New Tattoo: A Dedication to My Cats, My Hero and Myself

This past Friday night I got my newest tattoo. I had been planning this one for a few months, refining my design to perfection week after week. Interestingly, my other two tattoos were done in May, so I figured I’d keep with tradition and get this one in May as well. Through word of mouth I discovered Haylo Healing Art Lounge and knew from the moment I walked in that I wanted my tattoo done here. Haylo is female-owned and staffed, and just emanates light, peace and love, so I felt really comfortable here. Catherine was my tattoo artist, and was so patient with me as I tweaked the design several times (as I tend to do). In the end she did a fantastic job, and it was exactly what I hoped it would be.

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I had been wanting a cat tattoo for a while, but couldn’t decide exactly what to get. For a while, I was planning to get paw prints on my foot, one for each cat in my life. But looking through other cat tattoo images online, I discovered an idea for something else. I found a semicolon design where the top was a cat head instead of a circle. From there, I began to draw out what I wanted, with the bottom of the semicolon becoming a flowing cat tail, and adding whiskers to the head. I actually went into the studio with the plan to get the tattoo on my left ankle, but realizing I have scrawny ankles, Shane suggested I get it on the back of my neck instead. My excitement skyrocketed once I saw how it would look. To me, the end result is a combination of love, fun, femininity and empowerment. And now I just want to wear my hair up all the time to show it off!

 

 

I also wanted this tattoo as part of my continued self-healing over the past couple of years. Similar to my last tattoo, this new one has a special meaning behind it. My two cats, Loki and Odin, have been literal lifesavers for me over the past year. It would have been a lot easier to end it all if they weren’t there, but I worried too much about what would happen to them if I wasn’t there. They are my kids and depend on me, so as much as I wanted my pain to end, I cared more about their well-being. But more than that, they are my ultimate source of comfort in my darkest times. They have some sort of kitty intuition and seem to know when I need them most. When I can’t move from bed or am having a panic attack, they both surround me, getting as close as possible. This has calmed me down and made me feel loved every single time. So it was only appropriate that I dedicate something to them.

 

 

 

The semicolon design also has special meaning. As many of you may know, Project Semicolon began in 2013 and took the world by storm by raising awareness of mental health and suicide prevention. In a sentence, a semicolon indicates a pause, that there is more to be said afterwards. For those with mental health and suicide issues, this semicolon represents our stories not being over. That we have more to say and do before our lives end. Now more than ever I realize that I have a lot more to say and do in this world. This has kept me going when I’ve wanted to give up so many times. While I don’t think any of us are particularly special, I do believe our purpose in life is to just live and see what happens. If we truly only have this one life, we might as well see what it’s all about and do as much good as possible.

 

 

Sadly, the founder of Project Semicolon, Amy Bleuel, lost her own mental health battle in March. It was a surprising blow to the community who came to know her by the hope and love she brought into the world with this one little punctuation mark. Her death was devastating, and it provided a glimpse into just how strong our minds are when they’re working against us. And this could happen to any of us with mental health issues; some of us can fight it, and some ultimately can’t. It takes all we have to fight it, which is why I can actually understand when someone takes their own life. Some call it selfish, but those are the people who have likely never had to deal with this level of depression and can’t possibly understand how painful living actually becomes. But she left a very important legacy, and hopefully passed on knowing that she saved the lives of so many; a true hero. I felt that getting this tattoo was even more important now, as it was my way of saying thank you to Amy for all of the mental health awareness she brought to the world.

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So if you see someone with a semicolon tattoo, or variation of, know that they may be fighting their own battle, or love somebody who is. And do your part to listen and have compassion, because we all have our own stories to continue to tell.

Yoga Teacher Training: Weekend 4

Oh how I love my yoga teacher training weekends! After each weekend I grow more comfortable with my future as a yoga instructor because of the amazing instruction I’m receiving. After the first weekend I truly believed I picked the best possible program for this, and each completed weekend confirms that thought even more. Plus, I continue to grow closer with my fellow yogis, having formed some pretty incredible friendships so far. This past YTT weekend furthered our instruction with assists and practice teaching, encouraged group collaboration, and introduced us to the wonderful world of Sanskrit.

 

FRIDAY

We began our evening with a twist and hip opener practice led by Jillian. I’m a big fan of twists and hip openers, so this was one of my favorite practices so far. My back and hips are more flexible than other parts of my body, so I love being able to deepen these areas and experiment with new poses. It was a great way to start the weekend.

 

After practice, we focused on breaking down various twists and hip opener poses. We got into groups and were given a pose to demo while we discussed different modifications and variations for that pose. My group was given pigeon and gomukhasana, or “cow face” pose based on the way your legs and feet are oriented (also a name I only learned that night!). After each group demo’d their pose, Jillian showed us proper assists and let us practice them on each other. We did this quite a bit in our last weekend, and I enjoy it a lot. The best way to learn assists is by doing them, and I’m grateful that our instructors give us so much practice with this.

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SATURDAY

We began the next morning with a journaling exercise with Jillian. We had four questions to answer:

  1. Describe your favorite-ever adjustment that you received.
  2. Describe an adjustment you’ve received that you didn’t want.
  3. Under what circumstances might you refrain from adjusting?
  4. How does your personal history with touch influence your approach to assisting?

 

These were some interesting questions to answer. I won’t go into detail about all of my answers, but I will say the best adjustment I ever received was in pigeon (an assist I allowed and enjoyed because of specific student-teacher trust), the worst I received was when an instructor massaged my feet in savasana and then touched my face (AND I was one of the last people in the class to have this adjustment…ick!), and I enjoy touch, and therefore, enjoy giving and receiving assists. Our responses varied across the board, and each person’s response sort of gave a clue as to how they might eventually structure their own teaching practice.

 

After journaling, we partnered up and had the opportunity to provide assists through an entire class sequence that included standing, seated and lying down postures. I’ve found that I’m already becoming more comfortable with giving assists in terms of pressure, effectiveness, and overall confidence. And my partner gave me some excellent feedback as we went along. It was definitely some of the best assisting experience of the program yet.

 

Carrie led us through a twist and backbend practice after lunch (fortunately I did not eat a heavy lunch beforehand). While I love twists, there are some backbends that I need to work on, so I was happy to focus on those. From there we circled up to share how we were feeling and what need we were longing to have fulfilled. For me, it had been a stressful few weeks, so I have really been longing for peace and serenity in my life. As I write this, I’m already feeling less stressed.

 

We spent the afternoon diving deeper into sequencing. There is a rhyme and reason to most yoga classes, which can often go unnoticed by students. When planning a class, it’s important to incorporate intention, progression, patterns, symmetry and counter/neutralizing/deepening poses, as all of these combined make for a very effective practice. For example, both sides of the body need to be equally focused on, otherwise you create imbalance in the body. It’s also important to take into account external factors, like time of day or year, when structuring the type of class to offer.

 

So we took this knowledge and broke out into groups to come up with our own mini sequence. Each group needed to come up with a peak pose and class theme, and then include a warm-up, sun salutation, flow and cool-down. My group offered a “power balance” theme with our peak pose being crow (we also joked about playing power ballads to our power balance class). Our collaboration was really fun and we came up with an effective practice, even while being shortened.

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SUNDAY

We were treated to a special guest instructor Sunday morning as we learned the beautiful language of Sanskrit. Marcy Braverman Goldstein, who founded Sanskrit Revolution, is a master of the Sanskrit language. She has a wealth of knowledge, and was able to convey the beauty and art of Sanskrit to us in just a few hours. The interesting thing about Sanskrit is that there is literally only one way to speak it; there are no dialects, accents or variations of it. And this is because it was originally created with specific intention, so speaking it incorrectly was believed to disrupt the order of the universe. It is also a phonetic and very intricate language, and the sound of every word describes the essence of what it is naming. What you say in Sanskrit has an effect on how you feel, and therefore, you should choose what you say carefully.

 

Marcy taught us all of the Sanskrit syllables, and some words pertaining to yoga, which we practiced speaking aloud. She even broke down where in the mouth these sounds are coming from. To help us continue our studies, she recorded us speaking each syllable so that we had something to practice from. I found Sanskrit incredibly fascinating, mainly because it has so many parallels to Korean, which I have also been learning over the last few months. The Korean language was also created with specific intention, and some of the letter combinations were very similar, which made Sanskrit a bit easier to understand. I can see myself diving deeper into learning Sanskrit in the future.

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After lunch we further discussed backbends with Carrie. There are so many benefits to backbends, but they take some work to perfect so as not to injure yourself, or depending on the person’s condition, should not be done at all (or at least with some modification). All backbends really need neutralizing and counter poses as well, and should always be offered as part of a practice. I personally crave one of these poses after a backbend because they are so intense at times.

 

From this discussion, Carrie had something really neat in store for us. We worked as a group to put together an entire backbend practice. We chose a peak pose of extended leg bridge and a theme of “letting go and experiencing freedom.” From there we worked together to include breathwork, a warm-up, sun salutation, standing flow and neutralizing/counter poses. What she didn’t tell us as we were putting this together was that we would actually be teaching this sequence as a group! Each of us was assigned a pose within the practice, and so we were all speaking and teaching at some point throughout. I was assigned to teach a low lunge (both sides, of course). We were all really happy with how it turned out, and it flowed a lot smoother than we anticipated. We seemed to all have an intuition of how to transition to our assigned pose, likely from our experience with teaching and sequencing so far. It was such an empowering experience that literally brought us all together.

 

Our weekend ended with more focus on breaking down backbends. We targeted poses like bridge, wheel, lotus, bow, fish and camel. For each pose, we discussed modifications and variations, and then Carrie taught us all proper assists for these poses, which we then practiced on each other. I absolutely loved how much assisting and sequencing we experienced this weekend, and I am in awe of how much we have already learned only a third of the way into the program. I can’t wait to see how we continue to progress through our training. Look out, Charlotte, there are some awesome new yoga instructors coming your way soon!

 

Strawberry Coconut Oatmeal Crisp

It’s strawberry season and I’m finding them irresistible to walk by in the grocery store without picking up. So I bought some! While I could have just sat and ate the entire container myself, I decided to make something even tastier out of them. This oatmeal crisp combines diced sweet strawberries with shredded coconut, cinnamon and brown sugar for a breakfast or dessert that emphasizes the freshness of spring but is still comforting. You can eat this as is right out of the oven (which is what I did because I have no patience), or serve with ice cream, whipped cream or yogurt for a parfait. The possibilities are endless and delicious!

 

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup rolled oats
  • 3/4 cup flour
  • 1/3 cup packed brown sugar
  • 1/3 cup shredded coconut
  • 1/4 tsp. cinnamon
  • 1/4 tsp. salt
  • 1/2 cup melted coconut oil
  • 1 16 oz. container of strawberries, chopped
  • 1 tsp. cornstarch
  • 1 Tbsp. lemon juice
  • 1 Tbsp. white sugar

 

Directions:

  1. Heat oven to 375°. Spray an 8″ square or round baking pan with cooking spray (the shape doesn’t really matter, you’ll just be scooping the crisp out).
  2. In a medium bowl, combine the oats, flour, brown sugar, coconut, cinnamon and salt. Add the coconut oil and mix well. Press the mixture into your prepared pan, reserving 1/2 cup on the side to sprinkle on top later.
  3. Spread half of the strawberries over the mixture, then sprinkle with the cornstarch and lemon juice. Spread the remaining berries on top, then sprinkle with the white sugar. Evenly spread the reserved oat mixture on top.
  4. Bake for 35 minutes or until the fruit is bubbling and the oat topping is lightly browned. Remove from oven and serve immediately while hot. Makes about 6 decent sized portions.

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International Travels: South Korea

It’s been about a week since I got back from South Korea with Shane, and I still can’t even believe I was there! It was such a great experience, and one that I don’t take for granted, as I know it’s not a country most people will get to see in their lifetime. But I highly recommend going if you get the chance, because there is an untouched beauty there that is really worth seeing. Plus, there’s a ton of history, great food and things to do. I experienced so much in just a week, so most of this post will be pictures, as it’s the only way I was able to capture what it was really like there.

 

We bounced around different areas of Seoul and South Korea seeing old friends and experiencing as much of the culture as we could. It was interesting to me how different the neighborhoods were throughout Seoul. Despite not being able to say more than “hello” and “thank you”, people were very nice to this clueless white girl. I had multiple old Korean ladies tell me I was pretty, and one even help me fix my hair that was falling out of my bun! But I was able to practice reading the Korean Shane taught me by reading every sign possible, often getting weird stares from people wondering why I’m reading the cell phone advertisement on the subway. We had a couple of rainy days, but overall it was sunny and 60’s, which was pleasant for walking around the city.

 

One of my favorite parts of the trip though was seeing my man back in his element. Shane lived in South Korea for 5 years, and I was finally able to see why this country is so special to him. I enjoyed hearing him speak the language and have conversations with various people, and was thankful he was there to translate for me and get me around. We also found a few awesome holes-in-the-wall that I likely wouldn’t have ventured into without him there. I had my own personal tour guide, which is a rare privilege. I could tell he missed it a lot, and I was happy to be able to experience a trip back to relive his past with him.

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The view from our hotel room in Jongno

Walking around Myeongdong on our first day

 

Pastries galore!

We visited Bongeunsa Buddhist temple in Gangnam. There were colored lanterns at a few of the temples we visited to honor Buddha’s upcoming birthday.

 

Bukchon was the highlight of the trip for me. It was such a cool little town with shops, restaurants, history and amazing views.

 

We visited the cutest tea house with a beautiful garden for a traditional Korean tea service. I had a delicious lotus flower tea and Shane had an ice flowers tea, all while noshing on some small rice and sesame treats.

After tea we had a wonderful meal of spicy octopus over rice with sprouts and sesame leaves (mine), pork bulgogi wrapped in lettuce and sesame leaves (Shane’s) and accompaniments of pickled quail eggs and mushrooms, dried anchovies, noodles, cabbage and seaweed soup, kimchi and brown rice tea.

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We found craft beer at Bonggu Beer! An IPA and a golden ale (and a photobomb)

 

Gyeongbokgung Palace was absolutely beautiful. The backdrop of an old historic palace against the city skyline was really cool to see. We also got to see some beautiful cherry blossom trees in bloom. The detail that was put into these palaces is quite remarkable.

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A traditional seafood soup with veggies and rice

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A ton of seafood in a spicy sauce with bean sprouts. It consisted of octopus, shrimp, cod, clams and something that looked like fish intestines, which was actually my favorite thing in there (don’t knock it til you try it!)

 

Of course we had to hit up a noraebang (karaoke) with some friends!

 

We strolled around Namsangol Hanok Village, where we could see a bit of the history of Seoul. Old buildings gave way to a beautiful park with cherry blossoms, streams and gardens. We even got to see the location of the 1,000 year time capsule!

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A delicious lunch of Bibimbap and Gamjatang with soup, rice and sides

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We saw countless funny signs instructing people how to properly behave in various locations. If only we had these in America…

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An awesome view of the beach and city from our room in Haeundae

We saw some interesting hotels as we walked around Haeundae…

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We found another craft brewery! This one had one of the best amber ales I’ve ever had in my life. This was also where all the Americans seemed to be hanging out 🙂

 

On one of the rainy days we visited Beomeosa Temple in Busan, and we both agreed the rain added a serenity and calmness to the already peaceful temple. It’s an active temple, so people were in several of the meditation houses, praying and meditating. We saw plenty more colored lanterns for Buddha’s birthday and some beautiful architecture. We came across one area with stacked stones and trinkets left as gifts. So we stacked some stones of our own, and then sat quietly for a bit to take in the beauty of this place.

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One of the coolest things was seeing this little kitty just hanging out taking a bath on a pillow in one of the meditation rooms. Some people were in the room praying and meditating, which made it look like they were worshiping the cat. 

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Spicy vegetable soup

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The most addicting crunchy potato sticks EVER

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Yes, my hazelnut beer came with a straw

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Fast food in Korea from Lotteria means a shrimp burger with a side of crunchy shrimp nuggets

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The best meal of all! Whole fried fish, baby clams, tofu and veggie soup, marinated cod, seaweed soup and sides of rice, dried anchovies, fish cake, scallion pancake, kimchi, beans, sprouts, pickled mushrooms, greens, noodles and veggies.

 

Our last night in Korea ended with a walk along the Cheonggyecheon stream in the middle of Seoul, all lit up in pretty colors at night.

 

As sad as we were to leave, we had the good fortune of flying over Alaska on the way home and seeing some truly breathtaking snow-capped mountains.

 

Seeing South Korea was something I never dreamed I’d ever do, but I’m so glad I got the chance to visit a country so unlike America. It’s really eye-opening to learn about another culture by being immersed in it, and I think many of us can learn a lot from getting out into the world and seeing new places. There’s beauty all over the world, so go see it before you can’t!

 

 

Yoga Teacher Training: Weekend 3

I’m a bit late getting this post out since I’ve been out of the country, but despite the delay I wanted to be sure I documented my last yoga teacher training weekend because it was so uplifting and beautiful. As I begin to write this post, I’m wondering how I’m going to describe the feelings I experienced, and I’m not sure I’ll be able to truly convey them. I think it’s because the feelings I have during these weekends are so new and powerful, and really quite impossible to accurately describe because mere words don’t do them justice. But I’ll do my best 🙂

 

FRIDAY

We began our Friday evening with a short meditation led by Carrie, which helped us calm our minds for what was to follow: teaching sun salutations! Each one of us instructed the rest of the group through one full sun A salutation while also giving hands-on assists. Of course all of our eyes went wide at that point, but it turned out to be really fun and confidence-boosting. I was pleased with how mine went (and also happy that I had been practicing my sun A’s). I was afraid I would not be able to assist while I instructed, but I was surprised at myself when I was able to do both pretty smoothly. It felt natural, which made me feel really good about doing it again in the future. We all gave each other some love after each instruction.

 

We then moved on to practicing balance poses. While fun to practice, balancing poses also help with focus and concentration, and help to build core and other muscle strength. We worked on warrior 3, standing big toe hold, tree, half moon and revolved half moon, utilizing the walls for support and to understand proper alignment in these poses. It takes some serious core and leg strength to hold these poses, especially when that’s all you’re doing for an hour. But it was fun to experiment and challenge ourselves.

 

We also discussed modifications and variations in these poses, and the differences between the two. Modifications are meant to assist in finding the pose in a way that supports an individual’s body and practice level. This can include using blocks, straps, bolsters or altering the pose to get the same benefits while finding more support. Variations are meant to provide a bit more challenge or to find a different, and perhaps more playful, way the pose can be done, but without changing the overall goal of the pose. For example, bringing the hands to heart center in warrior 3 versus keeping them grounded.

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SATURDAY

We began the day with Jillian discussing various seated poses, the benefits of them, modifications and variations, and how to provide effective assists in these poses. We partnered up and each received a pose to demonstrate and discuss; ours was wide-legged seated fold. Funny enough, this is the pose I have the most trouble with in my practice due to my super tight hamstrings. But that made me all the more appreciative to have received it. Fortunately my partner offered to be the one to get into the pose, while I discussed the above. Other poses demonstrated included child’s pose, seated forward fold, head to knee, hero and a few others, and we were able to learn assists for all of these. We ended with Savasana assists, which of course we all loved the most.

 

After lunch Carrie led us through a longer flow, utilizing many of the poses we had been practicing the past couple of days. It was a challenging practice, but I really enjoyed it. It’s amazing how much your practice can change when you learn more about the body and benefits of the poses you’re practicing. I feel like it has strengthened my practice so much already.

 

We continued the afternoon focusing on standing poses, again discussing the benefits, modifications, variations and assists in these poses. I volunteered to demonstrate side angle pose while the group discussed how using blocks, binds and assists can deepen the pose. Other postures we discussed included warrior 2, triangle (and revolved), revolved side angle, intense leg stretch and wide-legged straddle. After each demonstration, we partnered up to practice giving assists to each other, purposely messing them up a bit so our partner had something to work with. I really appreciated learning assists for all of these poses, because as an instructor you want your class to get the most out of a practice and feel comfortable. While the purpose of assists for some may be to deepen the pose, for others it is to encourage proper alignment and provide a supportive presence. When you’re in an especially vulnerable pose, sometimes having that little bit of support can provide comfort and peace of mind.

 

We ended the day with acknowledgements. I asked to be acknowledged for my ability to listen to my own body while practicing and to others in my group during the various partner exercises. I appreciate receiving feedback from them, knowing that every little bit of information will help me become a better instructor in the future.

 

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Loki looking super excited as always

SUNDAY

Carey Sims was our guest instructor for the whole day to discuss our reading assignment, the Bhagavad Gita, and the history of yoga. Carey has a wealth of knowledge about world religions and how yoga has progressed over the centuries. Leading up to the weekend, Carey provided several articles for us to read, ranging from the modernization of yoga to different perceptions of yoga to arguments against the practice. We discussed all of these and yoga’s history before lunch, and needless to say, it was a very heavy and in-depth discussion. And I loved every minute of it. I can’t even begin to cover all that we talked about, but some of the highlights included:

  • the origins of yoga
  • whether yoga can be seen as a form of religion or not
  • the hypocrisy of yoga being banned from certain establishments
  • the commercialization of yoga in the western world, and the good and bad surrounding that
  • cultural appropriation
  • authenticity and “owning” your beliefs
  • how yoga has evolved into what it is today

 

I really enjoyed hearing everyone’s differing opinions on these subjects. We were able to have a respectful and educational conversation where we all opened our minds to different thoughts and possibilities. I would have loved to sit and talk about these topics all day, as we really only scratched the surface, but it was a great learning experience in a short amount of time.

 

After lunch, Carey led us through a discussion of the Bhagavad Gita. The Gita, translated from Sanskrit to “Song of the Lord”, is an ancient Hindu scripture that is read as a poem and adapted from the larger text, Mahabharata. It’s a very important and influential philosophical piece in Indian culture and touches on the topics of spirituality, conflicting morals, the meaning of life and karma, and paves the way to living a life that is pure. As with the articles we discussed, it’s impossible to touch on everything this book offers. Some of the key points we talked about were:

  • the soul must be purified through action
  • allow yourself to sit with both the negative and positive things in life
  • give because you want to, not because you desire a certain outcome
  • what we do between birth and death is what matters the most
  • our true self is not found in the material world
  • one decision can change your entire life
  • act in accordance with your duties and best intentions

 

The themes of the Gita strongly connect to the practice of yoga. Through yoga, we strive for a pure and whole life while we are on this earth, not focusing on what happens after death. We learn to breathe, practice and live with intention both on and off our mats. Peace and compassion are ultimate goals. I’m not a religious person, but this book really spoke to me because it’s essentially a guide for living your best possible life. Even if you are not spiritual, I highly recommend reading it as an educational piece.

 

Our discussion of the Gita led us right into a flow practice based on the topics of the book. We had the option of beginning the practice blindfolded, which I opted for. I had practiced with my eyes closed once for an entire class, and while difficult, it allows you to connect with your body on a deeper level. This time was no different. Standing poses are where it gets the most tricky, but Carey uttered two words that made all the difference: Trust Yourself. Rather than using your eyes, you use your intuition and breath. I’ve done these poses hundreds of times, so I should be able to do them with eyes or not. About 15 minutes in we took the blindfolds off, but the mind-body connection was now very established for the remainder of the practice.

 

As we practiced, Carey helped us to reflect on what we learned, incorporating different postures to symbolize the various themes, which I thought was really creative and a great way to apply what we read. I felt more intention in this practice than I ever had before. There was a feeling I got from this practice that is hard to describe, but it made me want to cry with overwhelming joy, which I started to do during Savasana. After practice we all discussed our thoughts and feelings from it. Some of the responses caused some tears to shed, and I felt a lot closer to myself and my fellow yogis.

 

We ended our weekend by standing in a circle, hand in hand, and saying one word that represented how we felt about the practice, and the whole weekend. I said beautiful, because that’s exactly how everything felt to me at that moment. I left the studio that day once again feeling like my best and happiest self. I’m already counting down the days until our next weekend together.