Top 5 Tips for Creating + Sustaining Your Own Home Yoga Practice

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In honor of both the workshop + e-course I am putting out this summer, I wanted to share my top five tips for upping the game when it comes to a true, awesome, DIY hOMe yoga practice.

  1. Set an intention. What do you want your own practice to convey about you? This intention is not static; it can and will vary. When I first began practicing, my intention was to be present and while it was great for me at the time, it is not super unique or personal. I now go by the three F’s (yeah, I know I love alliteration) – fierce, fun, and flowing. That is what I want my practice to convey about me. My yoga practice on the mat should be reflective of who I want to be off the mat.
  2. Music is an excellent motivator for a yoga practice. Mixing up the music is a way to not get bored, even when doing the same poses over and over again. It also makes a practice that can sometimes seem foreign to our bodies an integrated part of day-to-day life. Hearing a Top 40 song when in Warrior II just might make the difference between a serious frown and the joyful smile that is the goal of Yoga. Break down the parts of the practice and dissect what music is good for each part.

  3. Mix and match / don’t get bored. There are plenty of styles of yoga out there, from Jivamukti to Iyengar. Your job as a divinely unique being, is not to choose between them. It is, rather, to use discernment in creating a practice all your own by combining them. That’s right – you, too, can create your own style of yoga! It will emerge from your personal practice.
  4. Put your mat somewhere unavoidable. Allow your mat to be a physical reminder to practice yoga. Position it somewhere you walk by every single day (near your bed, in a doorway, in front of your closet, you get the picture).
  5. Chunk It Up. A home practice does not have to all happen at once. You can sync it up with the times of day to make it less daunting. Have 5 minutes in the morning when you roll out of bed? Use them for your sun salutations! Have 5 minutes at night? Use them for your forward folds. Feeling tired at work? Backbend in the hallway. Do whatever you need to do to make it seem like less of a big deal, and you’ll still reap all the amazing benefits!

The workshop I am teaching on June 25th at Harlem Yoga Studio will delve deeper into each of these tips. Register here!

10 Ways to Work in a Relaxed Way

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Illustration cred goes to Julia Drachman, from the book Yoga U: The College Student’s Tools for Balanced Living.

Hello from Florida, where I am taking a break from my NYC overwhelm to celebrate my grandma’s 94th birthday. That said, I came with a backpack full of work. (And the backpack is my latest obsession that I purchased last week to aid in my grad school + work + yoga triple life: a STATE bag.)

From now until June 17, it feels like I have an inordinate amount of things to accomplish (report cards, promo for my yoga workshops, graduate school summer session, the list goes on!). I wanted to use this three-day weekend to get ahead on these important tasks, or at least to feel less like I was drowning in them.

So…during my Uber ride en route to the airport, I set an intention: “I intend to use this weekend to work in a relaxed way.” This feels fairly revolutionary to me; I am used to working under deadlines, with stressed-out coworkers, in cluttered offices, all while feeling like, no matter how much I try to work, the hum and buzz of the city I love so much seems to distract me.

My intention has ended up in this list, for your enjoyment, and calm work habits. Without further ado, here are 10 ways to work in a relaxed way!

  1. Bring your laptop to the nail salon and write, write, write while your toes get polished, polished, polished.
  2. Take readings to the pool so that you can lounge back and contemplate those important texts.
  3. Use exercise as a way to contemplate your work. Go for a run with the intention of, for example, thinking up a blurb for that next workshop.
  4. Do mindless tasks that still allow you to cross a lot off that to-do list while watching TV.
  5. Chunk It Up. Make a list of small tasks you need to get done…maybe the ones you dread doing, and then, after accomplishing each one, treat yourself to doing something super fun!
  6. Listen to music while you work.
  7. Make your work fashionable. Find brands that you love to tote your work in. I personally love Poppin office supplies, and looking at them makes me excited to do my work (I judge a book by its cover!).
  8. Stay inspired. Similar to “chunk it up,” after accomplishing each task, read a piece of what I like to call “professional development literature” by people you admire to inspire you to do more.
  9. Go to a coffeeshop. Order a latte, or a drink of your choice, savor it, and get inspired by those working around you in their own relaxed ways.
  10. Pair work with another activity. In Better than Before, my favorite tip from Gretchen Rubin was to pair habits together. For example, pair coffeeshop work an exercise class, so that you know that one signals the other. This makes you feel like you have a fuller life, which in turn translates into happier work time!

Workshop Announcement: DIY Home Practice

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Today, during lunch, a coworker asked me a question I’ve been asked many times…this week: How can I start a home yoga practice?

Now, this simple question comes with many other explanations and inquiries attached to it:

  • I don’t live near any yoga studios.
  • The timing of the classes at the studios I am near don’t work for my schedule.
  • A full hour feels like too much time.
  • I want to start integrating what I learn in my yoga classes into a home practice.
  • I just don’t know where to start.
  • I just don’t know how to continue.
  • How do I stop myself from quitting?

All of the above can be boiled down to: How can I make sure that I get on the mat as much as and to the degree that I need to?

I am thrilled to, in a workshop format, be able to answer this question.

Here’s the workshop description:

This 2-hour-long workshop will equip you with the skills, inspiration, and knowledge to lead your own yoga classes for your own beautiful selves and bodies. DIY Yoga will empower you to create your own home practice for those days when classes don’t fit into your schedule or for when you want to freestyle it on your mat, but safely and effectively. Together, we will move, breathe, and discuss the best and most effective ways for starting your own practice and moving like yourself.

In the comments, please tell me: What questions do you have when it comes to crafting a home yoga practice?

DIY Yoga Continuing Education Binder

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After that initial 200-hour yoga teacher training, the desire for more and deeper information drives many of us yoga teachers to pursue a wide variety of continuing education. From workshops to retreats to 300-hour trainings to 50-hour modules to lectures and professional development through the yoga studios we work at, the information comes at us from many different angles. Unlike a 200-hour where most of the information is likely contained in one singular manual, the continuing education information comes in many different packets, books and leaflets.

This is what I would love to make clear through this post: There is vitality in keeping all that information in one place. When I started taking 50-hour modules through Laughing Lotus, I also had trainings under my belt in yoga service (Street Yoga) and kid’s yoga (OmSchooled). Decorating the messy floor of my bedroom were handouts from guest teachers and notes taken in workshops. I made a decision one day my senior year of college, mid-way through doing that 300-hour comprised of 50-hour modules and the random classes I took along the way. I went to the campus bookstore, bought the widest-rimmed binder I own, and started three-hole-punching.

While this might seem like an office-y blog post, there was a metaphorical relief that came out of putting all that living, breathing information on what yoga is and what it can do for us and the philosophy behind it in once place. It integrated all this knowledge so that, rather than being disparate pieces of information, each one confined to its own lineage, it was part of one beautiful whole of the meaning of Yoga – Union, the yoking together of various ways of getting to the same point: Wholeness. When you make your own continuing ed binder, you actually have the opportunity to define and own what yoga means for you.

Here is a brief how-to:

  1. Buy a large binder.
  2. Start 3-hole-punching all manuals (go a Staples or OfficeMax if you have to to hole punch the larger ones).
  3. Insert these paper pieces of wisdom into the binder. Insert them either in chronological or categorical order (i.e. kid’s yoga info goes with kid’s yoga info, yoga service grouped together, etc.).
  4. If there are poems that have resonated with you as you’ve pursued your yoga teaching career + education, photocopy them and insert throughout.
  5. Decorate the cover with stickers from yoga studios, poetry, quotes, whatever makes your heart sing and return again and again to refer to what got you to where you are!
  6. Write your name on it! Own it! Because when it comes down to it, this amalgamation of texts is what gives you your own unique yoga teaching voice, through honoring the wide variety of places you’re coming from.

Yoga for Educators

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As you’ve likely heard (because let’s face it; if you’re reading this blog, chances are that you’ve been to a yoga class or two), the Sanskrit root of the word yoga – “yog” – means to yoke together, or to unite. Yet oftentimes, as someone who works at an elementary school by day as a part-time yoga teacher/glittered, bindi-wearing vinyasa practitioner by night, my professional identities can feel rather separate. This distance between the two aspects of where and how I spend my time makes it all the more exciting when I find ways for these two to yoke together.

My Yoga for Educators workshop and series is just that! When I spoke with Leigh, co-owner of Unfold, the yoga therapy studio I’ve been teaching at since I moved to Portland, we discussed what my “ideal client” might be. After I explained to her the joy I’ve experienced in teaching staff yoga at the school I serve at and teaching to AmeriCorps members through my AmeriCorps Yoga workshops, she informed me that it sounds like I love teaching to the “unsung heroes” in our society. I think she’s right.

So it is with same great joy I teach from and to that I bring you the announcement of the Yoga for Educators workshop and series at Unfold. In the workshop happening in two weeks, I will cover:

  • DIY Yoga: creating a sustainable home practice that works within those unique educator schedules
  • Yoga for the Classroom: using mindfulness, meditation and stretch breaks to cultivate more engaged teachers and learners, and
  • Breathwork: to balance our parasympathetic nervous systems in the path to being more present

The series will be a lot like the workshop – just WAY more in-depth. The Yoga for Educator series introduces the wide-reaching practices of yoga in ways that make sense for educators: society’s day-to-day warriors. This series is designed to empower educators with self-care tools for themselves and professional development tools on mindfulness in the classroom. In this series, participants will:

  • Reflect on the importance of the mind-body connection and parasympathetic nervous system
  • Create your own yoga practices for different times of the day and schedules
  • Learn different breathing exercises for both students and teachers; learn how to harness students’ attention through mindfulness and
  • Relax! And develop a whole toolkit for relaxation that can be practiced during the summer, and easily transferred over to the school year!

If you know of any educators in the Portland area, please let them know about this offering (I will also be blogging the highlights so stay tuned) and check out the below links:

Unfold Website (scroll down! sign up!)

Facebook Event for Workshop

Facebook Event for Series

Personal Website ShiraEngel.com

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written from dragonfly coffee house in portland, or

Inspiration Refuel: Yoga + Writing w/ Kimberly Wilson

20140727-095221-35541473.jpgI am sure I could write an entire novel on my two and a half hours spent at Tranquil Space on Friday evening, at Kimberly Wilson’s Yoga + Writing Workshop. Actually I will use a lot of what I learned at that workshop to write a novel in November, but that’s perhaps besides the point for now.

What I will instead share as the headline of this blog post is one particular highlighted quote that Kimberly shared with us:

You are like a teacup; yours has to be full and overflowing to give to others.

Life, I am learning, is a constant give and receive. When I was in college, finding the balance between the two was like a beautiful dance – give inspiration in my yoga classes just 2-4 times a week and give knowledge through tutoring and teaching kids. Then, during the daytime, I was constantly receiving inspiration and knowledge through the luxury of time, lecture halls and resources college students are afforded…all at their fingertips! I particularly noticed (and realized this on Friday when Kimberly read the above quote) that my cup especially overflowed during my last semester when I had so much…time. Time is one or our most valuable, delicate and most-used resources. Right alongside water, we need it to both replenish and sustain us, regardless of what it is we want to practice or accomplish.

Anyways, my last semester afforded me a lot of this resource. I taught a lot and my classes were better than ever because I had time to nourish my own student (a necessity as a teacher). I swapped out academic courses for yoga teacher trainings as I partially enrolled in my university to just work in my thesis. The quality of my thesis surpassed what I thought was possible because I gave it room to breath…soft edges. I had PROJECTS, and projects in the midst of the “mundane” of everyday life require both giving and receiving and are above all nourishing to the soul.

Now, that I am out of college and working as both a summer school/camp teacher and yoga instructor, this balance has been thrown off course. But the best part of finding balance over and over again – and the worst part about being out of balance in the first place – is that it blindsides us, takes us by surprise. It is just as hard to tell when we are out of balance as it is when we find it again. But yesterday, as I sat first at a mind-blowingly amazing professional development lecture on accelerating programs for youth, and then more so later as I sat on the floor of the “lab” at Tranquil Space, a place I have only read about for three years, I felt like I was receiving for the first time all week (a week of giving and teaching that left me feeling a bit depleted).

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As I sat on the meditation cushion, my Tranquility du Jour daybook, journal, idea book and with Kimberly’s workshop worksheet out in front of me, I felt piercingly present. When I am inspired, you see, I am catapulted into the present mOMent. It was a glimpse into understanding Kimberly’s whole way of life, as summarized by the quote she read.

How does she have the time?? I often wonder when reading her blog and the Week in Review posts. But through meeting her in person, I understood; she has time to give (and give so wholeheartedly and such a prepared, professional and darling way) because she takes time for herself. She talked of books she read and retreats she recently went on…and only then did she talk of the books she wrote and retreats she is about to lead. It goes along with another gem she shared with us – if you want to write you have to read.

If you want to teach, you have to be taught. If you want to inspire others, you have to be inspired.

And so the dance continues.

Namaste,
Shira