The Newbie Yogi: How to breathe OUTSIDE of yoga too…

sponge bob
The Newbie Yogi: How to breathe OUTSIDE of yoga too…

In yoga, we’re always reminded to breathe a lot. Or, as Tara likes to say intermittently, “breathe a whole lot”. She even plays this song during classes – in case we still can’t remember:

Alexi Murdoch – Breathe (CLICK TO PLAY)

Obviously breath is good. Each inhale fills us with oxygen, and each exhale – a mini-detox of sorts – releases carbon dioxide from our bodies. And that’s only like, physiologically speaking.

(that’s supposed to be lungs and a diaphragm)

Of course there’s more. The benefits of breath are truly profound – emotionally, physically, spiritually. If I tell you to inhale and exhale deeply – right now – you will probably feel different…a sense of calm…if only momentarily. I just did it and I felt it. Though we do it naturally, breathing well still requires attention…and intention…and when we’re able to remember to do it, it’s totally awesome.

But remembering to do it in yoga and remembering to do it in real life are two different things. In real life we have conference calls to hop on, dinner to prepare. We have to brush our teeth, maybe brush our toddler’s teeth, call AT&T to complain about our totally wrong bill, pick up our new glasses, and read the newspaper. How the eff are we supposed to incorporate breathing – REALLY BREATHING – into alladat??

It’s tough. Really tough. But when done right, pausing to breathe is like an abbreviated yoga practice. It re-centers us, calms our nerves, allows us to be present (and I’m sure a million other things).

When I Googled “how to remember to breathe”, the first thing that came up was a Psychology Today article that addressed taking time out of your day to breathe – not exactly what I’m talking about here. This was followed by a decent (albeit pretty wordy) article that included one suggestion I liked about how to incorporate deep breath into your day-to-day: Choose a color of clothing, and “each time you see that color, use it as a reminder that you’re okay. Breathe in. Breathe out. Smile.”. The 3rd search result was a song by Dashboard Confessional called “Remember to Breathe”. Not helpful.

So, without further ado, here are my personal tips for remembering to breathe. Not setting aside a special time for it, but really being able to incorporate it into your daily life. Little steps guys, little steps…

1) Every time you check your email or open a new one: BREATHE.

2) Any time you eat a complete meal (as opposed to a snack), try stretching it out to 20 minutes – and while you’re eating that meal: BREATHE IN BETWEEN BITES.

3) Choose something you do every morning and every evening – putting on/taking off your shoes, locking/unlocking your front door, brushing your teeth, etc. And after you do those things, in the morning AND in the evening: BREATHE…A FEW TIMES.

4) Take a nice, deep, appreciative breath after anything you do daily that brings you joy, but since you do it daily you’ve forgotten to take the time to appreciate it: kissing your honey goodbye, taking the first sip of your morning coffee or smoothie, your quiet drive to work, your quiet exit from work, and of course – sex!

Catching my drift? You can choose things, any things you want, to serve as markers for your breath. It works and it’s cool. Try picking one today. Maybe do the email thing (the first one). If that works, perhaps you can pick up another tomorrow or next week.

Happy breathing y’all,

Mihal Freinquel

The Newbie Yogi: My yoga practice is sucking & I wanna go on a cleanse

cleanse
The Newbie Yogi: My yoga practice is sucking & I wanna go on a cleanse

Like a lot of you have faced at one point or another, I’ve been so slammed with work these days that I haven’t been able to get into the studio for classes. I’ve been forced to practice yoga at home – and though I’ve definitely been doing that regularly (or at least I think I have), and yoga at home can be really nice, I need something more. I need something challenging. I need something to fill the ugly gaping void in my life where Strala classes and guides and playlists used to be.

And so I’ve decided that, until I’m able to balance the work stuff with the life stuff a bit better, the answer to filling that void is to go on a nice cleansingly cleansing cleanse.

I’ve done cleanses before. I go on month-or-two-long stints (usually in the summer) of doing all-raw stuff. I did the Organic Avenue 5-day LOVE cleanse (which was stupidawesome), and I have my own juicer so it’s not all that tough to incorporate fresh things into my diet.

But I want something more, and I don’t know where to begin. I know you guys are gonna be the ones to help me. I’m not doing it to lose weight. Basically I just want something that will challenge and question my body’s habits, I want my intestines flowing freely (read: I’m not afraid of pooping a lot), and I want to feel fresh and light. I don’t want to do something crazy (like the Master Cleanse) or be totally depleted of my energy (dare I say I want some more of it?). Also don’t forget, I am still doing yoga, just not in class. So don’t tell me to just keep doing yoga and everything will be cool.

Also, if this isn’t a DIY cleanse, they’re all so darn expensive and I’m not trying to spend half a month’s rent on supplements.

Tell me what to do!!!

Mihal Freinquel

The Newbie Yogi’s New Bestie: THE HEADSTAND CHAIR

Headstand chair
if you have low back problems you betta read this
The Newbie Yogi’s New Bestie: THE HEADSTAND CHAIR

Two weeks ago I wrote a post entitled “WTF I can’t lie flat on my back” – which, you guessed it, was basically just me whining about how I can’t lie flat because it really, really hurts my lower back. Well to my surprise (and yes, kind of delight, even though it sucks for you guys), some of you commented saying that you suffer the same pain. You said things like:

“I have exactly the same issue with my lower back! [...] Is it something you can work on to change or is it just a crazy anomaly to work around?”

“I have the same problem…and thought that something was wrong with me. I can never rest my lower back on to the floor. It is frustrating.”

“I’m glad it’s not just me! [...] In the past, yoga teachers who’ve noticed my discomfort just put something under my knees or lower back/hips.”

Inspired by my post (and my quest for pain relief), Strala guide Heidi Kristoffer then posted about her own adventure with back pain, and the little contraption that helped her recover. She wrote: I wanted to be able to be upside down for extended periods of time, with no effort, and play around with lifting and lowering my legs in all different ways.  That was right around when someone told me about the headstand chair

(sidenote – I know it looks like my body is up against the wall, but it’s actually not and I’m balancing)

 

Obviously not everybody’s going to go out and buy this chair, so Heidi offered an alternative assisted inversion with blocks. My immediate thought: screw messing around with blocks! I WANT THAT CHAIR. So I looked it up on Amazon and bought it a few days later (after doing a buttload of research). It’s a little over $100 with shipping, but I can’t put a price on back pain relief, so I went for it. AND I’M SO GLAD I DID!

I should also mention here that I can’t comfortably hold headstands on my own (yet?) for more than like 2 seconds. The pressure on my neck and head is too much, and the balancing part still makes me a little anxious. I’m sure it will come eventually (am I? I dunno), but until then, this chair is an unbelievable way to be able to play with gravity and say hello to the muscles that get involved in inversions.

As for my back pain: obviously it’s not gone yet, I’ve had this thing for like a week. But I love getting to go upside down and feel a stretch on my back in a new way. A gravity stretch. A loose stretch. A stretchy stretch. I would buy another if I had two backs.

Happy (assisted) posing,

Mihal Freinquel

The Newbie Yogi: The Guilt of the Home Practice

home practice
The Newbie Yogi: The Guilt of the Home Practice

I feel like I’ve gotten to the point in my Newbie Yogi-ness that I now feel fairly comfortable doing an at-home practice when I need to. When I’m too busy/tired/whatever to haul ass to SoHo for a class, I set up my mat, put on my music, and do my best to move through the best flow I can. No, my home practice is not as long as a standard class, and I don’t sweat nearly as profusely – but I relax, and I breathe, and I get moderately loose. So if that’s the case:

Why do I feel so guilty when I do it??!

Sometimes after I practice at home, it’s hard to remember whether or not it actually happened. Unlike a class, there’s no marker that begins it and ends it. There’s nobody there to witness that it happened, and no ritual that identifies it as something different from real life (this is, of course, all magnified by the fact that I work from home). I don’t take an elevator to get to my living room, or sign in and take my sneakers off to enter some big bright zen space. I’m cramped in my little apartment, encouraging myself to be awesome, while streaming some un-movement-synced tunes from Spotify. Maybe doing yoga at home is comparable to the proverbial tree in the forest – if it falls and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound? If Mihal gets into Warrior II and nobody’s around to witness it or do it with her, did it actually happen?

Obviously it did, but there’s something about doing it within the context of a class that makes it more real, more visceral. Being told what to do is way easier than telling yourself what to do each step of the way – and doing it surrounded by other people only adds to the flow (how awesome are super-packed yoga classes? I love the feeling of everybody moving together like waves in the ocean).

What do you guys do to make your home practices more official feeling? I know you must have some good ones – please impart.

Happy posing,

Mihal Freinquel

The Culture of Strala

Screen shot 2012-08-17 at 9.38.49 AM
The Culture of Strala

Hey Kids,

Just felt like reaching out and connecting with all the readers here on our growing-like-a-weed Strala blog. Quite an amazing culture has developed around not only the studio in NYC, but around the globe and it’s so exciting to see.  This blog has become so special and taken on a life of its own so quickly, but I should get used to that time warp happening.  When things are in the flow, time adjusts, and things develop very fast.  I’ve experienced this “being in the flow” in the last several years of having the pleasure and amazing opportunities and outlets to share how I know people can change their lives through an easy going approach to yoga and meditation, which spirals into a riduculously happy and healthy lifestyle that is contagious to anyone and everyone you’ll ever be in contact with.  Happiness has the ability, power, and potential to spread in the same capacity as hurtful feelings, or harmful viruses.  With that in mind, spreading happiness is much more interesting and downright effective for lasting positive change not only in us individually but exponentailly into the people, the planet, and the world.

As science can show us that an object changes as we change the way we perceive it, when we begin to change the way we perceive ourselves for the better, our lives expand accordingly.

 

 

This time for me is nothing short of a whirlwind.  The NYC studio is growing like a wild weed.  Many leaders have stepped in and fulfilled inspiring roles and are so lovely encouraging others to step into their full potential. The people who come for yoga regularly are getting so crazy strong, open, calm, and capable, we have to keep “upping” the sequencing to meet the challenge.

We’re in the process of expansion and growth to other cities and in sports clubs, which will be super exciting to bring Strala to the gym scene on a global level.  I’m super proud of our organic growth process, without a marketing team, outside funding, VC, or any trickery.  We don’t have assistants, staff, publicists, and we like it that way.  Mike, Heidi, the Strala guides, and the people who come to the studio are responsible for this growth. Will Hobbs, part of the family, my agent and friend, is responsible for organizing, strategizing, and putting up with my demanding nature and helping me actualize my vision.  With these people we have together created something to be really proud of.

The clothing line I’ve been working on with Reebok, more like a yoga baby, is about ready to be born, and we’re so proud and excited to share with the world.  My schedule has shifted from the occasional work-to-shoot-a-yoga-project-trip once a month or so, to becoming more like a ping-pong-happiness-ball on a mission to help as many people as possible connect inward, trust themselves, and get in the flow!

Last weekend we were lucky to be at the Standard in Miami doing yoga, signing books, and having a LOT of pool time with such awesome people.  This week I just finished shooting the Reebok campaign for our yoga line. Next week I’m off to Illinois to shoot a documentary of my farm town family doing yoga for LiveStrongWoman.  And then I head to LA for a couple TV projects that are secret until they air.  From there I get to hang at Strala NYC for a few days until I’m off to the Netherlands for the Dutch translation Tour.  Then back for a couple days, off to Reebok headquarters for an event, back to LA for Forbes conference, and then off to London for the UK and German release of This is Yoga, my new DVD series.  And then we’ll take Nov and Dec from there until we begin 2013.  Deep breaths.  Careful what you wish for everyone, it will probably come true.

My concentration is also on finding the ease, not just reminding others to do so.  If I can’t be easy, whether the movement is challening or simple, whether the day is frantic, or restuful, then what good am I to anyone else?  Not much!  My main job is to always practice and live how I guide and instruct others to live, because I believe in the Strala Culture, I see how these ideas help so many, and I want in on the action too!

So tell me, how do you find the ease?  How do you see the culture of Strala and how do you fit in?

We’re expanding the blog soon too to a new look so we all can stay more connected and continue to be inspired by each other.

Thanks for sharing your inspirations with me.  Much appreciated and lots of love!

xo

Tara

p.s. make sure to wear sunscreen! Or just hang out under a bunch of towels while reading your favorite Deepak Chopra book :)

The Power of Life

John+Coltrane
The Power of Life

It may come off as cliché sounding, but Carrie Bradshaw may have said it best:

In a City that moves so fast they give you the Sunday paper on Saturday, how did any of us know how much time we had left? There was so much I hadn’t done. I hadn’t been to Greece. I hadn’t finished painting my bathroom, my Visa still wasn’t paid in full, hell sometimes I felt like I was barely living”

More recently, I have been faced with the reality that life does not go on forever, even though we all seem to live as though it does. The end of our life as we know it could happen without expectation or notification. While this may sound morbid, it’s essential to bring up; I believe that every single person should come to terms with that idea so they may begin to fully live each day as if it was their last.

Again, another cliché sounding statement, but what if we did actually start living this way? Living spontaneously, in the moment, with no regrets and living life with passion for your goals and your loved ones. That doesn’t sound so bad!

Overwhelmed with the idea that anything could happen at any moment; my boyfriend decided he wanted to create a “Live Your Life to the Fullest” list. Not so much a “Bucket List”, instead this list would consist of little reminders for us to make sure that we are getting the most out of each and every day. I thought this to be a great idea and together we created our list:

Give Thanks.This is to remind ourselves to give thanks for all the blessings we have currently and have experienced; this could also be considered a form of prayer.

Meditate. By silencing your mind through meditation, you may be able to gain clarity and focus. Not sure where to begin? Check out one of my fave ways to meditate

Affection. This is a reminder that we need to feel and show affection for all of our loved ones every day. A hug, a kiss, holding hands, a shoulder to lean upon…..

Message of Love. Tell the ones you love as often as you can. Send Mom a text. Dad an email. Sister a phone call. Have lunch with a Friend at your favorite café. Give Kitty a belly rub….

Get Physical. Reminder to do some form of physical activity daily to help you feel good—my favorite? Practicing Strala yoga of course! Since I’ve completed the Strala 200 -Ready To Lead program I feel more comfortable practicing at home and guiding others through a session. You can check out their schedule here.

Do a Good Deed. Do at least one good deed a day to help spread positivity and hope. It doesn’t have to always be volunteering at a huge charity event (though that is a good deed!) but rather can be something as simple as picking up a piece of garbage on the street, giving spare change to a homeless person, helping out a friend with moving (greatest deed of all time)

Have a Good Meal. This should be every meal, but we want to make sure that we get the most of our nutritional health and at the same time give our palates something to get excited over. I am vegan and try to consume the majority of my foods from farm fresh produce so I know that with every bite I eat I’m satisfying my body and soul! Around the NYC area? Check out Strala General Manager and Yoga Guide Heidi Kristoffer’s Vegan Food Guide

Have a Good Music Experience. It’s also important to listen to whatever music makes you feel something. I personally love music, and especially love doing yoga to music to get a total mind and body experience. Go to song? Coltrane “Alabama”.

It’s time to appreciate life, every moment of it. What else would you include on your list?

xo
Britt
Health and Wellness Guide, Brittany D. Costa is not only a scholar in Journalism and Creative Writing but is also a Personal Trainer and has worked at various elite clubs and private boutique studios such as Freestyle Fitness, Equinox and New York Sports Club. Brittany is the Official Health and Wellness Guide for various Miss USA and Miss Teen USA pageant contestants and has worked with brands such as Oakley Women and Lululemon. Studying through the National Academy of Sports Medicine for Personal Training as well as working towards 200 Registered Yoga Instructor hours, combined with an active lifestyle has inspired her to connect with others about living a healthy and happy life. Relatable, humorous and knowledgeable, Brittany connects with her readers and clients at every age, stage and size as she tries to make the world a healthier place by helping people to understand how to take advantage of opportunities around them that impact both the health of the individual and of the Earth. Brittany is also a graduate of Strala’s 200+ Hour Ready to Lead Program
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The Newbie Yogi: The Day I Used The Blocks…(dun dun duuuuuuun)

blocks
The Newbie Yogi: The Day I Used The Blocks…(dun dun duuuuuuun)

As always, the “Newbie Yogi” blogs are based on my experiences only. I’m not saying that what’s awesome for me will rock your world too…or what sucks for me will be sucky for you.  BUT! That said, you should definitely read on, because in the event that you DO face the same issue as I do, and there’s even a LITTLE chance you could find some relief with this tool, your yoga practice is about to get a little more loveable.

This Issue: I think my arms are abnormally short. Proportionately to my body, they’re more like a cat’s. Either that, or my hips are abnormally tight. Which they are, but I think the short arms are more to blame for this problem I’m having. See, when I’m in downward dog, then I lift my leg into a downward dog split, and then I attempt to bring my foot in between my hands for a low lunge…I can Never. Quite. Make it.

Observe:

aPxZNp on Make A Gif, Animated Gifs

My foot just doesn’t reach up there by itself. I have to grab my ankle with my hand and cajole it up. I really think it’s my inexplicably short arms. It’s definitely not, as Tara flatteringly suggested, that I have really long legs.

The Solution: I once saw a video that Tara did with model Brooklyn Decker, who went through her entire practice with her hands on blocks (I’m guessing Ms. Decker’s issue is probably too-long model legs). This got me thinking. I thought about trying it too. But I’m not Brooklyn Decker and I didn’t want to look like a doofus. I didn’t want people to think that I couldn’t do certain stuff without the blocks. Oh but wait, i can’t! (Not yet anyway). After wrestling with the idea for weeks – weeks of mentally begging my ankle to softly land in-between my hands – last week, I finally decided to try the blocks.

The Cons:

1. Like Tara warned me, there is some futzing involved. When a block is in your way, you have to move it out of the way. And when you need it back again, you have to re-position it on the mat.
2. Unless you’re in the same class as me, you’re probably going to be the only one in there using the blocks in this way, and it feels weird if you let it. It’s like being the dude riding the Tour de France with training wheels. Or like the one person at the Chinese food restaurant who eats her rice with a fork instead of chopsticks. But you’ll get over it once you witness the pros, which aaaare…

The Pros:

1. While there might be some futzing during certain parts of your practice, the smoothness that you gain between your downward dog split and your low lunge is priceless. And, as you Strala-ites know, this is a flow we go through a lot within the span of one class, so having to manually pick your foot up and jerk it forward every time kinda effs up your focus.
2. I was able to keep my eyes closed for a more significant part of my flow. The fluidity between those two movements came easier, putting me more in tune with my breath and drawing me further inward.
3. I actually haven’t found a third reason yet. Have you? Do you really need one after 1 and 2?!

Are there more uses for the blocks that have revolutionized your yoga world?? Or other props? Bolsters? Blankets? Straps? I know there must be so many other prop-induced fun things that I haven’t taken advantage of yet.

Happy posing,

Mihal Freinquel

The Newbie Yogi Chats With The Newbie GM – Heidi Kristoffer!

heidi front
The Newbie Yogi Chats With The Newbie GM – Heidi Kristoffer!

Most of us Strala folks know about Heidi Kristoffer: she’s the inversion queen, a badass guide who’s the ideal mix of drill sergeant and Disney princess, a vegan, a motivator, a Vitamix-lover, aaaaand, the new General Manager at Strala (yay!). But how much do we REALLY know about her? What about all the other stuff? (Trust me, there’s a lot – and it’s all really cool). Read on and get to know Heidi:


Newbie Yogi: Where did you come from? Tell us about your early years and your family life. Jobs? College? Personal life? Who aaaaaare you Heidi??!!
Heidi Kristoffer: I’m from CT, born and raised. Have an older brother, two younger sisters, and a younger brother. There was a lot going on in my house, and I was very independent and into doing my own thing, so everyone just let me.

Everything in my life happened by me just going with the flow when things didn’t go the way I had planned. (Do they ever?) I went to college at Cornell University in Ithaca, NY, did a stint in London at the British American Drama Academy, moved to NYC, then to LA, and then came back to NYC because my future husband couldn’t bear to live without me ;) .

In middle school I was super shy, but one of my friends convinced me to go an arts summer camp with her. I signed up for drawing and painting classes, and then on my first day, my whole schedule was wrong and I was in all theatre classes. I was terrified, but the teacher made me (and everyone) get up on stage and sing. Solo. I fell in love. From that year on until college, I did anywhere from 10-15 shows a year. My favorite role ever was probably Little Red Riding Hood in “Into The Woods” because I got to throw a temper tantrum on stage every night.

I went to Cornell because they had a musical theatre department, but it was cut out my freshman year.  All of a sudden, I had to learn how to act if I wanted to keep being in theatre. I went with it. I got my BA in Theatre Arts, and after college, I came to NYC with dreams of being on stage, but agents had other plans. I started on [soap opera] “As The World Turns” right off the bat, as “Nurse Shelley”, and recurred on that show for seven years, until it went off the air.  I got super lucky landing roles in film, television and stage: everything from “Law & Order: Criminal Intent” to a movie called “The Oranges” which is coming out this fall.

I was a gym rat in my acting days until we moved far west [Manhattan] and the nearest sports club was several avenues away. My Google search for gyms in that neighborhood led me to a yoga studio. My thought at the time was, “well, everyone’s always telling me to try it… ugh, I guess I will…” I was smitten. First class. I could not believe that something this cool existed and I did not know about it. I signed up for a three month unlimited on my first visit, and was hooked. I went every day. I enrolled in a teacher training to deepen my practice, and fell in love with leading classes in the process. Jason Wachob, founder of MindBodyGreen (who went to school with my husband, Alex) and his wife Colleen (both part of the Strala family from long before this location) came to my class, and told me to get over to Strala. I took Tara’s class, and the rest you know! I was leading classes at Strala, happier than I had ever been. I was less and less happy doing the acting thing, so I stopped with what wasn’t making me happy, and moved towards what was. Now, I get to do what I love all day every day, hoping to help people along the way!

NY: Dude. Well at least now nobody can say they don’t know your life story!!! Ok Hollywood girl, I’ll be keeping an eye out for “The Oranges” (as will the rest of Strala, I’m sure). So now your acting days are over and it’s all about yoga in full force. You mention in your bio that yoga helped you get through broken vertebrae and herniated discs. How did you learn to trust yoga vs. conventional western treatments? How did you know it was “working”? What was your healing experience like?
HK: I started to notice that after listening to my body in yoga, I felt better – longer and stronger, more spacious. I also was more calm, which I think helped loosen my tight muscles as well. I had experiences where I left a chiropractor or other western doctors and my back went into complete spasm, incapacitating me for days.  Prior to yoga, I was in constant pain. I knew yoga was working when it started to alleviate my pain. Not a whole lot – if anything else – did.  Also, it seemed (and seems) to me like a long-term solution: strengthening the muscles that surround my spine to protect it, rather than treating the pain with pills or some other “quick fix”.  I wasn’t down for surgery. If western medicine is the answer for you, great, and thank goodness we have it. Surgery was not the route I chose.  I got a lot of bad advice and “treatment plans” along the western route. I also had an incredible doctor who, among other things, advised me to keep doing yoga. I figure I know me best, and yoga lets me follow and listen to me.

NY: Ok, I’m in constant pain too. *Fingers crossed* that I’m on that same path. Alright enough about yoga: What’s your favorite midnight snack?
HK: I actually don’t eat late at night – I found that it gives me bad dreams!  But, for dessert, I often cut up a mango and have it with a side of vegan carob chips. This replaced my former favorite at-home dessert of fruit and vegan chocolate, but the caffeine from the chocolate was keeping me up at night! (Check Heidi’s Tumblr here where she posts all of her yummy snacks).

NY: Wow you’re the healthiest person in the world. It’s really pretty astonishing. Next random question: which song or artist gets the most heavy rotation on your iPod? (class playlists don’t count!)
HK: Oh, no! I am such a cheese ball with music! On my way to the studio, I like to listen to things that really ground and relax me (like songs we play during relaxation at the end of class at Strala or more classical fare.) Later, I go anywhere from George Michael to NIN to De La Soul to “The Jersey Boys” soundtrack. My music choices are very mood-dependent.

NY: NIN?! Omg I just fell deeper in love with you. What goes into making a class playlist? How do you time it? That always impresses me.
HK: I LOVE making playlists! I try to make the playlist the undercurrent or “tempo” of the class. I will have an entirely different playlist for a Friday noon yoga class, a morning basics class, and an evening relax class.  I am always on iTunes and Spotify trying to find great new music. I like to mix a bit of the known, with some less known instrumental tracks. The timing comes from knowing the flow of your class. If I am creating an entirely new playlist, I will practice my own class at home to that playlist and make tweaks along the way to ensure the music, flow and mood are all aligned.

NY: I love that. And it totally works – kudos to you (and all of the other playlist-making Strala guides!). Do you have any hidden talents?
HK: I am really, really good at organizing things. One of the odd jobs I did when I first moved to New York was going into peoples’ homes and organizing everything for them. It’s like a puzzle to me: it makes me happy to find a place for everything and then put everything in its place.

NY: HAHA YES! I saw your hoodies pic on Instagram (above). I’m very impressed. So what does a busy-organizing-bee like you think about before you go to sleep? How about when you wake up?
HK: Before bed I make notes on what I need to get done the following day (so I’m not trying to remember anything while I am falling asleep) and go over my notes from my [private sessions]. I also try to do a gratitude journal every night– it’s nice to fall asleep reflecting on all of the positive in life. When I wake up in the morning, I think, “Yay for a new awesome day full of possibilities!”

NY: Ok back to yoga for a quick sec. You mentioned you used to be a gym rat – these days do you supplement your yoga practice with other exercise? If yes, what type? If no, why not?
HK: I practice yoga every day: on my own at home or at Strala. If I happen to be around I pool, I will always do laps – I love how meditative the strokes and breathing are.  Also, I love to move: I will never turn down any physical outdoor activity (so long as it isn’t competitive) like climbing, hiking, biking – you name it, I’ll have fun doing it – dancing too – I like to make an idiot out of myself.  I draw the line on anything that involves competition. I have no use for that. Once I found yoga, the gym just seemed like a snooze fest for me. Also, I am quite lazy in that I like to be time efficient: why would I take all of that time to work different muscles in the gym when yoga is a one-stop shop for the whole body?  Different strokes for different folks, or for different times in one’s life.

NY: I AGREE! The yoga-efficiency thing has been paramount for me. What’s your biggest indulgence?
HK: Brownie Bottom Cheesecake from Vegan Treats. Ooey-gooey brownie bottom, covered in a thick decadent cheesecake, topped with a chocolate ganache, covered in a heap of the gooiest, chew-iest, densest brownies, covered in chocolate sauce. All vegan, of course.  So, so yummy.

NY: Haha whoa, that just made me really hungry. Ok last question from the Newbie Yogi: What’s your biggest piece of advice for other newbie yogis out there? What about for an advanced yogi?
HK: There is no advanced! We are all always beginners: always finding new ways to breathe into new spaces. Have fun, breathe, and don’t take yourself too seriously. :)

Note to readers: TODAY IS HEIDI’S BIRTHDAY!!! So here’s me singing happy birthday to you, girl. (No it’s not, just pretend it is).

Follow me on Twitter here, and Heidi on Twitter here.

The Newbie Yogi: 5 Awesome Things That Make Yoga Even More Awesome

wellness collage
The Newbie Yogi: 5 Awesome Things That Make Yoga Even More Awesome

Anybody who regularly does yoga will agree: practicing yoga stimulates the desire for a change in habits. Don’t eat as much crap, cut down the alcohol, shed the drama, I even quit coffee two months ago (I know). And while you’re drawn to ditch some not-great habits, you might also be on the hunt for good ones to add on. Below are the 5 most awesome things I’ve added to my life since I’ve started doing yoga, and I highly recommend them all :) .

1. CHIA SEEDS: Ok whoa. I’ve always been a smoothie fanatic, but adding chia seeds to my morning smoothies has revolutionized my mornings. Fiber, protein, omega-3′s…it balances your blood sugar, fills you up and reduces cravings, lowers cholesterol, and a gazillion more things that I’m sure Google would be happy to share with you. Also, I haven’t done it yet, but I’m dying to try out chia seed pudding as a mid-day snack (maybe that will be the next post…maybe not…I can’t really say for sure).

2. A.M. LEMON WATER: Before that smoothie goes down in the morning, I drink some warm lemon water. It’s refreshing (especially when you cut out the coffee), alkalizing (meaning, the opposite of acidic on the pH spectrum), detoxifying, and…very lemony. Just make sure you rinse your mouth out with water so your teeth don’t disgustingly rot and fall out.

3. DRY SKIN BRUSHING: For this one, you basically take a big coarse skin brush, I use this one, and brush it all over your body before you get in the shower (of course there are techniques – brushing toward your heart and so forth). Dry brushing is a great way to treat your skin, the largest organ of your body, with a little TLC. It gets your circulation going, removes dead skin cells, stimulates the lymph canals (aka detoxes nasty stuff), and rejuvenates the nervous system. It’s also SUPPOSEDLY supposed to reduce the appearance of cellulite. I’ll believe dat when I see it.

4. EPSOM SALT BATHS: So this one is kind of cheating because I’ve been doing for a while, but it’s worth putting in here. Hot bath, Epsom salt, and a few drops of lavender oil. You should probably light a candle too for extra-strength tranquility. I started taking them after my gym injury, but I love them after massages, or walking all day, or uh – just living in NYC. They’re phenomenal for circulation, detoxification, nerve function, stress relief, and to reduce inflammation and pain. And, like the chia seeds and the lemon water (and probably the dry brushing too, who knows), Epsom salt baths are great for helping you um, poo.  The lavender just smells really nice and calming. It’s also supposedly great for lots of stuff, you can read about that on your own here.

5. WRITING: I know blah blah, journaling is for hippies and adolescent girls…seriously though. I’m lucky to have the Strala Blog platform to chronicle my yoga journey, but you don’t need a blog to stay present with your thoughts. Writing down your thoughts about yoga and wellness and difficulties and awesome things is a fantastic way to notice where you’re at and consistently self-reflect. And hey! If you don’t want to write your own stuff from scratch, you can always comment on our stuff! Ferreal…like right now…comment on my stuff…kbye.

Happy posing!

Mihal Freinquel

The Newbie Yogi: GYM VS YOGA…A Showdown!

gym vs yoga
The Newbie Yogi: GYM VS YOGA…A Showdown!

As if I haven’t mentioned it on here enough, I used to go to the gym. A lot. Like, excessively and obsessively. I kept close track of my reps and my sets, read basically every workout book in existence (including NSCA’s rhinoceros of a textbook), monitored my protein intake, and alternated between Top 40 and heavy metal in my headphones. I was hardcore to say the least.

Then, while studying to become a personal trainer, and working out with a trainer of my own, an injury jerked it all to a violent halt. “Hmmm, how does one get injured while exercising with a trainer?” you may (or may not) be wondering. Well, it all happened one beautiful sunny day in a basement of a gym, where – incidentally – couldn’t see the sun at all. I was embarking on kettlebell squat-thrusts for the first time. Kettlebells are ball-shaped cast iron weights with handles – and kettlebell squat-thrusts resemble something like this:

I began with a low weight, 10 lbs. EASYYYY. So my trainer handed me a 20 pounder to push me harder. Off I went – squat, thrust, squat, thrust, inhale, exhale, grunt, grunt.  Still not exceedingly terrible, but this time I felt a pinch in my back. “Ouch, my back kinda hurts,” I whimpered to my trainer. “Hm, well your form is flawless, you’re probably just getting used to it.” Shrug, ok, so I kept going.

The next morning I woke up and couldn’t get out of bed. My low back and hip were locked – like a sheet of steel had replaced my midsection.

Four years and thoooousands of dollars later, I still have low back and hip issues. And aside from my physical pain, what I have continued to struggle with on my journey from gym-goer to yogi, is the concept of pushing myself. It sounds negative in a yoga context. PUSH. Strala guides have written countless posts about how this is a very bad thing. But in the gym, it’s the ideal place to be. “Push harder! One more! You can do it!”. It’s motivation to do better and be better. Now consider this – what about instead of saying push yourself, I say challenge yourself. That seems more appropriate to a yoga context, no? Ok maybe still a little dicey. What about this: believe in yourself.

Push, Challenge, and Believe have such nuanced connotations within the contexts of a gym versus a yoga studio. Tell me to believe in myself during my psychotic plyometric routine as I blast Rage Against the Machine, and I’ll karate kick you in the mouth. But tell me to believe in myself while I’m in a dolphin pose with my feet about to lift off the ground, and maybe I’ll reach that headstand. (Conversely, tell me to push myself in the same dolphin pose and I’ll probably kick up, fall over, and hurt myself).

Beginning yoga, and truly integrating it, requires a totally different language from the gym. And along with that, values and priorities. I didn’t give yoga a chance for years because, in my gym language, it didn’t give me a workout. Now this little gym rat can’t even fathom lifting weights (not that they have to be mutually exclusive, but that’s how it landed on me). Yoga – and its unique language and ideology – was my wellness Rosetta Stone. After a little while, I wasn’t just speaking it, I was starting to live it.

My advice to fellow gym junkies who have even a bit of interest in trying yoga – whether it’s a full changeover, or just as a supplement to your gym routine: You know how at the gym, you workout really hard and then stretch after? Like stretching is the reward for punishi… I mean pushing yourself during your workout? That’s how it was for me anyway. Guess what? Yoga is the answer to doing both of those the same time. It’s the exercise part and the stretch part all in one! Which not only integrates the feeling good part with the exercise part, but it saves major time. Don’t believe me? Try a Strala STRONG class. Don’t live in the area? Check out Vinyasa places, or Astanga or Power yoga.

How have you guys eased the gym-to-yoga transition? Do you supplement yoga with other gym-type workouts or training? Have you recovered from gym injuries with yoga?

Happy posing,
Mihal Freinquel