Back to Basics: Interview with Yoga Legend Maty Ezraty

Back to Basics: Interview with Maty Ezraty
by Jill Greene

I was moving too quickly the day I had originally scheduled this interview with senior teacher Maty Ezraty, who founded and directed the YogaWorks studio and Teacher Training program for more than 16 years. Caught up in activity, I forgot to double-check the time difference between Seattle and Hawaii, where Maty now lives—and I missed our appointment entirely!

When we did finally connect, Maty was gracious about my mistake and full of wisdom. Perhaps not coincidentally, our conversation included several reminders of how important it is not to lose sight of the fundamentals, in a modern world that’s moving at the speed of light.

Maty EaratyYou’re offering an all-day intensive this year on “Making Your Practice Whole.” What does it mean to make your practice whole?
In today’s world, yoga is practiced a little bit more for physical reasons. Making your practice whole is about exploring the bigger picture: your attitudes, the way the mind works, what your intentions are. It means looking at yoga from a holistic perspective, less from a strictly physical point of view.

For a number of years, you have been practicing vipassana meditation in addition to yoga. Is that compatible with this idea of making your practice whole?
Yes. I think meditation is mandatory, if you are a serious seeker of spirituality. Asana will only take you so far. It’s so important to study your mind in other venues. Meditation is as good as it gets.

You have been teaching yoga for 25 years. How have you seen the teaching of yoga evolve in America over that time?
Yoga today is a little mixed up with fitness. Not that there’s anything wrong with fitness, but it doesn’t allow you to go deeper in understanding your inner dynamics, your self, your mind-space. If you have the music on, and everything’s about feeling good, looking good … it’s artificial.

Unfortunately, in the last decade, we’ve seen business people take over yoga schools. And they really don’t understand yoga—half of them don’t even practice it. We have so many teacher trainings taught by people who haven’t been doing yoga long enough. So we’re creating a new generation that’s doing yoga poses, but in a fitness manner. It’s diluting yoga. It’s a lot easier to sell, because when you’re required to observe your mind and look at your stuff, it’s harder!

I think a lot of people are being promised that they can become yoga teachers, but it’s really difficult to make a living teaching yoga today. Of course it depends on the individual and what they know … but it should definitely not be something that you do lightly. I would never advise someone to give up a career to teach yoga, because most teachers today are struggling. Sometimes what you love to do is not necessarily what you should do for a living.

Maty Ezraty AsanaIf you could give one piece of advice to a new teacher today, what would it be?
Stick to why you decided to do yoga in the first place, and teach from there. I did not seek yoga for a profession, when I started studying. I came for a deeper, soul searching. That’s the place to teach yoga from.

When you’re a new teacher, you’re told you need a 200-hour certificate to teach anywhere. What does that have to do with anything? You can do 200 hours of good training or 200 hours of no training. Some people can retain an enormous amount in 200 hours, and other people can’t. So we have this arbitrary number of hours. We’ve got a problem.

In the old days, you had to get permission to take the Yoga Works teacher training. Somebody watched you practice. The first day of teacher training, I could teach shoulder stand. Everybody knew the fundamentals. They knew that in trikonasana the leg turns out, and the knee faces the second toe. I have students now who have never heard that before.

But it’s not the students’ fault! I don’t even think it’s the teacher’s fault. It’s the owners and the companies that are pushing numbers, pushing fitness, pushing Twitter, pushing websites … and they’re overlooking good teachers.

It’s also the consumer. It’s really a society problem, and it’s going to take courageous people to do things in a different way.

What can we do to change things?
Practitioners need to be educated and to buy the right workshops, put their money in classes and in trainings that offer something else. Request them: “I want classes with less music, I want more restorative yoga, I want more pranayama.”

And as an owner, you really have to walk that line in a smart way. Because you have to bring people along. It takes experience. It’s totally doable, but everyone’s just going too fast.

This practice takes time. You need at least 7 years before you’re pretty good. You should have at least 10-15 years under your belt before you teach and train people. You’ve got to be really strong in your own understanding. Otherwise you just give in to the students, because it’s too hard.

My best students and my best teachers assisted me for years. And came to class, over and over again, for years. There’s nothing wrong with a 200-hour training, if you then have somewhere to go and apprentice, under someone who’s really got it. That’ll work.

Do you see any glimmers of hope?
The last time I taught at a yoga festival, I had a teachers’ class. It was a really large class, 120 students, and I did basics. I walked out of that class high as a kite. These teachers wanted to learn, they were hungry, and they were getting it. It was exciting. There was no music, and their eyes were wide open and they wanted the information.

So yes, I have hope. But it’s going to take a community effort.

Maty Ezraty YogaAnd our own self study – is that a part of this?
Absolutely. That’s why I said that meditation is really critical. Because at some point, the asana is just not going to take you that far in. It can’t—it was never meant to. It’s only a pillar, a limb, a part of the process. It’s really just making you healthier so that you can do the deeper work.

I think many of us aspire to have an individual practice as long and fruitful as yours. What advice do you have for us as we look to the future?
What you do in your 20s, you’re not going to be able to do in your 50s. The more you understand that from the beginning, and the more you develop a really caring practice, the more you will appreciate the basics. So when those more fancy poses go away, you’ll have less suffering. You will see the benefits of the simplicity of it all.

The way that our lives are structured today, we put our old people in homes and we may not live next to our families, so we grow up without seeing that aging process up close. It’s not so real for us. We think that we’re always going to be like we are today, but things change. So it’s about the simple things: just lying down on the ground, feeling the earth and realizing how precious that is. How many people in the world never walk barefoot, never lie down on a flat floor and just close their eyes and breathe?

It’s going to come to that for each and every one of us, at some point. Standing on your head? Intense arm balances? Eventually it just doesn’t work anymore. But if those expectations are not there, and the simplicity is applied, and savored, then it’s a wonderful thing.

At the end of the day, you have to know this practice, personally, for yourself, without the teacher. It’s got to get to that.

Spend the day with Maty Ezraty during her Make Your Practice Whole yoga immersion at the Northwest Yoga Conference. You can find all the details here.

Being Present With What Is: An Interview with Jill Knouse

by Deb Geiger, Conference Blogger

jillknouse3“I truly feel like our greatest work is in being present with what is.  I see the human in you and the human in me and I want to love you.”

This is Jill Knouse.  And she does love you.  From the moment she meets you.  If you’ve ever come to one of her classes at Yoga Pearl in downtown Portland, you’ll sweat and jam, but more, you’ll probably get a hug, eye contact, a smile. Genuine interest in your life.  You will never feel more welcome in a yoga class.

Jill spoke to me about her “upbringing’ in the yoga world.  It didn’t start all that long ago.  Up until 2004, she was in the financial world in San Fransisco, living the Corporate “American Dream”.  She told me that suddenly, she just started needing change.

“If I didn’t make a shift, I was going to die,” she said.

We wear so many freaking hats.  Now I’m Corporate Jill.  And now I’m yoga Jill.  And now I’m wife Jill, and now I’m Jill Jill.  Who is that? It’s all the same Jill!  If we can find the common thread between all of these, that’s what it’s all about!”

jillknouse1In the past 12 years, it looks like she has indeed found that thread.  “My journey into this realm has been a long time coming,” she told me.  “A big part of my practice right now has nothing to do with the movement of my body.  It has to do with my mind movement…and it’s been greatly inspired by Tara Brach, Byron Katie and Pema Chodron.  I’m truly inspired by all work that teaches about acceptance and self-love.”

Now Jill’s business is her passion, and she is keeping more than busy.  She teaches yoga at Yoga Pearl, and runs her two programs that she has created: her own Yoga Teacher Training program, as well as Elevate Yoga Trainings, her mentorship program for yoga teachers wanting to take their teaching to the next level.  I asked her to speak to me about what it was like being a “salesperson” of yoga.  How is she able to keep her passion alive for something that she has to sell to people all day?  Her answers?

OMG.  I bought ‘em.

What makes my business thrive is that I don’t come at it from that side.  It comes from a place of wanting people to heal.  To soften scars.  To heal their bodies physically and emotionally.  I want to help people reduce suffering.  and show compassion.  That’s what I have to offer. 

These scars aren’t immune to her, or anyone else.  Possibly the greatest thing about a conversation with her is that she isn’t trying to pretend that she has it all figured out.

jillknouse2“I have spent 47 years not liking myself.  And I am ridiculously tired of that story.  I am practicing a new story.  One where I actually care about myself.  I love myself.  I never ever thought this was possible for me.  And, honestly, if there’s hope for ME, there’s hope for others and I want to connect with THEM!”

How beautiful is that?

If you want to come practice radical acceptance, learn a thing or two about yoga and truly connect with a joyful soul- don’t miss an opportunity to practice with Jill Knouse.  Just the smile will make it worth it. Learn more about Jill’s offerings at the conference here.

Yoga In True Form – An Interview with Julie Gudmestad

by Deb Geiger, Conference Blogger

Yoga is often defined in one word as union.  In two words: to join.  Yin and yang.  Shiva and Shakti.  Everything and nothing.  Spirituality and Science.  

Julie Gudmestad is yoga come to life.  

julie-gudmestad-portraitThis woman is sharp.  She is 66 and she is a professional.  When she walked up to me in a busy little café on a rainy Portland afternoon, she was in an ankle length black peacoat- short grey hair just so.  Put together.  This was the medical professional before me.  As we started speaking, it became clear that she has made a wonderful life finding the balance between the science and the spirituality of yoga.

I was curious…did yoga bring Julie to physical therapy, or did physical therapy bring her to yoga?

“Yoga first.” She told me.  “Always yoga first”.

“This is going to sound a little woo woo…I was in high school.  I was standing in my dad’s back yard and I heard a voice tell me to go find a yoga class…I can still remember the first class…I remember coming out of the class and standing on the sidewalk…I was hooked.”

Maybe you noticed…that’s not exactly the type of thing you’ll often hear from a Western trained medical professional…

astavakrasana_049Julie started teaching yoga in 1970.  She was attending Reed College, and had already been practicing for a few years.  Her friends and classmates were interested in it, so she started teaching them.

“Other students would come up to me and say ‘my back doesn’t hurt anymore’, ‘I don’t have headaches anymore’, so I wanted letters after my name so that I could work one on one with people.”

Thus started her quest for physical therapy.  She graduated from Pacific University in 1977, and started taking Iyengar classes.  Iyengar is known for its attention to detail, alignment of the posture, control of the breath.  It is no wonder that a physical therapist would be drawn to its structure and focus on the mechanics of the physical body.  She became Iyengar certified in 1988, and still holds that certification.  

After getting a bit of her history, I wanted to know what has kept her going strong for so many years.

How do you inspire your students?

julie-teaching-sm“I hope I am a positive role model for them. Not just in terms of talking; but doing and being. I’ve been known to say that I don’t talk a lot about formal yoga philosophy, but I hope by the way I practice and the way I have them practice with mindfulness and consciousness that the heart of yoga philosophy comes through.”

What is the heart of yoga philosophy, I wanted to know.

“Yamas and Niyamas. Compassion is top of the list. Honesty…Be honest about what kind of shape your body is in today. There is a lovely integrity about being present with who you are today. Not who you were a year ago. It’s not who you would be had you been doing x y and z…Compassion starts at home”.

What continues to inspire you?

Julie got a cheeky smile and discussed how she teaches an annual yoga class to the graduating physical therapy class at her alma mater, Pacific U.  

“Sometimes, depending on their interest, I show them something fancy…Some of the arm balances.  Because they are dramatic.  I want them to see that yoga can really keep you in shape, even in your sixties.  The looks on their faces makes it all worthwhile.  That’s what inspires me.  To get a look like that from twenty-somethings!”

That’s the type of honesty I like!

Do you have any other advice, or words or wisdom for the readers?

julie-gudmestad-pose“The nature of life on this planet is change.  And…sometimes it’s going to be change that we don’t like…But there’s no choice…we have to adapt.  Our yoga practice can help us stay centered…If you get scared and you’re not sleeping, you don’t function as well.  And it will be harder to support the causes that you think are important.”

Just like Julie was hooked after her first class…I was hooked to Julie after my first meeting.  Don’t miss her sessions as she focuses on the alignment of different parts of the body…and just wait for those snippets of spirituality that shine through the science.  

This is yoga in true form.

Learn more about Julie Gudmestad’s conference offerings here.

The Yoga Trilogy of the Dalai Lama, Yogi Bhajan and Raquel Welch?: An Interview with Kia Miller

By Autumn Feldmeier, Conference Blogger
We caught up with Kia Miller, who will be teaching five workshops at the conference. Find out what she had to say about her offerings as well as her insight about how yoga helps shape our lives in a beautiful, inspiring and important way.


You mentioned your initial introduction to yoga was a  Raquel Welch book?  How do you think yoga has changed and how has it remained the same? 
raquelwelch
The yoga tradition dates back thousands of years, and offers a pathway toward self-discovery, awakening oneness consciousness, being in right relationship with the world, self and others, and living a life of service. This intention remains the same and is represented in all holistic and well rounded schools of yoga. However the teachings of yoga have also changed to meet the modern practitioner where they are. What I have witnessed is a huge focus on physical asana practice for the last 15-20 years, and now a shift where more and more people recognize that there are deeper and more powerful practices like pranayama and meditation that enable them to deal with the high stress lifestyle that many currently live.

You and your husband Tommy Rosen do classes and retreats together-what are the benefits and challenges of this?  kia-tommy-2
Tommy and I are blessed with a similar outlook on life and spirituality. This has enabled us to not only practice together, but also to work together. For many years we focused on developing ourselves, refining our skills as teachers and honing in on whom we can best serve. I focused on developing and leading Radiant Body Yoga teacher trainings, and Tommy focused on developing a business to serve the development of those in recovery from addiction using yoga and lifestyle teachings. More recently we have been co-leading retreats that bring together our skills and unique approaches.

The time we spent building our individual approaches has enabled us to teach together harmoniously, where our egos are in check and we have mutual respect. Much like Kahil Gibran says on marriage “And stand together yet not too near together: For the pillars of the temple stand apart, And the oak tree and the cypress grow not in each other’s shadow.

You have mentioned your struggle with bulimia when you were a model- how has yoga helped you heal from that?  
For many years I was very dissociated from my body and used the act of throwing up my food to avoid uncomfortable emotions. Through the practice of yoga I learned how to find the comfortable seat in my body. I learned how to correctly breathe, which enabled me to work through the tough emotions that would have me want to binge and purge. When I was fortunate enough to find Kundalini Yoga I discovered a real sense of my self. I came to realize that through my whole modeling career I was wearing all the masks I thought others wanted to see, yet had no faith and connection in myself as a unique and original human being. The practice of Kundalini Yoga gradually peeled off the layers of masks until I found a connection to my inner sense of self, my power, my creativity, and ultimately the gifts of this incarnation. Together with the practices of yoga, I also healed my eating disorder by eating a purely plant based raw diet for two years which took the inflammation and irritation our of digestive tract and enabled me to re-set and re-negotiate my relationship with food.


One quote of yours which I love is ‘If you give energy to negativity,  it will take you to places you do not want to go. How can the practice of  yoga assist in channeling your energy into the right places?  
kiamiller-1
Negativity is a poison that spreads when given energy. When we dwell on negative thoughts or emotions we empower them. Often when we are in the throws of negativity, we forget that we have a choice. In that moment we are choosing negativity, yet we could equally be choosing positivity. I have found the practices of yoga to be a great way to channel energy, in particular mental energy. The asana practice helps us to remove tension and to reclaim a sense of peace. The pranayama practices help us to shift the patterns of thinking. As the yogic texts state: “as the breath, so the mind” When we alter the rhythm of the breath, we are able to break the mental trances that hold our consciousness captive, we are able to liberate ourselves from negativity and the choices that lead to negativity. Once we have broken the pattern that has held us captive, we can sit with a meditative focus and learn to access our neutral mind, our witness. From this place we are able to be aware of thoughts without attaching our identity to them.

The Dalai Lama has said ‘The world will be saved by the Western woman’-do you believe  this to be true and (if so) how does this influence your teachings?  
If you look at the demographic of who is practicing yoga, you will see that it is over 70% women. This shows that it is women who are being turned on by these teachings and often because of a woman that men come to the practice!

Yogi Bhajan directed much of his teaching to the empowerment of women. He worked with women to realize and remember their true value, and said that when women reclaim their power they will lead the way forward.

In my own teachings I see all people as equal – both female and male, so I do not direct my teaching toward a gender however I do stress the importance of promoting qualities like: empathy, intuition, inclusiveness, neutrality, balance, compassion, etc.

In your podcast, you mentioned ‘information dementia’ whereupon we are constantly being bombarded with distractions (iPad, iPhone, Facebook, etc) and how that prevents us from critical thinking. But, as a busy yoga teacher, how do you prevent this from happening to you?  kiamillerreading
This is a great question! I have a few methods to keep my ‘devices’  time down:

  • I meditate every day which helps to clear my mind and allow me to connect inwardly to a still and expansive space. This is the single most helpful thing as it allows me to keep my neutrality throughout the day.
  • I have someone who helps with my social media. It is an important outreach for me with fellow yogis and students, so with help I can engage in the ways that are meaningful to me rather than it being another ‘job’ to tend to.
  • I check my social media once a day, which prevents the obsession to keep checking throughout the day.
  • When I am in the midst of a training or retreat, I have my assistant answer all my emails!
  • When I am sitting alone, I prefer to read a book over reading posts on social media

In  these seemingly hope less times, what helps you stay grounded and optimistic?  
I see a lot of hope in these times. I see many people in my workshops, teacher trainings and retreats working really hard to overcome their negative patterns and to be a light to those around them. I see a country in great change, where we are witnessing a large divide in outlook on life and beliefs. My hope is that we, as yoga practitioners, walk the middle path instead of polarizing and making others ‘wrong.’ This is one of the ways that we can lead. I invite all to meditate on the following statements left by Yogi Bhajan for this time. See what insights come to you as you dwell on each one:

  1. Recognize the other person is you
  2. There is a way through every block
  3. When the time is on you, start, and the pressure will be off
  4. Understand through compassion or you will misunderstand the times
  5. Vibrate the cosmos, and the cosmos shall clear the path

What can we expect from your classes at the Northwest Yoga Conference?  kia-prayerMy focus within yoga has led me to an understanding of the importance of connecting to and cultivating ‘inner radiance.’ When we are radiant, we are bright, enthusiastic, emitting positive uplifting energy, we are a light to ourselves and others. Some yogic texts reference the energy that emanates from the heart center as radiance. It is the power that enables us to share and teach through our presence. The more aware and connected we are to the Truth within, the brighter our radiant body.

In these fast paced and challenging times our Radiance easily becomes depleted through stress and distraction. These classes share essential tools for keeping our radiance bright and effective. I have found these teachings to be some of the most powerful and effective and cutting through the negative self hypnosis and awakening intelligence and clarity in the body/mind.

Learn more about Kia Miller’s workshop offerings at the Northwest Yoga Conference here.

The Courage to Live From Your Heart-Center: Guest Post by Terilyn Wyre

This year, we are asking conference presenters to share with us what the conference theme, “The Courage to Live From Your Heart-Center” means to them.  First up, the incredible, loving and inspiring Seattle based yogi, Terilyn Wyre!  Be careful, you might want a box of tissues neaby –  the beauty of this writing brought us to tears.

We can fall in love in an instant; utterly, completely, unequivocally in love. It takes but a moment for our hearts to open like a flower yearning for the kiss of sunlight and morning dew. We fall in love with our partner, our children, our friends, our pets, the sight of the sun setting over the water, the forest, the mountains, a piece of art, our favorite song. Falling in love is easy, natural, effortless even. It seems like the very thing we were born to do. Often we remember these moments as rare, monumental and fleeting. What we are witnessing in these magical moments is a reflection of the Beloved who resides within us. In essence, our outer environment is mirroring back to us our huge capacity to love and be loved. As tempting as it is to think we are falling in love with someone because they are so fabulous (which they very well may be) a deeper truth might be that our love interest is willing to hold space for us to dive into the unending well of love within our own heart.

So you might be thinking “well sure I’ve felt moments of deep love but it not a feeling that lasts, it shifts and changes and sometimes ends. How do I cultivate a feeling of open heartedness that guides my choices, my path, my life, when the risk of heartbreak seems inevitable? Won’t that hurt, a lot?” I’ve asked myself this question many times, especially when I see cruelty and tragedy in the world. Yes, you will experience pain, loss, heartbreak and unimaginable grief.

This is where courage comes in: to love without story, conditions or expectations; to love simply because it makes you come alive to do so; to love even in the face of disrespect, disregard and dismissal. This is the true work of a heart centered warrior. I’m not suggesting it’s the easy path, but rather one of integrity, authenticity and vulnerability.

I have found these three things are essential in living from the heart: forgiveness,  self-compassion and self-love. The courage comes in our willingness to look at our shadow self and all our wounds and old stories. When we are brave enough to bring the light of awareness to all the parts of ourselves that need healing we can begin the process of true forgiveness of ourselves and others which in time becomes the balm for our aching hearts. Forgiveness allows us to have compassion for our perceived failures and mistakes and love ourselves for all of who we are, the shiny side as well as the side we’d rather not look at or expose to another. When we experience this for ourselves first we can see our divine innocence and then eventually the divine innocence in others who deserve that same love, compassion, and forgiveness.

In every religion or mysticism there seems to be a yearning for God; the Divine, Beloved. We are yearning for the One who has never left us. When we recognize as truth that love is ours and the Beloved is within us, we lose some of our fears as we can never truly lose love or be abandoned.

physical-heart-opening

In every moment we have an opportunity to contract in fear or expand in love, the choice is ours. It takes practice to trust the expansion of our hearts. Your very first down dog may have felt awkward or difficult but in time felt ease-full and familiar, so too is true of learning to live from your heart. The more we yoke ourselves back to love again and again, the less we shut down emotionally. We learn to navigate this world with grace and sovereignty and a steadfast willingness to open our hearts to each other and every moment of this wild life.

For me, the choice is clear: With my yoga practice as my medicine/ my elixir for the strength and courage it takes to live from my heart, I will continue to walk this path as a warrior of love and welcome home all the wounded parts of myself with a renewed sense of belonging. My prayer for you is to do the same.

Earthing – What It Means to Touch Mother Earth

Earthing – What It Means to Touch Mother Earth
By Nicole Dawn Armstrong, Guest Blogger

Jungle MudbathWhen was the last time you sat on our Earth and touched her with your bare hands? I’m not referring to simply leaning on the ground, perhaps while watching a baseball game, or enjoying a picnic on a blanket with friends. I am referring to touching our Earth, recognizing her as a living, breathing being, and connecting with her through your bare hands or feet in an awake, aware moment. Reconnecting with the Earth through direct touch is called Earthing. It’s a timeless practice of living in contact with the Earth’s natural electrical surface charge – being grounded – and it’s powerful. Being grounded allows the body to naturally discharge and prevent build-up of chronic inflammation. In this way, Earthing addresses the most pressing health concern to date in the modern world.

Sure, it sounds simple. But when you make the distinction as to whether a touch given to Mother Earth was mindful and direct – or not, you realize whether an energy exchange took place in that moment. In fact, throughout most of human history, we were connected to Mother Earth. We slept and walked barefoot on the ground. We gathered roots, berries, and plants outdoors with our bare hands and scooped up water directly from streams and lakes.

However, enter modern times. We now wear nonconductive shoes with synthetic soles, walk over carpeted floors, work in high rise towers and buildings, drive around in cars with nonconductive rubber tires, and sleep in elevated beds. We rarely go outside barefoot anymore. We rarely touch rain from the sky, feel natural water on our feet or sand between our toes. In fact, outside of taking vacation once or twice a year, we rarely reconnect. We’ve become disconnected from our Earth and the charge building within our body continues to increase right alongside the mainstream proliferation of chronic inflammatory diseases new to the modern world.

Perhaps as we’ve become disconnected from the Earth, we’ve also become disconnected from our own bodies. The sense of disconnection can result in a loss of compassion – not only for the Earth but also for ourselves. As Jack Kornfield, renowned mindfulness and vipassana teacher wrote, “From the perspective of Buddhist psychology, compassion is natural. It derives from our interconnection, which Buddhism calls “interdependence.” This can be readily seen in the physical world. In the womb, every child is interdependent with its mother’s body. If either of them is sick, the other is affected. In the same way we are interdependent with the body of the earth. The minerals of the soil make up our wheat and bones, the storm clouds become our drinks and our blood, the oxygen from the trees and forests breathe with us, interdependent with our own life. The more consciously we realize this shared destiny, the more compassion arises for the earth itself.”

For something that sounds so simple and dismissive as leaning down to touch the Earth, it may actually be one of our most powerful gestures as it grounds and discharges our body and opens up our being compassionately not only to the Earth, but to ourselves.

Machu PicchuRecall moments when you’ve felt powerfully connected to Mother Earth. Some Earthing moments that resonate most memorably with me are the sights, sounds, and aromas of the Earth during my childhood in rural Montana. I recall the scent of sagebrush on the open prairie, pine mountain forests, and steaming sulfur from the geothermal waters near Yellowstone. I recall the feeling of gushy mud between my toes and joy as I ran barefoot through the pigpens and all around the farm. I can still smell the musty scents of old saddle leather and hot animal sweat from horseback riding across long open fields. These memories of being outdoors and connected with Mother Earth are vivid and everlasting as moments when I felt gentle, alive, calm, secure and grounded.

Most recently, I recall the connected time I spent Earthing in the Amazon jungle. During this journey, I walked barefoot along the shores of the great river, practiced yoga in the sun while soaking in mud, and absorbed moments of meditation among the symphony of sounds resonating throughout the rainforest. Connected, exhilarated, gentle, alive, calm, and yes – grounded. Earthing, it’s a powerful energetic shift we all need.

Washington Lake ShoreFacing forward, I practice earthing daily here at home in Seattle. Some days my daily reconnection with Mother Earth takes place on a sandy beach, after a hike in a local park, or with yoga along a lakeshore. However, most days it’s simply taking work breaks throughout the day to step outside, soak in the springtime sun, and press my press my bare feet onto the soil. If I pay close enough attention, I can feel the energetic tingle of Mother Earth helping me rebalance my energy.

What does your daily practice of reconnecting to Mother Earth look like?

How does it make you feel?

Can you recall a moment when you were so powerfully connected to the Earth that the smallest details of that moment will always remain fresh in your mind?

These feelings of calm groundedness, awake, aware security and immense peacefulness are our birthright as living beings on this Earth. I encourage you to be mindful and curious about how your connection – or lack thereof – with Mother Earth affects you. If you’ve been inflamed, scattered, or constantly craving a sense of grounding, perhaps this is your wake up call to connect back to your Earth Mother.

You are worth feeling connected, alive, and securely grounded here in your divine purpose on this planet. Mother Earth is always present and available for you, at every moment of the day, whenever you need to renew that sense of connectedness. It involves simply removing your shoes, opening your hands, and touching her mindfully with a welcoming present heart.

Earthing – it’s time to reconnect and reawaken. You’re always here, right at home.

Ready to experience powerful Earthing? Join me May 18-22nd for five powerful days to experiencing earthing in Utah next month.  I have partnered with Yoga In The Wild for a Yoga and Canyoneering Retreat in breathtaking outdoor vistas. This retreat was recently named by Yoga Journal magazine as one of the Most Affordable Yoga Retreats in 2016! You will experience a grounding and rejuvenating immersion in one of our nation’s most sacred landscapes including daily outdoor yoga and meditation practices, as well as canyoneering adventures and nighttime campfires under the stars. Side effects may include grounding, peacefulness, and connected memories to last a lifetime. I hope you’ll join me!

For more information, check out: http://www.getinthewild.com/guided-trips/yoga-in-the-wild/ Early bird rates of $995 are good until April 30th.

For more information about the researched health benefits of Earthing, check out book: Ober, Clinton, and Sinatra, MD, Stephen T., and Zucker, Martin. Earthing, The most important health discovery ever!. Basic Health Publications, Inc. 2014.

Preparing Your Dosha for the Northwest Yoga Conference

By Katie Vincent

8170948596_071bc2400c_zIt’s the week before the Northwest Yoga Conference and although the daffodils are blooming, the excitement is reminiscent of the autumn back-to-school buzz as local yogis gather shiny new notebooks, sharpen their pencils and eagerly compare schedules with friends. But of course, this being yoga rather than calculus, there are completely different ways we need to prepare ourselves —body, mind and spirit—for a long weekend of intense study and socializing. This is where we turn to yoga’s sister science, Ayurveda, to find harmony with the cycles of the earth and, hopefully, exist in a more peaceful state at the conference.

Krokusse_im_SchneeStrongly in tune with the seasons, Ayurveda considers this time of year to be when kapha—the earth/water element dosha—is liquefying and pitta—the fire/water element dosha—begins to rise, just as outside the soil thaws and the first bulbs emerge. For most of us, this means a general recommendation of moving more in the earlier hours of the day (between 6-10am), eating foods that are more light, dry, pungent and warming (early spring greens are seasonal and especially good) and sticking to a daily routine with three modest meals at regular times. Many with spring allergies find it helpful to incorporate a morning routine of clearing the nasal passages with a neti pot and following up with a nasya oil—an herb-infused sesame oil—in the nostrils. Most importantly, spring is a time of heightened play and spontaneity to move out any winter melancholy or stagnation, so be sure to make time to dance, goof off and be nonsensical with friends.

Translating this to the world of the yoga conference, Ayurveda would advise going to bed at an hour that will ensure you get eight hours of sleep before 6am. Start your day with a mini-routine of tongue scraping, sesame oil self-massage (abhyanga), light yoga and meditation. Pack wholesome meals and consume them slowly while seated on the floor to be present and truly enjoy the flavors. Above all, have fun!

If you identify with a particular dosha, consider the following tips:

  • Vata: Stay warm, packing extra layers in case the rooms get chilly. Base your sack lunch on oilier, heavier and more substantial foods but feel free to incorporate a few light, dry foods as tolerated. Warm and cooked is better than raw right now. Increase pungent, bitter and astringent flavors like garlic, turmeric and ginger. Steer clear of watermelon, tofu and white sugar when possible. Incorporate alternate nostril breathing throughout the day, as well as plenty of slow flow asana in a quiet corner to ground and center yourself.
  • Pitta: Take plenty of breaks to step outside and play in the cool fresh air. In workshops, embrace a non-competitive attitude and lower your expectations of yourself. Avoid stimulants like caffeine, which can increase your irritability in crowded and warm situations. Increase bitter and astringent flavors, such as barley, beans, dandelion greens and turmeric and decrease sweets. Go easy on sour foods like bananas, grapefruit, lemon, pineapple and tomatoes. Sip coriander, cumin, fennel and/or licorice tea throughout the day.
  • Kapha: Sign up for movement-heavy workshops, especially in the morning sessions, and make a point to laugh at any chance you get. Pack extra clothing and a thermos of ginger tea to keep you warm. Rise even before 6am and begin your day with a dry-brush massage and an invigorating flow of asana and pranayama exercises like kapalabhati. Adorn yourself with bright colors and mist yourself with uplifting scents like eucalyptus, sage and rosemary. Prepare yourself a lunch of pungent, bitter and astringent foods like broccoli, mushrooms, parsley, garlic and dandelion greens; keep oil at a minimum and reduce watery foods as well as wheat, dairy and cold foods.

dandysalad3Learn more about Ayurveda at the Northwest Yoga Conference! Check out Silvia Mordini’s ‘Beauty from the Inside Out: The Ayurveda Way’ workshop on Friday, March 4th at 12pm.

Love Yourself from the Outside In

74ec699c-475c-45ab-8847-e4ed6ed1d347By Silvia Mordini

While in college, I vacillated between not caring what I looked like to being vain and caring way too much. My inside and outside didn’t match, and they were at odds. While I appreciated the specialness of who I was on the inside I sometimes lost my relationship with my outside.

I had a front row seat to watching this relationship evolve. The reality of being human is that we see other people from the outside first (the whole “judge a book by its cover”). Our dust jacket isn’t a bad thing, unless we make it a problem. And I made it a problem. I thought I wasn’t thin enough, so I withheld food. I over used food. I spent copious amounts of time and energy on my outward appearance. I was a sort of unconfident narcissist. I ping ponged between loving what I looked like to not feeling good enough. It consumed extraordinary amounts of energy.

Then it happened. I was in an accident. This traumatic event changed my attitude. I stopped bullying myself into needing my inside to feel superior to my outside. I made peace with my internal and external self, which led me to realize that loving what we look like is a very important part of our spiritual evolution. If you are evolved on the inside but treat your external appearance with disdain, then there is an imbalance. It is the inverse of what happens when we only focus on what we look like and ignore loving who we are internally.

3 Key Things To Promote Loving Yourself:

  1. Look at yourself in the Mirror. I don’t mean just to check out your hair or outfit, but sit down in front of a mirror and hold your own gaze for 30 seconds, then rest. Then try 1 minute, then 2 minutes. Really see yourself and how beautiful (or handsome) you are on the outside. Instead of using energy avoiding ourselves, we should make peace with seeing clearly what we look like.
  2. Get Naked. Make it a ritual to spend some time each day living in what Martha Graham calls “our most important garment.” Loving what we look like is a radical form of Self-acceptance. Instead of covering that up or shrinking away from your body, open your eyes to literally being comfortable in your own skin.
  3. Embrace your uniqueness. Do it for you. Loving what we look like means that we embrace our heritage and all that has created us. As Maya Angelou writes, “You alone are enough; you have nothing to prove to anybody.” Loving your external appearance means you believe yourself to be enough. By doing that, you give others permission to love themselves too.

Today, embrace the full spectrum of loving yourself unconditionally and find the balance between inside and outside. Love yourself, love your day, love your life!

f864e550-3535-47da-ba1f-63fda9e7fc84Learn more at Silvia’s workshop ‘Removing the Obstacles to Your Happiness’ on Friday, March 4th from 4-6pm.

7 Ways to Feed Your Chakras through Food

7 Ways to Feed Your Chakras through Food
If we always do what we’ve always done–we’ll always get what we’ve always gotten.” -Anonymous

Have you ever gone on a diet, only to find yourself back in your old eating habits a short time later? The issue might lie in how you approach not only the diet, but the concept of food in general.

“Going on a diet” implies a temporary regimen that we’ll eventually stop. If we continue to see food as a static diet, and not in the broader sense of being a dynamic tool for personal growth, chances are we won’t be led to our inner potential through eating.

Therefore, I am going to challenge you to open your vision of “food” to a larger concept of “nourishment of the whole self,” which I believe will give you more sustainable changes and a renewed, fresh relationship with something as common as eating.

Our relationship with food can be broken down into seven chakras. Discover which areas of nourishment may be particularly relevant to you by doing the Spectrum Quiz (http://whole-detox.com/the-spectrum-quiz/) and then reading more below:

1. Food is grounding. Most people have a grounding relationship with food – it provides a way to be fully present in the body. It gives us the energy we need to exist. Our body provides us with the foundation for our entire being to survive in the physical world. How do you connect with your body and listen deeply for its wise messages? Are you tapped into your instinct? How do you create stability in your everyday life so you feel safe enough to make choices that serve your bodily needs?

2. Food is emotion. We have strong feelings about food – what to eat, when to eat, how to eat. Our eating becomes who we are, and, as a result, it can stimulate a wide range of feelings. Sometimes our feelings are trapped within and when we don’t express them, we turn to our favorite foods for comfort. How can you take the concept of “flow” into your everyday creativity, allowing your emotions to be fluid and free? Are there ways that you invite a healthy dance between emotions and eating that satisfies YOU, not your cravings?

3. Food is transformation. Every act of eating represents one of transformation. We take in a food and turn it into our being. Often when we eat, we are not just taking in the food – we may find ourselves taking in the clutter in our mind and in our environment, including the conversations, the hustle-bustle of the every day, and all the tasks we have yet to do. How can you bring more concentrated, fiery transformation into your eating so you can assimilate what is surrounding you in a balanced manner?

4. Food is love. Our heart connects to the eating experience through a shared meal with others or giving and/or receiving food. If we feel moved, we may prepare foods for others or surprise them with a gift of food. The holidays are a perfect time to share food with family and friends. When we make foods with love, we are extending the outreach of our heart and we may get gratitude in return. How can you find even more self-love by serving yourself and others by making nourishing, healthy choices that resonate with your heart?

5. Food is our truth. Speaking our voice about what we eat allows us to be authentically who we are. When we are presented with an array of choices, we have the ability to choose for our highest good and our best self. If we make these congruent choices, we are consistent on our path. How many times are you able to find your voice to speak what is on your heart? Are you open to making choices that will surrender you to an authentic life? By expressing your unique eating truths, you may open up to an expanse of opportunity!

6. Food is mood. What we eat can impact our overall mood, and our mood can drive our food choices. How do you stay conscious of this rhythmic flow? Are you tuned in to your internal sense of intuition, which can allow you to know what food is good for the type of mood you want to create? We contain all of the wisdom we need when it comes to knowing what is beneficial for us. The goal is to go within to seek this internal wisdom that can transition us from intellect to insight we can harness in every moment. If you’re curious about what science has told us about the relationship between food and mood, check out this blog.

7. Food is connection. Every bite of food we take represents the web of nature – from the field to the farmer to all the interactions that food had with the natural elements of animals, sun, rainbows, clouds, stars, and moon, and to all of the hands it passed through to make its way onto the fork. There is something special about the act of eating; it is required for our bodily survival and, at the same time, it gives us a pathway to the soul of seeing outside of the constraints of our body and into the eternal landscape of connection. How can you get more connection in that next bite of food? If you can stay in the mindset of every meal being a miracle, you are on your way to filling yourself with the divine nourishment of connection.

Seven_Chakras_Food_4

Like a kaleidoscope that turns to reveal new patterns and colors, food is an everyday rainbow experience of nourishing the whole self. For an in-depth guide to eating to enhance your chakras, look for my new book Whole Detox, coming in March! In the meantime, see what new themes emerge for you in 2016 – be ready to transform through the spectrum of discovery!


Dr. Deanna Minich is an internationally-recognized lifestyle medicine expert, creative visionary, and author of five books. Her twenty years of experience in the nutrition and functional medicine fields led her to develop an integrated, “whole self” approach to nutrition and detox called Food & Spirit, which is the practice of understanding one’s eating and living through the seven core symbolic themes. Her passion is teaching a whole-self approach to nourishment and bridging the gaps between science, spirituality, and art in medicine. Her new book, Whole Detox, comes out on March 8th. Learn more about the book and Whole Detox program at whole-detox.com.

Sh** Happens: An Interview with Annie Carpenter

by Jill Rivera Greene, Conference Blogger

welcomebackAnnieAnnie Carpenter combines the wisdom of four decades of deep practice with a uniquely no-nonsense style. Her keen insights on alignment are intermixed with a sharp wit that, at last year’s conference, kept packed rooms full of yogis laughing (when we weren’t frantically taking notes).

The conference team was beyond thrilled when Annie agreed to return this year for a command performance—and judging from the way her workshops are filling up, we’re not the only ones.

You attend a lot of yoga events around the country. What makes NWYC stand out?

Its class sizes are smaller than at some events, which gives it a kind of intimacy. I see the same students over and over in my classes throughout the weekend, so the conference almost feels like a workshop-intensive. There’s something special about that for me as a teacher. I can really get a sense of the students’ practice and see how best to help them. For their part, the students begin to get my language, my rhythm, my perspective. I feel like they get a deeper experience. And that’s lovely, that’s a real gift.

With so much travel, how do you maintain balance on the road?

You just have to keep your practice up. Especially when you come in from a long trip, you’re jet lagged, and it feels like 4 a.m. but it’s really 10 a.m. and time to teach. You have to fit your practice in. Even if that means you practice for a half hour in the morning and come back to your mat for an hour later in the day.

The other thing that is hard but essential is to eat well. It can be really hard to get the right foods, enough fresh vegetables when you’re on the road. You have to work at it, but it’s worth it. If you eat well, you feel better.

For me, it’s also important to maintain enough time at home, to support my own relationship and my relationship with my students. There can definitely be a point where there’s too much travel.

NWYC15 - Saturday Web UNmarked - Tony F Photography-9680I attended your shoulder workshop last year, and I was blown away by your approach to alignment and stabilization, including pointing out common practices that can lead to injury. What are some of the unsafe habits you encounter in classes?

The question is really, how can we practice in such a way that we maintain mindfulness? Whether you’re talking about a shoulder issue, a low back, a knee … if you can sustain mental focus, if you can continue to be mindful not just in the poses but in your transitions between poses, then you’re very unlikely to get hurt. What happens is we tend to jump ahead. Our mind thinks of something else, or we’re thinking about how this pose ought to be or how it used to be, and we pull ourselves out of the present moment.

So one of the hallmarks of a really good teacher is presenting in such a way that the practice demands mindfulness in every moment on the part of the students.

Yes! I definitely notice that when I am looking around the room, thinking about what a pose looks like for someone else, I get pulled out of my own practice.

Right. That happens to everyone. It’s very common.

One way of looking at advanced practice is letting go of what it should look like, what you wish it looked like, what it looks like for someone else. If a thought takes you out of what you’re doing, out of mindfulness, then even the strongest and most experienced practitioner is at risk. The practice is about staying present, not about what poses you can do.

If a culture is all about how deep you can get in a pose, or how long you can balance, then we’re really doing a disservice to our students, to ourselves, and to yoga. That’s not what yoga is about. This practice was developed to create mental focus and stamina, so that we can answer the bigger questions. Not, “Should there be three feet or four feet between the feet in Trikonasana?” but, “Who am I? Why am I on this planet?” and “What can I do to serve the truth of life?” The only way we get there is by learning how to concentrate, how to pay attention rather than judge and expect.

Can you talk about an influential experience of pilgrimage?

Two things come to mind.

The first is my time studying with [Shri K.] Pattabhi Jois in India in 1997. It really was a wonderful thing to make the choice to take two months off work and go to India, at a time when not as many people were doing that sort of thing. It meant really committing myself to the practice and to myself as a practitioner, surrendering to a teacher at a different level.

Annie AdjustingI think that making that choice—that commitment to leave my home, my job, and my friends behind for two solid months—was almost as important as the advances I made in the practice during that time (and those were considerable). To put your practice first is a powerful thing. It was a watershed moment.

The other experience I was thinking about … well, sometimes shit happens and we do get injured. I had a fall, and I ruptured one of the ligaments in my knee. I had to have surgery, and then not bear weight on the knee for months. It was another kind of pilgrimage to come back from that. You never really know how much you’ve lost in terms of flexibility, strength, or sensitivity, or how much you’re going to get back.

I think all of us can relate to the idea of a pilgrimage of returning to the practice, whether from an injury, grief, or an illness. I remember when a very dear friend died, almost 9 years ago, and I was in such grief that it didn’t make sense to do my practice as it was. That was a kind of pilgrimage, too—to let go, to surrender to the situation, to the fact that I didn’t have energy, time, or focus for the practice. And then to slowly, slowly come back.

So I think there are many things that happen to us, whether they are physical injuries, emotional upsets, illnesses, even the birth of a child. To see what is happening and make the pilgrimage to return to your practice the way it was … maybe … or maybe differently. That’s a leap of faith.

You’re going to be on our keynote panel, The Journey of Self-Discovery Through Yoga Practice. I think there’s a tendency to think that there will be some end-point to this journey, or that there’s some place to “get to.” What would you say to that, after four decades of practice?

The truth of the matter is, it’s endless. I embrace the Buddhist philosophy on this question. The big teaching of the Buddha is, “Shit happens.” (I’m paraphrasing here.) Life is difficult, things change, we lose things. So every day is an opportunity to open your eyes, open your heart, and accept what is.

Yes, we all have good, easy days, but the truth is that we’re constantly on a pathway to keep our hearts open and accept whatever it is that comes. I don’t think there’s an endpoint to that. Rain or shine, love or death, fear or excitement … every day something new is going to present itself, whether on your mat, or walking down the street with your family. Yoga is a place for us to practice being open to whatever it is that comes, and approaching it with as much kindness and love as we can.

For more about Annie, read last year’s interview.

There are still a few spots available in many of Annie’s workshops, including her all-day intensive on Thursday. Claim your place now!