Saturday, May 30, 2009
Friday, May 29, 2009
Those of you that have small children that watch the Sprout channel know there is a show on there called "dive ollie dive". So of course I had this refrain going through my head this morning while riding horse Ollie out on the Mt. Ellis trail. Aside from that, today was one of those days when I needed to pinch myself: had an energizing acupuncture session first thing this morning, grabbed a big iced latte and drove about 10 minutes from the coffee place to the Mt. Ellis trailhead just outside of town. How is it I'd not been here yet?! Absolutely stunning. Pinch self. Do I really live here? If I could sing I would have burst into song on the trail. Perfect weather, gorgeous horse under me, the smell of fresh pine, hot pink riding helmet on my head. Here's Janice and I, both donning hot pink helmets. Happy, happy weekend. More tomorrow before Cowgirl Yoga starts Sunday, on a topic I've been neglecting lately: food.
Thursday, May 28, 2009
Wednesday, May 27, 2009
Yeehaw and Namaste alert! Why do I never get tired of saying that? It's so appropriate for so many things, and reminds me of sthira and sukha, the yogic concept of combining effort and ease to create balance. Anyhow, wanted to direct your attention to the June issue of Yoga Journal, page 45 to be exact. There is an article on our Cowgirl Yoga retreats entitled "Stable Relationship". Dontcha just love that? The subtitle issues quite a tempting invitation: Cultivate an intimate connection with a four-legged friend, and with yourself, on a yoga and horsemanship retreat. Pretty cool summer plans, huh? What an answer that would be when your friends ask you what you're up to this summer. Here's a little teaser from the article:
Understanding [the] elemental characteristics about horses and adopting behaviors that they can easily understand are the primary tenets of natural horsemanship. And, Burns Vap tells us (that's me!), yoga is an easy complement to this process. In addition to its focus on core strength, which is necessary for riding, yoga's themes of grounding and centering, and of breathing into and moving from your center, can help a rider direct energy and intention to the horse. 'Like with yoga, with riding you have to be in the present', says Burns Vap. 'And when you're done, you have that same sense of clarity.'
Now I expect you to drop what you're doing and run out to buy the magazine! And after you read the rest of the article, I just KNOW that you'll sign up for Cowgirl Yoga. Well, I would certainly love it if you did, but will settle for hoping you get the chance to read the article.
Tuesday, May 26, 2009
Am busy gearing up for our upcoming Cowgirl Yoga retreat, and today was practicing some yoga on horseback. But before I get into that, I have to confess that I am in love with an older man. He's very experienced and sleek, is patient with my issues, and is a wise soul. He does have warty ears, but I can overlook that. His name is Ollie and he is a 22-year old Tennessee Walking Horse. I won't go into a lot of detail to spare you non-horsey people, but riding a Tennessee Walker is like riding in a high-end foreign vehicle, whereas riding a quarter horse can often feel like an army Jeep. I was intrigued to learn that their gait is hereditary. How cool is that? Don't you wish you were born knowing how to look (and feel) smooth??
There are many similarities between practicing yoga and riding a horse, which is how Cowgirl Yoga came about in the first place. Both emphasize breath awareness, and breath is often the first thing to go when we are challenged (i.e., tough yoga pose or feeling scared in the saddle). So we've got a checklist of yoga moves to do the minute your butt hits the saddle to help put you in the right frame of mind for riding. Step 1: cultivate breath awareness. Don't just get on the horse and go; take a few moments to center yourself by closing your eyes, connecting to your breath, and allowing yourself to relax. Your horse will too. When I teach yoga, I start every class with a few minutes of centering quietly to establish the breath and separate this time from the rest of our day. I do the same on horseback.
I just finished a lovely book called She Flies Without Wings - How Horses Touch a Woman's Soul. Here's a great quote that backs me up on the breath:
Sitting bareback astride a horse, touching his warm sides along the full length of our legs, feeling movements up the length of our backs and into our heads, sensing in our hands as we hold the reins, we tap into the physical nature of the horse and become aware of our bodies the way a horse is. Increasing our body awareness increases our ability to experience the world sensually.
We can begin with the breathing. When we pause to draw air deeply into the lungs, we lift the diaphragm, open the ribs, and rush oxygen to the spine, into the back of the neck, and along all the extremities. Relaxed, deep breathing is an instant pick-me-up for all our senses because it replenishes every cell. We don't have to flare our nostrils the way horses do, but we can follow their example of breathing deeply enough to fuel every muscle for movement.
Yeehaw & Namaste.
Friday, May 22, 2009
Hoping that got your attention. Is this what I have to do, bark out the word FREE? will this get someone to post a comment? Anybody out there??
OK sorry. Wanted to kick off this holiday weekend with a link to my latest on the Athleta Chi, the OMbody Mini Practice. It might be just the thing to get you through the holiday weekend. Will you please let me know what you think? PLEASE? Post your comments on the Chi.
Happy long weekend!
Wednesday, May 20, 2009
Welcome to interview #2 on Cowgirl Yoga! This round is with Janice Cartwright of Montana Horse Sense, who is our head wrangler for the Cowgirl Yoga retreats (first summer '09 trip coming up fast, ask about out last-minute specials! And flights to MT are the cheapest we've ever seen them). Janice is an amazing horsewoman and teacher, and knows how to have fun. So I am thrilled for you to get to know her better here, even if you can't come out and join us.
What got you hooked on horses for life?
When I was 5 years old, I attended 8 weeks of summer camp. I was instantly drawn to the horses, and the attraction has continued to grow over the years. My parents purchased a summer camp a few years later and, thanks to me, we ended up with 25 horses by the time we sold it [interviewer's note: wow I wish I had had that kind of influence on my parents...]. Pursuing a degree in Health, Physical Education and Recreation at the University of Pittsburgh complimented my love of horses, helping others, and the great outdoors. I did attend Indiana U. for my freshman year and took horseback riding as a P.E. class. After one lesson, they asked me to teach the class. That was cool! I've been teaching horseback riding, in one sense or another, for over 40 years. After leaving the tri-state area, I continued to have the opportunity to teach in Atlanta. It started with my 3 daughters' babysitters and then progressed over the years to my girls helping me with the lessons, birthday parties, camps, Girl Scout Badge work and trail rides. Upon arriving in Montana in 2004, with 3 horses in tow, I joined the Back Country Horsemen and began all over again. What a wonderful thing it is to be able to do something I am so passionate about for my profession. Everyone should be so blessed.
p.s. - I just remembered Bill the Pony. He resided at my grandparents' farm and it was hard to keep me away from him. I was 3 at the time...and so it began.
Cowgirl Yoga targets the horse-human connection as well as the horse-yoga connection. What's your take on the attraction between women and horses?
Women and horses - I get it. I feel it. What is it? There is definitely a connection, an undercurrent of emotion, an understanding and women seem to feel it most (however, my man is starting to get it too...guys are not exempt). Horses excite me. Horses calm me down. Horses smell and feel good. After meeting Margaret and trying to communicate with her about her riding presence, I started thinking in yoga terms to convey what I wanted her to do. In doing so, I realized that I had been doing a lot of this already over the years, just stating it in different terms. All of the releases and stretches and thoughts that come with the practice of yoga translate to better communication with the horse, involving the mind, body, and yes, the spirit.
While in Atlanta, I had a group of women that regularly rode with me. When the weather was really yucky (they weren't lightweights - rain, sleet, snow, cold...we rode through most of it) and I tried to cancel, they wouldn't hear of it. These women were happy to show up and just brush the horses, feel them, smell them or feed them some carrots. One mom summed it up with, "Janice, do you realize how many thousands of dollars you're saving us with your 'horse therapy' (instead of couch therapy)"? Yep, they got it.
After spending most of your life out East, what drew you to Montana?
My husband needed a vacation and he wanted it to be away from people. He chose Montana and off we went (Atlanta had over 9 million people in the metro area, and Montana has less than a million in the entire state). We both fell in love with this place for similar reasons and some very different ones. I always felt like I was born to be in boots and jeans, and Montana felt right. We came back frequently over the next few years in all seasons, visiting all over the state, to be sure. Once our youngest daughter graduated from high school, we made the move (boots and jeans: picture me coming straight from the horses and teaching riding all day to the suburbs of Atlanta for a PTA meeting. I definitely was not wearing a tennis bracelet).
What are your top 3 reasons why you love horses?
They are beautiful to see. They feel good to touch, both with my hands and my heart. They smell so darn good.
How do you think the horses benefit from a rider that practices yoga?
Anything that helps a rider release tension transfers through to a more relaxed horse. Horses are natural athletes. When they accept us atop their backs, we owe it to them to do everything we can to help them maintain their natural balance and ease of movement. Any interference on our part causes them to work harder by bracing or counterbalancing to compensate. Yoga helps us to release the tension and stress in our bodies, our lives. The blending of the two is beneficial to both horse and rider. SAFE and HAPPY trails to all, no matter what path you choose to take.
Yeehaw & Namaste.
Monday, May 18, 2009
Here's some HOPE on this Monday, cuz we can always use it. Hope that everyone has a fabulous week ahead and all that, but today I am thinking a lot about people struggling will illness, and their families, that need hope. Big Sky Yoga Retreat alumna Alyssa's mom is battling breast cancer; Alyssa started Cheweylou Designs to create tees that inspire positive living. Morgane has been wearing the HOPE tee as a dress lately - HOPE spelled out on the back as Harmony, Optimism, Peace and Effort. So here's Hope, and a giggle too, with Morgane demonstrating her best get-unders-outta-bum move...starts early, doesn't it?!
Sunday, May 17, 2009
I've never had a passion for plants, nor do I have a green thumb (not sure which caused which here). But I took a look around our house and noticed the sad state of greenery - a few houseplants I do remember to water, but that had outgrown their pots and were looking rather lifeless. Perhaps it was the glorious burst of warm sunny weather that finally arrived that sent Morgane and I to the nursery to renovate our indoor plant decor. The nursery was buzzing with such excitement! Mostly people getting stuff for outdoors - now that is a whole other world I don't dare venture into (annuals? perinnials? huh??) and leave to husband to handle. Morgane immediately found the coi pond, where I knew she would be mesmerized for long enough to allow me to get my bearings. I was starting off simple by finding some new pots to give our old plants a new lease on life, and became mesmerized myself by the selection of the coolest pots I had ever seen: greenPots by ecosource, all-natural eco-friendly pots made from rice hulls. Then Morgane and I went to select herbs; I was having visions of basil growing in big fat bunches so that I can make endless batches of pesto all summer. We also found mint; not just plain old mint, but chocolate and ginger mint. As we inhaled and compared aromas, I had more visions of topping ice cream with fresh mint leaves, adding them to fruit...lastly, we picked out a bunch of succulents because I figured they'd be fine in Montana's dry climate. While I miss the lush orchids that we had all over our house in DC (it had to have been the lighting, it was like an orchid jungle and as I mentioned, I ain't no gardener), I figured I needed to stay with something easy to care for as well. Added a big bag of dirt (I need to buy dirt? really?) and we were all set.
After the first round of planting yesterday, we went back for more today. Now I get why people love digging in the [store-bought] dirt so much. It was really calming. Not one for liking getting dirty (although I've gotten a lot better about that because there's not much choice when you're around horses), I actually relished digging my hands into it, scooping it, molding it around the plant roots after they were placed in their new eco-friendly homes. And showing Morgane how to do it was fun; she was very excited to get her own watering can so she can help water the succulents we placed in our bathroom.
Pictured are a few of our stars. I may not have a green thumb, but do note the green Buddha.
Friday, May 15, 2009
Morgane was utterly thrilled to learn to write "mom" today...she is working on learning her letters and recognizing them. She gets in bed and reads with me at night and loves picking out the letters she knows from books. Today I showed her mom, because it's easy, and you should have seen her face light up when she looked at it and said, "THAT'S your name?!" M-O-M. Wow, what a cheap thrill. Then I started looking at it more closely as she meticulously wrote out the 3 letters over and over, and I saw the OM in mom! An interesting reminder that often we don't see all that's in front of us, even if we've been looking at it for awhile. So I got my cheap thrill too. Hope you get some cheap thrills of your own this weekend.
Thursday, May 14, 2009
I wanted to share this quote that one of our summer '09 cowgirl yoginis-to-be sent me, from a place called the Cowgirl Cafe somewhere in CA (there must be one here in Montana too):
Cowgirl is an attitude, really. A pioneer spirit, a special American brand of courage. The cowgirl faces life head on, lives by her own lights, and makes no excuses. Cowgirls take a stand. They speak up. They defend the things they hold dear. A Cowgirl might be a rancher, or a barrel racer, or a bull rider, or an actress, but she's just as likely to be a checker at a local grocery store, a full-time mother, a banker or an attorney, an astronaut.
An astronaut...? OK sorry, I had to wonder about that one, but otherwise love it. I've needed to uncover my inner cowgirl this week as I've felt challenged on many fronts. This process was helped by some horse time on Tuesday, followed by more tomorrow - getting back in the saddle and reconnecting with the herd is soul soothing. Here's one of those dreamy shots of horses, a few from our Cowgirl Yoga herd. Enjoy, and I encourage you to find ways to let your inner cowgirl express herself.
Monday, May 11, 2009
I'm more than a little bit cranky on this Monday afternoon. Considered not blogging, as I feel it my duty to aim to inspire here, but perhaps I can inspire myself with a little blog therapy. Maybe it was all the yoga this weekend (workshop with visiting "celeb" yogis Nicki Doane and Eddie Modestini) - sometimes after intense practices a lot of crankiness comes up. But most of all, today I am cranky about a fellow blogger who so kindly wrote about our Cowgirl Yoga retreats, and then got snarky about the "corporateness". Because I was (ahem) smart enough to trademark the term "Cowgirl Yoga" before someone ripped it off? That's considered corporate? I could tell you a thing or two about corporate after spending a considerable amount of time in that environment. This ain't it, baby. I've been known to have phone calls with my feet braced against the closet door and my poor daughter banging her heart out on the other side of it. I am the only real "employee" of Big Sky Yoga Retreats, and believe me, sometimes I wish I could fire myself. I run the biz side out of my less-than-sleek home office, and I lead every retreat. I've been lucky enough to partner with larger companies that I have a personal history with, prior to a business relationship (as in, I was a loyal customer). And the biggest thing I pride myself on is the very personal element behind my business.
The author of this blog said that the "combo of corporate and yoga gives her the willies". Yeah, I hear you on that...but the combo of lack of business sense and yoga gives ME the willies. I can say this, after years of running my own studio in Washington DC and dealing with some of the most unprofessional (and while I'm no psychiatrist, I might add crazy) people I've ever encountered. I've written articles about the biggest challenge I've faced with regards to my yoga ventures - finding the balance between being yogic and being businesslike. I quote myself to sum this up:
It is hard to find equanimity when you find out someone is stealing from you. Managing a staff of yoga teachers has been a lot more thorny and complicated that I ever imagined. How could there be so much conflict amongst yogis? How about the student that makes a scene because the yoga class or retreat wasn't what they expected?
Well, yogis are people too and human nature had its darker side. But over the last few years I have realized that within these situations the greatest opportunities for learning and growing my yoga practice can be found. I don't know if I would have been able to see things that way while climbing the corporate ladder and trying not to look down or get knocked off. The perspective I have gained from my yoga career has been yet another unanticipated gift.
Thursday, May 7, 2009
Big Sky Yoga, Blue Sky Yoga, it's all the same...
Well, not really, but the Associated Press used the wrong name with all of Larry's lovely CY photos. Phooey. BUT: hooray for national news! The story I was interviewed for called "Yoga Without the Studio" on taking yoga outside is on the AP wire and being picked up all over. Places I didn't even know had papers. Allow me to direct you to my fave so far, on the ABC news page. And allow me to express how I feel about this: YEEHAW!
Wednesday, May 6, 2009
I feel the need to revisit the topic from a post last December called Where's the (Organic) beef. But before I start, let me just say that yes I eat meat, and yes I also do yoga. But that is a whole other topic. I had my second "deal" go down yesterday with my organic rancher - I bought a quarter cow. Yes indeed. The amount of planning that went into this just has to resemble a drug deal (not that I've ever been involved in one, I'm just speculating): tons of phone calls about the goods, timing issues, the frantic purchase on my end of a new freezer after realizing I needed someplace to put all this meat, arranged meeting places for the exchange (as org rancher was worried about getting his horse trailer up our driveway), all culminating in a drive-by at the gas station yesterday. I felt, well, nervous sitting there waiting for the deal to happen. And I'm sorry, call me a "transplant" if you will, but this kind of thing just doesn't happen in my previous neck of the woods (ie, Washington DC). At least with regards to meat. Post-deal, Morgane and I stocked our new freezer with 135 lbs. of fresh organic beef. Menus started to take shape in my mind. I put aside some to give to my neighbor (YES Anonymous if you are out there I am STILL giving and getting gifts of meat!). I took note of what space was left in the freezer for all the good stuff that I plan to make and freeze this summer with the bounty from our local CSA. And I marveled at this new, interesting facet of my life. So, why buy the cow? Because it's better. It's healthier. And as noted on my org rancher's biz card, "Buying locally puts Montanans to work!" Sold.
Tuesday, May 5, 2009
Put a little pep in your step for Cinco de Mayo with some at-home yoga, to counterbalance the margaritas. When my students ask me about starting a home practice, my suggestion is to start with mastering the sun salutes without instruction. If you have these sequences ingrained in your memory - and they come from within vs. without, with someone always leading you through them - you'll notice how effortlessly they will flow for you. And, a home practice can help fine-tune your grasp of the basics, so you can get more out of class time and more bang for your yoga buck. More yoga, better yoga - it's a win-win. Let me show you how to salute the sun - check out Be an OMbody on the Athleta Chi. Namaste.
Pictured: chaturanga dandasana, it's piece of cake if you just keep practicing!
Friday, May 1, 2009
I've decided to add interviews to the CY blog, because there are just so many fascinating people in my life that I want to share. Needless to say, I include myself in that group. Kidding, kidding. I'd like to think I am fascinating to somebody out there...I'll keep hoping. Meanwhile - I'll kick off this new feature with an interview with myself that I did for a writer for the AP. My understanding with the Associated Press is that stories get put out "on the wire" and newspapers (those that are still in business) can pick up what they feel will be of interest to their readers. So, I'm a little bit concerned that what I had to say might not fall into that category. Which is why I am putting it here. The topic was Outdoor Yoga. As you may or may not already know, Big Sky Yoga Retreats offers a combination of yoga and outdoor fitness; here's some insight into what that's all about.
What prompted you to leave DC for Montana? Were you missing the outdoors? How is the dynamic at Big Sky Yoga Retreats different from your studio in DC? Do you prefer one over the other?
My husband is from Montana, but I really didn't envision us moving here so early on. I'd always considered myself a city girl and thrived on that kind of energy; I initially resisted the prospect of such a drastic lifestyle change. But every time we came out west to visit, there was some kind of pull. I had no idea the positive effect that nature was having on me until we moved here and made it a lifestyle. We ski all winter, horseback ride and hike in the summer, and we get to see our daughter grow up having these kind of experiences on a daily basis. It's energizing. Plus, I get to live someplace where most people only come on vacation. That feels like a huge blessing to me.
I've always enjoyed teaching yoga and received so many unexpected benefits from sharing through my teaching. The studio was wonderful. But the combination of yoga and outdoor activity on retreat, along with a longer period of time with students, has multiplied the joy of teaching at least 10x. The retreat dynamic is very special. Sometimes I have to remind myself of my role as "retreat leader", because I often feel like I am spending time with friends. Which is how it should be. I love that we get to share this life-changing experience of yoga and nature, and it affects me profoundly as well. So, I'd have to say that while I wouldn't trade my studio experiences for anything, this is a perfect fit for me now.
Do you find any special connections between yoga and nature?
The connection between yoga and nature has to do with reconnecting oneself to the natural world. Yoga provides the tools to do that, by making you more in tune with your inner self. Yoga puts us in touch with lost parts of our beings that have been stifled by modern living, and makes us more receptive to certain experiences. On our retreats, we tap into the openness created by our yoga practices to really delve into our time outdoors. While we also emphasize the physical connection between yoga and whatever outdoor activity we're doing - for example, preparing the body for horseback riding with lots of hip openers - it's the emotional and spiritual openness resulting from yoga that can cause someone to burst into tears (usually happy ones) on the hiking trail or in the saddle. Yoga moves things, getting rid of stuff that isn't serving us and making room for new inspirations. On our yoga and hiking retreats, you can see this shift when people are faced with the challenges of a hike - altitude, fatigue, not-so-good weather - instead of panicking or resisting, they are in a better place to meet these challenges and move through them with a feeling of accomplishment.
What are your most popular retreats?
Our most popular retreats are Cowgirl Yoga, yoga and horseback riding trips for women. We call it the "girl's dream come true" - a week of yoga and horses. So many women, myself included, had a thing for horses as young girls, and not that many of us ever got to live the dream. There's a deep connection between women and horses, and the yoga cultivates it in a beautiful way. The actual riding is only a small part of it. We emphasize the horse-human connection, and a lot of this magic takes place out of the saddle. Heart opening yoga poses can often unlock many repressed emotions - so we practice heart openers to clear this out, as horses aren't good with repressed emotion. It's horses 101; if you're faking being happy or unafraid, they will probably give you a hard time. But if you offer them your authentic self, whether it's mad, sad, or glad, it unlocks the potential of an immediate and powerful horse-human bond. This is an amazing experience that extends way beyond just riding, and can stir potent emotional release. And that's made possible through yoga. So I can definitely vouch for the connection between yoga and nature, which we have the power to influence and deepen with our practice. We get the chance to say Namaste to horses through our experience with them; the divine in me recognizes the divine in you, indeed.
Namaste and happy Friday!
Namaste and happy Friday!