Shifting our relationship paradigm

Shifting our relationship paradigm

Sometimes relationships can seem like a bit of a crapshoot. Even the most fiery, passionate, made-in-heaven relationships can fizzle over time, despite our best efforts. On the other hand, someone we start out disliking for all their foibles could be the person we walk down the aisle with.

Photo Credit: brigittetohm

How are we to cope with the uncertainty of the future, with how people change over the years and in fact every day, with the desire to find Mr. or Mrs. Right?

We cope by completely shifting our relationship paradigm. Instead of focusing on finding the right person (and searching the world over), we can work on becoming the right person.

Looking in the mirror

By becoming the right person, I mean cultivating a tender heart and an awakened mind. I mean loving ourselves and being good to ourselves. I mean to say that taking care of ourselves is taking care of our relationships.

Photo Credit: @cathalmacan

The light of our love comes from within.

If we do not consider ourselves lovable, we will not trust someone who says they love us. If we do not forgive ourselves for being less than perfect, we will not forgive our partners either.

But if we cultivate gratitude, if we cherish the things we do have and lament less on the things we don’t have, if focus on our goodness and our worthiness, we will see our partners in the best of lights too.

Then our relationships will always be moving in the direction of greater intimacy and connection.

We may think (or society tells us) that in order to find the right partner we have to be classically attractive, handsome,  the perfect parent, wealthy, strong, thin, a chef in the kitchen and an acrobatic in the bedroom, but this is simply not true. In reality, when anybody is surveyed about what they actually look for in a partner, understanding, empathy and intelligence make the top of every list.

The new shift

So instead of asking, is this the best person for me to love?, we can simply ask, how can I best love this person?. The latter opens up an entirely new realm of possibility and growth.

We move from a world of fear (what if they don’t like me?), judgements (how smart is this person?) and comparisons (is this person good enough?), to potential (how much can we grow together?) and openness (what more can I do?”).

By moving from the head center of discernment to the heart center of acceptance, we spell success for whatever relationship we enter into. We can focus on what we have to give rather than what we have to get.

Instead of expecting someone else to fill up our own cup, we can make ours so full it flows over to everyone that we meet.

Win-win

If we focus on becoming the right person, then every relationship—whether it lasts a week or a lifetime—becomes a success. It means we loved someone as best we could, we learned about ourselves in the process, and we are more open for the next one.

And if the person we are meant to be with is looking for their right person, we will be ready and waiting.

Building Your Backbend

Building Your Backbend

img_9355redoneOne of the main teachings of yoga is that our emotional and mental well-being is deeply connected to our body.

A slumped posture, tight muscles, and achy joints will create a depressed, tense, and irritable disposition. Meanwhile an open, strong, and flexible body and will help engender an uplifting, courageous and resilient approach to life.

One of my favorite ways to explore these truths is through backbends. Backbends are enormously challenging and also incredibly rewarding. If not done correctly you can seriously hurt you back.

But if done safely–after sufficient warmup and with a version of the pose that works for your body–you’ll receive the benefits of lifting your heart, keeping your chin up and seeing the world in a whole new way.

Building from the Ground Up

While the term “backbend” might seem like the focus is on your back, to deepen these types of poses you actually need to stretch the front of your body.

The simplest way to do the right stretches is to build your backbend from the ground up. That means stretching the:

  1. Thighs (quadriceps)
  2. Hips (psoas, iliacus)
  3. Belly (rectus abdominis)
  4. Chest (serratus anterior, pectoralis major)
  5. Shoulders (latissumus dorsi, deltoids, triceps)

There are many ways to stretch these muscles, here are a few of my favorites you can try (and expect to find in many of my classes).

Thighs (quadriceps)

img_20160913_130650Low Lunge with Quad Stretch

All of your quadriceps (four muscles on the front of your thigh)  are connected to the tuberosity (top part) of your tibia (your shin bone). So by bending your heal towards your tailbone, you will lengthen your quadriceps.

 

 

 

img_20160913_130658Pigeon-pose quad stretch

This is a similar variation to the low lunge stretch. From here you can work towards Rajakapotasana, or King Pigeon Pose.

 

 

 

 

Hips (psoas, iliacus)

img_20160913_130719Low lunge side bend

You can stretch the front of your tailbone (psoas muscles) by coming into a low lunge. To deep the stretch, add a side bend.

 

 

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High Lunge

Find the stretch in high lunge by tucking your tailbone while reaching your right heel back.

 

 

 

Belly (rectus abdominis)

img_20160913_130751Upward facing dog dose

Upward dog is found in most vinyasa classes, however we rarely stay in the pose for longer than a few breaths. Get a nice stretch of your front abdominals by staying in the pose for longer.

 

img_20160913_130759

 

Bow Pose

Bow pose is another beautiful way to stretch your front abdominals while also strengthening your back.

 

 

 

 

Chest/ribs (serratus anterior, pectoralis major)

img_20160913_130743Cobra

In cobra pose you really get to experience the opening up of the rib cage.

Challenge yourself by walking your hands closer to your hips and taking the chest even higher.

 

 

img_20160913_130907Camel

If you want to do a backbend correctly, you have to open your heart. Camel pose is the perfect pose to practice opening up the ribcage/thoracic region for progressively deeper backbends.

 

 

 

 

Shoulders (latissumus dorsi, deltoids, triceps)

img_20160913_130816Melting Heart / Puppy Dog Pose

To dig into the shoulders, try my absolute favorite pose: melting heart. You can do this against a wall or with your hands on a table, but if you’re on a yoga mat, come into it from tabletop. It feels so good you’ll never want to come out.

 

 

screen-shot-2016-09-13-at-5-32-29-pm

 

Tricep Stretch

Finally, open up the shoulders/upper arm even more by stretching the triceps. The best thing about this stretch is that you can do it anywhere: at a desk, on the bus, or waiting in line.

 

 

 

Enjoy!

While I’ve divided these backbend up into five anatomical categories, it’s important to note that img_20160913_130919you have one whole complete body, not a combination of disparate parts. Some of these stretches overlap with over areas of the body and more importantly, everything is connected to everything else.

As I like to say at the end of my classes, drink plenty of water, and keep your heart open.

With radical love,

-Z

10 Ways to Practice Handstand

10 Ways to Practice Handstand

I always encourage practitioners to focus on cultivating internal qualities like IMG_0116 copykindness, love and compassion, rather than attempt to contort their bodies into pretzel like positions or go for poses only elite gymnasts can do.

Nevertheless, the physical discipline, mental focus and non-attachment involved in working up to a challenging pose can be very rewarding.

For many yogis, handstand remains an elusive pose that they wouldn’t dare to try in class. Fortunately, there’s many ways to practice and work your way up.

Here’s 10 ways to practice handstand:

1. Headstand

20160519_165639~2If you’ve never been upside-down before, headstand is a great way to start out.

In headstand, the elbows, forearms and head create a triangle on the ground that makes a stable base of support.

If you’re just beginning, only stay in the pose for a few seconds, since it takes your cervical spine some time to adjust to the pressure of holding your entire body.

Work your strength up slowly and gradually, until being upside-down feels just as comfortable as being right-side up.

 

2. Forearm Stand

20160519_165651~2If you’re ready to progress from headstand, forearm stand offers another accessible way to practice being upside-down, this time requiring a more strength in the shoulders and more overall balance.

Predatory poses for forearm stand include dolphin pose and forearm plank.

Once you feel strong enough, try forearm stand with a wall behind you and feel free to use a block between your hands for additional support.

3. Hollow Body Core Work (on your back)

20160519_165629~2Strong core strength is critical to a solid handstand, and the hollow body hold is the perfect pose to get you there.

Think of it as a handstand on your back. Extend your arms up, lift your heart off the ground and hover the legs off the ground as well, keeping your lower back flat against the ground.

4. Facing Away From The Wall

20160519_164702~2Facing away from the wall is how most people practice their handstands.

By kicking up with the wall behind you, you can get over any fear of falling backwards. If you feel good against the wall, practice taking one leg off the wall, then the other.

Keep your arms extended, don’t collapse into the shoulders, and go as close to the wall as possible to avoid having a banana back.

5. Facing the Wall

20160519_164715~2I’ve seen people kick up to the wall for years without ever trying it the other way. Facing the wall instead of facing away adds an extra level of difficulty while ensuring proper alignment.

There are two ways to get into this: You can start in a downward dog against the wall, then walk your feet up the wall as you walk your hands closer to the wall. The other option is to cartwheel into the pose. .

Remember to keep your chest off the wall, and be careful to come out of the pose slowly and safely.

6. Legs-distance away from wall

20160519_165619~2This is a fun one that will really help with your alignment. Measure yourself away from the wall by standing up and placing on foot on the wall. Where you’re standing is exactly where your hands will be.

Then come into handstand with one leg supporting you. Switch the legs or hang out with both legs on the wall in a pike position.

7. Use an exercise ball

20160519_165756~2Walls are nice to practice on because they don’t move. But if you’re looking for a bit more of a challenge, try an exercise ball.

Just like legs-distance away from the wall, you can switch one leg for the other, or keep both legs on the ball in a pike position, with your hips over your shoulders.

8. Kick Up

20160519_165711(1)~220160519_165717~2No one wants to try handstand in yoga class only to fall out sideways and kick a fellow student in the face.

That’s why it’s important to practice jumping from downward dog and landing softly back on the ground.

Donkey kicks are kicking your own tailbone (like in the first picture). In Shakti kicks, you stag one leg (second picture).

Try to float in the air for as long as possible, maybe even holding a handstand for a few seconds or more.

9. Practice Pressing / Floating Up

20160519_165725~2One way to practice any pose is to work towards a more difficult variation. Then the original pose doesn’t seem so bad.

Practicing your press up to handstand involves placing your hands on the ground and trying your best to lift your feet off the ground without jumping.

You can practice pressing up from forward fold, wide forward fold, or even standing-split.

At first, it seems impossible. But as your core strength improves, more and more lightness can be found in the toes.

10. Warm UP and Cool Down

20160519_165805~2Although we don’t often admit it, warming up and cooling down is an essential part of any practice.

With handstands, this means stretching your wrists and shoulders as well as doing a range of motion exercises to keep your joints happy and healthy.

 

When practicing, remember to enjoy the process without attachment to the outcome. And of course, have fun.

What’s your favorite way to practice handstand?

Eat, Drink and Be Merry

Eat, Drink and Be Merry

What brings you joy in life?

In order to be truly happy, we must reflect on what really matters most to us in this life and align ourselves with our deepest values and intentions.

As Rilke put it,

Men are not free when they are doing just what they like. Men are only free when they are doing what the deepest self likes. And there is getting down to the deepest self! It takes some diving.

For my deepest self, two things stand above all else: love and experiences.

The first is easy: our purpose on this Earth is to love. We exist to to grow, expand and share our love.

Focusing on experiences can be a little harder, since it often goes against how our materialistic society tells us we should be. But study after study shows that happier people focus on creating rich experiences over accumulating material things.

LET’S DO THIS

An important part of love is self-love, and an important part of self-love is giving yourself the nurture and care for a happy, healthy, stress-free body. You can do that and provide yourself with rich experiences too by preparing healthy, delicious meals.

Below is a recipe for miso-sesame-ginger dressing, one that will keep your body healthy and also very happy.

You can put all the ingredients in your blender or food processor, and keep it in your fridge for up to a week.

Without further adieu:

20160502_211239~2

Yum!

  • ¼ cup neutral oil, like grapeseed, avocado or extra virgin olive oil.
  • ¼ cup rice vinegar
  • 3 tablespoons mild miso
  • 1 teaspoon toasted sesame oil
  • 1/2 carrot
  • 1 inch ginger
  • 1 tablespoon honey
  • 1 tablespoon sesame seeds
  • 1/2 lime juice
  • Salt, pepper to taste

In this simple dressing, you get the probiotic powers of miso, the vitamins and minerals packed into sesame seeds, the anti-inflammatory properties of ginger, the antioxidants in honey, plus the healthy fats of whatever oil you choose.

Enjoy!

With love,

– Zach

Having fun in side plank

Having fun in side plank

What’s this you say?
Walking_The_Plank

Why, that’s Keira Knightly walking the plank in Pirates of the Caribbean.

Say the word plank in a yoga class (how’s that for a segue?) and you either get looks of fear (how about child’s pose or happy baby pose, that sounds nice) or excitement (hooray for core work!).

Our limber bodies might not like being as firm and straight as blocks of wood. But the core strength required to stay in plank is crucial for so many other poses.

Plank can be fun, and side-plank can be even more fun because it offers up a wide variety of variations and modifications to choose from.

I present to you some fun variations to add to your side-plank repertoire:

Take a Knee or foot down
If you want to focus more on your alignment, move with ease and perhaps get a nice stretch, taking a knee or foot down is the way to go:
20160401_130511~220160401_130518~2

I see too many people with sagging planks in class who refuse to take a modification. Let go of your ego and practice self-compassion and kindness with a little assistance.

Vasisthasana I
Here’s the pose you may know well:

20160401_130522~2

Some folks say your bottom shoulder should be directly stacked over your wrist, others say move the wrist a little higher. Either way, be mindful of how your arm placement affects your wrist and if anything feels funny or painful, immediately come out of it.

Side tree or padangusthasana B (Vasisthasana II)
Side plank easy enough? Why not add a variation? How about turning tree on it’s side:

20160401_130456~220160401_130528~2
Or turning padangusthasana B (hand to big toe pose) on it’s side:
20160401_130504~220160401_130535~2
Or just floating off the top leg?
20160401_130524~2

All these variations will challenge you in a new and exciting way.

Visvamitrasana
Still having too easy of a time? Then step up to visvamitrasana, which stems from a variation of your straddle side-bend:

20160401_130544~220160401_130557~2

Take your top arm back up and you can be just like Iyengar:

150-visvamitrasana-yoga-pose-iyengar

What do you think? Inspired? Intimidated? A bit of both? It’s all part of the practice.

Namaste,

– Zach

The Most Delicious Smoothie In the World

The Most Delicious Smoothie in the world

Below you’ll find a recipe for the one of the most delicious and healthiest smoothies you’ve ever had.

But first, I want to explain just why you would want the smoothie in the first place.

We’ll begin with a simple anatomy lesson. Here is a picture of your body:
mosque

Now if you’re thinking, “Zach, that looks magnificent. However, that is a beautiful Iranian mosque, certainly not my body,” you’d be about half right.

Your body is also a house of the divine. It is also a vehicle for spiritual awakening, also a piece of the sacred and just as deserving of reverence, attention, protection and care.

To truly understand this, we must come to our beginner’s mind.

Coming to a beginner’s mind means seeing the world in a fresh new way, unclouded by old assumptions and rigid beliefs.

We’ve all spent so much of our lives identifying with our physical being it’s hard to imagine anything else. As Shunryū Suzuki put it, “In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, but in the expert’s mind there are few.”

How can I show you Zen unless you first empty your cup? - Zen Parable

How can I show you Zen unless you first empty your cup? – Zen Parable

The spiritual path is coming to an understanding that you are not a body; you simply have body.

As we get older our mind becomes so rigid, it is like a full cup that can no longer accept any more drink. To come to any new understanding, we must first empty our cup.

This time, we’ll fill the cup with a delicious smoothie. But why?

Well, what do you do before stepping into a temple?

Do not come any closer," God said. "Take off your sandals, for the place where you are standing is holy ground.

Do not come any closer,” God said. “Take off your sandals, for the place where you are standing is holy ground.

You take off your shoes!

You wouldn’t track dirt into a house of God would you? Of course not.

So why fill your body with the all sorts of dirt in the form of junk food, fast food, fried food and heavily processed food?

Eating well and taking care of your body is one of the most loving things you can do for yourself. Self-love is a recognition not only of your own divinely unique place in the universe, but also a sign of reverence and appreciation for this gift of life.

So without further adieu, here you go:

Cheers.

Fit for the Gods.

Ingredients:
2 bananas
1 apple
1 cup raspberries
1 cup plain yogurt
1.5 cups spinach
Handful of parsley
Half-inch of Ginger
Juice of half a lime
Ice

Optional Additions:
1/2 Beet
1 celery stalk
Your favorite powder (protein, green, or maca)
Half an avocado, coconut or hemp oil (fats help with nutrient absorption)
Ground flaxseed
Use tea, coconut water, or nut milk as a base
1 Orange instead of lime

I could tell you about all the amazing health benefits of each ingredient. Instead, I’ll finish with the words of the Buddha, ehipassiko, which means come and see for yourself.

Don’t take my or anybody else’s word for it. Search for the answer to what it means to you to treat your body as a temple; see what works for you, discard what doesn’t, and carve out your own unique path.

Namaste.

– Zach

Understanding Personal Transformation

Understanding Personal Transformation

Skywalker

We all want to transcend from the ordinary to extraordinary.

Human beings have long been captivated by stories of transformation. Whether it’s the ugly duckling, Harry Potter or any superhero, practically every story speaks to the journey from ordinary to extraordinary.

We gravitate towards these stories because they help us feel less “stuck” in our lives. We may feel helpless to change our situations because of a job, family, or other responsibilities.

Fortunately, we are all in fact capable of tremendous internal change and even making our dreams come true.

The Path

The path towards personal transformation begins with building and developing your own spiritual practice.

The most important step is the first one.

It helps to think of spirituality as having both horizontal and vertical dimensions. The horizontal dimension is the one we are most familiar with. It means memorizing teachings (whether it’s the Vedas, Qur’an, or the Bible) and following certain rules and regulations (the Ten Commandments, the Noble Eightfold Path).

However, if we want to truly go deeper on our spiritual journey, we must go up the mountain. This is the vertical dimension, the path of realization, the path of transformation and transcendence.

There are many paths to get to the top of the mountain but the view at the top is the same. Whether it’s through meditation, asana, prayer, mantra chanting, devotional song, ritual or medicine journeys, all these practices are designed to allow us to go beyond our thoughts and deeper into our actual experience.

Embodiment in Nicaragua

This December, I’ll be leading a week long yoga retreat designed to go deeper into these paradigms of transformation, exploring many of the practices listed above.

We’ll be doing a lot of yoga too. Yoga is often translated as Union. But yoga is not unifying disparate parts of ourselves. It is coming to the realization that we are already whole, already perfect, already connected to all things.

Stop acting so small. You are the universe in in ecstatic motion. – Rumi

Like the ugly duckling, we’ve been the beautiful swan the entire time, it was only a matter of seeing our true reflection.

As any mystic will tell you, once we discover our own light and our connectedness with all things, an undeniable, overwhelming incomparable LOVE enters every fabric of our being.

While we may never achieve such exalted status, what matters less than “getting there” is simply taking steps along the path.

Will you join me?

With love,

– Zach

Zach studied paradigms for personal transformation for three years while getting his Masters in Psychology at the California Institute of Integral Studies. Zach completed both his 200hr and 500hr teacher training at School Yoga Institute, which specializes in Mystical Yoga, or the path of realization.

The Physics of Crow Pose

The Physics of Crow Pose

Bakasana. AKA Crow pose. CROW POSE

Crow pose is the foundation pose for arm balances and one of the biggest hills to get over in your yoga practice.

The pose is not easy, nor is it easy to explain. Google “guide to crow pose” and you’ll find an endless array of tutorials along the lines of:

Step 1. Place your hands on the ground
Step 2. Come into Crow pose

Piece of cake! Right? Not really. Unless you’re a monkey, you’re probably not used to having your weight on your hands (if you are a monkey, congratulations on grasping psycholinguistics!)

Before I became a yoga teacher, I was an engineer. And believe it or not, having a technical understanding of the world greatly helps my practice too. So to explain how to make this transition from your feet to your hands, I’m going to take an alternate route and explain crow pose using PHYSICS.

image

So let’s hop to it.

First off, here’s a ruler:

1And what a nice ruler it is. Now, if you wanted to balance that ruler on your finger (lengthwise), where would you put your finger?

*Jeopardy song*

The 6-inch mark! That’s correct. Why? Because, that’s where the center of gravity of the ruler is:

2

So here’s your first physics lesson: All objects behave as though their mass is concentrated at their center of gravity.

Read that sentence again. Then check out this guy balancing a baseball bat:

3

As you can see the man’s hands are NOT in the center of the baseball bat, but a little to the right, which is where (you guessed it!) its center of gravity is.

That’s nice, but check out this hammer tied to a ruler:

4

How is the hammer just floating in the air like that? BECAUSE it’s Center Of Gravity (which I will now refer to as COG)  is way over to the right, near the head of the hammer (metal is much heavier than wood, this is a material science lesson too). As a result, the COG is directly underneath the tip of the ruler that is on the table.

Amazing! (click here for a full explanation of the hammer illusion).

So here’s physics lesson #2: an object is stable as long as its center of gravity is in-line with the BASE of the object.

For example, check out this this armless man:

5

Notice that no matter which way he bends, his COG remains directly over his feet, so he doesn’t fall down. Aren’t bodies amazing?

And here’s Michael Jackson:

67

Why does this position look so cool? Because it’s physically impossible! Michael Jackson would fall right now if his shoes weren’t nailed to the floor.

What does all this have to do with yoga? Well, in ANY balance pose you’re in you have to keep your center of gravity over your base. If you’re standing on one leg, your weight has to be centered over one foot.

Crow pose is such a challenge because we have to shift our center of gravity from over our feet to over our hands.

Let’s see how that works, frame by frame. Here’s me getting into crow pose:

Untitled design(1)

Frame 1: Notice I’m squatting, and 100% of my weight is in my feet. My hands aren’t even touching the ground. My COG is directly over my feet.

Frame 2: Now, half of my weight is in my hands and the other half is in my feet, my COG has shifted forward.

Frame 3: Now all the weight has shifted into my hands, allowing my feet to come off the ground. Notice my COG is directly over my hands. Also, my elbows are stacked directly over my wrists, this lets my weight pour down through my forearms right into the ground. A lot of people here are afraid of tipping forward, because they don’t realize where their COG is.

When you start learning crow pose, put only a small portion of your weight into your hands and feel into it. As you begin to more feel confident and strengthen your arms, continue to add more and more weight until your toes naturally lift off the ground. Only go as far as you feel comfortable.

Does that make sense? If not, contact me with any questions or comments. I love hearing from you. What pose do you want explained?

Not perfect, just practice.

Namaste.