Alignment and Yoga

In yoga classes, in the marketing and in mainstream media there is a lot of press around yoga being good for

Photo credit: myyogaonline / Foter / CC BY-NC-ND

Photo credit: myyogaonline / Foter / CC BY-NC-ND

flexibility. If you look around, the ads, Instagram pictures, and selfies are largely very flexible people doing incredible poses. There has been some push back on that to point out that yoga is also good for building strength, which is true. There are some truly challenging postures that require significant physical strength to safely enter, maintain and exit. But both of these focus on a very small part of a yoga practice, the physical aspect.


What I see as missing is how yoga helps with alignment. I choose the word alignment because what I am talking about is not just the physical alignment of the postures, which is important, but also the mental and emotional alignment that comes with a yoga practice.


To better understand how alignment in the postures leads to mental and emotional alignment, I want to explore each in more detail.


Physical Alignment

Yoga helps to adjust physical alignment by focusing on the postures and over time re-teaching the body what it means to work as it was intended. The emphasis on posture, stacking bones and muscle engagement often help to cartoonbigguyyogaalleviate certain chronic aches and pains such as lower back pain, shoulder and neck pain, poor posture and more.


This improved physical alignment frees the body to focus on things other than simply standing, or compensating and straining to hold itself out of alignment (think slouched shoulders or uneven shoulders from carrying a bag on one side all of the time). In addition, improved posture allows the body to function more efficiently. Breathing becomes easier because the diaphragm isn’t pinched or compressed. Blood circulates throughout the body more efficiently, carrying fresh oxygen in and carbon dioxide out faster. This helps to increase endurance and concentration and also combats mental fatigue.


Emotional Alignment

Emotional alignment is really the ability to deal with what life throws your way and still be able to (mostly) maintain a positive outlook on life. Not everyone is going to be flowers and sunshine every day. At least no one I’ve met yet. Office chaosBut developing an emotional balance through yoga allows you to let the little irritations that used to drive you over the edge, simply roll away. And the big hits in life, well, they still hit but you have a calm, confident mindset that no matter what, you will take that in stride and keep going.


With a positive outlook, your heart opens naturally. Your sense of compassion grows, as does your ability to experience the full range of emotions without being controlled by them. You may still be sad, but the likelihood of slipping into an all out depression lessens. The same with happy emotions. You can experience happy emotions at a higher level without necessarily becoming attached to them or feeling sad as they wane.


Mental Alignment

This can also be referred to as Spiritual Alignment. This in no way means you are off to shave your head, give away all possessions and sit on a mountain sustaining yourself with the dew of a ginko leaf and the energy of the Universe

Human head withred ladder to opened sky window

Human head withred ladder to opened sky window

(thank you Kung Fu Panda). Although maybe you will, it certainly isn’t a requirement.

Mental/spiritual alignment is more about doing the right thing for the right reasons and being compassionate. It can be the simple things, picking up a broken bottle and putting it in the trash. It can be helping a stranger by opening the door for them, or smiling at someone while taking a walk. It can also be more profound, say starting an organization to help those who aren’t able to help themselves.


When it all lines up…

So how does yoga fit into all this? Yoga works in layers. The initial layer is the physical, working through the asanas, or postures. This builds strength, balance and awareness. This leads directly to physical alignment. Once the body is strong and healthy, you move on to the next layer.


Once the body is in better alignment, the energy of the body is free to flow. This allows us to clean out the emotional gunk we accumulate day to day in life. With the emotional gunk out, we can experience life from a happier vantage point. There isn’t a dirty lens to look through. We begin to experience a more positive attitude and things that used to bother us seem less and less irritating.


The next layer involves the use of breathing to root out and release negative emotions. Sweeping out this gunk that

fine 3d image of dark grunge prison

fine 3d image of dark grunge prison

builds up in daily life quite literally allows us to breathe easier. This is why breath cues are layered into a yoga practice. Matching movement to breath not only increases the abilities of the body by making the physical postures easier, but it also allows the body to release emotions that no longer serve us and where we want to go.


With a strong and aligned body and an open heart, the mind flourishes. You may begin to start tapping into your intuition. Your sense of what actions you want to take becomes clear. Your desire to act upon these thoughts grows. You begin to experience a drive to do things that leave the world a little better off than it was yesterday.


Yes, yoga is good for making us stronger and more flexible physically. But it doesn’t stop there. A regular practice brings us into alignment in other ways leading to a more harmonious life with those around us. I believe that is more appealing than just focusing on the physical side and being able to do the best looking dancer pose.


Perseverance or Stubbornness; the Desire to Never Quit

As you may have noticed, I’ve been lax on my posting for a bit. I’ve heard it say that the Universe never gives you any challenge you can’t handle. Of course I (and you) ARE the Universe, so really I’m really just challenging myself….but I digress. I’ve been confronting some particularly sticky challenges in my personal life lately (I won’t bore you with the details) and it came to a head recently when I contemplated throwing the towel in completely and giving up all the things I am passionate about; Tae Kwon Do, yoga, ki gong, teaching, writing, all of it. I was at a pretty low point.


I wouldn’t say I’m completely out of the woods, but I feel like I have definitely turned a proverbial corner. I took time one evening when I would usually be at Tae Kwon Do teaching, and I tried out not doing any of the things I am passionate about. I’m experimental. I learn best by doing.autoresponse


I went to a local park, sat on a bench and just did…well, nothing I would normally do at that time. I watched the world, nature and people. It was enjoyable and even relaxing. I marveled at the teens and 20’s that gathered in groups to look at their own phones; cat videos I assume, there was laughing. I stewed, I fumed, I sat with my tumultuous emotions. About then the Universe decided to stop kicking my teeth in to get my attention and went soft sell.


One of my students was walking by, spotted me and came over. They had been struggling with part of their curriculum in Tae Kwon Do and I had given them a little extra help to get them going in the right direction. They were so happy to feel like they were making progress, they just wanted to thank me for helping. Oh Universe you mysterious, thoughtful, evil, conniving beauty.


My plan to open my own school and strike out on my own has recently been nearly scuttled. It’s left me adrift Office chaosand uncertain. I’m good at adjusting my plans to reach a goal. Obstacles are simply ways to make the end result better and whether I go over, around or through the obstacle, with a solid goal, I can make it work. But when my goal evaporated, I was left, well, lost and directionless.


My student reminded me of why I wanted to make this change in my life. It isn’t ego, it’s service, it’s what I’m passionate about doing. I can help people. I have helped people. I help people now. I can help more people. I can’t help everyone, but I’m okay with that. I can help the ones I can help. I needed that reminder.


I’m not sure what the future is going to be. I am redefining my goals and still looking for some way to start my own place. No matter what shifts and changes happen, I remain resolute that I will continue to help. I will continue to teach. I will continue to write and share. I’m confident that I can help at least one person, and that’s enough. With that being said, you can expect to be hearing from me more and for me to get back on a regular publishing schedule.


I’m bruised, I’m battered, and I might even be deep fried (a little Southern humor there), but I am not buddha statuebacking down. I’m standing my ground. (And now I’m getting sued by Tom Petty.) More to come and more to share. Thanks for going with me on this always interesting, sometimes painful, wouldn’t change it for anything ride.

The Judgement of Should

The power of meditation, yoga, kigong and the like is the ability to encourage awareness, growth and change. I look at it as a path. It might sound a little cookie-cutter, but while the process is essentially the same, the steps for each can vary wildly. I think that is the draw for each of them, the steps we take, or more specifically, the steps that call us to walk them.


I’ve talked in the past about some of the changes, such as going dairy free, eating seasonally and other things. One of my latest explorations centers around the word ‘should.’


‘Should’ started to illicit a pretty strong and negative visceral reaction in me. It took me a little while to figure out what was getting under my skin, and once I did, I sat with it and did a few focused meditations to better understand why it was bothering me so much.


Some rights reserved by moonhouse

Some rights reserved by moonhouse


Why ‘Should’ Bothers Me


First I wanted to consider why this word started bothering me. What was it that got under my skin so much to bubble up to my consciousness and spark this desire to change. Here’s what I came up with:



Should – It drips with judgment. Self-judgment (I should be…), judgment of others (you should ….). While it generally (I think) comes from a place of concern and desire to help, it often comes across emotionally as being looked down upon, or being judged in some way.

Image courtesy of

Image courtesy of


With judgement comes pressure and stress. I don’t know about you, but I have enough already and don’t need to add more through self-judgement. And as far as judging others goes, I don’t think it’s my place. Everyone has their own struggles and trials to deal with. Whether they are working off some karma, trying to improve themselves or even being a total ass, I’m choosing to withhold judgement. No, the judgement in that last statement didn’t escape my notice, but I did say I’m a work in progress.



How Much of a Hold ‘Should’ Had Me In


Once I wanted to make the change, I wanted to see how big a task that was going to be. I brought my full awareness to the challenge to see how often I was using that word. Of the times I caught myself (and I am sure I missed more

Image courtesy of  ruminatrix.

Image courtesy of ruminatrix.

than a few), I hit 114 times the very first day. Most of it leveled against myself. To break that down, I estimate 16 waking hours in a day. 114 ‘shoulds’ in 16 hours is 7.125 per hour or one about every 8 minutes.


Doesn’t sound too awful. Perhaps even manageable. After all, we live in a culture where the most popular headlines tell us what we ‘should’ or ‘shouldn’t’ be doing. But think of it this way. What if there was an actual person outside of your head, standing behind you, criticizing what you were doing 7-8 times an hour the entire time you were awake? Every…single…day. I was beyond shocked.



How I Started My Change


After recovering from the math, I laid out a plan to help me. The plan isn’t complicated or convoluted, and I think that makes it easier for me to stick with. Simplicity rules when making big changes in life (you don’t think dropping this word is a big life change? Try it for just an hour….).


My Plan

  1. Stay conscious of my vocabulary and usage of the word ‘should’ both internally and externally
  2. Make space by slowing down my conversations so that when (not if) the habitual ‘should’ pops up I can catch it, evaluate it and alter my word choice for clearer meaning
  3. Be kind; especially to myself when one or two (or thirty) slide by before I can catch them
  4. Notice the difference both in my own reaction and the impact on others when I choose words that don’t contain the judgmental undertones
  5. Use that feeling of ease and acceptance to further fuel and encourage this change


I realize that for some, a carrot and stick approach might work better. An idea a friend of mine pitched was setting up the equivalent of a swear jar. This, or any other, word you wanted to remove could be the source of contributions to the jar. Maybe rename it to the Banished Words jar. That way when the contributions either end or are reduced to a mere trickle, you get reward yourself for all of your hard work.


What’s Changed for Me


I’ve noticed a number of changes since I started this endeavor. The two that stick out the most for me are how much

By MIT-Libraries [CC-BY-2.0 (], via Flickr

By MIT-Libraries [CC-BY-2.0 (, via Flickr

more receptive and engaged people are in conversations and how much happier I feel in general. Apparently not feeling judged is a great way to make connections with others and feel better about ourselves.


I haven’t completely shut down the relentless little ‘should’er’ on my shoulder. But he is less talkative these days. With practice, patience and persistence my goal is to eventually get this word out of my vocabulary. It’s been difficult, but has gotten easier over time.




Are there other words you have or would like to remove from your own vocabulary? If so, please share and you might inspire someone else to join you.

The Power of Presence – Creating Connection

Be present. Be in the moment. Be mindful. Staple mantras for yoga, meditation and a plethora of “new age” things. The idealistic preconceptions surrounding presence vary greatly and tend to focus on benefits that are purely philosophical. The required steps and/or time for achieving these awe-inspiring results varies just as widely. But is it necessary to sit and pick lint from your belly button for months or years to start realizing the benefits of being present?


I don’t think so. I have found some of the best benefits of being present are in the mundane of daily life. Yes, being

Image courtesy of .

Image courtesy of .

present may fire up your sex life, it can help you improve your health and at some point you may be able to drop the illusions of time and space and teleport anywhere you want, read minds and fly. Until then, being present has other benefits to offer.


The benefit I want to focus on is connection. How we connect to others, how we connect to ourselves, and even how we connect to nature. How quickly will you start to see it in action? That’s the good news. It starts as soon as you start. You just have to know how to recognize it when it happens.


I’ve been in yoga classes where the teacher tells the class to “bring your mind to the present and be present in the moment.” I don’t know about you, but that’s always been a little ethereal for me. I like simple, relevant examples so I can really begin to understand something and want to share a few I’ve experienced.


Think back to a conversation where you felt truly heard and understood. The person you were talking to, what were

they doing? I’m willing to bet they were doing nothing but focusing on you and what you were saying. No digi-distraction with phones, tablets, television or anything else to draw their attention off of you. They were focused on you and in that moment, they were present with you and that created a connection.





Next think about a time (and this one won’t necessarily apply to everyone) when you were either playing with or

Some rights reserved by JonDissed

Some rights reserved by JonDissed

talking to a young child. Could you feel that intense focus rushing out of them straight at you? That intense focus that comes so naturally to them is them being fully present. They weren’t thinking about their friends, what they were doing later or anything else. And in that moment with them, a connection was created because you were both present.


Now that you remember that feeling of connection and presence, the questions become how to build it and where else can it be used. The answers are amazingly simple; use it and anywhere respectively.




Cultivating Connection

To be able to consistently build a connection with someone takes practice and a few simple rules. The practice part is easy, build a connection with everyone you meet. The rules I use I’ve listed below.


  • Turn off and put away all electronics – not always possible in some environments, but at least the ones you carry with you
  • When you are in a public place and can’t turn off things like televisions, find a place where there isn’t a good view
  • Set aside your own baggage – forming a connection through presence is all about finding harmony with another person; this is almost impossible if your thoughts are occupied by your own stuff
  • Be flexible – trying to force a connection or insisting that it form in a certain way is a sure way to undermine the whole process
  • Hold space for the other person – as tips go, this is one sounds pretty vague; the essence being that as you are forging the connection, you both need to feel safe


Where Connections Can Be Created

The answer is, anywhere. The places where people will be most receptive are places that foster a common bond to begin with. Think yoga studio, spin class, pilates class, martial arts class, etc. While it’s easier to create a connection in these environments (there is already some common ground) it’s certainly not limited to these places. Below are a few examples of where else you can build connection outside of these places.


Some rights reserved by moonhouse

Some rights reserved by moonhouse

  • In meetings – need to sway a decision for an important project, create connections in the meeting and see just how much more open everyone is to your ideas and point of view
  • Commuting – more for the mass transit crowd, but even on long flights, I’ve met some very interesting people by opening with a present minded ‘hello’
  • Personal relationships – one of the best tools for resolving issues with your significant other is to let them know you have heard them fully and completely without judgment – it works wonders


With these ideas in your personal toolbox, I encourage you to go put this into practice. Worst case, you get a little TMI, best case you resolve a challenge you’ve been facing or even better, make a new friend.mentorhands

Awareness is not Weakness

Let me start by saying I think I have become one of those people I used to make fun of. Comedian Ron White has a set where he talks about a friend of his who moved from Texas to California and went vegetarian. After a meal his friend was complaining that there must have been beef broth in his vegetarian soup because he felt ill. Ron’s reply was to question his friend’s manhood because his friend was “brought down” by broth.Beef broth and vegetables






About three years ago I gave up dairy. I’m not allergic and it has nothing to do with production methods, No Dairytreatment of any animal in the processing or any other philosophical belief. It’s about how I feel after consuming dairy. While at a restaurant, I ordered a meal and asked to have the cheese left out. Someone at the table asked how long I had been dairy intolerant. I replied I wasn’t and got a very confused look in response.


Now how do those two things get tied together you may be asking. It’s because there is a perception that because our bodies reject something, we are somehow weak or it must be due to some allergy or disease. And for some, that may be true. But for others, it isn’t a weakness, it is awareness.


Awareness of what our body needs. Awareness of what builds our body and what harms it. These things are not a weakness, but a strength. Yes, I do see how it can appear to be a weakness in that the effects of these choices are felt at a conscious level instead of being just part of the “normal” malaise of daily life. These effects that I’m talking about are warning signs and not debilitating illnesses. At least not usually.


The impact and the resulting choices are conscious, and that is what is key here. A good friend of mine and devoted beer drinker recently gave up beer and switched to wine as the drink of choice. This was prompted by a visit to the doctor for chronic stomach aches and a constant bloated feeling. After giving up the beer, they lost about 25 pounds, they stopped feeling bloated and the stomach aches ceased.


One evening out, they switched back to beer, just to see what would happen. They felt bloated, stuffed and sluggish for the entire next day. This was after just a couple of beers, not a drunken binge. They related to me how they realized that this was what they felt like all the time before, but it was just “normal.” As much as they missed the beer, they didn’t miss the aching body. This was a conscious choice prompted by increased awareness of what the beer was doing to their body, not them being weak in some way.


This got me thinking about all the other foods that I’ve given up or added over the years. I went through my inventory and made a mental connection between how I felt before and how I felt after adding or removing the food. Each time I felt better. Whether it was feeling more energetic, less blah, more calm or whatever, I always felt better.


Realizing this in my own body, I’ve come to deeply appreciate the intuitive knowledge of the human body. It has healthyfoods1an amazing facility to understand when the food we feed it isn’t good for it and to send signals back to us to knock it off, followed by signals for what it needs. It also allowed me to realize that it isn’t always about giving something up. I’m in the process of moving to a seasonal diet; eating primarily foods that are in season (no peaches in December unfortunately). The changes so far are pretty profound for me.


What I’ve also discovered is that with all the distractions, being busy and over scheduled, those signals get missed until the body just can’t cope and starts to send stronger signals or break down. So is it possible that

Image courtesy of garryknight.

Image courtesy of garryknight.

someone can be brought to their knees by broth alone? Not typically (allergies excluded), but being aware of the body’s signals telling us that whatever that was, isn’t what is needed or isn’t good for us can be mistaken as a weakness.


I believe it’s actually a strength. Cultivating the dialogue with our bodies allows us to take the best care of it and properly maintain it to keep it healthy and active. I’ve known people who can tell just by listening to a car idle that something is off. I encourage you to develop that same connection with your own body. It can help keep you healthier and happier, even if you have to give up beef broth.

Non-Judgmental Compassion or Avoidance?

I’ve written a few times about the importance of being kind to ourselves, the use of a non-judgmental compassion. After all, each day is different and some days are just, well, good days to crawl back into bed and hide under the covers.

Image courtesy of

Image courtesy of


I’ve been asked how I know when I cross the line from being compassionate with myself and listening to what I need over to being just plain lazy. Unfortunately there isn’t an easy answer to this question. I did an article on how to do nothing and the benefits that can be garnered from doing nothing. But it’s a fine line between doing nothing take care of oneself and doing nothing to avoid doing anything.








I have discovered a few telltale signs that help me distinguish between the two and listed them here:

  • Feeling regret about choosing not to work out or whatever it was that you didn’t do. Not the little “yeah I probably should have” type, but the “I really need to do that tomorrow” type of regret.
  • The activity in question is one that you are choosing to be “compassionate” with yourself on more than others. Say almost every time it comes up, “compassion” is the first thought you have.
  • You choose self-care over anything that happens during a televised game or show. Most of us have a DVR, Netflix or some other on demand service. If all else fails, they still have reruns and highlight reels.
  • The to-do list becomes a matter of life or death as you get closer to having to start what you are being self-compassionate over. When doing your nails suddenly comes to the top of our list, you might be avoiding something.
  • You fidget at the very thought of starting the activity you are being self-compassionate about. The anticipation of it sets your skin on fire and your stomach starts churning. A good sign you are avoiding. But sometimes what we avoid the most we also need the most.
  • You take any reason to help or support others (or just any excuse really) to avoid what you were going to do. See fidgeting above.


After running through that list, do any of those sound familiar? If not, great you probably have a nice balance in your life. But if you did, then read on, I have some tips on facing those things that you may be avoiding and maybe even make them less arduous.


Image courtesy of  { lillith }.

Image courtesy of { lillith }.

First, find a little time to set aside for yourself. Digging around inside can stir the emotional pot. Having some time to sit and deal with what comes up makes this process smoother and more effective. Once you have the time and a nice quiet spot, settle in and move through these steps.

  • Take a few minutes to just breathe and tune your mind into your body. Some breathing exercises such as Ujjayi, Dirgha or similar are useful here.
  • Take stock of your emotional state. Ideally a calm mind will allow you to dig out the root cause of the resistance in your life.
  • Think about starting the task you’ve been avoiding. Notice, without judging, what emotions, what thoughts and what physical sensations come up for you.
  • Next picture what you might feel once you’ve completed the task. Ask yourself if that feeling is enough to get you started. If it is, then breathe a little longer and get started.
  • If not, ask yourself if this is something that absolutely must be done. If it is, then accept that you must do it and look for ways to make it more pleasant, if not enjoyable. If not, consider dropping it from your to do list.


One of the biggest reasons we are resist something because it’s challenging us in some way that is outside our comfort zone. This is a good thing. Growth is challenging. It can also be daunting. The steps above can help you figure out why you’re feeling resistance and give you a little support in moving through it. If this doesn’t work the first time, I encourage you to keep at it. It can take time to deal with resistance and setting an expectation that it may take a few rounds takes pressure off yourself.

Image courtesy of

Image courtesy of


At the end of the day, when you have a chance to sit and quiet your mind, you will know what you did to be kind to yourself and what you did to avoid something. Everyone has challenges and the key here is that even when you find yourself avoiding something, don’t judge or criticize yourself. Just acknowledge it’s happening and take the conscious steps in the direction you truly want head.

The Beauty of Death – Savasana

A lot has been written about Savasana and its importance to a yoga practice. The time to integrate, absorb and make space for the work done during a practice is crucial to physical/emotional/spiritual growth. That time of rest allows the body and mind to reset and adjust to or find new

Image courtesy of  { lillith }.

Image courtesy of { lillith }.



This integration time is key to yoga. But does it have to be unique to yoga? Think of other activities, sports, forms of exercise that are popular such as Pilates, running, weight lifting, etc. They tend to lack this crucial time at the end.


Crucial there is a strong word, but appropriate I believe. I think about the conversations that happen after a long run. Everyone is gathered around their cars saying good bye and there is a number of runners who want to nap because the run was tough. They are tired and sore and their bodies just want to rest.


Typically they don’t nap. They rush back to their lives and families and jump right in. As a result, the next day can be physically and mentally tough. Even later that day there is a feeling of being drained and lethargic. Feeling this way myself, I decided to try one of my wholly unscientific experiments.


Image courtesy of andreasivarsson  / Flickr.

Image courtesy of andreasivarsson / Flickr.

I did a hard run. Felt tired and knew that I would feel that run the next day and that if left to my normal course of action I would feel drained later. I went home, pulled out my mat and put myself into savasana.


I ran for 90 minutes, so I gave myself 15 minutes to incorporate. To be clear, this wasn’t a nap. I was awake and aware and guided myself through savasana just like I would after a yoga class. This includes a little stretch and settle, attention to breath and walking myself through the entire release and allow process.


When my time was up, I slowly moved out of savasana and stepped back into the flow of my day. That afternoon, I felt great. Not just great, amazing. That drained, sluggish feeling never showed up. I was amazed and thrilled.


Being aware that it just could have been my energy for the day, I repeated this process, not just for running, but for any physically demanding exercise I engaged in. I found a place where I could put myself into savasana quickly after the workout. I kept the same focus on breath, release and allow each time. And each time the typical mental or physical fatigue that would normally follow, never showed up.


Intrigued, I wanted to see if the reverse were also true. I took a few yoga classes and (after speaking with the teacher ahead of time to explain) I skipped savasana. Incredibly (but not unexpectedly) I didn’t feel quite as good later that day.


I’ve heard many times in many classes that yoga’s real work begins when you leave the mat and that the greatest challenge is to carry what we learn in yoga into real life. I’m not sure it was meant quite this literally, but I appreciate the results of carrying savasana into my other pursuits.


I’ve had such great experiences with this that I build time into the end of most of my workouts to find a quiet spot have a little integration time. I’ve found that physically it helps my post workout recovery by minimizing the physical impact of even the most challenging workouts.


Emotionally, yoga isn’t the only place where “stuff” can come up. Any intense workout can stir the emotional pot. Without this time, there is a great possibility that we can miss the opportunities to deal with what comes up in these other forms of exercise.


And finally mentally. Savasana is transition time. Just as there is typically a centering before yoga to move from the daily life to the mat, savasana is the transition back to life off the mat. Other forms of exercise have warm ups, or we develop our own routines to get our heads focused on the work out. I never really took the time to build a transition routine back. Until I found savasana.


Don’t take my word for it. Try it out. Take your next work out or two or three and build in a little savasana time after the work out. See if you find a difference. It’s been said everything is yoga. Yoga ends in savasana, so why can’t a good run?