– As told to Antonia
I noticed recently that several of our working girls start their mornings with yoga. Perhaps it’s one of the elements of their success or perhaps it really is the tried and true way to bring a sense of calm into a busy life. I’ve practiced yoga casually but decided to learn a little more about the wonders it offers. Luckily a good friend of mine, (and former Un’ruly Hair Story feature) Khay Muhammad, practices and teaches yoga. So I asked her for the 411 on the practice and for a simple breathing exercise and set of poses I could slip into during stressful moments like… a certain site being hacked.
How long have you been practicing yoga?
I took my first class about seven years ago this year! Wow, time flies when your having fun.
What got you interested in Yoga?
I got interested in yoga through a friend and fellow server/waiter at the time. We were a tight team of five or so young women in the Tribeca Grand Hotel and Michelle was the newest member. So, of course, you know everyone dives into the ‘new girl.’ Turned out the new girl was actually the oldest of us all! Naturally, we wanted some wisdom to maintaining good looks, but we also wanted to know how she remained so well-tempered in the stressful service industry. So, we asked and her answer was YOGA.
What made you decide to become a teacher?
Teaching is one of those vocations that I have always honored since I was a child. my father was a teacher to all of his nine children/pupils and my teachers were the ones who saw my potential as an inner city (Newark) youth with a sparkling mind. For this, I am forever indebted to teachers.
At first, I hadn’t planned to become a yoga teacher, but I knew that I wanted to deepen my practice and knowledge of this practice that was filling me up with more of myself! Many people begin and complete their Yoga Teacher Training (YTT) and never teach. They simply want to go further with themselves and that’s awesome. Yet when I learned all I could in those 90 minute class slots and then learned all I could on six-day yoga retreats, I then wanted to learn all I could in a three month intensive. From there, it’s like who would I be if I [kept] this healing practice [to myself]?! I wouldn’t want know that person and I don’t because I’m not her. *Insert canned laugh track.*
How has Yoga improved your life or well-being?
It may be easier to express how it has NOT improved my life because there are so few ways that it has not transformed me. I must be simple and plain here: yoga (which includes BOTH physical postures and meditation ) has improved my love life, my family connections and memories, my breath, my body, my esteem/confidence, and my thoughts. If I say I can do or if I say I cannot do it, either way I am correct. The Yoga practice has enlivened me to take responsibility for my joy.
I understand that breathing is a key part of Yoga because it helps you center and calm down. Is there a simple breathing exercise you can share that I can break into during the occasional overwhelmed moment?
Sure I can share a super simple breath retention exercise that calms and relaxes. It’s called Viloma.
- Start at your desk, on the train, or at home in a seat. (This can also work if standing but I encourage sitting).
- Simply close your eyes or keep your eyes halfway open with the stare unfocused and soft.
- Imagine there is a red thread hanging from the tip of your nose.
- With your mouth closed, breath softly so that this thread is undisturbed. (Hint: it may help to breath more shallowly, particularly if you notice heart rate increasing.)
- Try this for 8-10 breaths and then release the metaphor of the thread and inhale fully and evenly.
- Hold the breath at its peak for two seconds.
- Slowly release 1/3 of your breath… pause… slowly release another third… pause… then release the last 1/3 emptying out the breath completely.
- Slowly inhale and repeat sequence.
I do this in high-stress moments, like when I am on a stuffed train car at 8am. My favorite use is when I am trying and trying to relax for bedtime but my mind is racing. I do this laying down on my back with eyes closed and before I know it I am with the sandman in lalaland.
How about a simple set of poses you can share with our readers?
- Inhale and pull your shoulders up to your ears, keeping your face relaxed and your breath even. Notice the tension that builds and any feelings that arise with the shoulders.
- Next, exhale sharply through the nose while you drop the shoulders completely. Notice if the shoulders release down in a robotic of sticky fashion. We want to really get the body to exhibit complete relaxation and surrender when we ask it to. So watch yourself in a mirror while sitting in a comfortable seated posture on the floor or in a chair (take you shoes off if you can!).
- Repeat this with a breath for just one minute.
- The very last time that you inhale pull your shoulders up to the ears. Hold for nine seconds and then release the shoulder down and back. Have at it!
If people in New York or New Jersey want to practice Yoga with you where can they find you?
My NYC folk, you can hop on the L train and meet me at Green House Holistic for class on Mondays from 9-10:15am. This class [is happening] until the end of June 2014. After that keep checking their website for my new class times and locations. For my Brooklyn Bedstuy family, I am at Bedstuy Yoga every sunday from 10-11:30, $12.
If you live in the beautiful Garden State of New Jersey, you can come to The Main Room (200 Main St) in Orange, NJ Wednesdays from 5:30-6:30pm. For my Newark classes, please subscribe to my YouTube channel, Khayatolla Yoga, where I update you weekly on where I am teaching in Newark and share sequences you can do at home!