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Yoga class is a sanctuary, where people come to take a “time out” and dive inward to connect body, mind and soul. Being fully present to the time spent on the mat is the biggest gift you can give yourself. The following do’s and dont’s will help you know what is expected so you can practice self-awareness as well as show respect for the teacher and your fellow class members.
1. Enter mindfully
It defeats the purpose of coming to a place to relax and re-center if you rush in, stressed out and late. Give yourself plenty of time to find parking, check in, gather the required props like bolsters or blocks, and take a few deep breaths before class begins. Plan to arrive at least 10 minutes early. Remove shoes and socks and leave them in the designated space, either outside the door or in shelves provided by the studio. Enter the room quietly as there may already be people there before you. Be aware of how your movement and energy may affect others already in the space. Lay your mat out quietly and be sure you silence your cell phone completely as even vibrate can be disturbing to others. Better yet, leave it in the car.
2. Bring an attitude of openness
Take notice of your state of mind and mood as you are getting settled. Begin to breathe consciously, and let go of thoughts and concerns. Visualize leaving them outside the door of the studio, to pick up again if necessary after class is over. While you’re waiting for class to start, do a few gentle stretches to open the heart, sit in meditation to clear your mind, or lie quietly and relax. Consider choosing a quality to focus your practice on, such as grounding, strength, or peace.
3. Practice saucha
One of the principles of right practice listed in the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali is saucha, which means cleanliness or purity. This applies to both body and mind. Make sure your body is clean and avoid wearing heavy scents that may be distracting or offensive to others. Bring a towel or your own mat if you sweat a lot. Clear your mind of judgmental, negative or competitive thoughts. Purify your inner temple, as well as your outer. When class is over, pick up any props you have taken and neatly put them away the way you found them. Fold your blanket like the others on the shelf, and if you borrowed a mat from the studio, wipe it down thoroughly.
4. Honor your body
For your safety, only go to classes that are appropriate for your current level. Be realistic and work from where you are, not where you would like to be. Let your teacher know about injuries or conditions such as pregnancy, that might affect your practice. Your instructor can provide you with appropriate modifications. And if poses are offered that feel inappropriate for you, skip them and rest. Practice ease in your postures. Never strain. Try your best to do what is being offered, rather than just doing your own routine, but always modify as needed.
5. Be self-reflective
Another yogic principle to keep in mind is swadhyaya, meaning reflection on the Self through introspection and study. Notice what comes up for you during your practice. Be a compassionate witness to your inner dialog. Choose positive self-affirming thoughts. Take time afterwards to reflect on your experience of class, and what you might do to have an even better experience the next time.
1. Don’t eat for at least two hours before class
Practicing on a full stomach can cause cramps, nausea, or vomiting, especially in twists, deep forward bends, and inversions. It can also make you lethargic. If you must eat something make it extremely light, like a piece of fruit or a little yogurt. And don’t chew gum as it can be distracting to others and unsafe in certain postures.
2. Don’t talk unnecessarily
Refrain from too much socializing before your practice. Remember it is a time for you to be with you. If you have a question, ask the teacher before or after class, or raise your hand so she can come to you.
3. Don’t check your cell phone
Leave business and social time outside the studio. You carved out the time to be at class, so really be present.
4. Don’t check your watch
Looking at the time sends a disrespectful message to the teacher (who is sure to see you), that you are bored or impatient, waiting for class to be over. Again, you benefit most by being fully engaged with the experience of the moment.
5. Don’t compete
It makes sense to observe how the teacher or someone else is doing a pose, especially if it is unfamiliar to you, but avoid the impulse to compare or compete. Feel the postures from the inside out and just do what you can. You will improve faster when you are true to yourself and work from where you are, not from where you think you should be. If you achieve the full expression of a posture, enjoy it, but don’t feed the ego with attachment to it.
6. Don’t leave early
The final posture offered in most classes is called savasana and it is a relaxation pose for letting go and integrating the benefits of all the other movements. It is an essential time of rest for both the body and the mind, before re-entering your day. To miss it diminishes your practice and is disruptive to others and to the teacher. If you absolutely must leave early, let your teacher know prior to class. Position yourself in the place closest to the door, have all your belongings ready to quietly pick up, and leave before savasana starts.
By adhering to the etiquette and principles of yoga, you will experience the most positive effects of your practice and you will help to create a safe and comfortable space for all.
Jennie Lee is a Certified Yoga Therapist who has spent two decades coaching people in the healing tradition of classical yoga meditation. She is also the author of two books – Breathing Love: Meditation in Action, and the award-winning True Yoga: Practicing with the Yoga Sutras for Happiness & Spiritual Fulfillment.
Can you remember what you were passionate about at age 10? Bike rides? Video games? Beach fun? For Kauai native Kailani Hart, it’s “living the yogic way,” and she is currently the youngest 200-hour RYT instructor in the U.S. Hart started her training at Buti Yoga headquarters in Scottsdale, Ariz. and completed her training last fall in Kona under the tutelage of Buti yoga founder Bizzie Gold and master trainer Tara Winterhalter.
Yoga is a family legacy — her mother and grandparents were also yoga teachers — but Hart’s mission goes beyond sharing yoga with the world. A vegan, animal lover, and environmentalist, she also spreads the virtue of living gently on this planet. For more on her service mission, check out her YouTube vlog series, “Rainbow World,” which chronicles a family trip to six states in a month without consuming any plastic.
What kind of yoga do you teach?
I am trained to teach vinyasa and Buti Yoga. I currently teach a weekly class I named “Aloha Ohana” in Hanalei, Kauai. It is a family yoga class with both keiki and their families.
How do you teach yoga?
I teach my yoga classes with enthusiasm to remind the students that yoga isn’t only being serious in the pose, but about having fun throughout the class. I teach using stories, crystals, cards, pranayama, asanas, dance, games, partner, and even acro yoga. At the end of every class we all lie down in savasana. During this time, we calm our bodies and minds and focus on our breathing. To close every class, we all sit in half lotus or lotus, hold our hands in a mudra, and recite “The Shanti Path.”
Why do you teach yoga?
I teach yoga to make other people feel happy and calm. I enjoy teaching my family and friends, and in turn, they enjoy practicing yoga with me. I learned that my great-grandmother and great-grandfather practiced yoga and taught my mother. She started teaching yoga when she was 22, and also taught while I was growing in her belly. She then started teaching a class for families and my friends, and I have been learning from her since we were babies. I knew I wanted to carry on the legacy of teaching yoga.
Who is your favorite yoga teacher?
My favorite yoga teacher is Tara Winterhalter from Fall River, Mass. I like her classes because they are energetic, super-fun, the flow is great, and — I love the dancing part. Of course, my other favorite teacher is my mom. She encourages me to try my best without pushing too hard. She likes to smile and make others smile while in class. She’s playful and makes everything fun. When I was little, she used to make up yoga stories and we would do postures to the stories. The yoga games and stories I grew up with still make me smile when we teach them now.
Do you live what you teach?
My Aloha Ohana yoga classes are donation-based, and the money goes to animal welfare here on Kauai. I think this virtue of “giving” is exactly what I teach in yoga. Ahimsa — one of the principles in The Eight Limbs of Yoga — means non-violence. I teach peace in my class, I do not eat meat, and I like to help animals. So yes, I try my best to live what I teach.
Can you laugh at yourself?
I can so laugh at myself! I love to get goofy. My mom and I put on records and make silly dances together that makes us both laugh. I also like to pull silly pranks on our parents with my friends. Every Wednesday is prank day, and we all laugh so hard.
Did you fall in love with yoga your first time?
I don’t actually remember the first time I did yoga. But I do remember being little and falling down quite a bit. I would get a little frustrated but would get back up again. I actually really remember climbing on my mom when she would do yoga, and I loved that!
Do you remember when you thought you could teach yoga?
I remember when I wasn’t sure that I could actually teach adults. I had been teaching kids for a few years already but that wasn’t hard because I felt comfortable in front of them. When it was time to teach adults, I was a little intimidated. But then I thought, “I really know what I am doing.” After that, I was able to do it, and felt really good about my hard work. Everyone was happy for me; that made me feel happy.
Why do you think some people would be intimidated by yoga?
I think people are sometimes intimidated because of the really challenging postures. When there are so many images out there of yogis doing hard poses, people may be afraid to try yoga. I think we all have to remember that yoga is good for everyone, and we all look amazing within our own practice.
What is your advice for yoga students?
I think it’s important to always stay calm. Not just in yoga poses but in real life as well, when you find yourself at your edge, just breath through it. Recently, my band — The Flying Phoenix — played in front of the whole school, and we were nervous. I taught them the pranayama (breathing) technique of nadi shodana (the “rainbow breath”), and it helped calm us down. We were then able to play music with a balanced mind.
What is your approach to yoga?
My approach is to be playful and fun. The more we can all laugh and smile together, the better. I use yoga a lot in real-world scenarios, such as at school. When there are a lot of distractions, I know I can practice pranayama, and that the calming breath will help. I also follow the yogi code of ethics to help me live a good life.
If one continues to practice what benefits can they receive?
As people continue to do yoga they are able to breath through the challenges that occur in life. They also get the benefits of being more flexible in the body and mind.
What do you find rewarding about being a yoga instructor?
I really like being able to help as many people as possible be calm and happy in their lives. By being a yoga instructor, I can teach tools that have been used for over 6,000 years to help people with their mind, body and spirit.
Being 14 is never easy. It’s an undeniably awkward time when any teen can feel caught between enjoying childhood and forming an adult identity. But being 14 and getting shipped to an island halfway around the world to live with your father is tougher than what many deal with, which was the situation Bryan Kest found himself in almost 40 years ago.
“He scooped me up and brought me to Maui basically because my mom couldn’t control me,” says Kest of his father, Rohm Kest.
Bryan stayed on Maui for a total of six years, first living with his father. Like many, Rohm Kest had visited Hawaii and fell in love. Unable to work due to severe back pain, Rohm Kest moved to Maui, where he found yoga with David Williams. Williams, now a legendary yogi, was the first person to bring Ashtanga yoga to the world outside of India. At the time, Williams was promoting Ashtanga as a way to help those with physical disabilities, which attracted the older Kest. When he brought his son to Maui to live with him, Rohm saw an opportunity.
“He said I had to do yoga or I had to get out of his house,” says Kest.
As a somewhat delinquent teenager in 1979, the younger Kest was out of options, marooned on Maui. So, he tried yoga. Every day, for six months, Kest was forced to do yoga. After six months, though, nobody had to force him.
Kest clearly remembers the day when his mindset changed. He was outside and felt a wash of emotions. “I felt strong. I felt supple. I felt amazingly peaceful and calm,” he says. He traced this bliss to his daily yoga practice and thought, “This was the ultimate exercise.” Kest had found yoga – something that became a lifelong passion – but living on Maui was a mixed experience.
Born in Cleveland, Ohio and raised in the suburbs of Detroit, Mich., Kest was distinctly not local to Hawaii. Although he lived all over Maui including Kihei, Makawao, Hana and Makena, he found it difficult to fit in at times. “I was an outsider. I never really did break in,” he recalls. “I think I went to Maui High School one day, and the whole school stopped and gave me stink eye.” He eventually earned a GED attending Maui Hui Malama, an alternative education school that still serves the community in Wailuku.
Despite not always fitting in with his peers, Kest still benefited from his surroundings. “For some reason, Maui is really this vortex for spiritual knowledge,” he says. In the late ‘70s and early ‘80s, he saw an influx of “hippies from California,” who brought both innovative and ancient ideas to which Kest was exposed. “It was a beautiful, beautiful thing,” he says.
Kest not only learned from yoga and the people around him, but he also learned from the simple act of living in paradise. “I had a ball for six months, and then reality set in,” he says. “It doesn’t matter where you are. You still gotta deal with yourself.”
This lesson permeates much of Kest’s ideology. While he acknowledges different locations have different energies that can limit or inspire an individual’s creativity, ultimately the ability to thrive is internal.
Eventually Kest left Maui and finally settled in Los Angeles, where he founded Power Yoga in Santa Monica, Calif. Kest’s style is influenced by his background in Ashtanga and includes meditation. His classes can be very physically demanding, though Kest’s goal isn’t to push practitioners beyond their limits, but rather to have them acknowledge their boundaries.
“The goal of yoga isn’t sticking your legs behind your head,” he says. “The goal of yoga is enlightenment.”
Power Yoga is intended for all levels, though Kest recognizes that some are put-off by the name and think it will be too physically demanding. He even toyed with the idea of renaming his style “Grandma Yoga” to help make clear that his classes are for everyone.
“The truth is the pose doesn’t even f***ing matter. What matters is the mind,” according to Kest. Anyone can take class with as much modification or rest as needed and still benefit from it as long as the mental state is addressed.
Inspired by guru S.N. Goenka’s donation model for Vipassana meditation, Kest decided to make all Power Yoga classes donation-based. His studio, Santa Monica Power Yoga & Meditation, has no set prices for any of its classes. Kest rents studio space to different instructors who teach in their own styles and keep whatever donations they receive.
Power Yoga isn’t exclusive to Santa Monica. Oahu locals Dorian and Lehua Wright learned the Power Yoga style from Kest and brought it back to Hawaii as Power Yoga Hawaii. Power Yoga Hawaii was the first studio to successfully bring Kest’s donation-based model of teaching to the island of Oahu. They now run two locations in Honolulu, a donation-based studio on Piikoi Street near Ala Moana and another by UH Manoa. Kest notes that the density of donation-based studios in Honolulu is far greater than in his home of Los Angeles, and encourages students to try donation yoga.Other donation-based yoga classes on Oahu include, but are not limited to, Yoga for my Homies at Leahi Park and the North Shore Yoga Co-Op in Waialua.
Ever on the move, Kest travels approximately six days out of every month to attend and teach at yoga trainings and workshops. He was most recently on Oahu in March 2018 as one of the headliners for Wanderlust, a four-day yoga festival that has been held annually at Turtle Bay Resort. For more information on Kest’s schedule and Power Yoga, visit his website at poweryoga.com.
Julie Zack is originally from Northern California, but has lived all over the country. Currently she’s living and working in Honolulu as a yoga instructor and writer. Her works can be seen on Huffington Post, Elephant Journal, Waikiki Menus and more.
Each of the many energy centers in the body is called a chakra. In Sanskrit, chakra means “wheel” or “circle.” You have seven major chakras in your body, all located along your spine. These chakras function like hubs of information and expression, affecting everything from your physical movements to subtle emotions and energy vibrations.
According to yogic texts, energy flows through the human body in three major channels, or nāḍīs. These major nāḍīs are: suṣumṇā, pingalā and iḍā. At each intersection of these major nāḍīs is one of the seven major chakras (there are numerous minor chakras located throughout the body).
These major nāḍīs turn the chakra “wheels” by their circulation of prāṇa. Often translated as “breath,” prāṇa is the life force energy that flows through us all. When prāṇa flow is uneven, the chakra energy is disturbed, out of balance, either overacting or underacting.
Where are the seven major chakras?
Located along the spine, the seven major chakras correspond to nerve plexuses in the body, to the endocrine system, to the cardiovascular system, and more.
Here are the seven major chakras and their physical locations:
1 Root chakra
Coccygeal plexus, pelvic floor, colon, connected to the legs.
1. Suṣumṇā nāḍī — the central channel, situated inside the spinal column; also called brahma nāḍī
2. Pingalā nāḍī — starts in the right nostril, moves up to the crown of the head and criss-crosses down the spine to the tailbone; also called sūrya nāḍī
3. Iḍā nāḍī — starts in the left nostril, also moves up to the crown of the head and criss-crosses down the spine to the tailbone, exactly opposite pingalā nāḍī; also called chandra nāḍī, or candra nāḍī
Why are chakras important to yogāsana practice?
In yogāsana practice (the practice of physical postures), we stimulate and express all chakras. However, I’ve chosen to focus mainly on three chakras to provide a clear jumping-off point for further exploration. These chakras are: svādhiṣṭhāna (the reproductive center), maṇipūra (the solar plexus), and anāhata (the heart center).
These three chakras are often regarded common sites of imbalance in many people. Focusing on healing and strengthening these three chakras while practicing yogāsana is a wonderful way to support your connection to the subtle energies of your body.
This chakra is located in the low belly, low back region, above and including the reproductive organs. This includes the lumbar spine and connected muscles.
Physically, this energy center guides the deep abdominal muscles, the sex organs and the hips. Energetically, this chakra guides creativity, deep-seated emotions and close relationships.
When svādhiṣṭhāna chakra is functioning in balance, creative and sexual energy abound, the emotional body is open and responsive, and relationships are clear and nourishing. When this area is challenged, the energy lags, libido drops, the emotional body becomes guarded, and the hips tense up.
Possible causes of svādhiṣṭhāna dysfunction include: tension in the hips or low back due to movement patterns or injury, sexual or reproductive trauma, emotional hardship, or challenges in relationships with close friends or family.
Keep svādhiṣṭhāna balanced by stimulating the muscles in the area with swirling, freeing movements and strength-building exercises. To calm this energy center, use standing balance poses to help cultivate stability and containment. Encourage students to release judgments and inhibitions when working with this area, being mindful that this release may be difficult, sudden, and/or painful.
Maṇipūra chakra is located in the belly, mid-spine area, digestive organs, and detoxifying organs. This includes the kidneys, adrenal glands, stomach and intestines.
Physically, this energy center guides the strong abdominal muscles, gut function and the back muscles. Energetically, this chakra guides the power of will, determination and inner strength. Maṇipūra chakra has a sharp intelligence all its own, evidenced by common sayings such as “gut feeling,” “s/he’s got guts,” and “sick to my stomach.”
When this chakra is activated, willpower and feelings of personal empowerment are strong. However, when maṇipūra gets burned out, fatigue and low confidence ensue.
Possible causes of maṇipūra dysfunction include persistent stress, hot or humid weather, over-exercising, overwork, dehydration, and lack of sleep.
Keep maṇipūra balanced with harmonious practices that honor the environment and practice circumstances – not too fiery; not too easy. Take time to cool your body down after a vigorous class with appropriate supine poses and calming breathing techniques. Also, remember that chakras are not just facing front; chakra energy is basically spherical, which means that “core work” should include front abdominals, obliques and back muscles.
This chakra is located at the heart center and includes the chest, heart, lungs, upper back, shoulders, and arms.
Anāhata chakra functions as a bridge between the upper three chakras, which are more ethereal, and the lower three chakras, which are more earthly. When balanced, this energy center guides feelings of unconditional acceptance, compassion, and love. When unbalanced, injured, or depleted, this chakra engenders feelings of fear, judgment, and hatred.
The dual nature of anāhata chakra is evidenced in common sayings, such as “heavy-hearted” and “light-hearted; ”hard-hearted” and “soft-hearted.”
Possible causes of anāhata dysfunction include stress in relationships (suffering from a “broken heart”), lack of quiet time, insufficient self-care, high or low blood pressure, and arrhythmia.
Keep anāhata balanced with physical practices that bridge the divide between fear and compassion. Arm balances, while not typically thought of as heart-centered poses, can be a wonderfully effective way to learn to integrate the dual nature of this chakra. Ask yourself: can I practice being gentle with myself even when I fall? Can I be firm and also loving with myself as I try and try again? Many people actually have an overactive anāhata chakra, which means that restorative yoga is another effective way to balance this energy center.
How do I start working with my chakras?
Most students will benefit from any form of chakra work, because the energy body goes largely unrecognized in modern cultures. Most people don’t know how to take care of their chakras, probably because they don’t know that chakras exist.
Introducing chakra work into your practice can be very simple. Try the following four-minute practice to start. Put your hands over your belly and notice the heat there. You might tell yourself, “Feel the fire in your belly.” For four minutes, keep your awareness on the area under your hands. Note any emotions or sensations that arise, and notice if they change. There’s no need for fancy Sanskrit terminology, no anatomical details; just the pure truth of feeling. You can repeat this exercise for all of the chakras in this article.
As your awareness of your own chakra system grows, you will learn the intricacies of caring for your own energy body. You will find your own favorite strategies for balancing, activating and soothing each chakra as you move through your practices and your life. As yogīs, we acknowledge our responsibility to take care of ourselves so that we can take care of others. This responsibility includes being aware of our own subtle energies and attending to them consistently. Don’t let lack of familiarity stop you — explore your chakras with curiosity and you’ll awaken more than you ever thought possible.
STEPHANIE KEIKO KONG
Stephanie Keiko Kong, E-RYT 200, teaches yoga in India, Japan, Australia and the US. Born and raised in Wahiawa, Hawaii, she
would love to meet your mom.
Catch Stephanie moonlighting as a featured actor with the Hawaii Shakespeare Festival.
Many yogis choose to practice a plant-based lifestyle, based on the principle of non-violence to all living beings, to reduce their impact on the environment, or for other personal or health reasons.
Whether or not you are vegan, here are five fun facts about lentils and why you may want to switch out your regular burger for this tasty vegan and gluten-free version:
1. Lentils are high in plant-based protein. Just one cup of cooked lentils have almost 20 g of protein, which is comparable to 3 ozs. of chicken or beef.
2. Lentils are high in fiber. We eat far less fiber than our ancestors did and this reduction of fiber has negatively effected our microbiome, and therefore our overall health. Lentils have one of the highest concentrations of prebiotics, which are excellent for our gut health.
3. Compared to most beans, lentils are easier to digest and to prepare. Follow the basic cooking lentils guidelines below to ensure optimal digestion.
4. Lentils offer a significant source of plant-based iron. Iron is vital for consistent energy. Women and athletes tend to have higher needs for iron.
5. Lentils are considered a heart-healthy food, perhaps primarily due to their high fiber, magnesium and folate content. Numerous studies show that eating more legumes results in a significant reduction in heart disease; some as high as 80%!
VEGAN, GLUTEN-FREE Lentil Burger with Grilled Pineapple and Mixed GreensInstructions for Making Burger Patties
Step 1. Combine cooked lentils, onion, garlic, flax, sea salt, dried herbs, and curry powder in a large mixing bowl. Mash the ingredients well with a fork and form into burger patties. Add water or vegetable broth if the mixture is dry.
Step 2. Melt coconut oil in pan over high heat.
Step 3. Fry each burger patty until brown on both sides (about 3 to 5 minutes per side). These patties are gluten-free and without “fillers” to bind the ingredients, so be gentle when you’re turning them over. Once the burgers are done, set to the side.
Step 4. Briefly fry the pineapple slices for about 2 minutes per side and place on top of the burgers.
Step 5. Serve on a regular or gluten-free bun with your favorite condiments; or serve with mixed greens and your favorite salad dressing for a paleo version; or replace the mixed greens with crunchy lettuce for a low-carb wrap.
Cooking lentils is easy! Here’s how:
1. Rinse 1 cup of dried lentils and place into a medium-sized pot over medium heat. Add 2 cups of water and ½ teaspoon salt, and cover (or use 2 cups of vegetable broth for extra flavor and veggie love (I recommend the Pacific Foods brand). Bring to a boil.
2. Reduce heat and simmer for about 15 minutes, stirring constantly to ensure that the lentils do not stick to the bottom.
3. Cover and cook for another 15 minutes.
4. Please note that some lentils take longer to cook than others due to the age of the lentil – the longer the lentils have been in storage, the longer they may take to cook.
5. After 30 minutes of cooking, taste to see if the lentils are tender. If they are still hard, add about 1⁄4 cup of water, cover, and simmer for an additional 10 to 15 minutes. Remove lentils from heat and set aside to cool.
A nutrition coach, registered yoga teacher and IIN (Institute for Integrative Nutrition) ambassador. Certified as a holistic health practitioner by the American Association of Drugless Practitioners; Kamala is passionate about sharing the art and science of what we put in our bodies and how we live, as a conduit to lasting transformation.
When you hear the term “Military Yoga,” you may think of a rigorous Boot Camp vinyasa flow with a drill sergeant yelling at you. But there is no “military style” of yoga. The term “military yoga” refers to a practice tailored to the needs of the military community rather than an original style of its own. It is yoga therapy with a certified and trained yoga instructor who focuses on the physical, emotional and mental needs of our active duty military and our veterans to recover, restore, and find balance in their lives.
The word yoga comes from the Sanskrit word yuj, which means to yoke or bind. This humble practice of uniting the breath, mind, and body — and thus a peaceful inner state of being — is especially beneficial for members of the military.
The military environment can often be described as chaotic and dynamic. Bringing yoga — and thus balance and calm — into the military discipline has been the goal of many yoga practitioners.
In recent years, Hawaii has become an integral part of a growing trend in yoga among the military. To backtrack, military presence in Hawaii was minimal up to the first half of the 20th century. The Pearl Harbor attack of 1941 drastically changed the tone of the islands, as the U.S. entered World War II to counter the Japanese military from the Pacific isles. Today, Hawaii is home to the United States Pacific Command (USPACOM), which comprises of the Army, Navy, Marine Corps and Air Force, as well as Coast Guard, providing unique services to the islands and the Pacific. Since World War II, marines, soldiers, sailors, airmen, and coast guardsmen have been deployed to all corners of the world from Hawaii. Not surprisingly, the latest wars fought in Iraq and Afghanistan have weighed down on service members and their families.
As our brave men and woman in uniform fight for our freedom, they are also often struggling with their own internal battles such as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI), Military Sexual Trauma (MST) in addition to physical and mental injuries, just to name a few. Our active duty service members and veterans deal with these issues daily, while trying to maintain “normal” civilian lives.
To cope with PTSD, anxiety, and depression, active military and our veterans are often given medications that temporarily “fade” the memory or trauma. But in reality, fear of never-ending battle usually persist. This is where yoga has become a sign of hope for those living with distress, as a healthier means to regain health and balance. In fact, studies have shown multiple benefits of yoga for military personnel, one being a healthier alternative to taking conventional drugs.
Many service members who practice yoga have found a significant change in themselves when their dependency transitioned from pills to the mat. Yoga had allowed them to face physical and mental challenges while being “in the moment,” helping them cultivate not only a calm mind, but a relief from mental and physical stress. In a sense, yoga helps soldiers tune into a skill that they’ve been trained to acquire for battle: to stay calm and analyze; to stay focused; to solve difficult situations.
Being conscious and aware in yoga encourages a stronger connection to the body and the mind, providing a sense of physical and mental control. The practice of controlling their own body and their own thoughts can create a sense of empowerment and safety.
PTSD is an anxiety disorder that can arise from prolonged or sudden exposure to danger and other threatening experiences. The nervous system “freezes,” causing the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous system to react under stress. Unlike prescription medications that treat the disorder, calming effects of yoga have been known to “unfreeze the nervous system.” In a sense, yoga — with its combination of stretching and deep breathing — creates a “thawing out” effect on the nervous system.
Another healthy outcome of a routine yoga practice among members of the military is community. Yoga forges bonds and close relationships with groups of other veterans and civilians.
“Yoga is one of the few places where I go to be the ‘real Timmy,’” says Sgt. Timothy Thompson, “The practice itself, the essence of it, and the energy and encouragement I get from those that practice with me… It’s hard to explain, but I just know that being at yoga makes me feel happier.”
“Maybe it’s the smiles I see, maybe it’s the warm greetings I get from others that practice; maybe it’s the thrill of finally getting an asana technique correct,” Thompson continues. Developing connections that feel comfortable, and being able to share these experiences with other veterans and civilians who understand and support the process, are invaluable to this veteran’s healing journey.
Thompson appreciates the mentality that “all are equal” in yoga. “It all just makes me happier,” he says.
Fortunately for many on the island, the military is recognizing the benefits of yoga for recovery, and is building a curriculum that integrates yoga-like movements as part of physical therapy programs.
“Teaching yoga to the active duty soldiers for multiple-unit PT sessions for several months has shown me that for them, a regular practice of yoga can help them mentally relax with breathing techniques, meditation and mindful movement,” says Warriors At Ease and “Vetoga” instructor Christina Finely who, as an Army veteran herself, teaches on the island. “I am truly amazed by the progress each makes.”
Yoga brings hope to service members by helping them face issues and conquer them, rather than to ignore them. Yoga is by far a more meaningful and healthier method of coping than pills and drugs. As a civilian and yoga teacher, it is my goal to give back; to offer my services to those who have served and continue to serve, as well as bring awareness to the benefits of yoga for our service members.
The opinions contained in this article are solely of those individuals involved in the article and not of any branch of military service or the U.S. government.
For more information on yoga for military personnel, please reach out to these organizations in Hawaii; Vet Center Honolulu and West Oahu, Warriors At Ease (WAE), Team Red White and Blue Honolulu (Team RWB Honolulu), and Meghan’s Foundation.
Alexis has been practicing yoga strongly for 10 years and teaching for 8 years. She is a certified Yoga Alliance 200 RYT and certified with Warriors At Ease (WAE).
Take three deep breaths. As you inhale, think about the fact that the oxygen from two of those three breaths actually originated from the ocean. The ocean connects humankind back to the earth with every breath we take and every drop of water we consume. But our seas are ill, facing unprecedented habitat destruction from global warming, overfishing and — the issue arguably most within our control — devastating plastic pollution.
From land-based sources such as landfills or spills, toxic plastic of all shapes and sizes makes its way on to the streets and into storm drains, which lead directly into the ocean. Foreign plastic is invading even our most isolated beaches via ocean currents. Globally, the equivalent of 1,200 oversized black bags of trash are dumped into the ocean every minute. Look around, and the evidence is everywhere: plastic sandwich bags on the ground; pieces of cheap Styrofoam coolers and plastic beverage bottles abandoned on the beach; plastic forks, water bottle caps and unidentifiable plastic shards carried away by seabirds that mistake the debris for food. Endless amounts of microplastics are being consumed by fish and wildlife, allowing the toxic material to travel up the food chain. In an ironic twist, our overuse of plastic has created a situation where it is now being fed back to us.
At the current rate of pollution, some researchers estimate there will be more plastic than fish in our seas by 2030, with around 5.25 trillion pieces of plastic already choking the underwater ecosystem. What we see washed up on our beaches and floating in the currents is just a tiny snapshot of the entire picture. Most of the trash in our oceans has sunken out of sight.
Plastic production itself has earth-harming consequences such as land-based oil extraction, deep-sea mining in uncharted areas and the synthesis of harmful chemicals and additives. For decades, plastic producers have preyed on society’s obsession with convenience, but we are at fault, too. Our collective attitudes and behaviors support the continued production of single-use plastics. Consciously or not, we use the power of our dollar with every purchase to encourage brands to use more plastic, instead of supporting renewable and recycled materials. While public attention is trending towards an increase in reusable water bottles, canvas grocery bags and sustainable materials for food containers or packaging, we need a new mindset to cure society of its disposable plastic habit. It is time for policymakers, elected officials and environmental scientists to phase out all single-use plastics, but a shift of this magnitude really has to start with a demand from the consumers.
Locally, groups like Sustainable Coastlines Hawaii (SCH) host multiple large-scale cleanups throughout the state on some of the most beautiful coastlines on earth. SCH works to inspire local communities to use less plastic by getting people involved in the act of picking up debris so they can see that the plastic items they use in everyday life are washing ashore. With a core group of dedicated volunteers, SCH designs and implements various efforts including educational programs, waste diversion services, ocean plastics programs, public awareness campaigns, and assistance in various beach cleanups. The main focus is to inspire stewardship in the next generation and empower them to see hope in a future that is equipped with ocean-preserving actions.
“Our cleanups are the experiences that catalyze change,” says SCH Executive Director Kahi Pacarro, “A beach cleaner leaving our cleanups can no longer return to the concrete and pavement without thinking about how their choices are affecting the beaches they just cleaned.”
We are taught from a young age that the cure for our excessive trash problem is to recycle. But this attitude only serves to enable our disposable plastic addiction. Every piece of plastic that has ever been manufactured is still with us, even if environmental conditions have changed its form. This terrifying reality heavily outweighs the convenience of drinking a coffee in a disposable plastic cup with a plastic straw and a plastic lid.
It might sound odd, but cleaning our beaches starts at home. No one expects consumers to go cold turkey on plastic usage, but there are steps you can take to decrease your personal plastic footprint: say no to a plastic straw because it could save a sea turtle from asphyxiation; adopt a leave-no-trace mentality, and be aware of what you bring to the beach before you even get there; if the person next to you accidentally left some debris on the beach, then grab it; use your monetary power to support and encourage the growing market for non-plastic alternatives made from biodegradable sources.
It’s so rewarding to see people leave beach cleanups and educational events with a commitment to use less plastic. When you see the “plastic tide” washing up on our beloved beaches, you can choose to make changes in your daily life that support ocean health. Take a stand to adopt an ocean-friendly lifestyle, and become part of the solution.
As inhabitants of these beautiful islands, we must fight to revert these harsh visuals back to something we can be proud of to call our home. We must be the ones who catalyze the changes necessary by setting solid examples for the rest of the world to see and follow.
Sarah Rosenthal is originally from San Diego, California. She is working on her masters in GIS technology and an active SCH volunteer of four years.
Are you new to yoga? Are you excited (and a little nervous) about how it will go and what to expect? You’ve taken the steps to purchase your introductory yoga pass, yoga mat and yoga towel, and now a myriad of questions arise: “What will class be like? Am I ready for this? Will I be good at it? Will I be able to keep up? How will I look while practicing? How in the world will I get my hands to my feet?” Rest assured that you are not alone!
Whether you are new to yoga or a seasoned practitioner, my number one suggestion is to have fun. Find a teacher or community you connect with, and a studio or yoga environment where you feel you can learn, grow and thrive. Listen to your body, rest when you need it, doubt your doubts and enjoy the journey and richness of self-discovery.
A beginner’s mindset is truly where it’s at, no matter how long you’ve been practicing yoga. Gratitude and curiosity go a long way, as do laughter and a smile. While you may have a lot of questions about yoga when you first begin, remember to remain open, patient and loving with yourself. The best way to learn is through commitment, consistency and practice. Trust the process.
Okay, so you’ve finally made it to your first yoga class. Congratulations! The toughest part — getting there — is over. Once you’re settled in, you begin the practice of moving and breathing. It seems you’re figuring things out and getting the hang of it, but then you’re surprised to feel someone’s hands pull your hips back in downward facing dog. You are relieved to find it’s your yoga teacher, but you quickly scramble to move your hands back to your feet, thinking you must be doing something wrong. Don’t worry my friend, you are not alone! Nor are you doing anything wrong.
Providing hands-on assists, or adjustments, is one of several ways that teachers communicate instructions while teaching yoga. It is very common in yoga studios across the globe. In addition to physical hands-on assists, yoga teachers can relay information through verbal instructions and visual demonstrations, but hands-on assists can encourage action, ease, depth and connection in a way that dialogue and demos cannot.
Assists can provide opportunity for greater alignment, integrity, depth, focus, and space. When assists are performed mindfully and with intention, they allow you to discover something new within your body. Experienced yoga teachers assist in a way that encourages possibility, creates balance between effort and ease, and does not feel invasive, “touchy-feely,” or inappropriate.
There are three main types of assists in a yoga class: directional, stabilizing, and deepening. Directional assists are used to guide a body along a path in which to move. The teacher will use her or his hands to gently direct the movement of a body part. For example, you may feel your yoga teacher take two fists to your outer hips in chair pose to squeeze in toward your center line and down toward the ground, directing your chair into deeper expression. Directional assists are suggestive to the action principles of the pose.
Stabilizing assists help build your postures from the ground up — as with your hands, feet and core — while encouraging you to stack your joints. These assists encourage proper alignment and therefore stability in your body, while supporting your foundation. When the body is stable, the breath can move more freely. You may feel the teacher press the edges of your feet to the floor, spread your fingers and toes, encourage your lower belly to pull in and the tailbone to drop down, or suggest specific muscles to activate. An example of a stabilizing assist in warrior two pose is for the teacher to anchor the student’s right knee over the right ankle with one hand, and to take the other hand to the right hip crease. This action stabilizes the femur (thigh bone) into the pelvis.
Deepening assists bring the possibility of greater depth and encourage you to explore your edge, which is often much further from your comfort zone than you’d think. Deepening assists support greater length of the upper body in poses such as forward folds, and encourage the spine to rotate more fully in twists. These adjustments often help the breath to flow more smoothly and result in a feeling of a new level of depth in your yoga asana experience. For example, you may feel your teacher’s hand press down and stabilize your lower back in a standing forward fold, shift your hips over your heels and trace the other hand down the length of your spine to your head. These actions can help you to deepen your forward fold.
Assists are not necessarily about fixing a pose. Assisting from a place of fixing implies something is wrong. There is nothing wrong with your practice of self-discovery. While assisting physical alignment through words and touch is important to establishing a safe yoga practice, beware of getting too caught up in your head and having to get it perfect. Stay in your body and breathe, don’t rush the process, and remain open to the joy of freedom in your body, mind and spirit through the moving meditation of yoga.
Yoga assists provide a gift to both the student and the teacher. Hands-on assists allow for connection, and when we are open to connection, we can be of service to one another. This will create a symbiotic relationship of trust and vitality, on and off the mat.
Next time you are in a yoga practice and feel your teacher about to apply a hands-on assist, resist the urge to fix something within your body. Instead, see if you can connect to the teacher’s suggestion, breathe into a new space of possibility, and practice “being in the moment.” Within that sacred space of connection between student and teacher, magic happens.
Jessica Stein is Founder and Director of Kauai Power Yoga Studio, located in Kapaa, Hi. Please visit kauaipoweryoga.com for upcoming 200 Hour Teacher Trainings.
Mala beads have quickly become a popular trend in yoga fashion, but it is important to understand that they are rooted in ancient Indian history, and have a functional purpose as well. For thousands of years, malas have been used as a way to concentrate during meditation. The use of these “prayer beads” — called japa malas — spread to many cultures beyond Hinduism and Buddhism, and are now used in spiritual practices throughout the world as rosaries and worry beads.
Besides being a beautiful piece of jewelry and a representation of your yoga practice or spiritual beliefs, a mala is a sacred tool designed to support your meditation practice.
Mala beads are a tactile focus that help you count your breath or mantra, as you pass the beads through your fingers one by one.
In our ever-changing and over-stimulating modern lives, it is easy to become distracted by the many fluctuations of the world around us. Meditation has been proven to help calm the mind in a way that allows us to handle the inevitable turbulence of life with more steadiness and ease. However, meditation can be intimidating to approach and challenging to sustain. Recitation of mantra, called japa, or simple breath counting can be powerful tools to help you stay focused when the mind moves rapidly from one thought to the next while trying to sit still and stay silent. If you don’t have mantras of your own, an experienced teacher can help you choose an appropriate prayer that promotes grounding and balance in both your life and yoga practice.
How do I choose the right mala?
The Earth energy of the stones, seeds or wooden beads, combined with heartfelt intention and practical technique, can open doors to intimate and lasting experiences of bliss and presence. Choose a mala that “calls” to you. Being physically and energetically attracted to your mala will help to inspire a consistent practice and remind you of your unique and sacred spiritual journey as you move through your daily life. Your mala is so much more than an adornment; it’s a tool of support and inspiration as you work to refine aspects of yourself and your life. It’s your guide as you grow closer to knowing your most subtle essence of your truth and bliss.
There is no shortage of options — from simple to stunning — when choosing a mala. It is even said that the mala actually chooses you. The mala that is meant to be yours will speak to your heart, and remind you that, beyond all mundane distractions, you are a spiritual being having a human experience. So listen to your heart and remember that, although your spiritual experience is unique to you, it is also divinely connected to all things. Your community, your mala, and the profound practice of yoga — all which have stood the test of time — are always available for you.
Sara Ward lives in Honolulu and is an E-RYT and Mala Designer. Her passion is helping people express their unique individual and spiritual path while remaining grounded in a deep and sacred connection to all things.
When I was five, my brothers and I wanted to learn karate. My dad said we needed to take five years of ballet first. We obliged. In my last year of ballet (at age 10), I was the prince in the performance Cinderella. I remember praying that nobody I knew was in the audience because I didn’t want people to know I danced ballet. Fast forward to my adult years when I started yoga, some of those same feelings of embarrassment sprung up. Sure, I told people that I played football in college, lifted weights, cycled, ran, swam and if I did mention yoga at all, it was the last thing I mentioned.
The social norms of what a guy should do and what a girl should do are engrained and conditioned from the time of birth. I suppose it’s a part of being human, but being human also means we can break out of these social norms. Gender stereotypes, in my opinion, are one of the reasons why modern men have stayed away from yoga, even when the benefits of yoga are undisputed. Yoga is “a woman’s thing” and not a “macho man thing.” Society today shows the promise that many of these social “molds” are being broken.
It’s funny, that even though I was embarrassed about letting my peers know I did ballet, during class, I actually strived to be good. The feeling was the same on my yoga mat; I looked forward to yoga, and wanted to be better at it. Though I was not necessarily a “bendy,” person, I fell in love with how yoga made me feel after class, and yearned for more. No other sport or workout routine gave me that feeling of balance and calm.
Today, more professional male athletes in an array of sports like surfing, football, body building, triathlon and golf, are incorporating yoga into their training regimen, showing that social taboos of men doing yoga are finally — and rapidly — dissolving. Take Rich Miano, former Philadelphia Eagles professional football player and retired UH football coach. He’s now an avid yogi. Shortly before his 55th birthday, Rich set out a goal to get back into great shape. He discovered CorePower Yoga and started taking classes almost daily. His favorite CorePower class, Yoga Sculpt, was named among the top 10 workouts of 2018 by Men’s Journal Magazine. By his birthday, Rich had dropped a whopping 30 pounds.
“I feel great and I’ve kept my muscle tone,” Miano says. “I even got my six-pack back. Best thing, I found a practice that I can do for years to come.”
Did you know that yoga was practiced only by men until Indra Devi, a female, was accepted to practice yoga in 1937 by a famous guru? Today, less than 30 percent of yogis are men, yet almost half of all yoga teachers across America are male, according to a 2016 study by Yoga Alliance and Yoga Journal Magazine. The disparity is intriguing.
In this article I’m focusing on the benefits of yoga for men, but please remember that our stories are (almost) always written for both men and women (unless they’re specifically about pregnancy, menopause, or Kegel exercises…). Go to yogahawaiimagazine.com and catch up on some great articles about the benefits of yoga:
Yoga Relieves Stress / By Salina Storozuk
Yoga and the Beginner / By Alana Michele
Yoga and Weight Loss / By Kamala Skipper
Yoga and the Athlete / By Megan Edgar
Yoga for all Body Types / By Rebecca Remillard
I’m Too Inflexible To Do Yoga / By Stephanie Keiko Kong
1. Yoga improves flexibility. Men, in general, are not as flexible as women. One of the most common reasons why professional athletes do yoga is to improve flexibility. Yoga helps them avoid injury and train more efficiently. Even if you are a weekend warrior, you know the importance of not getting injured.
2.Yoga increases your range of motion, which actually helps build larger muscles. This is a little different from flexibility. The weight lifter, for example, is more subject to a limited range of motion because lifting heavier weight results in tighter muscle groups. Increasing range of motion through yoga can actually increase muscle growth, as there is less limitation in pulling and pressing movements.
3. As a yoga class gets more intense, the breathing slows down rather than speeds up. This is very different from running, or any other sport for that matter. The slowed breath not only calms the mind, but deep inhales help expand lung capacity and allows more intake of oxygen in fewer breaths. This pattern of breathing helps oxygenate the body more efficiently, an important component for strength training, cardiovascular efficiency, and muscle building.
4. The technique of mind-body connection in yoga has been proven to not only reduce stress and anxiety, but also to promote weight loss and improve sleep. That means you have more will power to NOT open that refrigerator door late at night.
5. Many athletes incorporate active rest days into their regimen. Yoga can provide the perfect, active rest session, and depending on the format, will likely feel like a great work out as well. Best of all, you don’t need special equipment.
6. The more you are exposed to yoga, the more you hear about yoga philosophy. The topics are varied, but you’ll learn a lot about inner self, the ego, connectivity, gratitude, and spreading good karma. This may provide a sense of balance for the “macho” hetero male who focuses on money, women, and cars (boy, I’m really stereotyping my own demographic here).
7. Yoga leads to better sex. According to Men’s Fitness magazine, practicing yoga can result in better and longer sex. Increased concentration allows you to channel your sexual energy, helping prevent premature ejaculation, and also makes you more sensitive and responsive to your partner. I’m sure your flexibility will come in handy, too.
After five years of ballet, I never started those karate lessons. I played Pop Warner football instead, and I can honestly say that ballet certainly helped me become a star player. Football turned out to be my ticket to an Ivy League education. Today, my “pump monkey” days of living in the weight room are over, and running long distances is not sustainable for my joints. I know yoga will be with me for a long time and, as I get older, my body is happier for it. I feel “well-preserved,” and am confident that I can stay active for years to come. I hope to see you in class!
I am a 200 hour certified yoga instructor at Core Power Yoga. I have been teaching a fusion yoga class called Sculpt (yoga with weights) since 2013 and teach power vinyasa classes. I consider myself an athlete and have been involved in sports since a child playing football, baseball, basketball, and even ballet. I excelled in football where I was recruited and played at Brown University. Today I keep myself active with lots of yoga, cycling, swimming, running, weight lifting and more yoga.
Since I was young, one of my goals in life was to teach, but my passion to own and operate a marketing/advertising agency and raise two beautiful children took precedence. Today, fusing my passion to teach in the field of athletics is the ultimate job. To be able to aid in the physical and mental health of my community is the ultimate honor and privilege.