Snapshots of the Whole and Happy Retreat in Thailand

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It’s been nearly a month and a half since the first Whole & Happy Retreat in Chanthaburi, Thailand and yet my mind wanders back to that magical time almost every single day. I wanted to share a few film images and a general feel for the beautiful retreat week I spent at FaaSai Resort and Spa.

The Whole & Happy Retreat is the perfect laid back mix of travel, adventure, yoga and self exploration. Each day the retreat group met for yoga and meditation and each day a new technique, style, or focus was presented to us to play around with. As if the yoga and meditation wasn’t enough, the Whole & Happy Retreat involved so much more. We rode our bikes up steep hills, plunged into the Thai gulf waters, drank beer at sunset and toured the farm where our organic meals originated all the while still having ample time to laze about by the pool, sip papaya smoothies and trade book recommendations while devouring our current reads. breakfast-1 first-round-12

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The Whole & Happy Retreat seemed to rest in this perfect cosmos of flowed planning instead of precise scheduling. Each night there would be a new agenda and theme on the message board and every morning our group would work our way happily through the day. From farm tours to beachside bike rides, we would move through the hours crossing joyous adventures off our list and yet somehow barely checking the clock, instead checking in with each other and our energy levels.

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first-round-18As an experienced yoga practitioner, I was delighted at the variety of classes presented and how approachable and attainable the instructors made the content for the beginners in the group and yet I never once felt bored or that the classes were predictable. Beyond the yoga and meditation, it’s such a treat to enjoy new experiences with complete strangers, it’s almost like being transported back to the first day of school on the playground. You feel shy at first until a few minutes later you realize you’re having an insane amount of fun and you look around to realize the people you once thought were strangers are now your favorite playmates.

The Whole and Happy Retreat felt like an adult summer camp aimed at elevating the travel experience while incorporating yoga and introspection. As a seasoned traveler, I cannot recommend this experience enough to individuals who are a bit apprehensive about a trip abroad or solo travelers who would find comfort among company. It’s also the perfect break for someone looking to get away in order to recharge and reinvigorate themselves for a happier reintegration back into normal life.first-round-14first-round-41first-round-61

Come read books, sip smoothies poolside, bike through fishing villages, make new Thai friends and gaze up at the stars with me. I’ll be joining the Whole & Happy crew at the next retreat in Chanthaburi, Thailand from March 17-23 and I hope you’ll come. I’d love to flow with you! From now until January 15th, book with a friend and receive $50 off of the retreat cost for a total of $550 for seven days of retreat at Faasai Eco Resort and Spa. If you need help finding a flight (they’re less than $600RT from NYC right now) or help creating a budget, I would love to help, just reach out in the comments.

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5 Ways Yoga Helped Me Heal After a Breakup

Someone I loved once gave me a box full of darkness. It took me years to understand that this too, was a gift.
-Mary Oliver


I began practicing yoga seriously after I returned from a long stint in Asia in 2011-2012. My relationship to yoga actually began after I was dumped by my then boyfriend of about five years over the phone the night I returned to the USA from Thailand. Pretty fucked up right?

I thought so too. I was sad. I was defeated. I felt like I wanted to crawl into a hole and die. See about two months before I flew home, I had sensed a shift in our conversations over Facebook. I could just tell there was something different happening with him in America, I just wasn’t sure what. I even mentioned it, but he never answered.

I took it particularly hard because I had tried (and failed) to break up with this man twice over the course of five years. I knew the relationship wasn’t meant to last forever and yet somehow we would work it out, we would be ‘better’ and the attempted breakups did make our relationship stronger so when I finally committed my vulnerable little heart to freely loving another person unconditionally, I was dumped. It was painful.

In hindsight, the breakup was so devastating because this same boyfriend came all the way to Thailand that Christmas to visit me. I felt so loved and lucky to have someone literally travel across the earth to be with me. For the first time in my life, I envisioned marriage and even my future wedding. It’s true, as I traveled Thailand by bus and a love song would come on, I would listen to the lyrics and consider it for my imagined wedding. It would take me years after the break up to be able to listen to John Legend songs and not feel pangs of hurt and rejection. I guess all this is to say, sometimes you are completely blindsided by a breakup and it forces you to sit in a sobbing puddle of rejection and just deal with your feelings.

The entire next month, my main goal was to not break down and cry in public. I would go to work, which at the time was catering parties and weddings, and I would have to sneak off to the bathroom or around a corner and mentally talk myself out of sobbing. It was really hard to keep it together. Once I got in my car or home to my sister’s apartment, I would breakdown. Watching any type of tv (even commercials), listening to the radio, even walking down the street in a neighborhood where he and I spent so much time together, felt like the most challenging task in the world. I was a mess and I had never in my life dealt with something so agonizing.

At the time, my ex and i were still texting periodically throughout the day. We had actually bought tickets a few months previous, to a huge music festival together with about 15 of our closest friends and we had agreed that we would still attend it together and try to act normal. The first day was fine as I got completely obliterated, but the second was draining. I ended up just laying in a grassy field for hours and hours while all my friends pranced and danced and my ex completely disappeared from the group and did his own thing. It was during this festival that something clicked. We are all individuals and while I cannot fathom life without this dude, it’s obviously meant to be that way. If we were meant to get back together, we would eventually, but until then, I needed to try to move on and forget about how hurt and rejected I felt.

I started by moving to my other sister’s, hours from my ex and pretty much my entire life and community I had created in Philadelphia over the past five years. I’m so glad I did this and I feel like it was a major step in my healing process. To not have to bump into him and our mutual friends in my neighborhood on a weekly basis really helped to distance myself from the breakup.

I also decided to cut off communication with my ex. At my request, we stopped sending our handful of texts each day. I remember how fucking hard that week was though, I felt like my best friend had died and I was all alone. Along with not texting, I made a concerted effort to stop looking at his or his friends’ social media because who really wants to see their ex dating someone already after a couple months. Again, this was a huge step forward in terms of starting my own life again. I will admit, I relapsed a couple times and looked at his Facebook and his girlfriend’s Facebook, but that’s how I found out he started dating her before I even moved home from Thailand. While this bit of information felt like hot lava being poured on my chest, it also gave me the ammunition I needed to mentally move on for good.

After spending a couple more weeks crying and feeling bad for myself, I found a random job, started hiking with Katie’s hound dog (he’s now mine!), and making plans with my friends again.

It was around this time that I remembered a yoga studio that Katie and I visited a few years ago. I had always felt a connection to this studio even though I only attended a couple classes there. I’ll never forget the first yoga class I attended after the break up, I looked up the schedule online, realized I had about ten minutes to get there, contemplated it for a moment and then drove like hell to make it on time. That class changed the entire course of my life. I know that sounds like hyperbole, but it’s absolutely true. I told you that entire sob story only so you’d begin to understand the power that authentic yoga (not just stretching and exercising to music and practicing handstands) can have on your life.

After a few months of yoga, I was completely transformed and in a way, reborn. Yoga teaches many lessons, but in terms of dealing with a breakup it teaches you ::

  • Self acceptance of where you are at this moment in time. Sometimes life throws us for a loop. There is no sense resisting, fighting what is currently taking place, you can only settle into it. When the breakup occurred, I was convinced it was a momentary mistake, something that would soon be corrected. Once I started practicing yoga and accepting what was being handed (or taken away) in life, I realized nothing is a mistake. Each situation is a gift to learn more and connect deeper with oneself. I also began looking back and remembering times in my life that seemed tragic and hard to deal with and I realized I prospered after those periods and I would after this one as well.
  • Your mat is your world. Nothing outside of your mat is a reflection or judgment of what is happening on your mat. You’ll hear this quite often in yoga. Do not compare yourself to others, focus on yourself, accept where you are at this moment in time, do no strive to be further along in your journey even if you’re seemingly further behind than you were yesterday. This lesson was absolutely crucial in getting over my ex. Not only did I feel like I lost a great dude (he was attractive, interesting and motivated), but I was replaced by a younger, more beautiful girl. For awhile, it was really hard not to be jealous of his new, fit and attractive girlfriend. I could immediately see that she was everything I was not, all the little things he had wanted me to be over the course of our relationship. Not only that, but they were traveling all over the place, something I would have loved to do. I felt like I lost everything and they had it all. What a ridiculous notion it is to look at what your neighbor has, covet it and wallow in your discontent. This will get you absolutely nowhere and it will create an ugly person in the meantime. Once I focused all my energy inwards and began cultivating my own happiness and directing my own journey, I was able to actually nurture love and happiness for my ex and his new beautiful partner. I don’t know this girl, but I’m positive she’s a great human. I also learned to see more clearly and to realize my ex was in many ways not the right partner for me. I gained clarity about my situation once I focused my energy inwards.
  • Connection to breath and body sensations. Basically yoga taught me to be mindful, something I hadn’t practiced before. Mindfulness was a completely new concept and to this day it has a profound effect on my psyche. Each time I found my mind wandering or getting hung up on a memory or feeling, I would bring myself back to a deep belly breath and try to not only identify my thoughts, but also to locate what sensations were arising and how they felt in my body. Being more present, connected and aware helped me to realize that often my sadness was just an autopilot state of being. If i wasn’t stimulated or even if another emotion was trying to shine through, my sadness would overwhelm me, it was as if my heart wanted to feel broken and my mind was just cruising along with it instead of thinking rationally about the present moment and my true feelings from hour to hour.
  • Disconnection from emotion and external forces. Disconnecting from my emotions was really the next step in my mindfulness practice. Once I was able to stay present and identify my emotions, I was able to question them and in a way compartmentalize them in my mind. Obviously it’s okay to feel deeply, but instead of allowing our monkey minds to completely hijack how we feel, it’s crucial to question why we feel the way we do, to think rationally about the entire situation at hand. I was so so sad day after day even though I had previously tried to initiate a break up, even though I knew the relationship was in no way sustainable, so why was I allowing emotions to run my life? At a certain point, it’s absolutely necessary to box up reactions and intense emotions and disconnect from them, to set them aside, and allow yourself to think with clarity about the situation in life.
  • Self love. Above all, yoga has taught me to love myself inside and out. Cheesy as it may sound, I believe self love is the key to a happy life full of successful relationships whether they’re romantic or not. Having love, gratitude and appreciation for yourself above all else allows you to thrive and feel comfortable in any situation. Creeping feelings of self-doubt and ugly notions of jealousy are eradicated and more space for compassion and appreciation is created. I now see endings as new beginnings and heartache as an experience to be cherished as much as mourned. In all beings and situations I search for love, any tiny speck of love that allows everything to fall into place and make sense.

Yoga allowed me to fall in love with myself again, while disconnecting from emotion long enough to process the breakup and begin to heal. I was taught to practice mindfulness and realize my expectations of the relationship and my life in general were just that, expectations, not reality. Yoga allowed me the space I needed to be present with my emotions without becoming wrapped up and attached to them. I look back to the person I was ten even five years ago and I barely recognize her. Yoga has changed me in many ways and it all started with one shitty breakup. Today I’m grateful for the heartache because it introduced me to a yoga lifestyle and a set of tools that allow me to thrive in all situations. Are you going through a transition or a difficult time right now? Find your nearest yoga studio and dive in.

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Yoga Teacher Training Packing List

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Namaste. Ready for your yoga retreat? Freaking out because you’re so excited and don’t know what to pack? Sweet. I gotcha covered. You basically need nothing except a great attitude, but I’ll round out the list with a few other essentials.

Ever since posting about my experience at Rishikul Yogshala’s 200hr Yoga Teacher Training in Nepal, I received emails from prospective students asking, ‘WTF do I pack?!’ and the answer is so simple. You don’t need much.  Imagine what you take to a yoga studio each time you go to practice. Imagine all the things you leave at home. Now pack accordingly.

Yoga Teacher Training / Retreat Packing List:

  • Yoga mat
  • Drink bottle
  • Hand towel
  • Full sized towel / yoga towel if you use one
  • Light blanket or sarong (this is really more of a travel in general must, but it’s very useful if your retreat is going to incorporate Yoga nidra or if you get cold during savasana.)
  • A few yoga outfits – whatever that means to you.
  • Slip on shoes – flip flops or something similar since you’ll be slipping in and out of your shoes each time you enter the studio.
  • A notebook and pen
  • A light read or an ipod with some calming tunes. Sometimes you’ll need to fall asleep (teacher training starts early!), but you’ll still feel energized from all the asana so bring a tool that drifts you off to dreamland.
  • A snack to quell hunger at inconvenient times. I usually take raw pine nuts, almonds or walnuts or a box of these fig bars.

Things To Leave At Home:

  • Expectations
  • Extra Work (including your blog, sorry!)
  • Social Media & Your Love of Wifi

That rounds out the essentials. Here’s the complete Yoga Teacher Training Packing List that I used specifically for the Rishikul Yogshala 200hr YTT in Pokhara, Nepal.

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If you are contemplating a yoga teacher training, I highly recommend Rishikul Yogshala.

*This post contains affiliate links, but don’t worry, I only link to products I currently use and love.
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5 ways to go the f to sleep

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Does sleep elude you? I’ve been there. Most times it’s due to stress or other irregular factors, but sometimes I just can’t fall the f*ck to sleep even if it’s imperative. First things first, put your damn phone down, unless you’re trying to sleep right now.. in that case, read on:

  • Read a book – reading is my first snooze move. Pick a book that you’d like to read, but is either a little bit beyond comprehension or slow moving. Whatever you do, don’t grab a nail-biter because then you’ll definitely be up all night. I usually pick up something by one of my heros, John Muir, when I want to induce drowsiness. His writings are basically a peek into his diary, interesting, but at times long winded and wordy. No offense Mr. Muir!
  • Write in a journal – if you’re not a big reader, try writing before bed. If I go this route, I usually jot down a quick recap of my day, while also mentioning what I plan to do the next day. Writing in a journal is an easy way to do a brain dump of sorts. Flush out anything you’ve been needing to say or express and leave it in your journal instead of your mind while you get ready for bed.
  • Breathing meditation – pranayama (sanskrit word for breathing) is an amazing tool for relaxation. Even if you’ve never tried pranayama before, you’re capable, it’s simply being mindful of the breath. Lay on your back with one hand on your heart and the other on your stomach. Take a deep belly breath in while you count to four, hold for two seconds then exhale long and slow for four seconds. Repeat this breath cycle without letting your mind wander, continuously focusing and counting your breath until you feel relaxed and ready to slip into a slumber.
  • Yoga nidra – yogis everywhere are probably rolling their eyes since yoga nidra is waking sleep and therefore one isn’t necessarily meant to snooze midway through, but I have to admit that I fall asleep nearly every single time.  It’s actually a problem, but at least I’ve discovered a great way to drift off to dreamland.  There are actually a few yoga nidra recordings meant to put you to sleep and here’s one that’s particularly good. Everyone is different though, so seek out recordings that speak to you and make you feel relaxed. Remember, you don’t need recordings specifically geared towards sleep since all nidras are calming and will likely put you into some type of trance state.
  • Conduct a full body scan – this is my favorite way to encourage sleep and something that I use quite frequently. Start by shaking out your limbs and settling down onto your mattress. Get comfortable. Mentally tell yourself to relax each body part, starting with a segment of the body and disecting it into smaller parts from there.  It should sound something like this, “relax your right foot, relax your big toe, relax your second toe, relax your third toe, relax your fourth toe, relax your baby toe. Now relax the top of your foot. Relax the bottom of your foot. Relax the ball of your foot, the arch and the heel of your foot. Now relax your ankle, etc…” I recommend breaking down each body part as much as possible, but you can focus on larger part groups (ie the right leg instead of the right shin, calf, knee, back of the knee, etc) if sleep is less elusive for you.

That’s how it’s done folks! Fall asleep faster with these five natural nap inducers.

*Photo of a famous Sarah Schu power nap in a ridiculously dirty Malaysian guesthouse captured by Saleem Ahmed.
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Easing Into Yoga : A Relaxing Morning Stretch Series

Want more yoga and exercise? Become a woods warrior, try this lower body workout, then end the day with bedtime stretches that relieve lower back pain. Check out my 200hour yoga teacher training experience and read about the school I attended here.

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If you’re reading this at posting time, good morning! Start your day off right with a relaxing series of stretches that are perfect for the morning time.  This routine starts in child’s pose, moves to all fours then up into downward facing dog, but don’t stress, you’ll be back down on the mat in no time.  Start each day by adding length to your spine, stretching out those hips and quads, and opening your chest and shoulders, you’ll be happy you did and it will take less than fifteen minutes.  This whole routine is meant to be a casual flow so once you’re familiar with the poses, move in and out of positions with fluidity.

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Rishikul Yogshala Yoga Teacher Training Schedule

Take a look inside Rishikul Yogshala’s 200 hour yoga teacher training in Pokhara, Nepal.liveseasoned_fall_nepal yoga teacher training7

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Sarah here :

Today marks my fourth full day of yoga teacher training in Pokhara, Nepal.  Only one more day and then I have a whole half day to myself on Sunday!  Because we’re squeezing a 200 hour training into 28 days, the schedule is absolutely packed.  I thought it would be fun to share it here to give you an idea of what I’ve been up to the past week.

  • 5-5:30AM Morning Tea
  • 5:30-7 Hatha Yoga
  • 7-7:15 Tea Break
  • 7:15-8:15 Pranayama aka breath work
  • 8:15-9 Yoga Nidra
  • 9-10:30 Breakfast
  • 10:30-11:45 Yoga Philosophy
  • 11:45-noon Tea Break
  • noon-1PM Mantra Yoga aka chanting sanskrit
  • 1:15-3 Lunch & Rest aka Lunch and shopping at my new favorite store
  • 3-4 Yoga Anatomy
  • 4-6 Ashtanga Yoga
  • 6:15-7:15 Meditation – Today the theme was self love. It was so amazing.
  • 7:30-8:30 Dinner

So that’s that. Lots of learning, practicing and tea all day long.  Each teacher is inspiring and full of knowledge.  I feel extremely lucky to be here and that feeling carries me through the long days.  If you’re wondering how we fill three and a half hours of asana practice, just imagine holding each pose for an excruciating amount of time and then repeating that four or five times.  As much as I hate holding wheel for ten breaths, it’s kind of nice to go into each pose slowly with so much detailed instruction.  Today we worked on handstands and arm balances in the morning and in the afternoon so. many. down. dogs.

I’m pretty sore, but as of today, I can honestly say I’m having the best time of my life.  The days are long, but they’re powerful and magical and I cannot say enough wonderful things about my teachers.  Each and every session I am reminded why I chose to train in the east with Indian teachers, my new yoga family.  I can’t wait to share more about this trip, if you have any questions, just ask!

 

 

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Bedtime Stretches To Relieve Lower Back Pain

Want more yoga and exercise? Become a woods warrior, try this lower body workout, then end the day with bedtime stretches that relieve lower back pain. Check out my 200hour yoga teacher training experience and read about the school I attended here.

liveseasoned_sp15_BedtimeBackYoga-19 Ohhhh lower back pain and pressure. How many times have I groaned, moaned and cursed at you?  In fact, here I sit, back throbbing and hips aching, worrying about my future.  I have to admit, I don’t stretch or do yoga each day like I should and it’s evident in the way I feel when I lay down at night.  While these eight bedtime stretches are not a cure for lower back pain they help sooo much! Instant relief.  My tightly, tangled ball of rubberbandy back muscles relax into alignment and allow some comfort before bed. If you’re in the same back pressure out your ass predicament, go stretch out!

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SUP – Stand Up Paddle-boarding

Have you tried stand up paddle-boarding (SUP) or know anyone who owns a board?  I’ve noticed more and more stand up paddleboards popping up in magazines over the past few years, usually mentioned by a fit celebrity or cited as a workout.  I had no idea there was a magazine specifically dedicated to SUP and it wasn’t until last year that I saw one with my own two eyes.  I was eating dinner at a restaurant in Seattle and out on the calm water a couple was watching the sunset from their SUP.  I was so envious!  If you’ve ever watched the sunset over the water you know what an amazing view it is, now imagine being on the water while it’s setting. Breathtaking.  Apparently I’m not the only newbie to SUP.  According to the 2013 Outdoor Participation Report, “Stand up paddling had the highest number of new participants in the past year. More than half of stand up paddling participants tried the sport for the first time in 2012.”

Even though I had a lot of interest in SUP, I didn’t get the chance to try it for myself until this past weekend.  My local outdoors store, Townsend Bertram & CO, hosted an event along with BIC (yep, the same people that run the pen game have a big hand in water board sporting equipment) to introduce SUP to those of us who have never tried it.  There’s a large number of lakes and rivers in NC, not to mention the Outer Banks area, so what better place to entice people to get into SUP? At least that’s what I thought when I signed up for the free event.

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K and I headed to the lake on full hoagie-bellies (that’s sub-bellies to you [katie here: haha, Calder and I argue about this all of the time, thanks for the data!])  excited to try something new.  Once we checked-in we were assigned a number.  The friendly folks at Townsend Bertram & CO would periodically call out numbers, which was the cue to step on down to the waterside.  First the paddle was adjusted for height.  You raise your arm straight up into the air, but let your wrist hang limp.  The top of the paddle handle should just touch your palm.  Then the instructors picked a board depending on our height, weight and intended use.  There are different boards for racing, yoga, surfing and just plain paddling around.  K and I both tried standard boards the first time out.  He was on a 10’6” while I was on a 10’4”.  I wasn’t that nervous about the whole thing, but I think K thought it was going to be harder than it was.  I only saw one person out of 70 fall the entire day!  You simply wade out into the water, hoist yourself onto the board and then kneel in the center of it.  After you feel comfortable kneeling and paddling you can stand up and off you go.  K liked it so much that he went out a second time on a slim racing board.

Before I tried SUP I was excited about the idea, but thought it was a bit redundant since I already owned a kayak. Once I was on the board, I fell in love! It’s much different from kayaking and maybe it seems selfish, but I want one of these too.  Unlike kayaking, you’re much higher than the surface of the water so you’re able to see farther.  As a photographer, I really like that about SUP. I also like that you can easily see where you’re going.  Instead of just paddling blindly through the water, the more detailed view allows you to anticipate different currents, depths and passages.  I also love that SUP works your core and more of your upper body than the kayak.  I tire very easily in my kayak because I have a relatively weak chest and shoulders, but my core is solid, which made SUP less challenging and more enjoyable for me.  You can also hop off your SUP when waters get rough and choppy as opposed to flipping over in a kayak, which scares a lot of folks.

I love that SUP doubles as a surfboard and for that matter triples as a floating yoga mat!  You know the Seasoned sisters love yoga and if you don’t, we tried to tell you here and here.  At the event on Sunday I also ran into Allison from LYFSUP. In short, LYFSUP is dedicated to building the SUP community around Jordan Lake and in Chapel Hill, NC and beyond, and they are dedicated to protecting water & natural resources, donating a percentage of their profits to the cause.  Allison has an impressive background in surfing and SUP so it’s no wonder she’s committed to bringing it to the area.  LYFSUP offers  SUP yoga classes, which is what I had the chance to see on Sunday at the lake.  Allison and her stepdaughter Haley went out on the water and demonstrated a mini yoga flow for me!  It looked so relaxing and at the same time more challenging and complex than yoga on solid ground.  After watching the ladies practice side plank, chair, down dog and sun salutations out on the lake, I started calculating a budget to see how quickly I could buy a board!  My family has a home in Virginia, just a few yards from the water, so I could already envision switching my daily yoga practice to SUP yoga.  Imagine how tranquil and relaxing it must be to practice while gently floating along *sigh*.  In the meantime I’ll take a couple of Allison’s SUP yoga classes and hopefully by next year a board will be mine.

I do think the boards are a little bit pricey, but that may be because I’m used to buying boats and equipment with more to it.  Since SUP is a newer concept to me, I think I’m having a hard time justifying such an expensive purchase on just a board (even though I know it’s so much more than that!).  Like I said, it really is a SUP, surf board and yoga mat all in one.  The boards I used on Sunday were top-of-the-line, but I did find some for as low as $600 and even $400, but I can’t attest to the quality.  The ones I saw Allison of LYFSUP using were even more impressive and perfect for practicing yoga so I’m excited to get the opportunity to try one out for myself during her class (the board and anchor rental is only $5 extra).  After perusing the internet and seeing so.many.options. I think it would be a good idea to rent several different kinds and really get a feel for the type of board that’s right for you.  In my family, we often split recreational purchases like this, making it extra important to research the boards to find one board that can fit everyone in the family.

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If you are new to SUP like myself, you should do a quick google search and see if any sporting good stores, outlets or parks in your area rent out boards.  I was surprised to find out that there are several rental venues in my area and near the Outer Banks too.  It’s a great way to explore, and who doesn’t love a new adventure?

I feel like I’ve become mildly obsessed with SUP in a matter of a few days.  I promise this post isn’t sponsored by anyone (although I wish it was, helllllo free SUP).  I tend to bounce around from one expensive hobby (backpacking to rock climbing and always photography) to the next so I’m really trying to reign myself in on this one.  I can already see myself buying a board during end-of-the-summer clearance sales.  So be it.  All the better to photograph the sunset with, am I right? [katie again : you have me convinced!]

If any of you are in my area, Chapel Hill, NC, let’s take a SUP yoga class together!  I’m doing it either way so why not join me?  Back to daydreaming about SUP in tropical locations for me…

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Become a Woods Warrior

Want more yoga and exercise? Become a woods warrior, try this lower body workout, then end the day with bedtime stretches that relieve lower back pain. Check out my 200hour yoga teacher training experience and read about the school I attended here.

liveseasoned woods warrior

Become a woods warrior.  Nope, not the kind that wields a sword, instead the kind that smiles peacefully and stretches deeply.  Warrior pose is also known as Virabhadrasana (vira=hero, bhadra=gentle, asana=pose).  You can be a warrior anywhere, but I believe the woods to be the calmest and most inspiring space for these stretches.  There’s nothing like holding warrior one while you gaze up at your fingertips and see the tops of tall trees swaying in the wind.  You have the overwhelming sense of feeling grounded yet flexible like those limbs.  Then comes warrior two where you can pause and gaze miles past your fingertips.  The forest gives you ample spaces for exalted (reverse) warrior so you can stretch and lengthen until you’re as limber as the trees that surround you.  I love looking down at my environment in warrior three.  It gives me time to take in the dry leaves and tiny bugs as I breathe, balance, lengthen and stretch with all I’ve got.

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After recently completing a month-long yoga challenge, I was a little bored with the warrior poses.  I was eager to move on to harder, more intriguing postures, but I realized that isn’t the yogi way.  It’s important to be present with each pose, no matter how many times you’ve practiced.  The more you appreciate the present, the more space you create for improvement and appreciation.  Of course, the same is true with life.  The more we focus on the task at hand, the more we come to contribute, improve, appreciate and love what we’re doing.  So even if you’ve practiced warrior one, two, and three a thousand times, try them all again and appreciate their presence in your life and your ability to stretch and strengthen your body.

A few tips:

  • Wear stretchy pants or shorts so you can practice your fullest expression of each pose.
  • Pick a relatively flat and non-slip surface.
  • Move into each pose slowly and with intention.  Think about each part of your body in order to achieve the proper alignment.
  • Breathe deeply and evenly through your nose.  If the pose seems tough, focus on your breath.
  • Try each pose for a couple breaths and then go back and hold them longer if you’d like.
  • My form isn’t perfect so don’t just peep at the pics – read through each warrior before practicing.

 

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Warrior One

  • Stand up straight with your feet together, arms down by your sides, and palms facing forward.  Inhale and as you exhale, step your right foot forward about 4 feet.  Reach your arms upwards (perpendicular to the floor) as you rotate your palms to face each other and actively reach through your fingertips towards the sky.  Breathe as you roll your shoulders down and back into their sockets.
  • As you inhale, make sure your heels are aligned and turn your back foot (left) out 45-65 degrees to the left (anywhere from 9 o’clock to 11 o’clock). Exhale and rotate your hips and torso to face forward while grounding into your back leg.  You’ll probably have to pull your left hip forward and your right hip back.  Try to square your pelvis as much as possible, this is difficult (especially if you have tight hips like myself) and won’t happen overnight. I like to bring my arms down for a moment, touch both my hips and direct them towards the front of my invisible mat.
  • Keep your back foot firmly planted and as you exhale, bend your right knee over the right angle so the shin is perpendicular to the floor and your thigh is as close to parallel as possible.  You may have to scoot your front foot forward a little bit if your knee is tracking over the front of your ankle (you never want that to happen). Your back leg should be straight and your heel should be touching the ground.
  • Anchor yourself firmly with both legs, even though your front leg is probably burning a little more, your weight should feel equally grounded.  Inhale as you reach towards the sky, look up at your fingertips and those beautiful trees and reach some more.  There can be a slight bend in your back.  You can also bring your palms together overhead and spread your fingers if you’d like.
  • Relax into warrior one with strength, breathing deeply for thirty seconds to a minute.  To release, straighten the front leg while bringing the back leg forward to meet at the front of your invisible mat.

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Warrior Two

  • Starting from warrior one (with your right foot forward), rotate your left arm back and your front arm forward so they create a straight line (parallel to the ground).  Keep a tall spine and feel strength radiating from your core.  At the same time rotate your hips and your back toes outward.  Your shoulders should be stacked directly over your hips and your left toes should be pointed towards the left side of your invisible mat (perpendicular to your right toes) .  The heel of your front foot should line up with the arch of your back foot.
  • Sink lower into your lunge and exhale while relaxing your shoulders.  Just like in warrior one, the weight should be distributed evenly in your legs, which means the outer edge of your back leg is pressing firmly into the ground.
  • Even though you’re actively reaching forward and backwards with your arms, they should be slightly relaxed not rigid.  I like to imagine a string tied to each middle finger, knowing I could sway my abdomen forward and backward if someone came along and pulled either string.
  • When you’re properly aligned, look out over the edges of your front fingertips.  Keep your gaze soft and your face relaxed.  Hold the pose for thirty seconds to a minute all the while breathing deeply. To release, rotate the arms upwards and the back toe and hips forward to return to warrior one and then straighten the front leg while bringing the back leg forward to meet at the front of your invisible mat.

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Exalted or Reverse Warrior

  • Starting in warrior two, simply rotate the front palm towards the sky and slide the back palm gentle down your back thigh.  Inhale the front arm towards the sky, reaching and lengthening the front side of your body while your back hand extends lower on your thigh and eventually calf.  You don’t want to put any weight on your back hand, instead use your abdominal muscles and right hand to lengthen and raise your heart towards the sky.  Gently gaze up at your fingertips while keeping your neck relaxed.
  • Deepen the lunge in your front leg and breathe deeply for up to thirty seconds.  To exit, return to warrior two, warrior one and then straighten the front leg while bringing the back leg forward to meet at the front of your invisible mat.
  • *If you’d like to go into a half bind in reverse warrior, bring your lower hand around your back and place your fingertips in your front hip crease.  Make sure you keep a deep lunge and your upper body uplifted.

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Warrior Three

  • Starting from warrior one, simply (ok nothing is simple about this pose) tilt your upper body forward about 45 degrees and simultaneously straighten your front leg while you gently push forward and lift your back leg.  The goal is to look like the letter T.  Your hips should be squared towards the ground.  Stretch your arms forward so they’re parallel to the ground while you flex your back foot and push backward.  I like to imagine a wall directly behind me that I’m pushing against with my heal.  You don’t want your shoulders to sink below your hips so engage your core muscles and lengthen your arms while you gaze at the ground.  Hold this for up to thirty seconds, which is a major challenge, and gently release back into warrior one. To release, straighten the front leg while bringing the back leg forward to meet at the front of your invisible mat.

 

Now you’re well versed with warrior and equipped to take your calming strength out into the woods.  I hope you enjoyed a magnified look at these important postures.  I’m sure you’ll find yourself in one, if not all four, of these poses during any vinyasa class.  And remember that everyone’s body looks and works differently even though we’re all made up of the same parts, which means everyone’s warriors will differ slightly.  Embrace yours, whatever it may look like today and leave it in the woods when you’re finished.  It may look different tomorrow, embrace that too!

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Lower Body Woods Workout

Want more yoga and exercise? Become a woods warrior, try this lower body workout, then end the day with bedtime stretches that relieve lower back pain. Check out my 200hour yoga teacher training experience and read about the school I attended here.

live seasoned lower body woods workout-1 copy            Growing up, I’ve always been involved in some type of activity, whether it was playing tag with my neighbors, going backpacking with my father or running around on the soccer field.  Because of this, my legs have always been the biggest part of my body and I admit, I used to feel a little insecure about it.  Struggling to squeeze into skirts and skinny jeans that my friends easily slipped on with their cute little bird legs and knobby knees.  Now that I’ve grown up a little bit and realized that Barbies and models are far from average, I love my muscular legs.  Are they proportionate to the rest of my body? Sometimes no, but it’s cool, thunder thighs are where it’s at.  They take me everywhere I need to go, even if it’s twenty miles from point A to B, I know they’ll carry me.  Climbing up a volcano? Yep, they were there. Walking three miles home from class carrying a twenty-pound camera lens? No biggie.  Taking dozens of photos while frozen in the same pose for an hour during this tutorial? No problem they say!  They even requested a yoga class afterwards. They’re that good.  So, after years of self-doubt and twirling in the mirror wishing they’d shrink up a bit, I decided it’s time to give my legs some love and some more exercise.  Time to cherish those limbs and treat them right.  This lower body workout is really basic, but can be easily modified if you’d like it to be a bit tougher.  I designed it to be easily remembered and equipment free that way you can add it to the end of a hike or a walk.  These moves target your thighs (especially the inner thighs), glutes, calves and even your abdominal muscles.  Read through all the exercises so you’re familiar with proper form.  You’ll find a concise workout routine at the bottom of the post.

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A few quick tips:

  •             Wear sneakers or supportive shoes
  •             Stretch out for a couple minutes before you begin
  •             Breathe consistently throughout each exercise
  •             Engage your muscles, especially your abdominals
  •             You are your own trainer.  Do what feels best for you. Don’t push it unless that’s what your body wants.
  •             If you’re not accustomed to strenuous exercise, consult your physician before you begin.

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Basic High Lunge

  • Stand up straight with your feet shoulder length apart.  Engage your abdominal muscles and step forward with your right foot until your knee is bent at a 90° angle.  Your thigh should be parallel to the ground or as close as you can get to parallel.  Your need should be directly over your ankle, never over your toe.  Your left heel will naturally rise off the ground.  There should be a slight bend in your left leg.   Stand up, bringing your back foot to meet the lead foot and switch legs.  Continue lunging forward for a total of 20 lunges.
  • Modification: Bring your hands in a prayer position and use your abdominal muscles to twist slowly to the left and then the right.  This strengthens your core and improves balance.

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Calf Raise Three Ways

  • Super simple, but don’t let that fool you, these work and you’ll feel the effects instantly.  Stand up straight with your feet shoulder length apart.  Rise up onto your toes and count one Mississippi, two Mississippi and lower down.  Repeat twenty times and do a quick set of ten. Rise up, down, up, down as quickly as possible.  Make sure your rising up on your toes as high as is comfortable.  Now point your toes in towards each other and repeat, twenty slow, ten fast.  Finally, point your toes away from each other and repeat again, twenty slow, ten fast.  Your calves should be on fire at this point.  No need to wear heels to have defined calves anymore.

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Basic Chair Pose

  • If you’ve ever practiced yoga, you’ve probably done chair pose.  Stand up straight with your feet hip’s distance apart and your arms raised over your head.  Simply exhale and sit back as if you’re sitting down in an invisible chair.  The goal is to have your thighs parallel to the floor.  Your knees will protrude over your feet a little bit, but your weight should be in your heels.  I lifted my toes in the photo above to demonstrate that, but you should keep your feet flat on the ground. Keep your chest and arms lifted, look up and keep breathing.  Count to ten or twenty and stand up straight.  I like to sprinkle in chair pose between all of the other exercises.
  • Modification:  Instead of feet shoulder length apart stand with your feet together and challenge yourself to bring your thighs parallel to the floor all the while keeping your chest and arms lifted.

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Lunge Rollover

  • This is very similar to a high lunge. Stand up straight with your feet shoulder length apart.  I like to hold my hands at my heart’s center in a prayer position, but you can also hold them overhead or down by your sides.  Engage your abdominal muscles and step forward with your right foot a little further than you would for a regular high lunge.  At this point, your knee should be behind your ankle.  You are balanced on the ball of your back foot.  Roll forward onto your toe, which propels your body forward so that your knee is now directly over your ankle.  Your knee should never be over your toe.  That is why you take a bigger step in the beginning. Rock back onto the ball of your foot, that’s one repetition.  Roll forward slowly onto your toe again and back, that’s two.  Complete 15 on each foot.

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Prayer Squat

  • Stand up straight with your feet a little wider than shoulder’s length.  Engage your abdominals and bring your hands in a prayer position at your heart’s center.  Lower down slowly until your thighs are parallel (or as close as you can get) with the ground and your elbows touch the insides of your knees.  Keep your weight in your heels and as you lower your knees will track outwards instead of forwards.  Your knees should never track out over your toes.  Slowly rise back up.  Repeat 15-20 times.

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Squat Walk

  • First make sure there are no strangers around because this is one sure-fire way to creep them out.  Take a wide stance with your legs with your toes pointing outwards; I like to pretend I’m making the letter A.  Then squat down so your thighs are parallel with the earth.  Keep your head and chest lifted and take 6 small steps forward and 6 small steps backward.  You should feel it in your inner thighs.  Continue six-steppin’ for about a minute.

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Speed Skater

  • Stand up tall with your arms at your sides.  Bend your left knee with your toe pointed towards the ground.  Keeping your back straight, lean forward bend your right knee and kick your left leg out behind you.  Your fingertips should be pointing towards the earth and your right knee will track over your foot a little bit, but never past your toes.  Pretend you’re speed skating in place.  Do 15 reps without letting your left leg touch the ground and repeat on the other side.

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Tree Squat

  • Find a tree with a smooth surface.  Make sure there aren’t any poison vines growing on it and lean with you back against it, thighs parallel to the earth.  Sit up tall and count to thirty.
  • Modification: Try lifting one leg for 15 seconds and then the opposite for 15 more.

Lower Body Woods Walk Workout      1-3 sets

  • Basic High Lunge x20
  • Basic Chair Pose 10-20 seconds
  • Calf Raise Three Ways: Slow x20 Quick x10
  • Lunge Rollover x15 each leg
  • Prayer Squat x20
  • Squat Walk 40-60 seconds
  • Speed Skater x15 each leg
  • Tree Squat 30 seconds

 

There are dozens of modifications for each of these moves, but rather than overwhelm you I thought it’d be great to start simple and go from there. You’ll see these basic exercises being built upon in future posts.  Exercise doesn’t always mean putting on bright workout clothes, paying for a gym membership and fumbling around with machines.  Sometimes the most effective workouts are the simplest because we’re more likely to be consistent.  I hope you’ll try out some of these moves this week while you’re out walking around or hanging out at home.

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