Meet Your Kula: Mikaila Cruz

Meet Your Kula: Mikaila Cruz

Part of what makes us so unique are the amazing members of our Yogi community, our kula. Each month, we’ll feature one member of our yogi community, chat with them about their practice, learn more about what draws them to yoga, and get to know each other a little more.

Meet our Drishti Yogi, Mikaila Cruz.

Tell us about yourself!

I was born and raised in New York City. Both of my parents had backgrounds in finance, and belonged to a military family. I learned to be an independent thinker early on, yet followed the straight line of attending school, then attaining a good paying job.

What started your yoga journey?

When my Dad arrived in Manhattan he learned Ashtanga Yoga, and when I was five years old he taught me how to come into a headstand. I knew nothing about the yoga philosophy, but thought it was fun to come into an inversion.

When I was 16 I started running, and when I hit my goal of 12 miles a day I began feeling pain in medial part of my right knee. I went to see an orthopedic surgeon who gave me the option of surgery or practicing yoga. Being that all I knew of yoga was a headstand I thought that was it. The surgeon recommended I look online for various yoga poses. After a few days I decided to begin my yoga practice.

When did you decide to become a yoga instructor?

While at a friend’s house one morning she asked how to come into Urdhva Dhanurasana (wheel pose). I thought about it for a moment, and guided her through the breath first, then the pose. Afterwards she exclaimed, “You should totally be a yoga teacher!” I returned home and looked up various yoga teacher programs in the area. Nine months later I became certified.

What type of yoga do you teach? What drew you to this particular form of yoga?

The yoga teacher training program I was accepted into specialized in Vinyasa yoga, which I teach Vinyasa Yoga. My classes incorporate various postures from the Ashtang method as well. I do have students who are fellow runners and athletes, so I also teach restorative yoga and focus on alignment and flexibility.

How has the practice of Yoga affected your life? Spiritually? Mentally?

Spiritually, the yoga practice enhanced my view of the world. After my survival of 9/11 my mind was lost, but the yogic path found me once again.

My mind still experiences triggers from 9/11, so from a mental standpoint yoga in the form of meditation helps me stay in the present moment.

Tell us what Drishti means to you - how do you practice this in your day to day?

I view Drishti as a focal point found not only on the mat, but when focusing on daily tasks as well. A mentor once said that one needs to be laser focused on what is important, and put 100% of effort into it. When the mind is overwhelmed with thoughts it is imperative to use the Drishti to attain mindfulness.

How has this understanding changed over the years?

My understanding of this not changed but broadened my knowledge of the importance of Drishti.

Looking over your own journey, is there any advice that you would give to someone struggling to find their focus or footing in their practice?

I myself have struggled in finding focus and footing in my practice. Practice ahimsa whenever possible. Be kind to yourself, as the yoga journey is a path of oneness and not to be compared with another.

Do you have any inspirational quotes or mantras that you use to center yourself?

The quote that helped me along my yoga journey is by Lao Tzu: “When I let go of what I am, I become what I might be.”

Where can we find and support your work?

You can find my blog, yoga teaching, social media platforms and other works on my website.

You can connect with Mikaila and follow along with her journey at @mikaila_nyc

You can also practice alongside Mikaila this month with the Chandra Namaskar or Moon Salutation and our mantra:

I am enough, I focus on the perfectly imperfect fullness of my self with utter love.

 


Meet Your Kula: Whitney Davis

Meet Your Kula: Whitney Davis

 

Part of what makes us so unique are the amazing members of our Yogi community, our kula. Each month, we'll feature one member of our yogi community, chat with them about their practice, learn more about what draws them to yoga, and get to know each other a little more.

This month, meet Whitney Davis, our Ahimsa Yogi.

blonde female in purple yoga clothes
Tell us about yourself!

I'm Whitney! I'm a yogi living in Florida with my husband and one-year-old son named Bodhi!

What started your yoga journey?

I started my yoga journey in my freshmen dorm room. I started yoga to find relief from anxiety and to increase my flexibility and strength.

When did you decide to become a yoga instructor?

I decided to become a yoga teacher after leaving a career in social work. I loved the idea of helping individuals tune into themselves and find peace and healing through the yoga practice.

blonde woman yoga on the beach

What type of yoga do you teach? What drew you to this particular form of yoga?

I am currently a stay at home mom, but when I was teaching I preferred to teach vinyasa and yin. I love those two styles of practice because they help us find balance.

What grounds you in your practice?

Meditation and my breath help me stay grounded. When I am feeling stressed or overwhelmed, I try to get on my mat and flow with my breath or sit in stillness.

How has the practice of yoga affected your life? Spiritually? Mentally?

Yoga has helped me stay present in all facets of my life. I’m naturally very hyper and a “type-A.” This leads to anxiety and since I’ve incorporated yoga into my daily life, I have found more moments of equanimity and peace.

blonde woman in splits

How do you incorporate what you’ve learned from your practice both on and off the mat?

I try to incorporate the breath practices I use on the mat in my life. I notice when I take those moments to go inward or breathe deeply, I am much more patient and centered.

What would you share with a beginner?

Enjoy the journey and try not to wish for what is next! It is easy to see advanced asanas and feel defeated or intimidated, but every yogi was once a beginner too and we learn the most about ourselves in the journey of our practice.

How has your understanding of Ahimsa grown and changed over the years?

At one time, I felt ahimsa was only about nonviolence to other beings. But over the years I have realized that I need to extend that nonviolence to myself and body. There were days I would teach my students to be kind to themselves, but then not extend that kindness in my own thoughts and standards towards myself.

blonde woman beach yoga

 

You can follow Whitney's yoga journey and connect with her at @whitneydavisyoga. You can also practice the Ahimsa Asana alongside Whitney this month with our Ahimsa Core Strengthening Asana with our mantra:

I offer peace, love, and compassion to all beings. I greet each moment with grace and understanding.


sitting poses yoga|yogi surprise

Sitting Poses Give You A Lotta Bang for Your Buck in a Yoga Practice

Tis true, sitting poses are the most versatile

Nobody needs to get up in arms defending standing poses, arm balances, balance postures, and inversions. I didn't say they were the best. I said they are the most adaptable and accessible. I'm also not arguing about if they should be called seated or sitting poses. They are the same and it's a preference.

When I broke my leg in an ATV accident 4 years ago, sitting poses were my very best friend and savior from insanity. Sounds dramatic, but when you teach yoga for a living and practice daily, having options are vital when you can't walk or stand without crutches. That's when I first discovered

Here's a short list of the many ways sitting poses can offer a well-rounded practice:

  • You can work hard or hardly. I absolutely love that it's a choice in sitting poses. And no one knows except for you how much you are choosing to chill or that you're busting ass. That's pretty delicious.
  • If you have a foot, ankle, tibia, fibula, or knee injury, you can still do sitting poses. You can work your core and allow the injury to heal. You can engage your quadriceps and continue to build those muscle groups isometrically.
  • Sitting poses are fabulous for working into your hamstrings, hips, and core.
  • They are a great place to transition into several arm balances, backbends, and core strengtheners. From the sitting pose of Janu Sirsasana (head to knee forward bend)
  • They stabilize. Sitting poses offer a much stronger sense of security. Distraction goes away and the ability to focus is easier when you're not concerned with falling out of a pose. We get a bigger base to work from and being much closer to the floor helps us shift our goals.
  • Perspective shifts lead us to new ideas. Seeing the world from the ground versus standing helps us consider things in a different way. If we always operate from the same point of view, we'll miss possibilities and cut off our creativity.

Try this seated postures yoga sequence for strength, flexibility, and for the enjoyment and benefits they offer.

 

 


yoga music inspiration|yogi surprise

Yoga Music That Will Move You in All the Ways (Song Suggestions Included)

How does one define yoga music?

In my humble opinion, 'one' does not. Yoga music is any music you want to practice to. At home, you have every option. If you love Stevie Wonder, David Bowie, and have even been known to rock it out to Led Zepplin, super duper, crank it up. If it gets you on your mat and helps you harmonize your breath, then it's most def yoga music.

When sequencing music for a yoga class, it's a little more important to consider the tastes of many. I've threatened to teach a class entirely to a Beastie Boys soundtrack, but as of yet, it's just a threat. Choose the music you love that's conducive to movement without being distracting. The music has to arch just as a class does. If you begin your classes with gentle poses and you're moving slowly, the music needs to reflect this, obvi. When you're working towards a more dynamic phase, it's helpful if the music is a bit more upbeat with a faster tempo.

Creating yoga music playlists is an art form enjoyed by many

But that doesn't mean it's simple. I always wind up putting a clunker on the first time around and have to tweak and refine it. It takes time and patience and you don't want to hear the exact same songs in every single class. I've long been a gigantic fan of Thievery Corporation, and they're on almost every single playlist from 2010-17. But it turns out a whole lotta yoga teachers really dig them too. You'll hear them frequently in Vinyasa flow classes. Keep it fresh so it's not a distraction. The idea is to add to the class experience.

If you're looking for some yoga music suggestions, that's terrific news because I have tons. You just might maybe find your latest favorite song to practice and teach with. Music lends itself so hardcore to finding liberation and creativity on your mat. Find your earbuds and get ready to be moved.

  • Horsetown in Vain by Kid Loco. It's eerie, sensual, and will inspire you to discovered uncharted territory on your mat. This is yoga music at it's finest. Put it either at the beginning or end of your playlist if you're using it for a class.
  • You Better by Grenda. This song wasn't a punch in the gut. It wasn't a love tap. It was a wake-up call. The very first note mesmerizes and it doesn't let go. Depending on the type of flow you want, you can put it almost anywhere on a playlist. Maybe it's not a savasana song, but it's a song to rever and it's very yoga-conducive.
  • Nectar Drop by DJ Drez. Such a cool, chill song. But it won't put you to sleep chill. It's definitely a movement song and you'll have a really good time exploring your practice with this one.
  • Ritual Union by Little Dragon. Damn this song is fun. It's catchy and so easy to move to. Put it in the middle when you're really getting into the groove of your practice.
  • Brain by Banks. I love this woman. I love this song. You will feel things, maybe even uncomfortable things. But that's what yoga music does. It gets us out of our comfort zones sometimes too. It can go at the beginning of a playlist if you plan to start with a bit more intensity. But it might be best placed right before you're going to start winding things down.
  • Writing Poems by Ludovico Einaudi. To me, this is one of the most perfect savasana songs in the universe. It's gorgeous, dreamy, and will encourage peaceful feelings. You'll also probably want to play it on repeat for a while.

Enjoy your exploration into the vast world of yoga music. Please add any suggestions you have in the comments too.

 


How to Get the Men In Your Life Interested in Yoga

You love yoga and you want your man to love yoga too

I'm one of the lucky (very) few who has a male partner who loves yoga. LOVES.

This really doesn't happen all that often. As in pretty much never. And yes, my partner loved yoga way before he ever loved me.
If you're now thinking, "Well whoopty f*cking doo for you. My boyfriend won't even sit on a yoga mat let alone come to a class with me." I feel you. Previous partners weren't game. And I've seen many women drag their husbands, boyfriends, roommates, brothers, and even their dads to class, believing so deeply that if they just try it, they'll surely fall head over heels for yoga and probably sign up for teacher training on the spot. Only to look over at them wide-eyed and hopeful the second class ends to receive a shrug of a shoulder or roll of the eyes.
Now, just what are you suppose to do? You know it would benefit him in a myriad of ways and if he just gave it a chance, he'd really fall in love with it. He'd get what you get. It would become his way of life.
Approach and strategy are incredibly important. And that tricky thing we quickly forget when we are aiming to nurture positive feelings:
 
What need will it meet for him? 
How does he work? If he's analytical and driven to understand things, that may be the only motivation he requires. Think back to the beginning of your yoga exploration. Remember those moments when something clicked, and you finally understood? I tell the story often of the first time I saw Crow Pose instructed in a class. I thought the teacher had to be joking. I was pissed he even offered such a ludicrous posture. And then I looked around, and everyone in the class was able to pull it off except for me.
 
Yoga meets our need to figure things out. 
 
Crow pose was a puzzle I had to solve. I practiced it every day for months before something finally made sense. I wasn't working hard enough. I had to work really hard to get into the pose and keep working just as hard once I was there. That wasn't obvious at first, nor did I know exactly where to apply all of my efforts.
Yoga is not competitive, but we are. 
 
I know y'all, I know. It goes against every single solitary molecule of yoga philosophy and it is not at all welcome in the yoga room. But we are humans and we often feel competitive anyway, even if just with ourselves. If you want to get a man you love to embrace yoga, teach him a pose he will find success in. Teach him a pose you can't actually do yourself but you think he could. When we believe we won't be any 'good' at something, evidence to suggest otherwise if quite helpful in motivating us to find the patience for what doesn't come easily and enjoy what does.
Introduce him to your yoga friends, but don't talk about yoga. 
 
That sounds insane. But it works. The whole yoga world can feel intimidating and exclusive to someone on the outside looking in. Have a party, invite your friends, and let him see how down to earth they are. Yoga people tend to like all kinds of things such as rock climbing, travel, reading, art, great food, and dirty jokes. Dismantle the stereotype, and he might feel much more on board.
Commit to your home practice. 
 
If he sees you rolling out your mat and getting ready to practice, he might feel much more inclined to join you, especially if you tell him you're going to do a quick 15-minute practice. That seems much more palatable than a 60-90 minute class where the room might be damn hot and he's worried about looking silly. Show him that the benefits can be felt in a very brief period of practice, but that frequency and dedication are the keys.
It's so lovely to share your practice with everyone you love. But sharing it with the man in your life holds many precious moments, gifts, and a new foundation for understanding and relating to each other. Don't give up, just go about it a little bit differently. And be patient with him. Not saying a word but rolling out your mat daily or splitting to take your favorite class a few times a week may be the only impetus he needs to spend more time with you and connect more meaningfully.

rituals home practice|yogi surprise

Developing Rituals to Enhance Your Home Yoga Practice

Spend a few moments describing your personal yoga practice to yourself. Write it down if you're game for that. Or do this exercise with a friend. What are the non-negotiables? Do you absolutely require a mat and bolster? Inside or outside? Do you bathe first? Is time of day important? Our personal practice gets to be all about us and the rituals we involve are what make it both special and consistent.

A friend of mine practices every day at 6:24 a.m. This is the time she was born, so she practices at that time to remind herself that she is, every day, again reborn and the world of opportunity and exploration lay in adventurous wait for her.

Rituals keep us grounded and connected. They shape our sense of self and honor our singular perspective on the world 

 
Rituals can be actions you take or involve touchstones and symbols. I have a regular student who comes to class twenty minutes early so she can claim her spot and set up crystals at all four corners of her mat. One rose quartz to remind her to be loving. One green jade to help her focus and build mental strength. One citrine for self-confidence and one malachite for courage. She meditates as others filter in, ignoring the noise and bustle to prepare herself for the journey she's about to embark on.

Rituals can bring your yoga practice to the next level 

 
They give everything just a little bit more texture and meaning. Say, for instance, you and your kids walk up to the local bagel shop to buy breakfast every Sunday morning. The owners know your order by heart, and it's a ritual within itself to take this walk together every Sunday for sustenance. Adding in a few rituals on the walk can give this practice even more meaning. Stopping to play with a neighbor's dog, naming the trees and thanking them for existing, or even playing a word game contribute so much to what could be a routine walk to and fro.
When we practice with intention and go the extra steps to cultivate meaning into our every action, we discover uncharted territory each and every time we come to our proverbial mat.

Where to start? 

 
Start by developing a 'Let's Begin' ritual. If you plan to practice in the morning, choose something you do immediately upon waking up. Perhaps you write down your gratitude list. Or maybe you dry brush and lather in sesame oil, and then cleanse. Enjoy and combining that ritual while practicing the niyama of saucha, purity is an incredible way to place yourself in the frame of mind to be the most receptive version of yourself.
You could choose to do a guided meditation or mudra practice. Choosing rituals that speak to your heart will provide you with a consistent way to signal to your brain that it's practice time and it's the priority. Rituals are a form of self-care. Take the time to take care of you.

Maintenance

In combination with your let's begin ritual, choosing a specific place to practice helps too. Setting up a practice space in your home by creating an altar for yourself is a lovely way to encourage your continued practice each and every time you encounter that space. If you have the luxury of an entire room available to you, foster the ambiance with candles, essential oils and incense, props, and perhaps a book from which you can go to any passage for inspiration.
Three books to consider:  The Four Agreements, by Don Miguel Ruiz, The Fire of Loveby world-renowned yoga teacher Aadil Palkhivala, and Pema Chodron's  Start Where You Are: A Guide to Compassionate Living.  You really can't go wrong with any of Pema's books.
If you love practicing outside when the weather allows, identify an alternate space that feels harmonious and conducive to your practice. You can travel there with your touchstones for continuity. The old saying, 'Wherever you go, there you are' comes to mind. Bring your you-ness no matter where you choose to practice.
Writing this has inspired me to further develop new rituals of my own. Just like us, the practice morphs constantly. But rituals remind us of the pillars and tenants that will always be near and so very dear to our hearts.

3 Beginner Tips for Using Aromatherapy in Your Home Yoga Practice

Many yogis admit that the biggest benefit of choosing to practice at home rather than in a class at a studio is the freedom. When you practice at home, you can tailor your practice however you want—right down to the look and feel of your yoga space.

Aromatherapy is just one way you can personalize and enhance your home yoga practice. While many teachers do incorporate aromatherapy into their classes, doing it yourself while practicing at home means you have full control over the selection and/or blend of oils, the dosages, the type of aromatherapy tool or technique to be used, and when or how aromatherapy will be used throughout your practice.

If you’re considering the use of aromatherapy in your own home yoga practice, but don’t really know where to start, here are a few simple tips to help get the ball rolling.

 

Choose Oils With Healing Properties That Match the Focus of Your Practice

It’s worthwhile to familiarize yourself with how certain oils affect the mind and body. For example, if you’re doing an evening practice to help you fall asleep, lemon essential oil might not be the best choice since it’s known for helping to eliminate fatigue and wake up the mind.

Here are some recommended essential oils to use based on the theme or the intention of your practice:

Energizing essential oils: Orange, lime, grapefruit, peppermint, eucalyptus, rosemary, thyme, basil, lemongrass

Calming essential oils: Lavender, rose, vetiver, ylang ylang, bergamot, chamomile, frankincense

Grounding essential oils: Cedarwood, myrrh, patchouli, black spruce, sandalwood, cinnamon, rosewood

 

Decide on an Aromatherapy Tool or Technique Based on Your Practice and Personal Preferences

Five of the most common aromatherapy tools and techniques include:

  • Lighting essential oil candles
  • Burning essential oil incense sticks
  • Diffusing essential oil diffusers
  • Applying essential oil lotions (diluted with carrier oil)
  • Spritzing essential oil sprays (diluted with water)

Candles, incense, and diffusers are ideal if you want to enjoy the aromas as a constant flow throughout the entire course of your practice. If, however, you’d prefer to focus on the aromas at specific points along your practice—such as at the beginning in meditation or at the end in savasana—you might want to opt for a spray or lotion to spritz or apply at that specific point.

 

Remember to Put Your Safety First

It had to be said. Anything with a flame and all essential oils need to be used with care and caution.

Candles and incense: Place candles or incense on a flat surface and away from any items or materials that can easily catch fire (such as wood furniture, drapes, books, blankets, etc.). Make sure they’re far enough out of reach that you can’t knock them over when moving around and extending your limbs during your practice. Pick a space with good ventilation (and crack open a window if necessary). Extinguish immediately after you're practice.

Essential oils applied to the skin: Perform a skin patch test to make sure you won’t react to the essential oil or oils of your choice. Always make sure to dilute your oils properly and avoid ingesting them or getting them anywhere near your eyes. If using a spray, keep your eyes and mouth closed while spritzing over your body. If using a lotion, avoid applying around the eyes and to any areas of the body that need to grip your mat, such as the hands and wrists.

Essential oils in general: Before you use oils in your practice, try using a tool or technique of your choice while doing something like household chores, relaxing on the couch, or working just to see if you’ll like the aroma for more than a brief period. It's easier to test the aroma for an extended period of time while doing something easy and mundane rather than expecting to love it all the way through an hour-long yoga session!


10 Things All Yogis Can Be Grateful For to Continually Inspire Their Practice

10 Things All Yogis Can Be Grateful For to Continually Inspire Their Practice

When was the last time you felt truly grateful for your yoga practice?

Yogis are often encouraged by their teachers to practice gratitude while focusing on other areas of their lives (health, family, career, etc.) but one thing that’s easy to overlook is to be grateful for the practice of yoga itself.

Take a few moments to read over the following list of things all aspiring, beginner, intermediate, and advanced yogis can be grateful for and think about how they apply to your own practice.

 

1. The ability to move.

It’s easy to take your body for granted when you live entirely in your mind, but yoga helps put you deeply in touch with the mechanics of your body as well as all the sensations that you may not be aware of. Be grateful for the ability to feel everything you feel as you flex, balance, twist, bend, and contract your muscles in your practice.

 

2. A different experience every time you step onto your mat.

No two yoga sessions are ever the same, even if you perform the exact same set of pose sequences. Every session gives you the opportunity to learn something new about yourself.

 

3. Time to simply be with yourself.

The time you spend on your mat is your “me time.” You can forget about everything you did already and everything you still have to do after you’re done so that you can focus on yourself as you are in the moment.

 

4. The lessons that come with the challenges.

Whether you struggle to convince yourself to get to class after a long day at work or have been trying and trying to master a particular pose, each challenge is unique in your own journey. It always has something to teach you. Keep going, and be grateful for the opportunity to learn from it.

 

5. Progress in personal growth.

Through regular practice, you embark on a journey of growth. Not only will you get physically stronger, but also mentally and emotionally stronger as you surrender to the meditative effect of yoga on the mind.

 

6. Connection to all living things around you.

When yogis say, “Namaste,” what they’re really saying is, “I bow down to the divine spirit within you that connects the both of us as one.” Through your yoga practice, your awareness of the true nature of every living thing will become more clear.

 

7. A naturally effective way to eliminate stress.

There is perhaps no better way to let go than by practicing yoga. Whether it’s physical tension, mental turbulence, or emotional turmoil, stepping on your mat is an effective and healthy way to bring your entire body, mind, and spirit back to a balanced state.

 

8. Grounding in reality.

Speaking of the need to reestablish balance, be sure to appreciate the fact that yoga can help you accomplish this by allowing you to detach from the thoughts flowing through your mind and and start living in the world again as it is. Just because you’re thinking or feeling a certain way does not necessarily mean it’s absolutely true.

 

9. Great self-control.

Yoga enhances self-awareness, which is necessary for exercising good self-control. Be thankful that you have your practice to help you break bad habits and behaviors.

 

10. A way of life.

Finally, all yogis can be grateful for the fact that yoga is far more than just physical exercise or a mental stress reliever. It truly is a lifestyle. From the way that you treat others to the way you respond to unexpected events, your yoga journey helps you every step of the way, and that is something to be seriously grateful for.