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you have been in Sunstone Yoga classes or researched yoga enough to have heard instructors, our social media, and fellow students speak about the “practice” of yoga.

The term “practice” is used a lot in the yoga world. Why? What do the phrases “I practice yoga”, “How is your practice coming along”, or “develop your practice” actually mean?

Most importantly, how is a practice different than simply exercising? Merriam Webster defines the two words in the following ways:

Practice (noun):
a: systematic exercise for proficiency
b: a repeated or customary action

Exercise (noun):
a: bodily exertion for the sake of developing and maintaining physical fitness
b: something performed or practiced in order to develop, improve, or display a specific capability or skill

Essentially, creating and maintaining a yoga practice is the difference between doing yoga solely as a form of exercise and choosing to incorporate it into a lifestyle.

While exercise exclusively focuses on the goals of the physical body, a yoga practice encompasses initiating and implementing change in the body, mind, and life. We count on the term “practice” to connote consistency and a on-going commitment; it is not something we just do and then it is done.

The practice of yoga is long-term. As you progress in physical awareness and capability, you also focus on clearing the mind, relieving mental stress and creating good, sustainable habits that will carry into all areas of your life. At Sunstone Yoga, we want to transform your idea of fitness from isolated physical activity into a body, mind, and life practice. Check out this brief video to learn more: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LCG1VM3lgBc

Just remember, it’s yoga practice, not yoga perfect. We know we will never be perfect, but practicing consistently will get you on the right path.

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Be Kind & Grateful

“Be kind whenever possible. It is always possible.” -Dalai Lama

Be kind. Be grateful. Wow. Are we really going to tell you to be kind, love everyone and yourself, create world peace, and sing Kumbaya day and night? Not exactly :) However, all of us at Sunstone Yoga are taught that being kind and grateful are two of the stepping stones to learning to love yourself and others. Let us break it down for you in our terms…

Be kind to yourself.

Being kind starts with internal kindness. In our hyper-critical, fast-moving, image driven world most of us spend our time bouncing from task to task indulging internal chatter that judges our actions and interactions and provides a soundtrack of constant nit-picking. Many of these little thoughts are not kind — they only make us feel bad — and for some of us spiral into even worse self-talk like which produces feelings of defeat. These thoughts are ultimately counter-productive because you haven’t resolved the issue underlying the first negative thought. So … how can you turn this type of situation into a kinder experience?

  1. Being kind to yourself begins, first, with simply noticing when you are engaging in negative self-talk. Become aware whenever you are not thinking kind or grateful thoughts about yourself.
  2. Next, evaluate why you are thinking that way. What do you really want? What is your ultimate goal?
  3. Finally, find a “next step” toward what you really want. This is not a huge, overwhelming thing like “I will never eat cake or anything unhealthy ever, ever again.” It is a small, accomplishable goal like “I will take a Fire class tonight.” It is a baby step.

And … be grateful.

Give yourself gratitude for your little

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that Fire class, turning negative self talk into positive action. Be proud of yourself and grateful for your fortitude. With so many work and family demands, it is often difficult just to get yourself to the studio. Recognize it the moment you walk in (“I am grateful to be here tonight to take this class.”).

Carry that kindness and gratitude into class with you (i.e., don’t let the negative self-talk start again). During class, focus on only yourself in the front mirror. Focus on how good it feels to be doing yoga. Don’t worry about whether your postures are “perfect” or better than yesterday. Be kind to your body grateful for your body’s unique abilities.

By practicing kindness and gratitude in your own mind, it will become easier to extend that same kindness to others.

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What to Wear for Hot Yoga

You have decided you’re going to practice hot yoga. Good for you! (Psst…we have a confession. Sunstone Yoga is actually body temperate yoga, not “hot,” with our warmest class at 98.6 degrees Fahrenheit, with 60% humidity.)

Your body and mind will thank you as you enjoy cardiovascular benefits, build strength and flexibility, and naturally manage your weight and stress levels. The studio will feel warm and humid, and you are going to sweat. What you choose to wear can have a major impact on how your body handles the heat and on your ability to get into certain poses, so don comfortable clothes that will breathe and not hinder your movements.

Fabric types. Avoid 100% cotton tops because they will soak up your sweat and become heavy and uncomfortable. Instead, look for lightweight materials with some Spandex in them. Many activewear companies now utilize sweat-wicking fabrics that draw sweat away from the body and push it through the clothing’s surface, where it evaporates, helping keep you cooler. Avoid your favorite fleece sweats. They will hold moisture and “drag you down.”

Fit. Opt for clothes that are not too tight, nor too loose. They will move easily with you in poses. Super-loose t-shirts and pants are more likely to get in your way or gap or reveal too much in certain poses. Also, well-fitted clothing allows your instructor to better assess your alignment and offer appropriate adjustments.

Transparency. Whether you’re trying on clothes at the store or going through your closet at home, make sure that you are selecting pants that fit. Spandex is a wonderful thing, but stretch it too tight, and clothing can become more like a window than we realize, especially in certain poses. If your pants stretch a lot when you’re just putting them on and then stretch again in a forward bend, you may be

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opening up more than your chakras to the rest of the class. So try on your potential duds and do a wide-legged forward bend in front of a mirror. This way, you can ensure you won’t be the focal point of a peep show.

Coverage. It is up to you how much (or little) skin you want to show in the yoga room. From pants to short shorts, bra tops to fitted shirts, our students wardrobes run the gamut. As long as all of your personal bits and pieces are covered, your fellow students and teachers won’t mind what you are wearing, so wear what is most comfortable for you.

Men who choose to wear looser fitting shorts should wear a compression garment underneath to ensure full coverage. Ideally, men’s shorts should fit closer to the body. Many of our male students wear wear lined bathing trunks, biking shorts

or

athletic shorts. Men have the option to go shirtless (and many do).

For ladies, while you might think that the shortest shorts are the best due to the heat, some of our students prefer pants and capris because their legs are less slippery for certain poses (like Crow).

Jewelry, Hair and Makeup. Leave any big jewelry or watches at home or stored safely outside of the hot room. They will only become hindrances in the studio and if you take them off in the hot room, you may accidentally leave them behind. If you have long hair, pull it back

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into a ponytail, bun, or braid so it won’t get in your face. Headbands and bandanas are also helpful to keep wispies

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and flyaways out of your eyes. Think twice about your makeup choice – anything that can smear, drip or move will in our environment. We want you to be able to focus on your efforts in class.

You don’t have to worry about footwear as bare feet are best. We’ll provide a spot for you to store your shoes at the beginning of class. Finally, consider whether you want to bring an extra change of clothes with you to change into

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Taking Care of Your Hair and Skin

So you are regularly attending classes at Sunstone, working hard, sweating like

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crazy, all the while loving the change that your yoga practice has created in your life. BUT, as you spend more time with your practice, you are noticing changes in your skin and hair.
We have been there! Here are a few tips on how to care for your external body during your practice… Fellas–this isn’t just for the ladies :)

Skin: Although we think of skin as external, it must be cared for from the inside out. Be mindful of what you’re putting into your body–it will be reflected by your skin’s hydration and clarity. Hydrating throughout the day and eating lots of fruits and vegetables (which contain lots of water naturally, as well as antioxidants and nutrients) will help you feel good during class, and

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your skin will benefit looking fresh, even dewy.

Embrace sweat! Through sweat, your body is flushing out toxins and opening up the pores. Resist the urge to constantly wipe away sweat during class.

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During class we are grabbing our feet, touching the floor and the mat — no matter how recently you pedicured your paws, you don’t want to be touching your face after Forward Bending, or Hands to Feet. Just let the sweat flow. (Consider trying a YogiToes hBand or other type of headband to keep your hair out of your eyes and face.)

Before class make sure your face is clean. You do not want to wear dirt, grime, or makeup into a heated room–all of these things can clog

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pores and lead to breakouts. Lots of companies now make pre-moistened facial cleansing cloths that make it easy to wipe off makeup or environmental buildup before your workout.

Do not load up on lotion or scented body products before entering the hot room. Your neighbors will not appreciate your Drakkar Noir in hot, sweaty proximity, and recently moisturized skin turns into a slippery mess when you’re sweating hard, making it tough to keep your grip in Standing Bow.

After class, your pores are open and clean. Rinse off using gentle, non-comedogenic cleansers, followed by light moisturizers, if necessary. If you struggle with breakouts on your back, be sure you’re getting everything thoroughly rinsed and cleaned back there; some of our students have successfully treated their back breakouts with Neem and Tea Tree Oil.

Over time, you may find that your skin reaches its natural balance and you don’t have to use heavy creams or stringent cleansers. Finally, make sure you are changing your sheets and pillowcases regularly.

Hair: If you’re noticing your hair is a little drier after consistently practicing in the heat, consider putting a little hair oil or leave-in conditioner on your ends before class. It will soak into your hair throughout class and protect it from the heat. Just be sure you aren’t using a super-pungent product–it will be even more powerful in the hot room and distracting to you and everyone else. (Some people use coconut oil instead of buying expensive hair products.)

Many of our students and teachers have found that they use shampoo much less frequently–if at all–as their hair and scalps adjust to the heat and humidity. Experiment with what works for you and your hair type. Some people just rinse and condition their hair after class. Others shampoo every other day or just a couple

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Remember that your exercise routine has changed, and so your skin and hair-care regimens will, too.

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Be Observant

We’re talking about our values from the student perspective one by one. Previously, we talked about being Engaged. Next up: how to be Observant.

The most obvious (and probably easiest) thing to observe is what happens in your body, physically. How do your muscles feel today? How does your range of motion compare to yesterday’s? Notice these physical sensations and let them guide your decisions

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throughout your class.

Maybe you rocked it yesterday and are feeling a little tired today. Or maybe you want to focus on even breathing because you caught yourself holding your breath in both sets of triangle. Carry this physical awareness with you out of the studio. Pay attention to what your body wants before and after a class – water, food, sleep.

Evaluate how you feel, mentally and emotionally. Why

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should we consider this? Because even when you’re not making leaps and bounds in your physical practice, yoga IS creating change. We just don’t always

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acknowledge it. Yes, it’s hard physical work, but it’s usually hard mental focus too. (It’s called a work-out for a reason. What is it allowing you to work out?)

Observe how your regular practice affects your interactions with others. This is one aspect of the ‘life’ part of our practice. You may find that you’re less likely to scream at the driver cutting you off on 75 because you’re still in your post-yoga “glow” state. What we practice in the yoga room we take into the world with us. Learning to find your focus and regulate your breath during class can help you remain calm with colleagues and bosses under deadlines and other similarly stressful situations.

By being observant and becoming sensitive to our own needs as we progress, we can begin to make small adjustments over time. Continually taking baby steps is

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how we create long-term change, whether to our physical postures or to our daily habits.

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Me, Myself, and the Mirror

You walk into the dark, quiet yoga room hoping to relax–to check your worries at the door and not have to deal with things for a period of time. The lights gradually turn on; you hear your teacher’s voice. You stand up and BAM! there you are–reflected in the mirror, staring at yourself.

The question is: Are you re-thinking what you had for lunch, or are you calmly meeting your own eye gaze, preparing for the class to

come?

From time to time we get questions about the mirrors in our studios from folks who are slightly suspicious of them. We believe mirrors are integral to building awareness in your own body (which is why they are on three walls of every Sunstone Yoga studio).

We have mirrors not to make you self-conscious or criticizing but because we want you to actually see what your body is doing. Mirrors encourage us to study our bodies and to build a relationship with it, which can be uncomfortable if you have spent your day avoiding yourself.

As you watch yourself, you will understand what your body is capable of, and less concerned with other students’ abilities. You’ll come to know what “normal” is for you in each posture. Then the mirror allows you to visually acknowledge the changes you’ve created in your body

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If you’re skeptical, you’re not alone. Take baby steps. Try to simply look into our own eyes throughout class. Then build confidence in your body’s ability by listening to the posture cues and watching yourself adjust

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your alignment. As you continue to practice, your body awareness will develop and the mirrors will become a means through which you can find focus and guidance rather than judgment.

Let the mirrors empower you and your practice!

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Be Engaged Throughout Your Class

Last

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week, we introduced Sunstone’s vision as well as the Five Teaching Principles that guide our teachers in helping our students cultivate their very best selves. These principles are our core values, the foundation on which we’ve built our studios.

They are equally valuable for you, our students. They create the landscape for what your experience with us can be like. Whether you’re in your second class, or well on your way to building a body, mind, and life practice, these words describe behaviors that can turn what seems to be the simple action of taking a yoga class into something truly life-changing.

This week, we focus on Being Engaged –mentally and physically–#1 in importance for students.

  1. Being engaged means, first and foremost, being present in your practice. This frequently is our most challenging task in the yoga room. It easy to assume that a particular posture is your Kryptonite, but more often than not, it’s thoughts of the outside world (i.e. office, kids, finances) that can throw you off. Watch yourself wobble in Eagle the moment your mind drifts to that phone call from earlier today…To be fully present is to commit to what is happening right now within your body, within the space of the yoga room, to quiet the outside noise and focus just on you. This is how you will become receptive to learn the lessons yoga teaches you about yourself.

How do you create this space within yourself? Set an intention at the beginning of class to stay present in your practice. Focus on your own eyes in the front mirror and resist the urge to watch others. If your mind suddenly starts trying to problem-solve, bring attention to your breathing. This will help bring you back to the present moment.

  1. Actively listen to what your teachers say during class. It’s another way of staying engaged. Yes, you are hearing the teacher’s words and instructions, but are you listening? What do the words really mean?

Trying to process and follow their instructions, even if it takes you out of your comfort zone, will keep you engaged and present in your practice. There’s a good chance you’ll “hear” something for the first time and that something might turn on a light bulb for you.

Also, take care that you are staying with your teacher’s instructions. Especially as we become familiar and comfortable with the

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sequence of postures, we may go on auto-pilot and enter or exit postures before the teacher has prompted to do so. Check in with yourself and make sure you are focusing on the instructions and staying with the group.

  1. Now that you are mentally engaged, ask
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    yourself whether you are truly physically engaged. We want to avoid just hanging out in postures and going through the motions. Consistently checking in from your heels to your head. Start with your strong foundation (even the toes are active!), contract your quads, abs and glutes, lift your rib cage up. *whew* Not only will it keep you focused on the present (at a bare minimum that list in and of itself will get you half way through your hold time) but you’ll feel stronger in postures with that set up.

Each posture and class is an opportunity for you learning and growth in and out of the yoga room. Make your postures dynamic, entering them with purpose without comparison to other. Find a deeper awareness by connecting your breath to the movement, allowing it to enhance your focus throughout the entire hold time. For example, in Half Moon, don’t just press the hips over to where you usually go and stay there the entire time. Explore whether you can lengthen and stretch deeper with each breath.

  1. Engage your practice outside of the yoga room. Ask questions before or after class. Maybe you want help with a particular posture, you’re wondering about an article you read or want to know more about a particular Series. This is a great opportunity to engage with your instructor and continue building your practice.

Start to notice how what you do outside of the yoga room affects what happens inside. Everything from how much sleep you got, the water (or other beverages) you chose to drink, what you ate yesterday, to that annoying email you haven’t responded to yet can change your experience for better or worse.

Become part of our community – learn your teacher’s name or *gasp* even another student’s, participate on our Facebook page by tagging us @sunstoneyoga or posting a pic to our wall, respond to a forum thread after you register on our website. Maybe you can take time beyond your usual routine to attend a weekend workshop.

  1. Finally, be open to receiving and giving feedback. Feedback gives us a new perspective outside of ourselves. It is how we can grow and become our very best self. An easy, anonymous way to give us feedback is to take a few seconds after each class to complete our new 30-second survey. Your teachers want you to have the best experience possible in class, and you as our students are the only ones who can give us that consistent feedback. Let us hear from you!
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Our Five Teaching Principles

At Sunstone Yoga, our vision is to become one of the world’s most influential fitness associations who transforms the very idea of fitness from isolated physical activity into an integrated body, mind and life practice.

In order to work towards this we need

  1. Students. :)
  2. A solid team of teachers who believe in our vision and embody our values.

We want our students to know how committed we as instructors are to their experience, to creating change, to helping them cultivate their very best self. This is our mantra. This is what sets us apart.

Be Consistent – Our first principle is consistency. Fostering this within ourselves and demonstrating it during class helps our students avoid self-doubt as they develop their own consistent yoga practice. Consistency is also part of the respect and encouragement we extend to each other as a team.

Be Observant – Without sacrificing consistency, we must respond to what we observe. Being a good teacher is not about saying more but about seeing more –this helps us refine the subtleties of our teaching skills. Careful observation enables us to consistently deliver dynamic instruction to our students.

Be Kind and Grateful – Our first acts of kindness are to be consistent and observant. Our students have busy lives, and they make a special effort to

prioritize attending our classes. They have earned our kindness

during our time with them, and we are grateful for their loyalty.

Be Engaged – To be mindfully engaged with our students is the culmination of all of our principles, and the key to endless possibility. A teacher without students is not a teacher. When we realize this, there is no room for conflict–it is replaced with a shared energy and passion. Engagement ultimately empowers us to lead classes that are the highlights of our students’ lives during our shared quest for excellence.

 

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How to Be a Good Student

Dear Student,

It is an honor and privilege to guide you through your practice each day you’re in my class. Teachers do not exist without students. It is through you that I am able to refine my craft. My hope is that every time you leave the studio you feel fulfilled, in a different mindset than you entered and empowered with more knowledge about yourself and your practice.

I’m writing this letter as a guide to help you be the best student you can be so that you will get the most out of your time in the hot room. I know that, when I began practicing hot yoga, I wanted to be the “best” student (I’m competitive–I admit it) and, in my view, the “best” students were the ones who could do the entire class, full expression

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of every posture, without even drinking water, and (it seemed to me then) more. I now realize that none of those attributes got them better results or more benefits and that, by trying to emulate them, I wasn’t listening to my teacher or growing my practice. So

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how can you be a good student?

Be open. A good student is open to learning, to trying things differently, to seeing a new perspective and to every teacher they encounter. You chose to walk into the studio and take class with a group, from a teacher, so I assume that you want to be part of a community, learning from a live teacher instead of at home, following a DVD, running your own program. My hope is that you are arrive like an empty vessel, ready to receive whatever this class today offers you.

Being truly open means that you are also willing to un-learn what you think you know about yoga (how Tree pose looks, for example) and try it the way it is being taught to you here and now. Try not to get attached to a certain teacher or dismiss a new teacher because you’ve been practicing longer than they have

been teaching. We want you to be committed to your practice, not an individual. Every teacher has something to teach you, if you let them. (This is one of the reasons Sunstone Yoga doesn’t publish its

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teaching roster.)

Being open also means that you have released your preconceptions of what you can and cannot do physically and are ready to explore what your body can do today. I promise that I never want you to feel pain in a posture, so if I ask you to do something, please listen carefully to my words and then execute to the best of your ability. I will understand if you don’t look like your 20-year old neighbor. If you want to discuss my cues or your decisions, we can chat after class.

Be courteous. A good student realizes they are part of a learning community and wants their fellow students to enjoy their experience as well. In any class, large or small, the group’s attitude can have a major impact on your experience. To that end, be aware that your actions (and frustrations) affect everyone. Arrive before the posted class time and stay in the hot room for the entire class. Entering class late or leaving before class is over is disruptive and disrespectful to others who like you, have taken time out of their

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busy day to attend.

During class, focus on yourself in the mirror, be as still as possible between postures, concentrate on your breathing. Stay home if you are sick or if allergies affect you to the point that you would disturb other students (scattering tissues next to your mat is sharing germs, not sharing your love of yoga). Child’s Pose and Savasana are always appropriate. If you’re feeling dizzy, over-worked or a little emotional, just go into one of them.

Be yourself. Being a good student has nothing to do with how you look while practicing or to what extent you can do every posture. It has to do with your attitude: how open you are to learning each time you enter class and how kind and grateful you are to those around you and ultimately yourself. As your practice develops, over time you will also become your own teacher, increasing your awareness and self-love, and learning to surrender to things outside of your control. It is our hope that the classes we offer at Sunstone Yoga provide an environment where you can connect with and cultivate your very best self.

Happy Learning!

Namaste,

Your Teacher

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Preventing Injury: Accept Your Body

“Set your intention before you begin, and accept where your body is in your practice today.” If you regularly attend Sunstone Yoga, you know we consistently tell you to listen to your body and honor it. Do you truly hear those words . . . and do you listen? Accepting where your body is each day–whether you are attending a Fire class, walking up stairs, or just bringing in the groceries –is key to preventing injury.

Start by becoming aware of how you are feeling at any given time. Maybe you’re tired from a late night, or sore from the Wood class you took yesterday …

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maybe you’re recuperating from an injury or coming back to your practice after some time off… or maybe you’re feeling strong, hydrated, and ready to go! Become mindful of how these feelings change even throughout the same class.

Now listen carefully to your teacher’s words. They are precisely chosen. Instructors at Sunstone Yoga are trained to help you find your alignment in each posture and to get you into and out of postures safely. We focus on strength before flexibility, keeping our muscles engaged throughout a posture. A great example is learning to create a strong standing leg – crucial to preventing injury.

Enter your practice mindfully. Whether you are feeling 100% or recovering from a surgery, notice what happens with each movement and make adjustments

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accordingly. This may entail standing quietly in Mountain pose, lying in Savasana, or kneeling in Child’s Pose during postures you are not ready to do yet. Give yourself permission to not go “all the way” into postures as you build strength in order to maintain alignment.

Allow yourself to develop your practice over time. Your teachers want to challenge you, but you choose how to act on their encouragement. Become more aware and do only what your body is able to do in this moment. Even if you could kick out in Standing Forehead to Knee yesterday, your hamstrings may be tight today. Be okay with this. Judgement and negative self-talk can often lead us to make decisions we later regret.

When we are attuned to our bodies’ limits and accepting of them, we create healthy, self-imposed boundaries and expectations that later allow us to grow. We are less likely to over extend ourselves just because we feel we “should” or because the person next to us has a different range of motion and more likely to correctly assess the right moment to advance our practice and embrace our potential.

1. Accept where your body is in your practice today.
2. Stay engaged. Listen to the words and follow the cues.
3. Check in with yourself throughout class to assess how you’re

feeling.

——————————————————————————————-
Feeling lost in your postures? Maybe it’s time for you to try a workshop. Throughout the year, you have the opportunity to practice with Sunstone teachers as they re-certify to teach Fire, Wood, Earth, and Metal — and as a participant you’ll get tons of hands-on adjustments and guidance from not just our teachers but our Series Masters (the instructors charged with teaching your own teachers)!

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