I first traveled to Tulum way back in 1998, before I had kids, before I owned a house, before I really had many responsibilities to speak of, and not for a yoga retreat, but for a vacation. My boyfriend at the time (who later became my husband and then my ex-husband) booked a flight from New York to Cancun, with a return flight about three weeks later. We knew we didn’t want to stay in Cancun, with its high rise hotels and a Señor Frogs on every corner, but we didn’t have much of a plan in mind. We rented a car at the airport, and started driving. Stopping along the way, we explored Akumal, Playa del Carmen, and other smaller, less developed towns, staying for a night here and a night there. When, about a week later, we pulled into what was once the sleepy village of Tulum, we found a hotel room for $30/night right on the beach and stayed a week.

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I was completely enamored with this town, with the stretch of fine white sand on which I could take long morning runs, then strip off all my clothes and plunge into an ocean that seemed to instantly heal me and absolve me of all of my worries, all of my anxiety, just like that. We explored the oceanfront ruins, drove down into the Sian K’aan biosphere, snorkeled in cenotes (underground caves) and ate fish plucked out of the ocean moments earlier. I knew then that it was a place I would return to over and over again.

Fast forward almost 20 years and I have since led about 20 Yoga retreats to Tulum. There was a time about 10 years ago that I almost stopped, right around the time that Tulum was starting to turn into what it is now—hipper and trendier, with a food scene that rivals NYC, and prices to match. But, when I did return, and drove down that skinny strip of road just past Zamas, with its colorful chairs and yummy cappuccino, the same feeling of well being, peacefulness, and happiness overcame me once again, and I knew then that I would never stop coming here.

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So, year after year, with whatever other wonderful locations or commitment I put on my calendar, there is always a yoga retreat in Tulum! Held at the eco-chic Amansala resort, with close to four hours of yoga a day, Mayan clay treatments, a Temazcal (sweat lodge), guacamole, great shopping, and the constant sound of the ocean right outside your door. My life now is so much different than when I first traveled to Tulum—a mortgage, three kids (including one teenager and one highly energetic baby), a yoga studio and retreat business to run. But Tulum for me still has the power to drop me into the center of my being, settle me into stillness, and put a smile on my face that lasts for weeks after my last run and jump in the ocean.

This past trip turned out to be one of my favorites yet. With 23 awesome individuals we laughed and yoga-ed our way through 6 days in paradise.

My Favorite Moments

  1. The first yoga class. The welcome circle, at which everyone gives a brief intro about why they are here. Injuries are shared, intentions are set, and I can already see people visibly softening.
  2. Sharing the magic that is Posada Margherita. Whether it is for afternoon cappuccino or gelato, or fish in sea water for dinner, this place is always a treat.
  3. SUP Yoga with Nancy Kyd of Sup Yoga Tulum in the most beautiful lagoon I have ever seen. Nancy is a fellow Boga Yoga Ambassador, and what she has created is beyond special. And, she treated us with organic homemade juice and energy balls afterwards!
  4. Daily ocean swims. Two of my favorite people that come on this retreat year after year are Peter Turino and Ana del Castillo. Ana is a big open water swimmer and is always ready to go.  Every day of the retreat, we throw on our goggles and take the most amazing swim, about a mile total.
  5. The stars. There seem to be more stars here than I have ever seen anywhere, glittering over the ocean and the sand, making me believe in a world in which magic is everywhere and anything is possible.

Tulum - The Love Affair Continues // JB Yoga

Retreat Reflections

Yoga for the cold! Brrrr. As the temperature in New York and elsewhere refuses to creep above 21 today (and feels like 10F with windchill), many of us are housebound, cold, and perhaps a bit grumpy. While warm tea and soup certainly helps, I find there is nothing like movement to really take the chill off. I generally do force myself to stay active outside, even on the coldest days, but I have been cleansing as well as fighting off a cold, making me feel more cold and less willing to brave the great outdoors. I practiced this yoga sequence today and felt thoroughly stretched, strengthened, and toasty warm!

Stand at the front of your mat with your eyes closed in mountain pose. Begin breathing with ujjayi breath. This breath not only helps to concentrate the mind but it also creates and stokes the internal fire. If you are unfamiliar with this breath, inhale and then as you exhale open your mouth and make a whispered “ha” sound. Feel the breath at the back of your throat. Then close your mouth and try to create this sound on both inhalation and exhalation.

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Surya Namaskar

Saluting the sun (and again, creates internal heat!)

  • Inhale. Raise your arms over your head and look up to your hands.
  • Exhale. Fold forward over your legs and touch the floor. (It’s a good idea, especially in colder weather, to soften your knees if you are tight and/or use blocks under your hands.)
  • Inhale. Lengthen your spine and gaze forward
  • Exhale. Step your right leg back to a lunge
  • Inhale. Step your left leg to meet your right in plank pose
  • Exhale. Lower down to a hovering Chatarunga, or to your belly if need be
  • Inhale. Draw the chest through the arms into Upward Facing Dog or Cobra
  • Exhale. Press back to Downward Facing Dog. Stay here for five long, slow, smooth, ujjayi breaths. Don’t rush this part. Feel the body in stillness, and make the breath as smooth and even as possible. At the end of the fifth exhalation, step the right foot forward into a lunge.
  • Inhale. Step the left foot forward and lengthen your spine
  • Exhale. Fold into Uttanasana (standing forward bend)
  • Inhale. Sweep the arms up over the head and come up to stand
  • Exhale. Return to Mountain Pose at the the front of your mat.

Repeat this 3 more times, alternating which leg you step forward and back with. You can also choose to jump back the 3rd and 4th time if you are familiar and comfortable with that, although I always like to start with the step back and step forward versions first (especially when the body is not as warm).

Now open sideways on your mat and take a wide stride. Turn your right foot 90 degrees out and turn your left foot 10 degrees in (or not at all). Line up your right heel with the instep of your left foot and then stretch your arms out from the center of your chest. Bend your right knee tracking over your second and third toe and come into Warrior 2. Lots of work to be done here. Keep the front leg externally rotating and the back leg slightly internally rotating. As the left thigh internally rotates and moves back, scoop your tailbone and your right buttocks flesh under. Feel a subtle twisting of your abdomen from right to left and tone your left waistline back as you gaze past the middle finger of your right hand. Hold up to one minute. Lift all ten toes off the floor and feel the power in your legs… Phew!!

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Now start to slide your left hand down your left leg into a REVERSE WARRIOR. This lateral pose will open up the breath in each nostril, evening out the sun and moon channels, regulating your body temperature and more. Hold for 5 breaths and then come all the way up to two straight legs. Pivot your feet and switch sides. Repeat on the second side.

Come again now to the top of your mat in mountain pose.   Take the arms straight up over the head and make the arms sharp, reaching through the fingers and hugging skin to muscle and muscle to bone all along the arms. Bend the knees and sit back in an imaginary chair for UTKATASANA. Stay 8 breaths.

Exhale and fold over your legs into a standing forward bend. Inhale and look up, as you exhale bend you knees and place your palms flat on the floor, jumping back to Plank or Chatarunga as gracefully as possible. Inhale through upward dog and exhale into downward dog.

Step or jump! Through to sit down and bend your knees into your chest. Hold the backs of your thighs and begin to take the feet off the ground for the beginning stages of NAVASANA (boat pose). If you are feeling strong here, straighten your legs. Hold for 5 breaths and then hug the knees into the chest, rest, and then repeat 2-4 more times.

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Lie on your back. Bring your legs into HAPPY BABY and pause. Feel the heat created in the body, and notice the effect of even a short yoga practice, physically and otherwise. Take a moment to simply observe the breath moving in and out. Allow a feeling of peace and gratitude to wash over you. The temperature will rise, this too shall pass. Honor the seasons as we also honor the natural cycles of our bodies.

Namaste.

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Yoga for the Coldest Days // JB Yoga

Vitarka badhane pratipaksha bhavanam.
“When disturbed by negative thoughts, opposite [positive]
ones should be thought of. This is pratipaksha bhavana.”
–Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra 2.33

Pratipaksha means opposite and Bhavanam means contemplation or meditation. My friend and amazing yoga teacher Erika Halweil used to chant this sutra often years ago in class. It always resonated with me. How simple, I would think. And yet, 15 years later, I continue to allow myself to be disturbed by the words and actions of others, affecting my own peace of mind. As we enter into a new year, it seems like the perfect time to work on this sutra. Nothing is more precious than a quiet mind, my Sanskrit teacher Manorama used to say (and probably still does :)) It is not the world’s fault that we are annoyed, angry, or irritated. It is not the slow cashier, the Sunday driver, the arrogant ex-spouse, the needy older parent, the willful child, the person with body odor and too-loud breath next to you in Yoga class. It is you, or me, allowing ourselves to be disturbed, allowing our minds to be distracted and pulled out and identified with the small self. ‘Be the change you wish to see in the world,’ said Gandhi. “Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that,” said Martin Luther King Jr (and the Buddha). A perfect example of Pratipaksha Bhavanam right there. I wonder if Mr. King was familiar with the Yoga Sutras?

It comes down, again and again and again to practice. We can read these quotes, we can agree that the sutra sounds like a good idea, but without putting this idea into practice, we will inevitably find ourselves cursing the yoga student with the too-loud breath for disturbing our peace of mind. The Sanskrit word for Practice is Abhyasa. Patanjali has another sutra which tells us the following:

Sutra 1.12: Abhyasa-vairagyabyam tan-nirodhah
—Consistent practice with nonattachment will stop the mind from fluctuating

So we now have a way to practice. It cannot be just one day, one time, one situation. As with our asana practice, it must be consistent to have some real and lasting affect.

This month, when you come to your mat, sit well, close your eyes, what comes up? What negative or disturbing thought pops up, for you, again and again? Catch it. Notice it. Take a breath in and smile. Now take a breath out as you think the opposite. Try it. Put it into practice. Now try this. Come to the wall and find downward facing dog with your hands about 4-6 inches away from the wall. Step in with one leg about ½ way and pause. Soften your skin and open to the abundance and beauty all around you. Now, spread your fingers well and claw at the floor with your hands, pulling your arms and hands isometrically towards each other and engaging the muscles of the arms. Commit yourself and imagine that your arms are like your legs, your hands like your feet. Soften your upper back ever so slightly so that you feel a connection of your hands to your shoulder blades, plugging your arm bones into their sockets. Lift the leg that you did not step in and pause. Bend the bottom leg as you keep the top leg straight and strong. Now, start hopping. Open to that bigger energy and float up into Handstand (Adho Mukha Vrksasana- downward facing Tree pose!). Find the wall with your feet. Yippee! You are upside down.

Think the opposite. Shift your perspective from small self to higher self. From limiting thoughts that keep us separate to beautiful positive thoughts that connect us to everyone around us and this beautiful world. Pratipaksha Bhavanam in action. Breathe. Feel. Transform.

Come down slowly and rest in child’s pose. Let your forehead make contact with the ground and feel the delicious stimulation of the third eye center (Ajna Chakra).

Maybe that’s all it takes. A handstand a day keeps the doctor away!? 🙂

With love and gratitude,
Jessica

Everybody Upside Down // JB Yoga

I love my life.  I love waking up at 6am, preparing breakfast and lunches for my 2 older kids, drinking my green juice (followed by ample amounts of coffee), breastfeeding the baby, heading off to school (7:25am start time for my 8th grader…OY), heading to my Yoga studio, KamaDeva Yoga to teach a class, answer emails, re-stock the toilet paper…  I love the daily routine and the feeling of accomplishment and fulfillment I get from taking care of my kids, my business, spending some quality time with my boyfriend, making the beds, straightening up the house.  But, I think I am able to love it even more because of the balance I am able to create by also getting away.  I have been teaching Yoga for over 20 years now, and I have been teaching Yoga, SUP, Surf, and Fitness Retreats for almost as long.  If you had to ask me what part of my ‘job’ I love most of all, it would be retreats.  I almost feel guilty in saying this but I can’t wait for the first retreat of the season.  I can’t wait to throw a few bikinis and pairs of yoga shorts into a carry on, make the drive to JFK, hop on the plane and arrive, a few hours later, in a warm, tropical place, every sense awakened by the smell of tropical flowers, the healing energy of the sun, the wildlife, the taste of a ripe, LOCAL avocado…. all of it.

Day one of these retreats we all get to know each other…  there is always a time of transition.  People are tired from traveling, they may be in an unfamiliar place for the first time, settling into a different routine, different food, new people.  By that evening though, the transformation is already apparent.  The guard is down, (along with the hair), and strangers have already become friends (often for life).  By the last day, the group is happy, relaxed, cleansed, transformed on some level, ready to return back to their life with a renewed sense of purpose and clarity, perhaps even just a commitment to taking better care of themselves, or carving out time for more play in their lives, and my job is done.  Until the next retreat 🙂

4 reasons you should sign up for a retreat today:

1- You won’t regret it. Whether the hesitation is financial, logistical, or even apprehension about being able to ‘handle’ the retreat experience of lots of yoga or activity and healthful food, do it.  A good retreat offers something for everyone.  Not feeling like 2 yoga classes per day?  Take one.  Can’t stomach yet another organic meal?  Indulge in something less healthy if that is what you feel you need.  As your retreat host, I have absolutely zero judgement about where you have come from, where you are at, and where you are headed.  Your journey is your own- be true to yourself, and I will honor that.

2- You deserve it.  When was the last time you did something for yourself?  Truly, for yourself?  Especially if you are a woman reading this post, between our partners or significant others, our children, our jobs, there is often not enough time in the day.  Time spent on oneself is beyond crucial for one’s well being and growth.  Explain to your partner, explain to your children, explain to your boss.  You deserve it!!!

3- You will have the time of your life.  I promise.  (or your money back).  I can not remember, in all of the retreats I have led to all of the various places I have led them, anyone having a bad time.  Ever.  I swear.  There is something about going away with a group of strangers and doing lots of Yoga in a beautiful place that is, in so many ways, so much better than just going on ‘vacation’ –  having to seek out a gym or fitness class, and then laying around a pool for the rest of the time.  Even people that like that sort of thing tell me how much more they enjoy the retreat experience, which is why many of my retreat attendees come back again and again, year after year..

4- You will return home a different person (for better, not for worse).  I am not suggesting that you NEED to be a different person, but  we are changing (as is the world around us) every single moment of every single day.  Who you are today is not who you were yesterday or even this morning.  So, yes, you will return home a different person (for better, not for worse).

 

Check out my site www.jbyoga.com and choose the retreat for you.

4 Great Reasons to Treat Yourself to a Retreat // JB Yoga

Try these five yoga poses for depression to help stay calm, happy and grounded this coming winter season.

Downward facing dog

Good ole’ dog pose…truly a cure all. Having the head below the heart makes this pose an inversion, and inversions relax and soothe the nervous system, as well as shift our perspective.

Plank

From downdog, shift forward to Plank Pose. I included it here because it is an extremely empowering and grounding pose. Straight arms, straight legs, strong belly lifting towards the spine.

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5 Yoga Poses for Winter Depression // JB Yoga

It’s important to have a strong core, not only to look good in a bathing suit, but to perform all daily movements as well as sports and physical activities in a safer, more effective, more balanced way. A strong core can also improve posture and help prevent injuries as well as low back pain. The following yoga sequence will work all of the muscles of the core. As you hold these positions, breathe in and out smoothly through your nose, draw your navel towards your spine MORE with every exhalation, and ungrip the parts of the body that don’t need the effort (think the face, jaw, toes!)

 

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5 Yoga Poses to Strengthen Your Core // JB Yoga

We have had some milder weather these past few weeks, but still a lot of wet, gray days. With many months of winter still ahead of us, it’s enough to make even the best of us feel kind of low. So much has been going on in the world as well. The events in Sandy Hook, right on the heels of Hurricane Sandy… a lot of sadness and confusion. The practice of yoga has been, for the last twenty years, a faithful companion to me. I have turned to my yoga practice during the best and worst times of my life to recover, discover, energize, and heal on so much more than just the physical level.

I offer you these three poses to help you do the same. They are all backbending postures, to facilitate the opening of the heart while also allowing more breath into the body, which is an amazingly simple way to clear the mind and shift our perspective. Enjoy….

Extended Side Angle (Utthita Parsvakonasana)

Start with a WIDE stride (feet about 5 feet apart). Turn your right toes 90 degrees out and your left toes 10-15 degrees in. Extend your arms straight out to your sides, reaching out actively through your fingertips. Bend your right knee to a right angle, tracking it directly over your second and third toe, keeping your back leg straight and strong, with weight on the outer edge of the back foot. Take a few breaths here (in Warrior 2), and then place your right hand down on the outside of your right foot (being on the fingertips is fine and even preferable; you can also place your hand on a block). Press your right knee firmly back against your right arm as you simultaneously scoop your tailbone. Reach and extend your top arm over your head. Spin your belly, your rib cage, and your chest up to the sky. BREATHE!! Stay for up to one minute and then come up on an inhalation, and repeat on the second side.

Locust Variation (Salabhasana)

Lie on your belly with your legs extended straight back behind you and your forehead on the ground. Interlace your hands together into a single fist and begin to breathe into the sideseams of your body, imagining the side waist and the side chest getting LONGER as you do so. Allow your arm bones to actually move ever so slightly up towards your ears, to accommodate the lengthening of your waist. Begin to roll your shoulders back and inhale start to rise your chest up. Keep the legs on the ground for this variation, pressing down the legs to receive more lift from the chest.  Feel the expansion and lift with the inhalation, and the slight contraction and release with the exhalation. On each inhale, engage the posterior chain of muscles (back muscles!) to lift higher. Stay for about 10 breaths and release down on an exhalation. This is a good one to repeat several times.

Crescent Moon (Anjaneyasana)

From Locust, press back for a moment into Downward Facing Dog. Step your right foot forward into a lunge pose, and place your back knee on the ground. Keep the back toes tucked under, as this will help you to use the energy of the legs to support the coming backbend. Feel the back leg pulling (dragging) isometrically forward, and pull the front foot isometrically back. Take your arms up straight over your head reaching long through your fingertips. Just as in the previous pose, lengthen the side seams of the body up into the reach of the arms. Draw the belly in and up and allow the tailbone to lengthen out of the lower back. Inhale, expand the chest and arch back further, exhale, maintain the lift and draw the belly closer to the spine. Breathe and open! Inhale place the hands down and exhale step back to downward facing dog, repeating on the second side.

Rest in Savasana for a minute or so. Even after just a short sequence, it is always beneficial to take a moment to lie down and just feel. Breathe in and out easily and naturally through the nose, and drop the body into the support of the floor.


This blog was originally posted on alignyo.com

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I have been practicing Yoga for the past 18 years. Wow. Crazy to write that. I actually wrote this ‘blog’ several years back, immediately after one of my closest friends and fellow yoga teachers in our idyllic (and oft mis-understood) community of ‘the hamptons’ was involved in a horrible car accident along a somewhat barren stretch of highway linking the towns of Amagansett and Montauk aptly named ‘the stretch.’  She was driving east along this road to teach a yoga private, when a 5 year old girl came careening down a steep driveway in a wagon, went across the road, and my friend’s car struck the girl and the wagon, killing the little girl. A horrific accident, with no-one to blame, and yet, how does my friend get over such a thing, the taking of the life of a young girl???

As yogis, we have these practices of Yoga; these practices of asana, pranayama, meditation; these practices of cultivating mindfulness, cultivating attention. It seems that many of us take these practices for granted.  Or perhaps not so much that we take them for granted, but that we don’t necessarily acknowledge how potentially useful they can be in challenging times. How vital these practices become when we are going through very difficult times in our lives.  This word ‘asana.’ A seat- a connection to or relationship to earth- to Mother Earth. What does that mean?? From the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, we have the sutra “Stiram Sukham Asanam.” (Our seat should be steady and easy or joyful). What does this mean for us not just in a Yoga class, not just in a “pose,” but in life???

Equanimity. What a beautiful word. Is equanimity possible? Is equanimity desirable?? For some, equanimity is confused as complacence, as a passionless existence in which one has no preferences, no likes or dislikes. A state of being in which one never gets upset, never gets affected simply because one does not care enough, or is able to shut down emotionally so as not to feel. On the contrary, one who is established in equanimity feels and feels deeply; cares and cares deeply, but has the wisdom to go beyond that which makes up this “saha” world… this fleeting world; the world of appearances, of names and forms. When something tragic happens in your life or in the life of someone close to you, how do you react??  Do you use the practices you have learned; the tools you have been taught to cope with what has happened?  Are you able to maintain your seat?  Are you able to maintain your hard-earned equanimity even in very turbulent times?

In my own experience, the Yoga practice has proven time and again to be a gift which sustains and nurtures me on many levels. I feel this most acutely during times in my life which are momentous in some way. The sudden death of my father nine years ago was such a time. Two pregnancies, one easy, one not so easy are two more examples. I have a vivid memory of coming home from the hospital with my first child after a difficult pregnancy and an even more difficult labor in which I was sore, swollen, and an emotional mess, and I unrolled my Yoga mat and did my first non-pregnant downward facing dog in 10 months (I was 42 weeks at the time of birth!!!) and just burst into tears. Tears of gratitude. The knowledge that this practice was still with me and although I had made this huge irrevocable  leap from being a woman who was not a mother to being a woman who was a mother, and the HUGE load that that felt like at the time, but that the practice was still with me…that THAT had not changed, was tremendously helpful.

So we practice. We practice when things are going well. We practice when times are difficult. We practice when we are healthy, as well as when we are sick. We practice with an injury, and come to learn so much more about that part of the body that is injured. And the more we allow ourselves to surrender to this path of Yoga, the more we reap the rewards. The more we acknowledge the healing capabilities of this practice, the more we are healed; physically, emotionally, spiritually. And yet, without attachment to any outcome, we practice. I think perhaps one of the mistakes we make is that when we need it the most, we neglect to practice. When we are ill, when we are grieving, the practice somehow gets left behind.  Again, this idea that we are not acknowledging all that it can do for us. We call these practices tools. But if we were a builder and we showed up at a job site without a hammer and nails, what good would we be?   We call ourselves yogis, but if we don’t use the tools we have learned over our years of practice, what use is the practice??  I saw firsthand after that tragedy with the little girl how one of my dearest friends utilized the tools of Yoga to help her in her process of grieving and overcoming the horrible accident she was involved in.  Being herself an outstanding Yoga teacher, it was the first thing she turned to and was her daily sanctuary and refuge.

The Sanskrit word for “practice” is ABHYASA.  B.K.S. Iyengar, in his book Light on Life,  says that the energies created by practice (abhyasa) need to be matched and balanced by the prudence of detachment (vairagya).  He says that “practice creates a centrifugal force, a spinning and expanding energy.  Trouble comes when this compelling energy spins out of control.  Military training works in the same way, which is why soldiers on leave and sailors on shore so often get into trouble.  Military discipline and honor are their safeguards.  Detachment is the disciplinary safeguard of the yoga practitioner.  It is a centripetal force that reinvests, with unswerving purpose, the strengths and abilities we have gained toward the search for the core of being.  This voluntary self-discipline is the role of pratyahara.”  So we continually draw ourselves deeper and deeper inside, towards the source of our being.  We move from the outer practices to the inner practices, from the body to the breath to the mind, to the intellect, to the soul.  We utilize wisely different practices at different times.  We employ different methods according to what is appropriate in the moment.  This appropriate or “right” action is yet another “boon” of practice.  To know what to do when.  To know how to act and what action to take.  Our observation, moment-to-moment, teaches us this “right” action.  Our deep connection to source insures that our intention is pure- selfless rather than selfish.  Very simply stated, practice practice practice.  The late Ashtanga Yoga Master Sri K. Patabhi Jois said, “Practice and all is coming.”  May we strive to do the best we can with what we have available to us in the moment.  May we maintain our seat, as we act accordingly.  May we learn from tragedy.  May our suffering nurture the seeds of great compassion.

OM SHANTIH SHANTIH SHANTIH

OM PEACE PEACE PEACE


This blog was originally posted on the Yoga Hyde blog

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