Fire Up February: Week 2 Bonus

Vigorous poses can be really useful in our practice. In our world that always seems to demand so much of us, sometimes it’s actually really inspiring to push our own limits, step outside our comfort zones, and see what we’re made of. The poses I’ve included in Week Two are some of my favorites, and also those that I find most challenging. It’s as much a challenge for me to showcase and demo these postures as it is to practice them.

An important note to new yogis: these poses will likely require modification, especially if they’re new for you, so don’t feel like you have to work beyond your own capacity. If you’re not sure how to modify a posture, ask! Ask your teacher, or post a comment inquiring, and I’ll make sure to post a modification or simplification for a pose.

This week’s bonus content is a practice that can, let’s say, shake things up. Maha bandha, meaning The Great Seal, or Great lock, is a practice that requires both a pause after inhale and after exhale. In this practice, you use mulabhanda, uddiyanabandha and jalandarabandha all at the same time. It’s important that you know each of these practices in order to put them all together. My teacher would say that if your life is feeling stressful and anxious, this is a practice to hold off on; but if your life is smooth and easy, this practice over time will help you unlock some things, shake ‘em up. It’s not a suitable practice for pregnant people, nor for folks with high or low blood pressure, or ulcers, recovering from abdominal surgery six months or less, or with other stomach issues.

How To

  1. Take a comfortable seated pose, like siddhasana or padmasana. If you’re sitting with the shins crossed, take some height under the hips, so you have as much of the shins on the floor as possible.

  2. Place hands on knees or thighs. Inhale slowly and deeply through the nose, pause briefly at the top of inhale, and exhale powerfully and completely.

  3. At the bottom of the breath, pause. Draw the chin in and down; draw the navel in and up, expanding the base of the ribcage and sucking in the navel; lift the pelvic floor in and up toward the center of the body.

  4. Pause with the breath held out for as long as you’re able to without straining.

  5. Release mulabhanda so pelvic floor softens, uddiyana bandha so belly softens, and jalandhara bandha in this order. When your chin is lifted, inhale fully. Exhale.

  6. This is one round. Take a normal, deep breath or two between rounds before the second round.

  7. Try three rounds to start. Once you feel comfortable with three rounds, increase until you’re doing nine rounds.

This practice is a powerful energetic one, but is by no means for beginners. Please consult with a trusted teacher if you have any questions or concerns about it.

Fire Up February: Week 1 Bonus

The poses featured in Week 1 of #FireUpFebruary on my Instagram feed are, I think, Essentials: not so flashy or new, they may not make the most compelling inversion or arm balance yoga photos, but I’ve included them because they’re important, especially to and for those of us who are practicing yoga not just for its exercise benefits, but for its systemic benefits. Asana can be supportive for the body, and mind, and can prepare the subtle body for the seated practices of dharana and dhyana. I’ve included these because they’re standbys, shapes you can return to again and again, and count on them to meet you where you are, and also show you something new.

The same is the case with this week’s bonus content. I think it’s perhaps NOT an accident that we’ve begun this yoga challenge the same week that my sweet home Chicago has seen some of the coldest days of Winter so far. I don’t know about you, but I’ve been doubling up on my practices that keep harsh winter fingers from taking hold too much inside me. Warm drinks, warm, spiced foods, and my absolute fave Ayurveda practice, abhyanga, are all keeping me going right now. I’m also doing my best to stay a bit mobile, so I don’t get frozen solid in any particular place.

The pranayama practice to share this week is also one of my favorites. Nothing too complicated: a smooth, deep, long breath that is warming, especially when doing while practicing asana. This breath gives your mind something to listen to, a place to rest, and if you pay close attention, it can tell you what you need to know about your level of intensity in practice, and whether or how it needs to change.

That’s right, I’m talking about our good friend Ujjayi breath.

In the video below I’ve broken it up into a few pieces. A couple of quick notes:

  1. this is, generally speaking, a safe breath for most folks to practice. Pregnant folks, just be sensitive to how it feels: especially as your pregnancy advances and the baby grows, the baby can begin to make your breathing feel constricted and inhibited. Take whatever kind of breath will allow you to feel like you’re getting enough.

  2. If this practice is new to you, please read the instructions first. Then try watching the video, and then watch it again, this time following along. This breath should not feel like a gasp. Imagine your throat like a large pipe that your breath is flowing through. Your goal is to narrow that pipe by gently engaging the muscles around it, not to close it off completely. Think, the soft hiss of a Chicago radiator, not a pearl-clutching gasp of shock and horror.

  3. I often hear folks struggle with this breath on the inhale: the exhale sounds clear and soft and smooth, and the inhale sounds short and stuffy. Students familiar with this breath, and in particular “advanced” students, should work to make the inhale sound the same and last the same amount of time as the exhale.

  4. As is always the case with pranayama, if this practice makes you dizzy, nauseous, or anxious, STOP. Release the practice and breathe normally.

DISCLAIMER: the sound quality in this video isn’t fantastic, because, surprise! you can hear my heater (and maybe my refrigerator) on in the background. Hopefully I’m close enough to the mike that you can hear my breath too.

Ujjayi How-To

  • Begin this practice in a comfortable seat. Allow your breath to move normally, watching it come and go.

  • Take a normal breath in through both nostrils, and exhale with a “HAAAAAAA” sound. Imagine you were trying to fog up a mirror or window an inch in front of your face. Try that breath three times. It should sound like a whisper.

  • Then, try to produce that same “HAAAAAAAA” sound as you breathe in; on exhale, close the mouth, and allow the breath to come through the nostrils. Try that breath three times. Make sure to close the breath with each exhale, to ensure that your mouth and throat don’t dry out too much. Feel free to have a sip of water if the throat is feeling dry.

  • Now, put the two together: take an inhale through the mouth “HAAAAAAA” and an exhale the same way. Take another breath in, and as you exhale through the mouth, close the lips and see if you can produce that same whispering sound in the throat, even though the lips are closed and you’re breathing through the nose. Now, try to produce that sound on the inhale as well. Imagine you were still whispering in the throat, but the air is moving in and out through the nostrils. The sound will get softer, but you should still be able to hear it.

  • Continue to practice this breath as long as you are comfortable. When you’re ready to end, release the breath, notice the effect of the breath on the body and mind, and then gently blink the eyes open.

This breath is so soothing to the nervous system. It lengthens and deepens the inhale and exhale, sloooowing thiiiiinngs dooooown. It also warms the body gently. You can practice this technique sitting up or lying down, and it’s particularly helpful in asana practice. A slow, deep ujjayi breath in can help build and stoke your prana, and a long, smooth ujjayi breath out can help release tension, anxiety, and a sensation of stuckness. It’s a great breath to use when practicing with menstrual cramps or PMS symptoms, because it has not just a physical but also a mental effect on the body/mind. Remember, your breath is the quickest way to assess and change the quality of your thought. Ujjayi breath is a technique that will leave you feeling calm, quieted, and can also help stoke and cultivate a quality of strength and capacity.

Fire Up February

Okay. It’s 2019, but the glitter of a new year is all rubbed off, and the winter and the routine has set back in. We had massive high hopes for what we’d accomplish and how much we’d change this year, and maybe we’re stuck in the same habits and distractions as before. I get it. Maybe you wanted to try something new, and you got scared and chickened out. I’m not here to judge you about it, I did for sure. But I do have an offering for us that might restore a bit of confidence and delight in ourselves, that will teach us to care for ourselves because self-care is a joy, not a burden or a to-do item. If winter’s starting to grind on you, and you want a resource to help you find your way through it, I hope you’ll join me for #FireUpFebruary.


Fire Up February is a month-long yoga challenge I’m hosting on Instagram centering how yoga and pranayama can be a tool for supporting women’s health. Starting on February 1, I’ll post a short how-to video of postures, and though the sequence is designed to support women at various stages of health and in their cycle, the postures and practices are suitable for anyone who’s looking for some asana inspiration.

The schedule breaks down like this:

Week One February 1-7 Essential Postures

These are poses that are good for anyone at any time of the month, and are accessible from beginners to seasoned yogis. These poses offer balance, strength, poise, flexibility, and expansion.

Week Two February 8-14 Vigorous Postures

These are poses that are more challenging or sophisticated: arm balances, inversions, deeper backbends, and postures that put the spine through more a complex range of motion. Newer yogis attempting these poses should listen to their body, work slowly, and seek the guidance of a seasoned and trusted teacher if any questions or concerns arise.

Week Three February 15-21 Prenatal Postures

While Week One postures are safe for expectant people, these poses are especially modified for pregnant folx. Be sure to have a wall nearby, a sturdy, non-slip chair, and a block or two for extra support.

Week Four February 22-28 Restorative Postures

These poses are for anyone who needs a little extra rest or softness. You’ll find they use more props than some of the others—bolsters or pillows, blocks and blankets, and a chair. While in the video I’m in them for only a brief moment, you should feel free to linger in them as long as you like.

Bonus Material

In addition to the postures you’ll find on IG, every week, I’ll be posting a brief how-to video featuring a pranayama or dhyana (mental concentration) technique here that pairs with its corresponding week. So plan to check back here every week for additional content to help support your practice.

How can you stay involved? Comment on the videos with questions, concerns, victories, or lessons as you practice these poses with me, or comment here weekly on the pranayama techniques. Tag me and use the Hashtag #FireUpFebruary when you upload content on IG. These are all ways to connect with other folx who are interested in using this practice to support their physical, mental, and emotional health.

I hope this February challenge gives us the chance to dig deep and slough off some of the winter doldrums that can come with the snowy, cloudy days. I hope it can teach us all to listen deeply to our bodies. Rather than pushing with our egos, or with our sense of obligation, I hope we can unroll our mats, and if only for a few minutes a day tune in to our bodies and our needs. What a gift to have a body you can take care of: let’s treat it like the marvelous, complex, miraculous place that it is.

Come with me.

31 Days of Black Minimalism: Week 4

This year’s gluten free, vegan Thanksgiving feast: cannellini bean succotash, wild rice quinoa stuffing, roasted Brussels sprouts, roasted sweet potatoes, cranberry sauce, and just a dollop of almond milk Greek yogurt. Awesome.  

This year’s gluten free, vegan Thanksgiving feast: cannellini bean succotash, wild rice quinoa stuffing, roasted Brussels sprouts, roasted sweet potatoes, cranberry sauce, and just a dollop of almond milk Greek yogurt. Awesome.  

I woke up from a dream this morning, in which I was eating plastic. Literally. I'd eaten a takeout container or two, and a couple of those black, plastic spoons they have on the salad bars and hot bars at grocery stores. They were in shards and small pieces inside me, taking up a lot of space, but I knew and could feel that I wasn't being nourished. I was afraid of what would happen when I tried to... eliminate, and was sure that all that plastic was going to tear the insides of my bowels apart.

So my body knows, my subconscious knows. I'm not eating well. This is due to a number of factors: my routine, and my struggle to work it in the most efficient way so I continue to nourish myself; choices I've made about how to eat, which mean I don't just throw any old thing into my mouth; the unique bouquet of cravings and samskaras that have a solid grip on the choices I make, especially when I'm too stressed or tired to do better; previous programming, which is loosening its grip with each passing day. Whatever the case, feeding myself is sometimes a challenge.

Wow. I'm an adult. Like, I have a mortgage, I've been married for years, I had to sue somebody once-adult. And I'm still having to wrestle with making sure I eat the way I want to: eat food that tastes good, that doesn't harm my body, and doesn't harm others or the planet. What I eat has been a source of contention between me and other people. Lucky for me I share my home with a man who doesn’t really mind what I eat, so long as I’m choosing to eat, and not stuck in a pattern of eating my feelings, and so long as I’m relatively healthy. I don’t get crap from him about choosing not to eat animals who are… harmed* before they’re killed in order to put food on plates. I don’t get mocked by my partner, which is more than I can say for other members of my family. But that’s a different story for a different day. (And if you want to hear it, you can find it on this page, at least until I get bumped off this podcast.)

I take a lot of pleasure in eating. Being both gluten free and vegan means I get to be creative about how I eat. It doesn’t take much work for my meals not to taste like rabbit food, but still, I get to have a lot of fun considering how I’ll compose breakfast or dinner in such a way that it’s healthy and interesting.

Eating like a minimalist is challenging for me. I like to spend time making food. I like meals with lots of different, even fancy, ingredients. Now, I haven’t found any clear manual about what minimalist eating is, and frankly, I’m not sure how interested I am. I understand that the fewer ingredients in food generally the healthier it is, and generally the fewer apparatuses its touched the easier it’ll be for me to digest. But minimalist eating is… hard to pin down.

I think not only am I struggling to figure out what it means to engage in minimalist eating, but the controlling nature of eating this way makes me feel a bit unstable. I feel like I’m tiptoeing toward disordered eating, a landscape I’ve been in before (hard to imagine any woman in America hasn’t been there before). It took me months to finish this blog post because the week or so that I spent experimenting with this practice was triggering. I couldn’t reflect on it because I didn’t like the way it felt. Finally, after some distance and time, and the capacity to remember that nourishing doesn’t mean processed crap, but also doesn’t mean two baby peas, three grains of rice, and a thimble full of hummus for lunch—after all that, I can write that I’m happy eating the way I do, even if it’s not always convenient, or even understandable, to others, and that while I can try not to be wasteful about it, I can also be creative without compromising my minimalism.

Look at this.


I was recently at Union Theological Seminary, and as a part of their swag bag, they gave me this reusable utensil set. A sustainably grown bamboo fork, knife, spoon AND chopstick set all housed in this pouch made of recycled water bottles. I was just knocked out by it: that is some ecological justice, right there! I carry it in my bag (so long as it fits) wherever I go, and I don’t have to worry about using plastic unnecessarily. I Love It!

So, minimalism at the table is tricky. The next step for me isn’t about eating less, or controlling my calories or portions more; it’s about making sure I buy and take only what I know I will eat, using what I buy, and wasting as little as possible. That will be a tough and exciting challenge.

Lifting my Voice


I don’t have a lot of memories of worship, but the ones I do linger indelibly, like scars that never fade: I was maybe 14. For some reason I’d joined the youth choir: I don’t know why, I hated singing, everything always seemed to be too high or too low, and I’d wind up screeching like a wounded bird or bellowing like cattle. Not only this, but I was painfully shy. I hated drawing attention to myself, and as an only child, I was often put on the spot to perform for friends and relatives, to be impressive. Singing was the absolute worst.

My mother and I were in church together, my father was somewhere, working. The pastor got up to speak, and before he did, he asked if the youth choir would get up and sing something.

Never have I wished so fervently for a trap door to open and swallow me up. Horror seized me, clamping its fist around my stomach. I darted my eyes around the sanctuary: there weren’t many of us “youth” there, so I could tell that my thin, scared voice would not be well-masked, but that people would be able to hear me.

I turned to my mother. “Don’t make me go,” I whispered as she poked my leg.

“Go on, Jessica, you’re part of the youth choir,” she whispered back.

“Please, I don’t want to, please, please don’t make me go,” I grabbed her hand, my eyes begging.

She likely hissed at me that I was embarrassing her—my representing well was of crucial importance because my behavior was always a reflection on her—and I reluctantly stepped out of our pew and plodded up to the front of our small sanctuary.

I don’t remember what we sang, but I remember that it felt like it would never end. I’m sure the anguish of singing, and the fear of being heard, was written all over my face.

When I returned to my seat, she let me have it, her face a contorted mask of rage, her voice a laser-like, acidic whisper: what a disappointment I was, why I couldn’t just act right, how humiliated she was by me. I sat beside her, weeping silently, furious with her that she would make me put myself in such a difficult position so she could feel good about herself, and even more angry that she didn’t understand how scary it was for me to open up my mouth and sing anything. I knew I hadn’t done well, she shouldn’t have made me go in the first place because it was clear I was going to suck out loud—and I had!—and somehow that was my fault too.

Just another worship experience.


As a yoga teacher, I have to use my voice all the time: it’s easier now to project around the room when I need to so that folks can hear me as I remind them to use their breath; I don’t even mind finding a note to let OM begin to ring through me, hopeful (but not demanding) that others join me in the sound. I’ve been able to overcome my shyness—or maybe the desire to teach and hold space for other people is stronger than the desire to be swallowed up by burnt orange Berber carpet—so that speaking up is easier to do. Chanting is the easiest part of class, both as a student and a teacher. My teacher practices a chant at the start of every class he teaches. He says he does it to center himself, to ask for guidance and clarity, wisdom and light, in the endeavor he’s about to make in teaching, and that even if no one else joined him, he’d still belt it out full force. When I started training with both my senior teachers, they taught me a mantra that I try to practice every day. The first time I heard it, I got chills: not sure if it was the circle-as-container, the deep vibration of their voices together, or just the intersection of Sanskrit, my body, and my heart. But whatever it was, it landed on me in a big way.

In class as a practitioner whenever I open my mouth, I work to listen to the voice of my teacher, and the voices of the others around me, in pursuit of a kind of blending of vibrations. When I’m teaching, I make sound that I hope will seal and affirm the energy of the room, and give the students a foundation on which they can allow their own voices to be raised, trembling or clear, flat pitch or true.


My friend Allegra, who’s the executive director of Sharing Notes invited me to take part in something called the #MusicMakesItBetter challenge: you record an image or video of yourself singing or playing an instrument, as a way to shine a light on how music is a tool for healing, and deepening experiences. This morning I sat with my shruthi box, which many of you have asked about, and chanted a few verses of the Sri Sukta on camera. This was not easy. I know what it is to chant, and still, there was no small amount of anxiety as I sat down in front of my phone.

Singing worship music (with the exception of some sacred Christmas carols) still doesn’t make me feel much of anything except dread. But now, learning Sanskrit and using it as a tool for physical and spiritual practice is lovely. It’s powerful. My body, being made of so much water, and other, stronger, denser tissues and open spaces, vibrates beautifully when I open my mouth and let Sanskrit prayer come out of it. Unlike when I was a girl, I worry less about how I sound, or what others will think of me, and I let my body make the sound; and when I want to be silent, I keep my mouth closed allow the inner voice to make the sound that communes with the divine. What a great gift.

I can’t say anything magical to 14-year-old me that makes that painful memory of singing in public any easier. I can only say that more than twenty years later, I feel grateful to engage in a worship experience on my own terms, and excited that even though my voice isn’t really any better, I’m at least able to use it as an instrument for divine connection. You can check it out here. Hope you’ll share your #MusicMakesItBetter experiences too.