Why The Benefits Of Yoga Double When You Do It With A Friend

If you're in tune with the wellness world, you probably know by now that yoga and meditation can help to reduce stress and anxiety, alleviate chronic pain, and enhance overall well-being.

Photo by Diana Zapata

Photo by Diana Zapata

While a restorative yoga practice aims to do all of the above, it can be difficult to put these relaxation techniques into practice during busy, strenuous circumstances. With family obligations, parties, travel, and shopping, the holiday season can keep our brains active despite our best attempts to wind down. How can we work with the natural, human stresses of life and return to balance? Implement the buddy system, recruit a friend, and hold each other accountable.

No matter who we choose to practice with or when we choose to practice, research continuously shows that building friendships results in a greater sense of belonging and alleviates depression. Our social bonds are scientifically proven to help us live not only a happier life but a longer one—which is why the message of You. We. All. is so important.

Yoga can also be considered a form of moving meditation—it's a means of connecting with and tuning in to ourselves. Dr. John Douillard explains, "According to ayurveda, meditation disarms this protective nervous system by increasing parasympathetic nervous system activity, which is the body’s repairing nervous system. This enhances self-awareness of the painful area on both a physical, mental, and even emotional level. Once the body has become fully aware of the painful area as a problem, the body’s natural pharmacy can kick in and help resolve the pain."

Sharing a restorative yoga sequence with a trusted companion can offer up the combined benefits of lifting spirits and making it easier for us to actually relax. Consider experimenting with the restorative yoga sequence below during the holidays (and beyond) with someone whose company you enjoy.

Read more + try some restorative postures in the original article published on MindBodyGreen, co-written by Aditi + Sasha.

Yoga: Beyond Movement

Photo by Grant Henry Media

Photo by Grant Henry Media

I grew up a tree climber, barefoot in my backyard with wild hair, trying not to dirty the frocks in which my mother would dress me. I am not a sit still kind of person; I love to move and I love yoga. But yoga is more than a form of movement.

In India, there is a television personality named Baba Ramdev who hosts an hour of free yoga programming every morning. People write in to him and tell him their ailments: poor vision, insomnia, weight management. Baba Ramdev then provides solutions and cures from a yogic perspective, “Try this pranayama (breathing exercise) or this kriya (cleansing technique) and these asanas (postures).”

Yoga was presented in this way to me as I grew up — a methodology, not a fitness regime.

My parents are of Indian origin, and we treated this healing art as something of interest, but not a practice. They were busy with work and life (and children), so once in a blue moon we would treat ourselves and have yoga teachers come to our home and teach us.

These sessions were underwhelming for a 10-year-old me, full of long held postures, breath work, and sitting still. In these classes, as none of our family members were in need of specific healing, there was a greater focus on meditation. This was tough. I longed to run barefoot in the backyard, bike around the neighborhood, or get lost in a book — anything but sit quietly or try to count my breaths. Nonetheless a seed was planted: Yoga is a methodology for healing, and that these practices have properties beyond the postures, beyond the physical.

My childhood and adolescence flew past me, as many of ours probably did. My parents spent a lot of time embedding us in Indian culture and philosophy, taking us to weekend courses to learn Eastern worldviews and religion (Jainism) and planning trips to India at least once a year. I spent a lot of time trying to be a better soccer player, keep up with my classes, and fit in with my friends at school.

It wasn’t until college that yoga reappeared into my life in a significant way. I majored in mathematics, and although I thoroughly enjoyed the way that math stretches your brain, I struggled knowing that I didn’t want to pursue the career trajectory before me. Simultaneously I didn’t have the time to continue to play soccer, and my injuries were making even running inaccessible to me. My parents had retired and moved to India, so I couldn’t often go home to reassess. I felt stuck, physically, mentally, and emotionally.

This is when the yoga seed that was planted in my childhood started to sprout.

I suddenly began to wonder if these ancient healing techniques might be able to help me through my anxiety. So like every other 18-year-old at the time, I sought help from Google. I pulled up some Rodney Yee videos and perused Light on Yoga in search of the right combination of postures to help. I went down the Internet rabbit hole and for some reason became obsessed with David Swenson’s ashtanga primary series video and what he was saying about breathing and practice. So began the foundation of my vinyasa practice.

If nothing else, yoga helped me create a deeper connection to myself. It kept me from tying my identity to the things that I did. It allowed me to recognize that I didn’t want to work in the finance industry after college, so I let myself stray from the life path I had set out for myself, and with nowhere else to turn to, went to my parents’ home in India.

As it turns out, abandoning your life goals and moving to a different country can create a whole new world of anxiety. As I pondered the purpose of my life in Bangalore, I found the time to practice yoga 2-3 times a day. I would practice Mysore with a teacher and explore more on my own at home. As much as I enjoyed this time of self-reflection and growth, being unemployed wasn’t my end goal. So when new opportunities fell into my lap, I moved to Mumbai and began a 5-year career in fashion.

Like a stable partner, yoga never left me — it was the one piece of my life that stayed constant from place to place, from job to job.

While I was in India, I remember laughing when my mother told me to consider opening a studio and teaching. But as fashion wore away at me, I began to lean more on the practice, and study it more seriously. I noticed that yoga helped me to connect more deeply to a sense of self that wasn’t defined by my job or location or family. I was happier when I practiced, and the effects were so noticeable that if I were moody, my brothers would ask me if I had skipped yoga for the day.

Fast forward to 4 years ago when I followed my heart and moved to New York City.

Living in NYC without an income is incredibly motivating. I was laser focused on getting to know the yoga community and getting hired as a teacher. For the first time, I practiced with music. I learned how to assist others. I found teachers to learn from (thank you Nikki Costello, Robert Lindsey, and Lindsay Hilscher). I read everything I could get my hands on, I practiced religiously, and I studied history, philosophy, anatomy, and everything in between — and here I am today, a yoga teacher in NYC.

Any practice, or art form can change your life. If you woke up at 5am and boxed for 2 hours every morning, surely that dedication would pay in scores mentally and emotionally. The effects of discipline and the self-reflection that comes from a sustained commitment is not to be overlooked.

Yoga is an energetic practice, an experience that threads together the inner and outer selves.

 If you prescribe to the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, the goals of yoga and the path to yoga are meditation. There are many approaches to the practice, but at the finish line is a steadiness of mind. There are other ways to use the tools of yoga as well. Restorative yoga, pranayama, pre- and postnatal and yin yoga are valid forms of yoga with countless health and wellness benefits.

My personal practice is somewhat traditional, but it’s certainly not the only way. How can it be, when the world of yoga is evolving around us every day? Whatever worldview we as yogis prescribe to, I strongly feel that it is our responsibility to learn the history and philosophy behind the practice. Iyengar encouraged creativity, and brilliant new practitioners should and will continue to innovate the practice of yoga. I, for one, am excited to see how yoga takes on an even bigger presence in the world over the course of my lifetime.

When I started practicing yoga seriously in India, I wrote the following in my journal:

What yoga has taught me:

  • Nothing is impossible, just difficult.
  • Nothing challenging comes easily or overnight.Daily perseverance is the key.
  • There will always be somebody better, stronger, faster, more flexible than you, maybe even without putting in as much effort. Instead of being jealous/angry/bitter, the best thing to do is to respect their abilities/talent, and work harder on your own.
  • Consistency is key.
  • Appreciate all the things your body can do.
  • Yoga makes you challenge yourself every day.

I still feel all of these things, and more.

I haven’t reached enlightenment, but I’ve certainly experienced some major positive changes beyond the obvious physical benefits. Yoga has allowed me to relate to myself and the world around me with more space. By observing without judgement, I can notice my emotions without being my emotions, and then see others in the same way. The space allows me to choose how to act (out of love) instead of react to the world.

My mission as a teacher is to show others that a yoga practice is more than making space in your body; it is making space in your mind. One of the things that gives me great joy is cultivating a community around this sort of mindfulness.

You can catch me and my good friend Sasha Nelson curating Mindful Morning events around the city, in which we meditate, discuss, and share nourishing food with like-minded individuals. Otherwise, follow my adventures on Instagram. I’m always interested in your thoughts, so please feel free to reach out!

Originally published on Best Self Media.

Yoga Anywhere | Mindfulness in Times Square

Photo by Diana Zapata

Photo by Diana Zapata

I recently wrote about the importance of savoring summer before, in the blink of an eye, the season slides into fall.

On the first day of summer this year, my friend Aditi and I had the pleasure of participating in Solstice in Times Square with the intention of guiding thousands of yogis, ourselves included, in cultivating a sense of stillness in one of the most electrifying hotspots in the world.

Hotel Edison was kind enough to provide us with a sweet stay-cation suite to reboot after the longest day of the year. Here’s how it all went down:

aditi

Take a bird’s eye view of Times Square and it’s not hard to tell which people are tourists and which are New Yorkers. The New Yorkers are the ones walking as fast as they can away from Times Square. To the rest of the world, Times Square epitomizes the spirit and essence of NYC, but for those who live here, we know that its constant noise and endless hectic energy can start to become weary. It comes as no surprise, then, that blocking off Times Square to practice yoga is a much needed solace. Sasha and I were lucky enough to not just participate in the event, but to be a part of it.

sasha

New Yorkers walk with a mission. We know how to get to where we need to be as quickly as humanly possible, like ping-ponging through the tourist-laden crowds of Times Square. Although cluttered with lights, sounds, smells, and an overwhelming plethora of varying distractions for the senses, Times Square still remains a fascinating hub of life – something I try to remember when my teaching or dance class schedule takes me out of Brooklyn and into that pulsing melting pot.

To practice yoga in Times Square, I feel, paints a general picture of what yoga is in and of itself: bringing the attention back to the mind, body, and breath amidst an array of noise, whether it comes from thoughts, emotions, physical feelings, or external sounds. My experience two years ago as a student in Douglass’ class ended with me surprisingly asleep in savasana, unlinked to the palpable buzz surrounding us. That is yoga.

aditi

Have you ever had a moment in which you felt so much thanks that it that humbled and overwhelmed you? That’s the gratitude I felt when I knew I would get to reach out and touch THOUSANDS of yogis teaching in Times Square. On one hand, I felt the challenge of guiding 2000 people into an experience of yoga. On the other, I knew I was going to do what I do most days: teach yoga.

As a teacher, there is a need to “hold space.” In layman’s terms, I would describe this as creating a boundary within which the class can feel supported by the teacher. No student can truly try something new or feel safe within a practice unless they feel supported by their teacher. For me, knowing that this kind of energy was going to take over one of the busiest parts of the city made me feel absolutely elated and excited. For weeks, I dreamt about leading a chant of Om with a thousand voices and hearts.

 

I extended an invite to a community of new teachers at my studio to assist the class, and was overjoyed by the support and camaraderie of my community. To have some of my best friends on stage with me was the icing on the cake. Have you ever had a moment where you feel so much thanks that it that humbles and overwhelms you? That’s the gratitude I felt when I knew I would get to reach out and touch THOUSANDS of yogis teaching in Times Square. On one hand, I felt the challenge of guiding 2000 people into an experience of yoga. On the other, I knew I was going to do what I do most days: teach yoga.

sasha

Being on stage this year with my dear friend Aditi and her business partner Rachel filled me with an enormous amount of gratitude. After studying together in several NYC trainings, Aditi and I have been fortunate enough to partner on her Well+Good Sweat Series and sweat friends video, and a Mindful Morning at Athleta Soho of which Aditi is the store ambassador.

Aditi and I are, aside from teachers, dedicated students of yoga, and so it was wonderfully special to be able to support her as she led thousands of bodies through both challenging and therapeutic postures. Representing these lovely teachers and ladies, taking their excellent class, and moving intentionally with the breath alongside a sea of people in one of the world’s most well-known epicenters was, in Aditi’s words, far beyond humbling.

aditi

While I was teaching, I felt at home – just a teacher guiding students through an experience of yoga. Of course it was the largest class I ever taught, and of course, the momentum of thousands of yogis in Times Square felt bigger than anything I had previous experienced.

When we chanted Om, I felt everything woosh inwards. Times Square seemed to pause at the collection of everyone’s energy directed towards a singular sound and it penetrated the pervasive descriptors of the space. “Hectic,” “noisy,” and “busy” fell away, and all of a sudden we had a moment in which we were all human beings practicing an ancient art in the pursuit of yoga.

sasha

There is something incredibly invigorating about coming together as a community, all with the goal of yoga, or “oneness,” in mind. I had the pleasure of performing in 2015 during the same Solstice event, and demoing for Aditi and Rachel this year was equally as meaningful. Filling the air with the universal sound of OM at the end of class was one of the most powerful moments of the day; it was absolutely magical and unbelievably grounding to hear the blending of this spiritual vibration with the ongoing rattle of New York City.

aditi

After the class, I felt the residue of teaching, but I also felt like I had just spent a week at a boxing camp – physically and mentally exhausted. Luckily, Sasha and I were headed to Hotel Edison to reboot. We had in our arsenal:

  • restorative yoga postures to balance our nervous systems,
  • a knowledge of meditation to still our minds
  • Sauca essential oil products for added therapeutic effects

The hotel offered us a suite with two super comfy queen size beds, a balcony with a gorgeous sunset for eye candy, and a separate room with space for us to CTFO. We took advantage of all of it. We rubbed balms on our wrists and breathed in calming scents like frankincense and lavender. We put our legs up a wall and over a couch and felt our muscles relax. We sat quietly with our thoughts and tried to steady our minds.

sasha

I knew Aditi would need some serious R&R after class, and I myself had been bouncing around the city to teach throughout the day. Thankfully Hotel Edison of Triumph Hotels provided us with a beautiful, cozy suite above the noisy streets of Manhattan. We had a little terrace to enjoy the day’s welcoming breeze, Sauca essential oil balms to soothe muscles and minds [we could not get enough of the grounding meditation balm], and – as yoga teachers often do – turned the couch and beds into restorative props. As we know we are both fortunate enough to have healthy, able bodies, we also are there to remind each other to cultivate balance by taking good care of ourselves and one another.

We ended the longest day of the year by watching the sun go down on our sweet balcony peeking over the Hudson river, the sound of OM still wafting through the air and our hearts, and talked about yoga right up until we fell asleep in Edison’s plush beds.

aditi

Yoga seeks equanimity of the mind. To be in Times Square can feel crazy – whether we avoid the noise and bustle, or whether we are elated to be part of a day of yoga. If our goal is to find a sense of evenness, one should aim to see things as they are and find ways to cultivate balance. So the moral of the story is that regardless of time, place or location, YOU have the ability to slow down, take a deep breath, close your eyes and sit still for a few peaceful moments.

sasha

It is no coincidence that the International Day of Yoga and Summer Solstice land on the same day. They indicate the awakening of a season and a collective consciousness toward a more mindful personal, communal, societal, and worldly life. Aditi and I hope to inspire these and other teachings of yoga throughout our own communities and we were deeply thankful for the opportunity to share that with New York City in Times Square.

Originally posted on Sasha Yoga + Wellness, co-written by Aditi + Sasha.

Power Poses for a Stronger Core

Quickie workouts are great for giving you a swift full-body burn—but with this core-building sequence, you may just find it strengthens your confidence, too.

“Your core is the seat of your power—it’s your willpower, it’s your fire, it’s the power of transformation,” says Yoga Vida instructor Aditi Shah. “The exercises that we’re doing hopefully help you cultivate that power, and be more embodied in that seat of ‘I can do this.'”

But don’t worry—you’ll still be physically challenged. “You have to ground onto your feet, you have to engage your legs, you have to draw your low belly up,” explains Shah, who doubles as an ambassador. “You have to really engage in a way that is not just focused on one area—and your core is really the center of your body so it expands outwardly.”

Along with her workout BFF (and fellow Yoga Vida instructor) Sasha Nelson, Shah is sharing the guaranteed way to start your day on a positive—and self-motivating—note.

Watch the video above for the full, do-anywhere yoga workout...

Originally created for Well + Good.