Today I am super excited to have my good friend and one of my favorite yoga teachers, Kathleen Engelhardt, joining us here on Tasty Yummies with a wonderful guest post. I met Kathleen at East Meets West Yoga in Buffalo, I was lucky enough to practice with her regularly and her classes were always a bright spot in my week. Not only were Kathleen’s classes filled with amazing fun and challenging flows with some of my most favorite focused and well thought out sequences ever, but I always left her classes feeling even more excited about my practice, the work that I had done and all the work that lied ahead for me. I also always left feeling so much more connected to and grateful for the body I was given and the entire world outside of me. Kathleen has an energy as a teacher and an excitement for the practice that I can only hope I will one day embody myself and be lucky enough to share with my own future students. Kathleen was gracious enough to put together some great tips for starting and maintaining a home yoga practice plus she put together a wonderful video where breaks down a modification of one of my favorite poses, Visvamitrasana.
Hi, my name is Kathleen. I am a mom, a vinyasa yoga instructor and I am also a physical therapy student. I’m currently on a leave from school to be home with my 2 year old daughter and 5 month old son and I am so incredibly grateful for yoga and everything that it has brought into my life! We all encounter daily obstacles. For me, being home with my kids requires tremendous patience and attention (as well as a strong stomach, as there are copious amounts of spit up, poop and weird crusties pretty much all the time) and my yoga practice equips me with the armor that I need to be a compassionate and loving mother, wife and person. My daily yoga practice can range from 45 minutes to a whopping 90 minutes (if the stars align and my kids nap well). Whether short and sweet or long in duration, my practice offers me the time and space to simply observe the state of my mind and body on a given day. My post today on the fabulous Tasty Yummies blog is going to be about self- practice. As opposed to taking class at a studio, gym or online, a self-practice is, as the name implies, practicing alone and relying on your inner teacher (aka intuition) as your guide. I want to talk about my personal experience with self- practice and its value in my life. I will give some tips for how to get started and a few cautions to consider. I have also included a short video breaking down an intermediate posture that might be familiar to you if you have practiced in the past or might be a thing to aspire to if you are just getting started.
I practice and teach a style of vinyasa yoga that involves a lot of vigorous breath-based movement and core work. Since it is a vinyasa style of yoga, I link the postures together in a creative flow that often involves an anatomical focus. For me, movement works best, especially in the beginning of practice. I’m a firey person, sometimes restless and often very scatter brained. If I sit down on the mat and say to my brain and body, “Stop, be still, meditate”, not a whole lot will happen except for the general anxiety that often creeps up during sleepless nights. However, if I begin to move through a creative and fun flow, my body communicates to my mind: “you are busy focusing on breath and movement”. It is actually quite magical and the practice becomes a moving meditation where the side effects are stronger and longer muscles, a good cleanse, body awareness and a general feeling of “better”.
My background and training are within the ashtanga yoga tradition, which attracted me because it is vigorous and dynamic. My practice has evolved but I truly value my background and training in ashtanga and I have incorporated a few elements of the method into my practice. Namely, I embrace the “moving meditation” and self-practice elements of ashtanga. I love my self-practice. Sometimes I practice at home during nap time and sometimes I practice at my yoga studio during designated supervised self-practice time (or formally known as mysore). Either way, I step on my mat with little expectations and let the flow unravel organically. Certain anatomical connections will talk to me. If I have a muscle soreness or injury, I explore a path and sequence that will give me some relief and hopefully provide a bit of information for injury prevention. If I am attempting a challenging pose, I play with sequencing that will make the posture a little bit more accessible for me or for my students.
The concentration that I apply during my active asana practice preps me to either drop into a more static practice like a series of yin poses or a seated meditation. After the practice of vigorous movement, I no longer have to ask my mind and body to chill out; instead, I’m attuned, attentive and patient, and stillness becomes less of an adversary. It is in the moments of stillness and quiet at the close of the practice where I absorb not so much the fitness benefits, but what I referred to above as the “better”: I feel more patient, compassionate and simply connected within myself and beyond.
So, here are some tips for starting and maintaining a home yoga practice:
Start small and frequent! Don’t except to jump on your mat for a full 90 minutes the first time! This is more of a lifestyle change so ease yourself into the practice by sectioning off a certain time each day for a few minutes and try to add more time every week. Note: a daily practice in yoga usually means 5-6 days a week because recovery and rest is very important for balance.
No idea where to start? Check out online yoga classes. On days where I cannot get to a class and a self-practice seems impossible (I can’t always motivate myself, I’m human), I take classes on yogaglo.com. It is also a great place to shop around for a style of yoga that fits you. Taking an online class is not a self-practice, but it can compliment a self-practice quite nicely.
LOVE the practice, let it nourish YOU! There are so many different styles of yoga. Don’t choose the style you think you should be doing, choose the style that makes you feel the best and that you enjoy! My style is a hybrid of yoga styles. I even pluck themes, movements and ideas from other forms of exercise, books, NPR pieces, etc. Also, if you like music, incense, candles, etc., make them a part of your routine. You are not an inferior yogi if you play background music… I’m just saying.
Alignment!!!! At our studio, we are sticklers for alignment. When the muscles, bones and joints are in the right place, they function optimally and there is less effort and more grace within the practice. So, if this is all new, consider taking beginner yoga classes at a local studio before (or to compliment the beginning phases of) a home practice. If you are a seasoned practitioner, hands on assists and corrections are important for even the most advanced yogis. I take class once or twice a week for the adjustments, community and inspiration. There are so many great yoga teachers out there with a different perspective to offer, and I do not want to miss out!
Yoga is about balance! This might be one of my biggest challenges within my practice. Since I am admittedly very addicted to movement, I often have to curb my insatiable desire for more (and more and more more) and force myself to drop into a practice that is more therapeutic. I usually, not always, but most of the time, mix some longer holds of active and passive poses within my sequencing to make sure that I am not always stoking the natural fire. It is important to choose a practice you enjoy and love, but reflect whether it might be aggravating the qualities within you that probably need a little bit of pacifying. We are constantly in flux; energies and sensations ebb and flow and the reflective nature of a self-practice puts some inner turmoil at bay.
My brilliant teacher in Toronto once said to us that “Yoga is the one thing in your life where there is no 5 year plan or set goal”. Instead, it is about the actual process. When the yoga you practice brings you joy and allows you to experience gratitude for all the joys in your life, allows you to feel comfortable in your skin and simply makes you feel invigorated and happy, then that is the right practice for you. I find these qualities within my self-practice that I continually enhance by attending group classes locally or when I travel. Your inner teacher comes alive during self-practice, and that wisdom and intuition can be a magical force once you tap into it.
Kathleen breaks down a modification of Visvamitrasana.