Blessings in 2015 - And changing our ways.

Being empowered isn’t about having it all figured out its about stepping into our power and claiming our sacred place in the world. 

With the New Year comes new inspiration and lots of opportunity to change our ways. When we are young we don’t realize the conditioning that traps us and move blindly in the world of fantasy and wishful thinking.  As we get older we become more cynical that those changes will actually happen. We have seen far too many new years resolutions come and go and while the feeling of being stuck remains. 

In yogic terms we call...

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Summer Down Under with Nianna

I look forward to an amazing summer down under. I have a few events that you should know about, join in and if you feel inspired share with your community. As well, I am offering women's circles, health retreats and tantra yoga trainings and master classes. If you have a studio and would like to invite me. Please email for bookings.  At your service and in service of Ma, Nianna xo

Here is what's cooking:

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An Introduction to Yin Yoga

By Nianna Bray

yin-yang.jpg

In Chinese philosophy, yin and yang are concepts used to describe how opposite or contrary forces are actually complementary, interconnected and interdependent in the natural world and how they give rise to each other as they interrelate to one another. 

Through this dual model we get dark and light, negative and positive, feminine and masculine. All things in the universe can be categorized as either yin or yang in nature, yet nothing is completely yin or completely yang. Its classification changes in relationship to something else; yin and yang are relative. When we use the term yin in “Yin Yoga,” we are referring to the aspects of the practice, targeted parts of the body and the approach which is relatively more yin-like in nature.

Most of the yoga we have known in the West, is very much yang in nature, and focuses primarily on physical postures that require muscular effort, like Vinyasa Flow or Ashtanga for example. In the body, the muscular tissues are more yang and are exercised in a yang fashion.  Yin Yoga has the same goals and objectives of any other school of yoga; however, it directs the stimulation deeper than the superficial muscles. Yin Yoga targets the yin tissues of the body in a yin fashion. The joints in our body are yin to the yang muscles and must be exercised appropriately. We can only affect the joints by skillfully exercising the ligaments and tendons, which are relatively more yin than yang. This is done through mindful leverage and stillness, over a length of time.

Yang muscle tissue is elastic and needs to be juicy. Think wet and warm, when exercised, and requires rhythmic repetitive movements to effectively stress the fibers of the muscles. Yin tissue is dryer and more plastic in nature and would be damaged if exercised in the same manner. Despite the context of water, there are more ways in which the muscles are yang-like relative to the ligaments, which are yin-like. Like with everything in life, it’s important to know when to do what and applying Yin Yoga style exercises to the joints, ligaments and tendons is key.

Yin Yoga is suitable for almost all levels of students. Yin Yoga is the perfect complement to most sports; the dynamic and muscular styles of yoga emphasize internal heat and the lengthening and contracting of muscles. Yin Yoga generally targets the connective tissues (tendons and ligaments) of the hips, pelvis and lower spine.

At first a yin practice might seem boring for its passive, quieter approach but it can indeed be very challenging due to the long duration held for each pose. We stay in a yin pose from three up to twenty minutes for each pose, yet one minute for beginners is a good start. This gives the bodymind plenty of time to peacefully relax or freak out, depending on experience. For many people it is difficult to be still and quiet with the uncomfortable sensations they feel or the incessant stream of thoughts. Yet like anything, with experience, the practice becomes more familiar and easier over time.  While discomfort is part of the practice, pain is something to avoid and one should be intelligently tuning in and picking up cues from the bodymind about how deep and how long each pose should be held. When in doubt, come out of the pose and rest. Each person has his or her own pain threshold and mental temperament and self-mastery comes with time and practice.

Yin Yoga works with a few principles and objectives, in order to make the most out of the time one is in each pose.  Most yin poses will be performed either supine or seated, essentially low to the ground.  In each pose, we are not looking at the outside of the shape. Instead, we are feeling the shape from the inside so alignment isn’t based on external cues, but from an embodied sensory perception. It’s not what it looks like. It’s how it feels, so each practitioner is individually responsible for their own experience of the practice and must learn to listen to their own bodymind for cues. It takes time to develop body awareness yet self-inquiry is what yoga is all about so it’s worth the effort.

First you want to target the joint you wish to exercises. Then, you want to relax all the muscles around that joint. Muscles contract to bring bones closer to bones. To exercise joints, we want to pull the bones apart. This subtly stresses the fibers of the tendons and ligaments, which strengthens and heals the tissue by drawing in essential fluids that keep the joints functional, supple and mobile. The skillful use of props helps to leverage the body into the shape in order to target the desired joint utilizing gravity and weight, not pulling into the pose with muscular effort.  Once you are comfortably in the shape, you relax completely and surrender to gravity, allowing your body to slowly descend toward the floor, deepening the desire stretch.

To make the yin exercise effective we need to hold the shape for a duration of anywhere from three to five minutes, up to twenty minutes and allow the body time to slowly release. This requires patience. There is no special breathing technique for Yin Yoga and the practitioner is advised to breathe normally. Upon exiting the shape, you will intuitively want to move slowly and with care. Fast movements are not advised. Take time to come out of the pose and rest or introduce small slow movements to loosen up after a long hold. If upon exiting a Yin pose you feel like you are moving like an 80-year-old, you know you have done it right. 

Yin Yoga has been popularized by the work of Paul Grilley, but he did not invent it.  He attributes much of his work to three lines of inquiry: Dr. Gary Parker, Paulie Zink and Dr. Hiroshi Motoyama. The ultimate goal of yoga, Samadhi (an inner state of union), is outlined in the earliest texts on yoga. The Yin Yoga practice has the potential to bring the devoted practitioner into deep states of meditation.  Samadhi arises within ones ability to comfortably and steadily sit still and be quiet. Yin Yoga opens and strengthens the hips and spine, making sitting in meditation for a length of time accessible. In fact, the original styles of yoga were very yin-like in nature. Over the past two hundred years the style has changed to be more yang-like. As in all things in life, harmony comes through balance. By combining both styles of yang and yin, progress in practice is more assured. 

For more information about my upcoming classes, workshops and retreats, click here.

Strength & Surrender

“Surrender your strength to the Goddess, Nianna. You don’t have to do it all yourself,” I heard my teacher say to me while I was in my perfect warrior II pose.  Up until that point, I hadn’t considered the fact that there might be a power stronger then my own that could hold me up better then I could.   

Growing up in Los Angeles creates a certain type of creature.  I was tough and I had to be. I wore a thick armor of protection. I was strong and I could take care of myself. I didn’t need anyone or anything, or so I chose to believe. When I was young, I ran with gangs and was part of a tagging crew called ACQ, aka “All City Queens.” We thought we were badass. We kind of were. We did all the things bad kids do. I hung out on the streets at night with kids who were mean, angry and just wanted to get wasted and cause trouble. Often I was the one that would lead the mischief. How else would I get the name “Traviesa”?  If you weren’t strong out there on the block, you were eaten alive. I learned to be strong, run fast, hit hard and protect myself and my homies.

When yoga found me at 18, it set me on a new path and at 22, I committed an entire year solely to my healing process. Yet, it wasn’t until 6 years into my yoga journey that I began to surrender my strength to a power greater then my own. Up until that point I thought I was, but on a more intimate level I was not. I was still propping myself up with my ego, which still can happen from time to time. But what I learned that day when my teacher suggested I “give it to the Goddess” changed my body, mind and practice forever.  I stopped using shear will and grunt determination (which my be useful at times) and started letting myself be held, protected and even loved from a higher source and it made everything easier. Where before I would struggle, I learned eventually to relax into the unseen support that was all around me and tapped into a deeper strength. I surrendered. 

Over the past 4 years I have been cultivating a workshop I call “Strength & Surrender.” I have gathered my years of experience in vinyasa yoga, yin yoga, pranayam, kriya and meditation to create a practice that is balanced in its approach. I use certain practices to illustrate the power of both strength and surrender and the importance of knowing when to do what. The power of opposites is mirrored in our heartbeat and breath, through the contraction and expansion, the rise and fall, the embracing and letting go. 

It is a powerful mixture of all that I love about yoga. The sweaty flow that brings me into deep focus and requires determination and discipline, the deep exhale of yin yoga that is cooling and grounding and requires my fullest expression of peaceful surrender, breath work and the inner microcosm that reflects the macrocosm of opposites as the sacred union of masculine and feminine within the hrid, the inner cave of the spiritual heart. My intention with my Stength & Surrender offering is to create ritual space, where students can be intimate with themselves in a loving and healing way that is empowering, inspiring and essential.  

Join us for Strength & Surrender in Los Angeles August 23rd Saturday 2-4pm @ Exhale

Guest Blog: How to become a yogi

Day 216: My week with Nianna

Sometimes things just feel like they were meant to be. (At other times life can feel like a crazy accumulation of happenings, so it is important to cherish those easy flowing moments.) My week with Nianna Bray felt like one of those easy flowing situations.

Let me start at the beginning. My week with Nianna actually consisted of only four days, but since those days were pretty intensive, it feels like I have spent a week with her. At the least. Two months ago I did not even know who Nianna Bray was, but I had just returned from an amazing time in Costa Rica, where I did a lot of vinyasa yoga. Always thinking that I was meant to become an ashtangi I was reluctant to embrace the easy playful vinyasa at first. Yet after two weeks in the rainforest it had swept me off my feet. So I returned to the Netherlands, eager to explore all the new possibilities which yoga had offered me once again.

It was also pure chance that I happened to be in the town where I grew up with too much time on my hands (the people who know me, know that that is a truly extraordinary thing). So I decided to explore some new yoga studio’s and ended up in a lovely vinyasa lesson by Claudia, a teacher who happened to have done the same yogateachtertraining as my own favourite teacher back home. She told me about some workshops that were coming up and I had to sadly inform her that I could not afford them at the moment. We had a nice chat and kept in touch and just a week later she called me with an offer: she needed someone to assist Nianna during her workshops in the Netherlands, in exchange for free participation in the workshops. She then asked me if I would be interested. Of course I was! Therefore,  it happened that a mere month later I met Nianna at the first workshop she was going to give in the Netherlands (in Zaandam).

Whenever I meet a new teacher I always need to get used to their voice and well, just their general way of teaching. So during the first workshop, regarding the women’s wisdoms I kept my distance. Being currently enrolled in gender study subjects at university, it felt strange to hear someone talking about the essence of feminity and our inner goddesses. Nevertheless she did touch me in some way, since I cried like a baby during the savasana.

The next workshop was in Amsterdam at club Lite. Arriving there early, I was part of the wonderful process of transforming a nightclub into a yoga studio (kind off). It was really nice to meet all those lovely people, however I think I underestimated the stress organising such a workshop can cause to  people. Have you ever seen a yoga teacher flip out? It is scary as hell, since you simply do not expect it! Luckily by the time Nianna arrived, it was all love and hugs again and we ended up doing a great Chakra Flow sequence. This time the focus was a bit more directed at the physical aspect, which is easier to connect  to in my opinion. Besides that it simply was a wonderful class.

The next day we went to one of my favourite studio’s in the Netherlands: de Yogatempel in Haarlem. I truly enjoy the atmosphere of that place. First up was another women’s workshop and there I finally understood the joy of practicing and connecting with just women for a couple of hours. It felt like a save spot to truly move the way the body desires, without being mindful of appearances. It felt wonderful to focus on the specific movements of the female body. I cannot explain why and how, but it felt like this connecting with women was something that I really needed. Many of the women were there for the second time, so I am assuming it also touched something in them. That afternoon we continued with a  core strengthening workshop. It was actually quite like my usual lessons, only that it lasted much longer. Oh, and in my normal lessons they do not require me to do my core work while I am up in an handstand, but hey, you got to spice it up sometimes ;).

On Sunday I was already pretty sore when I entered the three hour masterclass at Yoga Moves in Utrecht. During those three hours I had to let go of my ego. After (and during) that lesson I knew two things: 1. I am not flexible. I am not really stiff, however there is no way to call myself flexible after the movements I witnessed in that classroom. 2. I am a yoganoob. All my pretentions about kind of knowing my way around yogaland were blown away, there are whole worlds that I am not aware of yet. The class was truly amazing. It was challenging yet not intimidating. All the movements were so full of grace and ease (at least they should be), that three hours of yoga was not quite as exhausting as they could have been. It was as if we tapped into some hidden power in ourselves, magical. Whenever I simply could not do what was asked of me (you want me to put my leg WHERE?!), I just looked around and marvelled at the infinitive possibilities of the human body.

That night I dragged my sore body to Alphen aan de Rijn for the last of the six workshops. All my muscles hurt and I was truly questioning whether or not I would be able to pull through another 2,5 hours of yoga. I guess I underestimated Nianna’s ability as a teacher. That yin class that she taught was  one of the best I have ever been to. It was the perfect ending for her mini tour through the Netherlands. All the soreness was gone after her lesson and I felt like I was floating on air.

For all of you who have never heard of Nianna Bray, do check her out! --> http://niannabray.com/ She is a wonderful teacher who travels the world and organises wonderful retreats as well. I have learned a lot from her and it feels as if she was in my life at the time I needed her most. I will not travel the world to follow her though, I do not have the money and I am a bit wary about the guru thing. However if she returns to a place close by I will be there at the front of the classroom, together with all the other people she has inspired and who attend every workshop they can.

I hope you are all having a lovely day

New to Yoga? 5 Tips for Beginners

NEW TO YOGA?

5 TIPS FOR BEGINNERS

Yoga is nothing new to you unless you have been living under a rock. Most people by now have heard of yoga, know a friend who practices yoga or has even taken a class themselves. Over the past 20 years yoga has made its way to the mainstream. Yoga came to the west in the early 1900’s and the western mind has been mesmerized by the mystery of Eastern thought ever since. Yoga is a physical, mental and spiritual practice that has developed over 5000 years, can even be dated back to the first fire keeping of 1 million years ago and continues to adapt to the modern practitioner. This is what you need to know about yoga as you make your way along this new and surprisingly welcoming practice.

 

1) Yoga is not a religion

While in many yogic traditions the use of idols for worship is a large part of the practice yoga is not a religion. Those idols have been choosen by devotees who feel connected to a certain God to focus their minds on. Like some in the west feel connected to Jesus and that gives them direction and inspiration. Yoga is in fact a science of the subtle body and works with the mental and physical body as the experiential conduit. This means you don’t have to change your beliefs in god to practice yoga.  Yet your belief systems can be changed through yoga if you want them to. That is to say that yoga develops each individual’s capacity to know the truth of themselves and life, which many call enlightenment.

 

2) Yoga isn’t exercise

While yoga asana (physical postures) has numerous and proven health benefits it is not in fact exercise, as we know the term in the west. Yoga utilizes the physical form as the practitioner understands that it is through the senses of the body mind complex that we know life and experience everything. When the body is healthy the mind is healthy and when the body and mind are healthy the practitioner has the energy and concentration he or she needs to pursue their spiritual and ordinary life endeavors.

 

3) You don’t have to be flexible to practice yoga

This is one of the funniest things I hear as a yoga teacher. I understand that people who are not flexible feel intimidated to go into a class with other bendy types. However what they don't realize is that yoga will actually make you more flexible. If you start now you will be well on your way to healthy body function.Yoga will stretch you out and make you more flexible. Those who are less flexible will benefit tremendously and perhaps even get more benefit out of yoga then people who are already flexible.

 

4) You don’t have to be skinny

Another funny myth out there is that one needs to be skinny to practice yoga. I imagine this idea comes from all the images we have of what a yoga practitioner looks like from magazines, advertisements and yoga teachers themselves. Let me tell you something, yoga keeps me thin and will do the same for you. Yoga is not a diet fad or a quick fix, it is a way of life that teaches us how to love and respect our bodies which leads us to optimal self care. When we start to care for our bodies the way yoga teaches us to then we begin to take on new healthier habits and the old unhealthy habits slowly fade away. It happens naturally over a period of time. The more you practice yoga the more you will want the best for yourself and others.You will be less stressed and happier and the extra weight you carry will eventually melt away.

 

5) Yoga is for everyone

Everyone is different. We have different shapes and sizes, ages, creeds and cultures that make us wonderfully who we are. Yoga is not about conforming to fit a mold but about getting to know our unique selves better. No matter what ones physical, mental or spiritual needs yoga will meet you right where you are and take you where you want to go. It is your commitment to yourself that makes yoga work. It is important that you find a style and teacher that resonates with you. Each teacher and style is different so if one way isn’t working for you try another teacher or studio. Finding the right fit will make yoga pleasurable and you will start to see and feel the results in your body, mind and heart and you will want to keep it up.

If you haven’t been on the mat in a while now is the time to get back on or perhaps give it a try for the first time. Getting to our mats is the hardest part of yoga because it takes effort to make our way to the studio or put work and other obligations aside for an hour. But once you are in the middle of your practice you will start to feel better and by the end of it you will be glad you did.

 

Spirit Journey to Peru

Traveling to Peru was a dream I had for myself for a very long time. Ever since I saw a picture of the now iconic Macchu Picchu high up on the mountain top, I was inspired to take the journey to The Andes of South America.

As the years went by I heard many great things about Peru: the hikes, shamans, Incan culture, plant medicine, the wild nature of the mountains and the lovely Peruvian people.  It wasn’t until I met my partner, Ryan Patterson, that I actually made the trip.

Six years ago Ryan started a retreat company that we now co-direct called Away Inward Retreats, that leads groups on spirit adventure travel. My first trip I guided an intimate group through Peru. It was more beautiful than I had ever imagined. The people were down to earth, grounded and kind. The center that hosted our retreat was absolutely gorgeous and the food heavenly.

Ryan led us on cultural explorations through local markets, old ruins and to Macchu Picchu by train. I taught yoga every day and our shamans led us through traditional ceremony.  As part of our retreat, we visited an orphanage that AIR has been supporting for a few years now. We showed our guests around the facility and learned about a day in the life of these kids, who have been given a chance to prosper. 

As you can imagine, our Away Inward retreat to Peru was transformational, so  much so that we are offering it again. With Ryan’s in depth knowledge of the area and long term partnerships with locals and shamans, my passion for teaching yoga and guiding transformational processes and our shared love of nature, hiking and ceremony, all the bases are covered for an exceptional travel experience that is intimate, authentic and adventurous.

Be warned: you will be challenged, you will step out of your comfort zone a bit but it will be absolutely worth it. This once in a lifetime experience will change you in undreamed of ways and send you home with a new perspective on life. Guests who surrender their egos and are willing to learn from a new country and culture are infinitely rewarded with a heart full of gratitude.

 

-Nianna Bray

 

Find more details about our upcoming Peru retreat via Away Inward Retreats, FacebookYoganonymous and The Global Yogi.

Morning Routine

Morning routines are very important. They set am imprint on the mind about how we would like the rest of the day to unfold and how we want to feel. We can either choose to wake up on the wrong side of the bed and flounder all day slightly behind schedule still in a dream or we can choose to wake up at the first tone of the alarm and get cracking. I have found these simple morning routines very powerful in setting a stellar tone for my day. Keep it short and sweet.

Wake up and don’t hit snooze

Mornings hold certain magic and splendor that one can only appreciate and take advantage of if one is awake. If you need more time to sleep then go to bed earlier. If you have a life that doesn’t allow you to get enough sleep then perhaps this article isn’t for you.  We can find a million excuses not to wake up when we are in the still dancing on the edge of dreamtime.  If you need to sleep a bit longer then set the alarm 15 minutes later to give you more sleep. Then when the alarm sounds open your eyes.

But stay in bed Now that you are awake but still in bed take a moment to place your hands on your belly and take a few long deep breathes. Feel your first conscious breath of that day filling you up with good energy for your day and as you exhale feel any tiredness dissolve away. Enjoy that a few times as you linger between the waking state and the dream state. This will connect you to your center, energize your body and mind and slowly bring your attention into wakefulness. This half dream state is where we can create or manifest our dreams in our waking life.

Feel the love
If you are like me you might wake up some days hating life. I don’t always wake up all bright eyed and bushy tailed. And when crankiness happens waking up and giving thanks is the best way to flip the script and set a loving tone of gratitude. As you lay breathing into your hands that are resting on your belly think of a few things or people in your life that you are grateful for. It could be as simple as the warm bed you are laying at the moment or that fact that you have a job to go to today.

Review your goals

Now that you have spent some time between states of wakefulness and have enjoyed your gratitude session begin to review the goals that you are currently working towards. See it in your minds eye. Imagine all the things that you are dreaming about come to fruition. Feel what it feels like to achieve that goal then savor that feeling for a breath or two.

Set intention for the day

Now that you have the feeling of achieving your goals deeply logged into your subconscious now set an intention for you day that feels inspiring and motivates you to take action on achieving the goals that you have. Make your intention very clear, simple and specific.  Take a few breaths into that feeling. Give thanks and so it is.

Roll the joints

Roll your ankles and toes to get the blood and chi flowing from the distal ends back to the axis.

Roll out of bed

Now you can get out of bed. Hopefully you haven’t fallen back to sleep and skipped all the important steps. But don’t worry you have tomorrow to practice. Please never pop out of bed with a start or a jerk. Roll gently to your side and then press yourself up.

Drink Lemon Water

Cut a lemon in half and squeeze one half of the lemon into room temp water and enjoy. There are several reasons for this and you can read all about them on the net. Just google it. But the ones that stand out for me are immune boosting properties, clears skin, balances pH levels, and aids in weight loss. Weight loss? You don’t have to tell me twice. And drink on an empty stomach…no coffee yet. Sorry. Wait 30 minutes before you consume anything else.

Move around

Ok now comes the fun part. Move your body in any way that feels good. Stretch it out. Your spine can bend forward and back, side to side and can twist in both directions. That is a good place to start. Your hamstrings will surly need a little love, your shoulders will probably be calling for attention and I can almost guarantee your neck needs a little TLC as well. It doesn’t matter how long you move, stretch and bend just make sure you do it. Once you get going you will quickly see how good it feels to tend to your body and give it what it needs.

Now get on with it

The day is yours and it beckons you onward into living. You have made the choice to get out from under the bus and jump on the bus and the bus has now left the station. If you are lucky and all goes well you might just catch a worm but whatever you do you are positioned to win like a boss.