poses are linked together in creative ways. Again you probably would average holding poses for 5 breaths but it depends a lot on the instructor. Presence of music depends on the instructor.
  • Yin: similar to restorative in that it is slow-paced, and you probably won’t break a sweat. You hold seated poses for 3-5 minutes each. You don’t always use props for yin yoga. The idea is that the long held poses help to stretch out the fascia (the connective tissue around the muscles) whereas holding the poses for a shorter amount of time just stretches the muscle. Presence of music depends on the instructor.

Finding the right level:

  • Often times studios will either offer a workshop for people new to yoga or offer a lower level class (level 1 or 1/2) designed to be slower paced and with more explanation.
  • All levels classes mean that beginners can go but typically the class will be faster paced and the instructor will not necessarily break poses down too much. There will be a lot of options so that people from beginners to advanced practitioners can find something appropriate for their skill level.Β  Some beginners are fine with this, and some don’t like it. REALLY listen to your body and don’t push it too hard since there will likely be advanced practitioners in the room who have been doing yoga for years.
  • Even if you are really in shape, think hard before jumping into a class labeled intermediate or advanced (often a level 2/3). You might be strong enough and in shape enough to keep up, but the teacher probably won’t explain the basic poses or give many cues for proper alignment since it’s assumed knowledge at that point. Consider taking at least one all levels or beginner level class to learn the basic poses first.

Other helpful hints for newbies:

  • Lots of studios have special promotions if you’re new to that studio (e.g., 2 weeks of unlimited yoga for $30). Enjoy!
  • Props are your friend. Don’t be afraid to grab a block and a strap to help you find the right level of a pose.
  • Bring a towel to class, especially if you’re taking a faster-paced class or a class in a heated room. You don’t want to sweat on your mat too much because it will get really slippery and hard to balance on.
  • Most places will let you bring water to class.
  • If you don’t own a yoga mat, you can typically rent one at the studio.
  • There are usually changing rooms or at least a bathroom you can change in. Most studios do NOT have showers. Plan accordingly.
  • Most studios have a policy thatΒ  you remove your shoes as soon as you enter to keep the floors clean.
  • Also, no cell phones allowed in the room usually (or turned on silent and in a bag is ok).
  • Don’t wear strong perfume or scented anything if you can avoid it.
  • You don’t have to chant if the class chants. You can sit in silence if it makes you uncomfortable.
  • Wear something you can move in. Typically, yoga clothes are pretty form fitting so that the teacher (and you) can see your alignment and your shorts or shirt don’t flip off when you go upside down. Guys often wear board shorts or running shorts and a tee-shirt or tank. Girls wear yoga or running pants and tank tops. Just make sure they’re clothes you can bend and stretch in.
  • Don’t be embarrassed to tell the teacher if you are new to yoga and/or you have an injury. It’s important for them to know. You can always try to catch them privately instead of announcing it to the class if that makes you more comfortable.

Happy yoga-ing! πŸ™‚

Dancer pose at Runyon Canyon

A little Friday yoga humor

7 Jan

For all those people who made New Year’s resolutions to start yoga… Maybe you already have and don’t know it! πŸ™‚


To be safe, I’d still recommend coming to class at Fred Segal Yoga this Sunday and taking advantage of the detoxing benefits of yoga πŸ™‚

Starting regular Sunday 12-1:30 PM classes this Sunday at Fred Segal Yoga

29 Dec

Starting this Sunday, I’ll be teaching a regular, weekly vinyasa level 2/3 class at Fred Segal Yoga. The class is from 12-1:30 PM. It is designed to be an intermediate level class. Expect lots of inversions, arm balances, core work, and laughter. There will be fun music including jazz, soul, rock, funk and hip hop. Would love to see you there! πŸ™‚

Fred Segal is launching their new yoga studio at their Santa Monica site. Their address is 420 Broadway, Santa Monica, CA. The studio is located on the west side of the street, in the same building as the hair salon. There are mats available to rent. They’re having a great opening deal. Your first class is free and you can purchase a 10 pack of classes for $100. Their new schedule will be posted soon and includes other fabulous Los Angeles yoga instructors including Jennifer Pastilof and Liz Arch.