Posts

Yoga Profiles: Shakti Flow

This weekend I was lucky enough to attend Wanderlust Oahu (a yoga and music festival) for free, through work. Although I always try to take some new styles of yoga classes and/or practice with new teachers at events like this, my favorite class was one I went into knowing I would love: Shakti Flow. It was taught by Jess Abner, the amazing lady who is at the helm of the Shakti Flow movement.

Shakti Flow is my favorite exercise, hands-down. I love it so much, that I got trained to teach it, last year.

There are many days when I know that I would feel better after a run or yoga practice, but I’m just not in the mood to actually do it. Shakti Flow is the one and only thing that no matter my mood or how tired or busy I am, I still really want to Shakti Flow it out.

Let me be clear: Shakti Flow will kick your ass. You are not just going to sweat, you are going to be drenched. But here’s the thing: I’m not one of those insane people who think that the harder you have to work, the better. My other favorite asana practice is Strala, which is all about getting more done using less effort.

Shakti Flow is not going to kick your ass in the same way that some other intense things do, like Soul Cycle (which I hate, by the way. What exactly is fun about paying almost $1 per minute to get strapped into a machine, pump your legs up and down a million times in a row, and have someone yell at you in the dark? No thank you!).

Yes, there are some moments while practicing Shakti Flow when I think I simply cannot go on. However, those moments are when I’m literally shaking everything out so hard that maybe my muscles cramp up, or my body simply cannot follow my brain’s command, but I want to keep going. I enjoy myself so much that it doesn’t seem like work, even when my body is working harder than it probably ever has before. And again, let me remind you: I am the type of person who thinks that teaching yoga still feels like work.

Yoga, dance and functional fitness, Shakti Flow is an invigorating practice that blends these elements.
On the surface a Shakti Flow class is full of high intensity cardio bouts,
fun improv dance sets mixed with creative vinyasa flow, body weight strength training
and breath work while loud motivating music infiltrates the room.
Below what we can physically see, these movements are cleansing and opening
our chakras, building solid foundations while nudging us to step out of our comfort zones.
In turn we re-emerge more confident, vibrant and more aligned
with our divine feminine energy. Shakti means power or empowerment,
which is what our practice inspires within us.

This incredible practice has led me to self-love that I never thought possible; it is a feminist statement every time you hit your mat for Shakti Flow (shakti is the divine feminine energy); and it has an unbelievable healing power, all while being probably the most fun you will ever have while breaking a major sweat.

If you haven’t tried it yet, you must! And if it makes you nervous, know this: I am not a good dancer at all. This is not about performing, and it really is a judgement-free zone. It’s a celebration.

If you want to get even more of a taste for the type of energy to expect at a Shakti Flow class, check out some of my favorite Shakti Flow jams below. I try to catch Jess’s classes at Yoga Hawaii weekly. Maybe I’ll see you there soon!

*Photos courtesy of Jess Abner/Shakti Flow and Wanderlust Oahu/Melissa Gayle Creative

Yoga Playlist: January-March 2017

Great news! I’ve finally figured out how to embed my Spotify playlists here into my posts. This is the playlist I’ve been jamming out to on my mat since this new year:

What is the BEST Yoga Mat?

You might have read my post about why I do not like Lululemon’s yoga mats (even though like every other yoga person, I love their clothes).

I felt extremely vindicated when Reviews.com published its list of the 9 best yoga mats out of 30 (which they were not provided with for free) and agreed that MY favorite yoga mat is THE BEST yoga mat!

Reviews.com aims to be as unbiased as possible so they ensure that no partnerships are made with any of the brands selected, prior to the research being completed and the work published. So it’s official: the Manduka ProLite is the best mat. Yay!

Yogis: agree or disagree?

A Yogi’s Place is in the Resistance

After the 2016 presidential election, I stopped using Instagram as frequently. Suddenly, pretty pictures of food and yoga asana just did not seem relevant to what was happening in my life and our country. Instead, I turned to Twitter (which is more text-heavy, and is where I have always turned for news in the past) and Facebook, which I deleted a few years back, and only begrudgingly reactivated for work 2 years ago, but had seldom used.

 

The reason I mention all this is that suddenly, friends, family and coworkers have begun dropping hints and comments regarding how “politically active” I am. I don’t interpret these comments as positive or negative (regardless of their intent, of which I’m unsure). However, I do think it’s interesting that posting petitions on Facebook, and writing about sexual harassment and assault on a wellness blog, now make me “political,” whereas before I was perceived not to be. But what I really want to acknowledge and reiterate is something I posted on Facebook on November 14, 2016:

 

To anyone telling me that by voicing my concern for the current state of affairs, it means I’ve been brainwashed by the media: joke’s on you! I’ve been living in my blissful #whiteprivilege bubble for the past 2 years. Haven’t followed the news AT ALL. Thanks for waking me up 

 

It’s true. The fact is, I didn’t out of the blue, begin to have opinions about politics, current events, social issues, the environment, etc. exactly 3 months ago, on November 7, 2016. I didn’t suddenly “become political.” I had just been obliviously enjoying my privilege for years.

 

If you have known me for a really long time, like WAY back, you might know or remember that I was extremely into politics at the beginning of high school. My best friend and I talked about the environment, social issues, elections, globalization, and more, regularly and with fervor. I followed the news, I read a ton, I debated my classmates. I felt like I was growing up to be a citizen of the world, and I wanted to be prepared. I distinctly remember falling asleep in my parents’ bed, late on the night of November 2nd, 2004. Because we lived in Hawaii, I thought that if I stayed awake long enough, I would be able to confirm that John Kerry had won the presidential election, before falling asleep for the night. I was wrong, twice. I remember waking up the next morning, opening my eyes and looking at the television immediately, and the feeling of dreadful disbelief that hit me was so intense, I completely and instantaneously withdrew. I stopped following the news. I became cynical and angry, but it was internalized. Of course, I was still “me,” so while I shied away from any political conversation whatsoever with friends and [especially] family, I still studied International Affairs in college. I still joined Twitter when it was new and followed a bunch of news outlets, and checked it occasionally. I still cared about history, and business, and morality, and a spiritual “truth.” I still voted in the 2008 election, once I was old enough to.

 

But I am not writing this because I feel like I have something to prove about my past, or about my return to confronting political issues (side note: everything is political. And if you disagree, do yourself a favor and ask yourself why). The reason I wanted to write about this is because like all evolutions and journeys, this has been a process of self-discovery. As humans, we are all evolving, and we choose whether or not to examine our lives. Yes, reflection is painful; it’s intense; it’s excruciating, even; but it’s the only route to freedom. As we say all the time in yoga: THE ONLY WAY OUT IS THROUGH.

 

When I was on my hiatus from current events, I almost wore it as a badge of honor. I would emphasize my ignorance and brag, “Oh, whats that? What’s happening? I don’t follow the news.” And I would laugh, as if I was so smart to shield myself from that nonsense and just enjoy life, because YOLO! It doesn’t affect me, really, so who cares, amirite?!

 

Well, here’s the truth: I was only able to choose not to follow the news because I am not a person of color. Because I am not a member of the LGBTQ community. Because I am not an immigrant. Because I do not have disabilities. Because I do not have a chronic health condition. Because our country is set up for people like me.

 

While yes, I believe that I am a woman in an infuriatingly misogynist society, I am still unbelievably lucky. So lucky, that I can choose not to follow the news, if I want, because it feels like it doesn’t affect me. My right to get married; to an education; to a fair trial; and countless other seemingly-standard American liberties, have never been even remotely threatened. These issues were not concerns. They were not part of my everyday-life. But not everyone is, or was, as lucky.

 

(Let me address my use of the word and concept “privilege” here, before anyone feels the need to defend themselves: acknowledging your privilege does not mean you have to live apologetically, or diminish or demean yourself — just as being a feminist does not mean you need to hate men or hope for their demise. If this is an issue for you, please, do yourself and everyone else a favor, and do some research and reading. Maybe even see a therapist. If we could all afford one, I would highly recommend we all see a brain doctor, whether we think we need to or not. Hopefully your health insurance covers it.)

 

My reaction to the presidential election back in 2004 was completely different than the outrage I feel now, and that I felt the night of November 7, 2016. When I was younger, I just coped in the only way I knew how. It was extremely imperfect, and probably unproductive, but I was barely a teen back then. Now, I am channeling the energy from my intense emotional reactions to propel me through, especially when this rough ride becomes almost unbearable; when all I want to do is shut down, withdraw into myself, and pretend none of this pure bullshit is actually going down, because how could it be!?

 

Yes, the personal stakes are much higher for me now. Women in this country and around the world are having their rights seriously threatened and in some cases stripped, by our current administration. And, when I was younger, I was on my father’s excellent health insurance policy; now I am on Obamacare. So I’m no longer completely (or at least, seemingly) personally unaffected. But that’s not why I decided to “get all political,” as I have been accused. I’m not at all as worried about myself, as I am about everyone else who is not as lucky as me.

When I was younger, and I decided to tune out the rest of the world, I naively thought that doing no harm was the same as doing good. I was wrong. Progress does not “just happen.” November 7, 2016 was a rude awakening for me, but I am grateful that I was able to grow as a person (as painful as that always is). Personal growth, similarly, does not “just happen.” I am certain that part of my personal evolution can be attributed to my yoga practice. Yoga itself is furthest traced back to the Bhagavad Gita (a Hindu scripture that is part of the epic Mahabharata; written at some point between 400-200 CE). In this ancient text, the Lord Krishna comes to a prince who is growing despondent on the battlefield. This prince does not want to fight, especially because his adversaries are his very own family and friends. However, Lord Krishna tells the prince (Arjuna) that he must practice yoga, which he defines in various ways:

 

  • the clear, discerning, totally voluntary, dynamic participation in one’s life;
  • fueled by love;
  • sacrifice that elevates us, motivates us, informs us, actively engages us and does so in a manner that is harmonious to all other living beings;
  • fearless, selfless, freeing, balancing, inspiring, and joyfully-performed actions based on a vision in which one experiences peaceful interconnection with all life.

 

He says:

 

Be steadfast in your duty, O Arjuna, and abandon all attachment to success or failure. Such evenness of mind is called yoga.

 

Yes, he describes yoga as a peaceful practice. But do you know what else? He does not tell the prince to make peace with his enemies. He tells Arjuna to continue in battle. He tells him he must fight his own family and friends, because it is in the name of the truth and what is right. He says as yogis we must be actively engaged in life, fighting when appropriate, without any attachment to the result (in other words, working toward a goal while simultaneously releasing all expectations and accepting the fact that you cannot control or predict how it will all turn out. Or, more practically, hope for the best, but you must keep fighting even knowing that there might not be results, at least in your lifetime).

 

If you call yourself a yogi, it is not enough to “stay out of it,” or claim that talking politics is distasteful, or simply practice ahimsa (nonviolence). A yogi is a warrior, and not just on the mat. A yogi is someone who is willing to selflessly defend the truth, stand up for what’s right, and yes, fight, when necessary.

 

I don’t want to wait around until things are worse (again). I call myself a yoga teacher and a nutritionist because I believe in preventative medicine. And I believe that this micro approach can have much broader application. Prevention does not just apply to you and me as individuals, but to our society and country. Development is an active process that we must all engage in, both personally and collectively. Healing will always be necessary, because life is tough (no matter who you are!) and there will be trials and tribulations on your journey. That is just how it goes, and the silver lining is that if we so choose, we can be in a constant state of growth. Yes, that does mean constant growing pains. And sometimes, I am just so tired and sick of it all. Sometimes I even catch myself wondering, Why bother? But as my new-favorite singer Andra Day emphatically resounds, in her gorgeous song, Rise Up: “all we need is hope, and for that we have each other.”
Sources:
  1. Bhagavad-Gita As It Is by His Divine Grace A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada
  2. Elephant Journal

Lakshmi Lullabies by Noelani Love

I was so excited when I heard that Noelani was making an ukulele album of sacred songs, because I am always looking for great new yoga music, and this sounded perfect.

Noelani writes, “We’re bridging the gap between ancient mantras and sweet modern music.  These powerful sound-healing songs are the medicine that the world needs right now… My songwriting combines ukulele melodies with traditional chants from the languages of Sanskrit, Hawaiian, the Kundalini lineage, and more.”

I participated in her Indiegogo campaign, which meant I also received an adorable “unicorn tear” necklace from Noelani’s jewelry brand (she is a musician, yoga teacher, doula and jeweler).

The album is out, and I’m loving listening so far! You can get your own copy for under $15 here.

2016 in Review: Exercise

2015 in Review: Exercise, is here.

No abs? No problem! Just try high-rise leggings 😉

Even though it was encouraging and useful for me these past three years, I think that 2016 is the last time (for now, at least) that I will be recording my exercise. While it’s cool to be able to have concrete numbers, proof of how much I exercised all year, I found it really irritating an item on my before bed to-do list. I actually do not like having any sort of pre-bedtime to-do list, but it’s a must. I have to wash my face, brush my teeth, write in my line-a-day-journal, and write down my workout. Since I still have a year and a half left in my line-a-day-journal, I am going to let myself off the hook and stop recording workouts. The fact that I do not have any specific goal I am working towards, makes me even less inclined to continue to record any/all workouts in 2017.

Since we have the numbers from 2016, let’s take a look at them:

  • I ran 10 (only 10!) miles all year (I am still blaming my foot and ankle injuries from 2015 for that one!)
  • I practiced yoga 219 times
  • I taught 387 yoga classes

I also walked a ton; hiked, swam and did barre occasionally; but I didn’t count those. Which is another reason why I do not want to continue this log this year: it’s not really accurate to what I do in terms of movement, and it also has no real effect on the way I feel physically. I want to exercise for my mental and physical health and well-being; do I really need a ledger for that? Nope. Most of the time, it actually just made me feel worse that I wasn’t able to run or do yoga as much as I wanted to, with everything else going on.

I was able to complete two yoga teacher trainings in 2016, for which I am so grateful, because they are both styles that I personally adore practicing: Strala

and Shakti Flow.

My goal is, like everyone else’s, to get in better shape so that I can more fully enjoy and participate in life. But really, that’s not a New Year’s Resolution; it’s a daily one.

 

What do you think: does writing down your workouts keep you accountable? Do you have any fitness plans or goals for 2017?

Easy Yoga Asana for Holiday Stress Relief

Here is a useful piece I wrote for my Holiday 2016 Newsletter. Ask me for a printed copy in person, or download the full PDF here.

Let’s be honest: between work, school break, parties, family obligations, travel, gift-giving, etc. the holidays can turn from fun to stressful very quickly. Here are some easy asana that will help you relax and re-center:

yogaloha holiday christmas pants yoga

  1. Child’s pose (balasana): Kneel on the floor, with your knees open wide, toes un-tucked, and big toes touching. Lay your torso down between your thighs and rest your forehead on the ground. Reach your hands all the way forward, then exhale to settle your hips to your heels and your arms to the ground.  This is a resting pose; stay anywhere from 30 seconds to a few minutes. It gently stretches the hips, thighs, and ankles; calms the brain and helps relieve stress and fatigue. A variation is to bring your knees in to touch and rest your arms down by your sides, to further stretch the shoulders and allow the spine to gently round.
  2. Butterfly (Supta Baddha Konasana): start laying down on your back on an even surface. Bend both knees and bring the soles of your feet in to touch (prop up your knees with pillows, blankets or blocks if this is too much on your hips). Relax your arms wherever is comfortable (by your side, on your belly, overhead, etc.) and close your eyes. Breathe deeply and stay for 1-10 minutes.  This posture stimulates the heart and improves circulation; stretches the inner thighs, groins, and knees; and helps relieve the symptoms of stress, depression, & menstruation.
  3. Legs-up-the-wall (viparita karani): Simply lay down on your back on an even surface. Lift your legs straight up over your hips, so that your body resembles a capital letter “L.” For even more comfort, you can do this at the wall and rest your legs against the wall. Wiggle around until you find a position that feels good; then hold still. Relax  and breathe. Hold for 5-15 minutes. Benefits include improved mood, increased energy, reduced anxiety and depression, and healing for menstrual cramps, migraine, arthritis, varicose veins, urinary disorders, respiratory ailments, insomnia, high and low blood pressure and digestive issues.
  4. Wild thing (camatkarasana – pictured): Start in a side plank with your right hand on the ground, fingers spread. Inhale to lift your hips higher and float your left leg up off your right leg. Bend your left leg and step your left foot to the floor behind you. Keep that left leg bent and your right leg straight. On an inhale, curl your back until your chest opens up toward the sky; curl your head back and lift your top arm out from your heart-space. Stay for just a few deep breaths. Return through side plank; repeat on the other side. This pose opens the chest, lungs, shoulders, legs & hip flexors. It builds strength in the shoulders & back and treats fatigue, anger, depression & aggression.


Yoga Playlist: October 2016

Hey guys,

I just realized I TOTALLY forgot to post this playlist back in October! Sorry about that… but I figured, more music to practice yoga to is always better late than never, right? Enjoy!

(If you’d prefer a more seasonally-appropriate playlist, here’s one for December)

yoga playlist spotify october 2016yoga playlist spotify october 2016 yoga playlist spotify october 2016 yoga playlist spotify october 2016

Herban Essential Towelettes

herban essentials towelettes

I’ve discovered Herban Essential wipes from working in the yoga world for the past two years. Herban Essentials uses steam distilled or cold pressed essential oils and they make a constant effort to obtain organic, wild-grown oils from American farmers whenever possible. Their products are made in the USA, are cruelty free and are never tested on animals (yay!) and come in different sizes and scents, ranging from lavender to eucalyptus. I’ve tried the Yoga Towlettes (lavender) and orange. They come individually-wrapped, which is so convenient to tuck one into your purse, car, etc.

FullSizeRender (1)

You can use these towelettes on your skin (especially good to wipe off sweat after a yoga class) or to clean your yoga mat. I discovered another great use: cleaning. Not only did I wipe down the entire interior of the front of my car, but also cleaned my shoes. Here’s the before photo…

FullSizeRender (13)

Here you can see what the towelettes look like (no artificial colors or fragrances makes them very subtle yet still effective).

lavender wipes

And voila! So much better. Have you tried these? What do you use them for?


2016 Holiday Newsletter

valerie-bretts-holiday-newsletter-2016

Make sure to pick up a copy of my 2016 Holiday Newsletter from me in person, or click above for the online PDF version.

yogaloha holiday christmas pants yoga

Happy Holidays!