Setting intentions: What are you accomplishing as you practice?

At the beginning of most practices, you set an intention. That intention may be to gain motivation, refresh your soul, untangle some chords in your brain, calm your nerves, send energy to somewhere, etc. When I began my practice tonight, my intention was to gain some peace of mind. With graduation in just two months, I’m freakin’ out. I’m working on applications to jobs all over the US, and I may have to leave Pittsburgh just when, for the first time in my life, I feel like I belong somewhere. Am I a failure if I stay here? Will I succeed if I go? What if no one wants to hire me? What if I can’t financially support myself? Where is my life going to go? They haunt me, these questions. They haunt my thoughts while I’m awake and my subconscious during sleep. So I walked in tonight with the intention to leave with some peace of mind from all of the insecurities and confusion going on inside me.

After a really great practice, my teacher, Rachael, read from Judith Lasater during savasana:
“The greatest discipline is surrender. So often we confuse ambition with discipline; we think that pushing ourselves to do more proves that we are disciplined. When you practice yoga today or any day, focus instead on how much clarity and discipline is required to let go. Let go of your expectations, let go of what may no longer be possible, let go of your resistance.”

 And then I started crying.

I realized many things at that moment. There are things I can’t control in my life, so why am I trying? I have always said that wherever my life takes me, I’ll go. Why am I freaking out about it now when that moment is upon me? I have been preparing for this moment for the past four years of my life. I’m ready. I’ve always been such a planner, a control freak. But I need to let go. I need to keep doing what I’m doing and let my life pan out the way it’s supposed to. I need to tell myself, “breathe, Camelia. You’re ready.” I need to surrender.

Rachael concluded our practice tonight by saying, “As you take the next few moments to just breathe, imagine what it would feel like if you surrender more often in your life.”

I left with peace of mind.

Namaste. May you all surrender a little more in your lives this week, and always.

My top 6 yoga styles

Floreana Island yoga

Portrait doing yoga on Floreana Island (Galapagos Islands, Ecuador)
Photo credit: Rachael Kinley

There are so many styles of yoga to try, so how do you decide which one is for you? In the three years I’ve been practicing I’ve tried some variety in my yoga life to find the perfect fit for me, but the truth is, that really depends on my mood and what my life is like at that moment. Many styles are similar, but they all have differences that make them unique experiences when practicing. So here’s a list of 5 styles I’ve tried and how they rank:

hatha yoga

6. Hatha Yoga: When you say “hatha yoga,” you’re actually describing any practice of yoga. As the most classic style of yoga, and a style that is the basis for many other yoga forms (iyengar and astanga, for starters), hatha yoga nowadays is great for beginners. Many people go to hatha classes to get a feel for yoga, learn beginners’ poses, relaxation techniques and get comfortable with yoga in general. In most cases, hatha classes have a gentle, relaxing feel revolving around poses without flows between them. But you’re past beginning stages, yogi, so you need more challenge.

bikram yoga poses

5. Bikram Yoga: Typically practiced in a room with a temperature around 105 degrees, bikram yoga centers around a 26-pose asana that yogis go through twice in a single 90-minute practice. But don’t get this confused with hot yoga, which will come later. In a nutshell, bikram yoga is hot, but hot yoga isn’t always bikram. If you’re into routine, bikram may be for you. But be warned, doing yoga in 105 degrees is something you have to get used to.

Sun Salutation

4. Vinyasa Yoga: One of the yogas derived from hatha yoga, vinyasa syncronizes postures and the breath as a flow-oriented style of practice. Vinyasa is one of the most popular styles of yoga and is a great practice. One of my favorite things about vinyasa is that it doesn’t have a set rulebook, so personalities can come out through each practice. I really like vinyasa yoga, especially when I’m at home. There are a variety of sequences that are “typical” in this style of yoga, including variations of sun salutations. I love flowing through sequences after practicing a pose, and vinyasa can be practiced at the individual’s pace.

Iyengar yoga standing poses3. Iyengar Yoga: There is a saying: “the pose begins when you want to leave it.” If you’re a perfectionist looking for something challenging, then iyengar yoga is for you. Iyengar is a deep study of postures and the breath. A big emphasis of iyengar is correct body alignment, students of iyengar often hold poses for minutes (yes, minutes) at a time, wherein lies the challenge. Iyengar yoga is about precision, discipline, correct body alignment and breath control. Iyengar utilizes the use of a lot of props (blocks, straps, blankets, etc) to help yogis with their poses. The great part of this style: it helps not only with aches and pains, but the style has been proven to help with medical conditions as well.

power yoga2. Ashtanga/Power Yoga: If you’re fit and athletic, ashtanga yoga could be for you. In my experience, ashtanga is very similar to vinyasa, but with more rigor (for lack of a better term). With Ashtanga, the pace is faster and more agility is used. It’s more physical, designed to maintain stamina and strength, and high-energy (unlike vinyasa flow). I put this as runner up in the list because I’m busy, as I know much of you are. Ashtanga yoga is a full-body workout that encompasses the calming, intellectual benefits of yoga as well as toning and strengthening the body. I leave exhausted physically and recharged mentally. It’s a beautiful feeling.

hot vinyasa yoga1. Hot yoga: I know I know, this isn’t a textbook, formal “style,” but let’s face it (and pardon my french), hot yoga is the shit. While Bikram yoga is set at about 105 degrees, hot yoga is set at 85-95. The benefits of the heat are incomparable once you get used to it. Heat loosens up your muscles quicker and warms up your body. It makes it easier to stretch out and the sweat just feels good. Hot yoga makes the body flow better, but it’s not too hot. Hot vinyasa flow yoga is my absolute favorite because it combines heat and vinyasa, and my body feels incredible both while I’m practicing and when I leave. If you’re looking for a better explanation about this, check out this article: Hot Yoga Changed My Life, Body, and Spirit Animal.

So there you have it: my 6 favorite styles. If you’ve got a favorite, feel free to share!

Namaste, all. And have a great week.

Wanderlust Festival

Wanderlust definition

Ever heard of Wanderlust Festival?

I have quite the case of wanderlust. Before I turned 21 (August 2012) I had ventured to 9 countries outside of the United States. I gallivant. You ask me to go, I go. I find a way to pay, I work around plans, and I go, usually with camera(s) in hand and some lenses and snacks in my backpack. I love it. I love exploring and being this anonymous person in a culture completely different from my own.

That said, two things seem to always go with me each time I travel: my cameras and yoga. When I first heard the term wanderlust, I didn’t know how prevalent it would be in my life. I’ve always loved hiking, wandering into the wilderness and going on long drives with nothing particular in mind other than to find beautiful scenery. I travel, everywhere. In my spare time I look up places I’d like to visit someday and read about festivals and travelers who blog about their experience.

So imagine my delight when I found this: Wanderlust Festival
On the site, Wanderlust Festival is defined as a one-of-a-kind festival bringing together the world’s leading yoga teachers, top musical acts and DJs, renowned speakers, top chefs and winemakers, and much, much more — all in a setting of breathtaking natural beauty.  We’re talking about fun in the sun and dancing under the stars. Hiking on peaceful trails and gettin’ your down dog on at the top of the mountain. Sipping poolside cocktails with your friends, and then enjoying a tasty farm-to-table dinner with views of the surrounding mountain peaks. Early morning meditations and all-night chakra spinning musical performances – it’s an all-out ecstatic celebration in the most awe-inspiring locations in the world.

Sounds amazing, right? This year, Wanderlust is coming to Chile, Hawaii, Colorado, Vermont, Canada and California. You’re probably thinking boy, that sounds expensive, but rest assured! I think you’ll find that it’s reasonable, and for what you can experience, I think it’d be worth it.

So, who’s ready to plan an adventure with me?

My first experience with watching yoga instead of practicing

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I think we can all agree that yoga is something truly beautiful. But have you ever sat and watched a practice in person, and not just in a video?

This past Tuesday, instead of practicing in the class I take at school I decided instead to watch the practice instead. I decided to watch the practice both with my eyes and through my camera lens, and I must say, I’m still in awe at how amazing a practice is in person.

Seldom times we think about the other people in the room when we practice, but that’s the whole point of yoga: we work on ourselves for that amount of time. Nothing else (and no one else, really) matters. So I was struck when I was watching this practice at how beautifully everyone moved, together but ever-so-slightly separate with each person’s individual pace. As I took in the whole room, I noticed some things: the variety of dress, from dance clothes to athletic shorts to leggings and spaghetti straps. I noticed the variety of skill level: from guys with too much muscle to bind their arms to dancers that can twist and bend like it’s nothing, and everything in-between. But what I found most beautiful while watching was the variety of people that came together to practice. Like all universities, some groups don’t mix. The jocks don’t particularly mix with the dancers, the dancers don’t mix with the psychology majors, the business majors don’t mix with the photographers, and so on. All of that is forgotten, though, when each person steps into the room with their mat.

The best thing about yoga, in my opinion, is the fact that it does not discriminate. Anyone can practice. Young, old, flexible, barely able to touch your toes, seasoned yogis or amateurs, yoga has something for everyone. In the threshold of the doorway, we leave everything behind. No one is better than anyone else in the room. I had known this before, of course, but I had not fully understood it until I watched a group of individuals, who are all so different, both move and breathe together.

Now that, my friends, is truly beautiful.

Namaste.