The Injured Yogi

So a few weeks ago I got injured… cry cry cry. I am sure many people imagine I injured myself while practicing yoga. But no, actually, it’s silly. I was in a rush and I fell down the stairs! For the first few days I could not lift my right arm up without feeling pain. Then a week later I attempted Downward Facing Dog and couldn’t even do that without pain. Slowly slowly my body began to heal but during this time I went through different stages of mental and emotional rollercoasters. So here I thought I would share some things I learned during the last few weeks:

When you can’t use your arms, use your legs!

When you can’t use your arms, use your legs!

1. How To Be Adaptable 


The style of yoga I practice (Ashtanga) requires a lot of movement and strength of the arms and shoulders. This was out of the question for me during this injury. There’s no way I could practice this way without being in a lot of pain. Because I could not maintain my daily morning Mysore (Ashtanga Yoga) practice I had to get a little creative and learn how to modify my yoga practice. To be honest, I didn’t even practice yoga at all for about 2 weeks (I know, OMG). I didn’t want to risk making my shoulder worse but I also didn’t want to just be idle and do nothing. So I figured why not do something that doesn’t require using my arms & shoulders at all. So… I went on a big hiking trip! I started going to the gym and learned how to use all the cool machines that work out your legs. I attended acroyoga jams and worked on just basing people. I even joined a class at the gym called ABT (Abs, Butts, Thighs) haha. Then as the shoulder started to feel a little better, I began to enter my yoga practice again but I had to REALLY modify and be extremely mindful of each and every movement. For example, there were even a couple of days that instead of Down Dog I would be in Table Top Position so there is less pressure and less extension of my shoulders. Being adaptable in this way also taught me to really pay attention to my body and to each and every sensation.

2. The Ego Is Often In Disguise 


Although I hate to admit it, part of the reason why I didn’t attend the Mysore/Ashtanga classes for the first two weeks of my injury was because I was embarrassed. In my mind, I thought that I could not be seen in the Mysore room doing this weird, weak, modified version of Ashtanga. People in the room have high expectations of me to “perform” each posture to perfection because I am a teacher at the studio. Even though in theory we are all just focusing on our own practice, I was afraid people in the room would judge me and think that I am not good enough or qualified to teach there. But I really do love this practice so much that I could not stay away from it for too long. So I had to find a way to deal with it. To set my ego aside. To be OKAY in my own broken body in front of my fellow Ashtangis. To know that people will judge me yet to still show up for the practice anyway. And to truly feel that I do not have anything to prove to anyone. This is MY practice.

3. Finding The Edge & Limit 


There were many moments where I was so tempted to push myself a little more. “Oh today I can do downward facing dog again, hmmm, shall I try a handstand??” Or another day I thought, “Oh today I can do a handstand with only a little bit of pain, hmmmm, shall I try Hand To Hand (this is an acroyoga move where you handstand on top of another persons hands which can feel a lot more UNstable)”. There were moments where testing my limits felt really good and I was learning to control certain movements within my shoulders capability. But there were definitely some moments where I pushed it a little too far and might’ve even slowed down my recovery process. One moment that stands out to me was during an acroyoga jam, a very strong friend asked me, “Hey want to do standing hand to hand?” This is where the base is standing up, and I jump into a handstand on top of his hands. Immediately a voice in my head said, “No, Carolyn, do not do that. That is an AWFUL idea right now.” But another voice in my head said, “Oh hell yeah, huh, what shoulder injury, who’s injured? Not me! Let’s go!” So you can probably guess how that story ended. It ended with me feeling lots of pain… for many days… yup.

4. Enter the Mind Of A Beginner Again


I teach a lot of beginners in my yoga classes. Many of these people struggle with new postures that I might introduce to them. They struggle for many reasons. Sometimes the body is stiff or lacking in strength. Sometimes the body just hasn’t built certain movement patterns or muscle memories for these new postures. For whatever reason, everyone has their own challenges that they are dealing with. During this time that my shoulder was injured, I was able to feel again how a beginner might feel the first few times that he/she steps into a yoga class. Feeling the feeling of not being able to do postures the way the rest of the class is doing them. These moments of pain, of struggling, and of facing challenges helps us as teachers to develop love and compassion for other people who are also struggling. BKS Iyengar writes in his book, Light On Life, “When you have known pain, you will be compassionate. Shared joys cannot teach us this.”

5. Be Grateful for the Little Things In Life


That day during my recovery process that I was able to do downward facing dog again with minimal pain, I laughed really hard because I was so excited. I never thought I would be so excited about being in downward facing dog. It’s a posture that I often overlooked, often thought of as simple and easy and here I was getting emotional about being able to fully extend my arms in this posture. I was SO grateful for this… down dog! But it just reminded me that there are many things in my life I often overlook and don’t appreciate enough. But life always finds a way to remind us of these things!

Namaste.

Namaste.

So it’s been about a little over a month now since that day I fell down the stairs. My shoulder isn’t 100% back yet but it’s getting there. I still need to modify my Ashtanga practice a bit but am able to do most of it now. I have a new appreciation for my body, for my practice, and for the life lessons that yoga continues to teach me after all these years!

If you are also struggling in your yoga practice due to an injury or for whatever other reason, just know that you are not alone. Hang in there and know that there is something to be gained from this experience.

Om Shanti Shanti Shanti, yo!

Time To Slow It Down (Yin Yoga 101)

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Yin Yoga 101

I’ve recently been teaching more Yin Yoga classes in Shanghai and realized that what seems to be an “easy” practice to an outside observer actually can be quite challenging for the practitioner. Especially for people who live a busy, high paced lifestyle in a big city, the Yin Yoga practice is certainly not easy but can be SO beneficial in many many ways! So here I decided to introduce my readers to Yin Yoga and hope that every now and then you’ll spend some time with this practice.

What is Yin Yoga?

In a Yin Yoga practice, we target the deep connective tissues of the body. This style is a much more passive practice compared to Yang styles of yoga like Vinyasa and Hatha. In Yin Yoga, we are asked to keep the body relaxed while holding each posture so that the muscles can really soften. Often students who practice Yang styles of yoga think that Yin Yoga is “too easy” but really the challenge is there, just in a different way. This practice is slow and intimate. The challenge can arise when we start to feel different emotions and sensations that start to appear as we hold each posture for a longer time. The first instinct and reaction might be to run away and avoid these sensations all together but with practice, we learn to observe and deal with these feelings. Similar to meditation, we learn to be still. We learn NOT to be afraid of the slow moments.

When should I practice Yin Yoga?

There are many answers to this question so I will just share with you about when I personally will do a Yin practice.

- Before bed. Not every night of course but just on the days I want to release some tension before going to sleep but don’t have the energy for a more vigorous practice. I also find that it is such a great way to calm the mind before going to sleep. Do you ever lay in bed thinking of the million items on your to-do list and end up staying awake for hours?? If you answered yes, then I encourage to give Yin Yoga a try, in your room, before sleeping tonight!

- During the hectic moments of life. Hectic can mean a lot of things. This can be the days when you’re busy busy busy jumping from one meeting to the next. Or it can be the days when you’re feeling uneasy and stressed. Travel days can also feel hectic for me so I also find time for a bit of Yin Yoga after a long day of traveling. This practice helps to balance out those hectic, fiery, and very Yang energy type of days, bringing stillness to the moments of chaos.

How do I practice Yin Yoga?

There are 4 principles to follow when practicing Yin Yoga.

1. Find a variation of the posture where the sensation is mild. There should not be pain.

2. Remain still in the posture and relax. We should not have to apply any excessive force.

3. Hold each pose for a period of time. This can be anywhere from 3 to 20 minutes per posture but personally I like to stick to 5 minutes per posture.

4. Release each pose very gently. Due to the extra long holding time of each pose, the body will feel a bit fragile so move gently.

Check out this page for some examples of Yin Yoga postures you can try at home:
https://www.with-yinyoga.com/yin-yoga-poses

I’ve only scratched the surface here and I still have so much more to learn about Yin Yoga but I hope this little bit of introduction to the practice gives you something to put into your little yoga pocket. For me personally I enjoy Yin Yoga more for the mindfulness aspect of the practice rather than the physical. Give it a try and explore for yourself!

DIY Yoga Sequence for Traveling

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I've recently had a lot of students and friends ask me about what/how they should practice when they are unable to attend a yoga class because it's summer time and everyone is out and about, traveling around the world, doing lots of eating and lots of walking! So I decided to share a few tips! 

When you are on vacation or traveling, lets face it, you don't want to do anything too strenuous or difficult. So I would make that very clear that you want a yoga sequence that isn't going to take up 2 hours of your precious vacation day! So I would recommend keeping it short and sweet so that you can do it often, maybe every other day while you're on the road. 

1. WARM UP: Start with 3 rounds of Surya Namaskara A (Sun Salutation A). If you have a little more time to spare, add in 3 rounds of Surya Namaskara B (Sun Salutation B). If you don't know what those are, look it up, easy to find :) 

2. STANDING POSTURES: Do a couple of standing postures that you would like to do today. For example, Virabadrasana 1,2,3 (Warrior 1,2,3) are all great options. Trikonasana (Triangle Pose) and Ardha Chandrasana (Half Moon Pose) are also great. SO many options, take your pick!

3. BALANCE: I like to throw in something that challenges my balance. This can be anything from Tree Pose to Crow Pose! Balance on your hands, balance on your feet, pick one or both!

4. SEATED POSTURES: Now we take it to the floor. Depending how much time you have, I would select 1-3 seated postures and try to include at least 1 forward folding and 1 twist. Good examples are Paschimotanasana, Marichyasana C, and Janu Sirsasana. 

5. BACKWARD BENDING: Bow Pose, Locust Pose, Camel Pose, Bridge Pose, Wheel Pose, the list goes on!! Pick your pose :) Again, depending on how much time you have, pick 1-3 postures that will give you some backward bending. 

6. INVERSION: Go upside down! Work on your handstands, headstands, or even just lay on your back with your legs up against a wall, that's an inversion too! I do that on my low energy days or when it's my time of the month (hehe). 

7. MEDITATE: Sit comfortably and still for 5 minutes. 

8. RELAX: Lay on your back, comfortably and still for 5 minutes. Aka. Savasana. 

Ok there it is! That's my recommendation on how to create a yoga sequence while you're traveling. Depending how much of it you do, it can take you anywhere from 20-40 minutes if you follow my advice here. Give it a go! Let me know what you think. 

What is the Mysore method?

I have been practicing yoga asanas since I was a high school teen in NYC. Most of my practice was centered around vinyasa flow styled classes. This was fun and exciting for me. Each class would have different postures and sequences depending on what the instructor had prepared for us that day. 

Then early last year, I stumbled into a little studio in Taipei called Chit Yoga. They offered a 1 hour Intro to Ashtanga class during lunchtime hour (12:15-1:15pm) which worked great with my schedule so I decided to give it a try. I always knew OF Ashtanga but didn't know much of it's details. All I knew was that there was a set sequence you had to follow and that was a big turn off for me because I used to think, "Ew boring, why would I want to do the same repetitive moves over and over again day after day". But after a few weeks, I started to see why this actually was not so bad to do... and I started to enjoy it so much that I decided to take a trip to Mysore, India, the birthplace of Ashtanga. I spent 2 months at the end of that year practicing Mysore style classes in India. 

So, let me take a moment to explain... what is the Ashtanga Vinyasa system of Hatha Yoga?? 

This system of yoga was created by a teacher name Sri K Pattabhi Jois. There are 6 sequences in total (Primary series, Intermediate series, Advanced A, B, C, D). The traditional way to practice is to wake up with the sun and practice Sundays-Thursdays in a Mysore class setting. This means that you learn and remember the primary series sequence. You enter and practice the sequence without verbal instructions from the teacher. The teacher will walk around and adjust, assist, and help you with certain postures you might need help with. Then when he/she feels you are ready, he/she will teach you the Intermediate series postures 1 at a time. Then Fridays are led classes. This mean the teacher will verbally lead and guide everyone through the primary series. Then Saturday is for resting. Full moon and new moon days are also for resting. 

The Mysore method of Ashtanga is a beautiful thing. It requires dedication from the practitioner. Through years of dedicated practice, transformation occurs in the body, in the mind, and the burning away of old thought patterns take place. The relationship between teacher and student is also very significant in this method of practice. Often the teacher will guide you into a posture you might not yet be able to enter into yourself, and this requires a lot of trust. For example, dropping into a wheel pose and trying to grab my own ankles I can not do but at the end of each practice, the teacher holds and supports me so I don't lose my balance, then she will grab my hands and pull it towards my ankles. This is VERY VERY scary and I would not feel comfortable with letting anyone help me into this posture. Only someone I can trust. Someone who I know understands this method and has practiced over and over and guided others for years.

Frustration can also occur. For example, earlier this year I was very delighted my teacher decided to begin teaching me the beginning few postures of the secondary series. I did them well until I reached a posture called Laghu Vajrasana. This posture requires a lot of strength in the legs/thighs and it is a pose that prepares you for the next pose, Kapotasana. So without doing this posture fully, my teacher would not move me onto the next one, as I would not be prepared enough for it. So here I was, for many months, STUCK on this pose, trying to drop my head to the ground and pick myself back up but not having the strength in my thighs so I would literally just be stuck on the ground and have to awkwardly crawl my way out of it, embarrassed and defeated each time I had to do so. So yes I was physically STUCK here but also STUCK at this part of the sequence. Yes it was frustrating watching others around me progress yet I could not move on. But once I started to let go of the desire to collect poses and instead focused on just practicing the yoga that the teacher has laid out for me, and to really trust her that she will know when it's the right time for me to move on, once I accepted that, I was back in a happy place in my practice. And really just a little bit after that, I was unstuck, my torso and my head magically lifted out of Laghu Vajrasana one day and I was certainly surprised and pleased. I have read that there are some postures where students will be working on for years, maybe even tens and twenty of years. So this moment of being stuck for a few months was really just a small taste of what's to come! 

I am still pretty early in my Mysore journey but I just wanted to share my experience thus far. It has been very rewarding, yet humbling at the same time. I am grateful to my teacher in India, Ajay Kumar, for teaching me the Mysore method, and grateful to my teacher in Taipei, Ann Huang, for continuing to guide me here each morning. 

Interested in seeing what the LED Ashtanga classes look like? 
Click here for a demo of the Primary series
Click here for a demo of the Intermediate series

How a Producer in Los Angeles becomes a Yoga Instructor in Taipei

Welcome to my first blog post!

I guess to me it makes sense to introduce everyone to how I ended up here in Taiwan in the first place. If you met me 10 years ago and told me that in 10 years I'd be living and teaching yoga in Taipei, we would probably both be laughing hysterically! Actually, even if you had told me this 5 years ago I would still not believe you! But isn't that life? Full of surprises and really unpredictable. 

Before my life began in Taipei, I was working as a Producer at an advertising agency owned by Kobe Bryant in Los Angeles (Venice Beach to be exact). It was an exciting and really fun job. I worked on campaigns with big brands and celebrities! When you're a producer, many people want to be on your good side in hopes you'll ask them to work with you on the next big project. So I was always having different people treat me to delicious fancy meals, box seat tickets at Lakers games, even one time a lady set me up on a blind date!!). Living the dream! Sort of! Also, I had great colleagues, worked in the hippest beachiest area of LA, drove a cute car (mini cooper!) and really I couldn't complain too much. It was a great opportunity and I did truly love it. The only thing I felt that was lacking was .... some free time. If you're familiar with life at an ad agency you know that the hours can be pretty grueling especially when we work with clients and partners in different time zones (I had a client in CHINA!!). This caused my body to feel pretty weak and unhealthy (my forehead broke out with acne, I had irregular eating & sleeping hours). But that alone wasn't enough reason for me to quit my fun job & leave fabulous LA.

Towards the end of 2013, a series of events happened that left me completely devastated. First, my beloved 10 year old pit bull suddenly got very sick and passed away. A couple of weeks later, on Thanksgiving Day, I received heartbreaking news from Taiwan that my dear dear grandfather had passed away. That very day I packed my bags quickly and was of to the airport to hop on the first flight back to Taiwan to be with my family. You might be thinking this is how I ended up living here. But you are wrong. I spent a few weeks here participating with my family in Daoist/Buddhist funeral preparations and ceremonies (super intense). He was my last living grandparent and I held him very close to my heart so it was not easy to head back to LA with a heavy heart, returning to my lonely empty LA studio apartment. My partner at the time was spending the Christmas holidays out of town with his family (a traditional Korean family who never approved of our mixed-cultural relationship). One night I learned the severity of feelings his family had towards me and he decided our relationship was not worth damaging his family dynamics (fair enough) so that was the end of that chapter. 

So there I was, ending 2013 on a very low note, grieving over 3 losses, not knowing how I was going to enter 2014 or how I would even survive it. In order to make myself feel better, I decided to invest time & money into the things that I felt brought me joy. These things included lots of coconut water.... and YOGA! I was already practicing quite regularly for a few years at this point and one night in January, while in a class led by Jay Co, he mentioned something about Teacher Training. Although I was not interested in teaching yoga, I was very interested in learning more in depth about yoga from this particular teacher. His yoga classes were a place for me to grieve and to heal during that time and the thought of taking the next few months to study and fully dive into this course made me feel like I could use this as a way to take my mind off the pain and suffering I was going through. So I signed up! In February 2014 I began my 200 hour Yoga Teacher Training Course. The course took place over the weekends for the next several months and it was the thing I looked forward to the most each week!

That summer, I graduated from the course, feeling much better, but of course there was still some lingering pain. So I thought, how else can I help myself feel better? What else in this world brings me the most joy? Traveling! I stumbled upon a deal on a travel booking web site that had flights going from the U.S. to Milan, then from Prague to Bangkok but you had to book it THAT day or the deal would be gone. 2 flights, for $140 U.S.D. total. Wow! I took this as a sign from the universe that it was time to go. I booked the flights, sold/gave away most of my possessions, packed everything I needed into my little backpack and early September 2014 was off to travel! I landed in Milan, wandered around Europe for about 2 months (drinking the most amazing wine, catching up with old friends, making new friends, couch surfing, eating cheese, visiting Oktoberfest, etc), then caught my flight from Prague to Bangkok, wandered around South East Asia for another 4 months (more eating, swimming, doing yoga, traveling through 3 countries on a motorbike! etc), before I decided I was a little tired of traveling and wanted to take a rest. So end of February 2015 I ended up in Taiwan (my 2nd home), not intending to stay for too long, but as you can tell, I'm still here! 

So, that's the story of how I ended up in Taiwan :)