Monday, November 25, 2013

Student Spotlight: Adrienne Phillips

Student Spotlight: Adrienne Phillips

Adrienne Phillips
Age: 39
Profession: Hematologist and Medical Oncologist; Assistant Professor of Clinical Medicine at Columbia University Medical Center; Assistant Attending at New York Presbyterian Hospital

I received a free weeklong invitation to try Land Yoga last year as part of a Holiday gift raffle. I didn’t end up trying it until April though as I was pretty committed to my regular exercise at the gym (running, zumba, boot camp classes, etc). I had also tried yoga before- Hatha and Bikram, and it never really stuck. Though I enjoyed Bikram, it was challenging to fit the class into my daily routine. With Hatha, perhaps I never really learned it correctly but I didn’t feel like I was getting an adequate work-out and I always found my mind wandering to other things during the class. After my first week of Ashtanga style yoga with Lara I immediately enjoyed it and felt like I was truly getting a different type of exercise. Learning postures one at a time forced me to perfect them before moving on (key for my perfectionist personality!). Simultaneously incorporating the breathing technique also relaxed me and allowed me to maximize each posture.

Learning Ashtanga also came at a particularly stressful time in my professional career when I was feeling overwhelmed with career decisions and taking care of very sick patients. Starting each day quietly breathing and going through the postures allows me to come into work prepared for any challenge. It’s also helped me during moments of stress during the day as I find myself practicing the breathing technique when feeling overwhelmed or stressed.

Health-wise, it’s also been helpful as my blood pressure had been running high and now it’s better controlled without medications. My first free week turned into a month and now 6 months later, I try to practice at least 4 times a week. I feel stronger, healthier and happier overall and it has really become part of my everyday routine. Next month, I will be hiking Mount Kilimanjaro and I’ve intensified my practice now essentially going daily and jogging to the studio. I particularly feel my core getting stronger which will help with the daypack I will wear on the hike. The breathing technique will also come in handy as just how breathing deeply and focusing more on my breaths helps be position myself just a little bit deeper in the postures, so too will it help me focus on the endurance I will need to reach the summit of the mountain (I hope). My life as a physician can be very chaotic and intense, and in my particular field of oncology I frequently deal with quite sick and at times dying patients. Practicing Ashtanga yoga each morning has grounded me and allowed me to focus better not only on my patients and career but also myself and the simple things that makes life enjoyable.

Regarding advice I would say yoga is a practice and you must enter each class with an open mind and prepared for a challenge. Some days postures come easily and other days they don't but I am patient and enter each class with a clear head and open for whatever experience I will have for the day.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

So You Think You Can't Do Yoga...

The misconceptions about yoga are too many to name: It's for flexible people.  It's boring.  It's not challenging.  It's too challenging. It's for people of a certain age, weight, class.  And for sure, many still believe that yoga is for women.  Wrong! In fact for years Yoga was done ONLY by men! It's strengthening, full body, and you don't have to be anything but YOU to do it.  Oh, and not lazy!  Ashtanga Yoga is definitely not for the lazy!

Other than that, you are ready!  Anyone can learn Mysore style which goes at the pace of your breath and increases in difficulty only when the teacher feels you are ready.  

Still, so many are afraid to walk in the door.  I hear everyday from people with some excuse that ultimately boils down to FEAR.  

I'm not flexible enough for yoga.  How do you think everyone started?  When I started practicing I could NOT touch my toes.  No joke! You will never increase your flexibility unless you start.  You might as well not delay.  Start today.  In addition, yoga is not solely about flexibility.  Classes include strengthening, balance, breath work and a whole bunch of deeper concepts (if you choose to go there)!

It's boring.  It's not challenging.  It's too challenging.  All WRONG! Mysore style Ashtanga and any appropriate yoga teaches the student, not the method.  Our classes work at the right pace for the individual and provide just the right balance of comfort and challenge.

Age, Weight, Class.  Again, not true.  Our classes at Land Yoga have served beings from embryo stage through their 80's and we're happy to teach longer!  

Yoga is for Women.  Men, especially, are worried that they will look stupid in front of a primarily female class of yoga students.  WRONG!  Sorry to disappoint, but NO ONE is looking at you.  Everyone is worried about themselves- a lot like life!  So stop thinking so personally and walk in and don't care.  No one else does.  

Still scared?  Great!  Facing fear is one of the most empowering experiences a person can put himself through, and if you can acknowledge and accept your fear and still SHOW UP, you will be able to recognize and repeat that experience in life off the yoga mat.  This is one of yoga's greatest gifts. So be afraid.  Be terrified.  And walk in anyway.

This, my friends, is a shameless promotion for my workshop this Sunday, SO YOU THINK YOU CAN'T DO YOGA, but if it touches anyone, if it makes anyone, male or female walk into any class, I am happy.  Nothing should stop you, certainly not FEAR, from doing anything, especially not yoga.

Saturday, November 2, 2013

Satva Scholarship Recipient Sonya Rani Choudhury tells her story.

Recently, after a generous student donation, we started the Satva Scholarship fund at Land Yoga.  The scholarship is set up so that committed, enthusiastic individuals who could not normally afford yoga will be able to participate at our shala.  Our first scholarship was awarded to Sonya Rani Choudhury, a nurse practitioner with an incredible spirit.  As part of the scholarship requirements, we ask the recipient to blog at the end of month one about their experience.  Sonya had so much to say that we had to split it into two blogs!  Here's the first:

“ The times in your life that stand out the most are those when you serve.” Albert Schweitzer

         I love this quote, and for me it provides great personal meaning, having dealt with severe anxiety,  depression and many challenges in my life. Individuals always had advice, or would get angry but never were solutions put forth. It was not till middle school, that I found one of my greatest passion in my life, a teacher, mentor and now dear friend of mine 25 years ago introduced me to service explaining that if one is to get involved in helping others, or to put others first, and try to live your life and everyday with intention, it would help me to look outside myself and also at the same time possible give me confidence in the skills I could offer the world!

            Almost 25 years later, service has saved my life, in some of my darkest hours it has saved my life, taught me skills like leadership, the importance of leading your life and all your actions daily with good intentions and kindness, and wonderful life skills that I never thought I would ever be able to do including building home with Habitat all over the world, or having enough leadership to run and lead multiple team projects through NYCares or even captain a soccer team-

            Most recently I had a humbling moment in that a teammate on my soccer team came up to me., an excellent player who played in college she was a dynamic force on the field but was frustrated as none of the other players would pass to her, but it was her passes to them who scored the goal, what amazed me is she wanted no credit for her amazing skills, she just wanted to be part of this team and recognized.  I said you know what I need you to help and lead the others- those who don’t know how to play and are struggling in our defense like the Bad News Bears-  She took over this role and became a  beautiful leader and better captain than I could ever be, teaching the novice defense players, giving them confidence and most importantly amazing teamwork, which led the team to the playoff- it was all her leadership.  With some health setback in the past few months I cant play right now, this women came up to me and said the best thing you could ever do was bring out the best in me, I never thought I could be a captain and people never told me I was a great leader!

            At Land Yoga, I started a month ago but I can tell you in that one month, in Lara Land- and her most wonderful teachers- I have experienced when needed it the most, individuals who are passionate about yoga, passionate about their dedication to teaching, and in Lara’s case an unstoppable, non stop passion that goes way beyond yoga, it is a passion for the local Harlem community, a passion for sharing her talents and yoga all over the world including traveling to Rwanda to teach and live with victims of Genocide, to bringing this wonderful beautiful art of yoga to individuals who might not have the opportunity for many reasons, is no exposure, not financially feasible or just scared as like me had awful yoga experiences in the past!

            Lara has the beautiful ability in her teaching to do what is most necessary in life, bring out the best in everyone, give confidence or encouragement to the scared most novice individuals like me, and furthermore with these teaching whether she and her staff may know it or not, you are not only teaching yoga, and all the physical benefits, but you are really influencing lives, changing them, giving out confidence when individuals need it the most, and creating a healthy, beautiful space and welcoming community for individuals of all abilities, backgrounds where one feels comfortable these are the important things in life!

            My schedule is insanely busy- but as a new novice I still remember my very first practice being embarrassed at how new I was, how little I was able to do and almost ready to give up- once again if not for these teachers, and this Shala I might have been tempted or to give in to my frustrations, luckily I am also one that is usually determined to keep trying- but along the way all of us need teachers, mentor and people like this! All of a sudden, I have found myself scheduling or trying to schedule any free time I have around trying to get to Land, and get my practice in – and despite being still so new, clumsy and awkward there is this feeling even at 6AM of looking forward to practice, or leaving feeling so good about myself, despite physical exhaustion it is an amazing exhaustion like an internal pride you are challenging your body and mind- and doing it for yourself, and for once not feeling like you are behind and also learning that thing are not always judged by how many miles you can run, or how many hours you can keep working- but more so by the breaths-

            Also someone who is used to burning the midnight oil, as mentioned I have or am finding myself going to bed early because I want to try to make it to AM practice, or coming back from evening practice as I said with a clarity that allows me to be even more focus and productive for the rest of the evening!

            I am as mentioned the novice of all novice, again I have learned through all of these people they live their life with intention, bring out the best in everyone- and also that everyone can do Yoga never ever to late to start!

            In conclusion, I left practice the other day and one of the teachers said to each student goodbye and we want you to keep coming back, those simple words made me feel so welcomed and so good- because you realize you are entering into a community- and it is again something so vital for me-