Finding the Yin Within: A Conversation with Instructor Doug Binzak

The supple reed yields to the wind and thus leaps back again

the empty bowl is ready to be filled

the athlete expends energy and thus expands strength

….

ancient sayings illuminate

"yield and you shall overcome"

"empty and you shall be filled"

"it is done unto you as you believe"

"surrender and be free."

 (Tao 22)

Conversation with Doug Binzak flows easily. Bubbling with the thoughtful constancy of a river or stream, peaking with surprising eddies of humor, it is clear that Doug is familiar with the vibrant life energy that he discusses during class. When he mentions that the arch of the foot is, according to Eastern philosophies, the bubbling wellspring for the spirit, it is easy to imagine that Doug himself, or DB, is tapped into his own spigot. He guides us into each pose with the gentle tenacity of a warrior-poet, the thoughtfulness of a scholar. His soothing voice is appropriate for a Yin class, as he counsels us to let go, release, and receive the benefits of this practice.

Yin yoga, according to Doug, is about listening, “not trying to hold it together,” being still. It draws from the soft, dark, receptive side of life, as opposed to the active, strident, and strong Yang energy. He rattles off a list of dualities: inhale/ exhale, active/ still, sun/ moon, day/ night, talking/ listening, male/ female, to illustrate the point that there are “two complementary energies” and “the interplay of those two things creates the Way of Life, the Tao”. 

Doug came to yoga, as many yogis do, through relationship. After working in the entertainment industry for years, rising within the ranks of Fox, his position at the department would have been relocated. He took a sabbatical. That’s when he started dating a woman who worked at a yoga studio-- a woman who is now his wife.

Beyond beginning a practice on the mat, Doug would read books at the yoga studio and felt a spiritual resonance with Buddhism and Taoism. He began to wash and dry rags used to clean mats in return for free yoga and found himself feeling re-embodied and opened up to Eastern perspectives. When a friend from the basketball court, who was also a yoga teacher, encouraged Doug to take a teacher training, Doug went for it. For both practical and spiritual reasons (there was a dearth of Yin teachers in the early 2000’s), Doug specialized in Yin.  “I really fell in love with it… it helped me to listen to my body on an intimate level and… drop into the experience of what a stretch is as it morphs.” He learned to approach poses from the inside/ out, as opposed to outside/in, and found that his yang practice began to blossom as well.

Now working as a Spiritual and Grief Counselor for Tranquil Care Hospice, it is this kind of conscious awareness of balance that makes Doug so good at what he does: as a counselor, he spends his days listening to people and absorbing their energy, and as a teacher he has the chance to pass on his knowledge and be more expressive.

When I ask him about the value of a Yin practice in particular, he replies from both macro and micro perspectives. Philosophically and metaphysically, he notes that in a time of global warming, the practice of Yin, a cooling practice, fits with necessary global adjustments. “It is yoga for every body,” he says, “beneficial for all levels of yoga practice,” adding that each pose and variation is “a Goldilocks experience-- find the one that tastes just right for you.” He also emphasizes the importance of a Yin practice for us as we age: “When you’re young you’re like Gumby.” As we get older, protective membranes and fluids in our joints begin to dry up. We may feel stiff in the morning and start to notice aches and pains in our joints that never bothered us before. “Yin,” Doug says, “teaches us how to exercise and be sensitive to areas where the body bends, to keep our joints moist as we age.”

For those who have never before practiced Yin, Doug suggests you “discover something that's totally customizable, safe--you don’t have to do something you don’t want to do or doesn’t feel right. Hear what I have to say and at the end, you can tell me if it’s bullshit or not,” then he smiles and quips, “As we say to our 6-year-old, you have to take one ‘no thank-you’ bite.”

Cosmic and grounded, compassionate and generous, kind, engaging, and firm, Doug embodies the wisdom he shares and emanates an inspiring balance of yang and yin. “Your own teacher is inside,” he advises during class, “you just have to learn how to listen.”

Doug Binzak teaches yin yoga at Goorus on Thursdays, 4-5:30pm.

Daily Dedications with Student Jill Cervant

What strikes me the most as I sit and chat with yoga student Jill Cervant at the Goorus studio is the joyous glow that emanates from her eyes. A dedicated yogi with an impressive commitment to her daily practice, Jill clearly loves what she does. As I ask her questions like, “What is your favorite yoga pose?” (shoulder stand, for the record: she likes that you are reversing the effects of gravity) and “How did you first start practicing yoga?” she responds with laughter, smiles, and a lightness that spreads across her features. Talking with her is infectious; by the end of our chat, I am feeling more centered too.

Jill first started practicing yoga in New York in her early 20’s, where she worked as a dancer on Broadway and in nightclubs. When she decided to leave the dance world, a friend brought her to her first yoga class. She loved it.

Thirty years later, Jill is an avid yogi. For the past three or four years now she has maintained a beautiful daily practice: she meditates for half an hour before focusing on the core yoga poses. “When you focus on the basics,” she says, “you can build a strong foundation. You can make simple poses as rigorous as you want.” She finds the benefits of a daily practice significant: “Just starting that practice everyday and just breathing, it becomes second nature,” she says, describing an ease in the constancy which she didn’t quite find from practicing a few times a week.

Proof of Jill’s passion for yoga? Her daily practice takes place first thing in the morning. “It’s the only time I know I’ll be able to get here,” she says. This includes zipping down from her Mandeville Canyon home to practice with the core morning group that attends the 6:30 AM Wake Up Yoga classes at Goorus. She describes to me how special it is to practice in the early mornings, “You arrive in the dark,” she notes, “and it’s light when you walk out.” An apt metaphor for the ongoing practice of yoga itself.

In addition to her M/W/F earlybird practice, Jill attends 8:30 AM classes on Tuesdays and Thursdays, adding Kundalini and Iyengar to the mix.  “I love the variety,” she says, “taking classes with five different teachers with five different perspectives.” She loves the variety that yoga has become now, in general. Each student can choose from a wide range to find “the kind of practice you want for your body and your life.”

All of this dedication pays off. Yoga affects every area of Jill’s life. She finds herself more centered, more focused, and notes that yoga lowers her anxiety level, or, she corrects with a laugh, it makes her “more able to cope”. It is this sense of levity and groundedness in the face of life’s struggles that makes Jill’s yoga practice so inspiring.

When asked to offer words of wisdom to yoga students who might be new to the mat, Jill shared these gems: “Be patient with yourself. Yoga is not a competition. Just getting yourself to the mat consistently, no matter how much you can bend or not bend, is beneficial.”

She grins and that soft glow illuminates her face again, “Just getting there,” she says.It’s a lovely reminder that sometimes, just showing up, once, and twice, and then over and over again, is enough.

Fun Ways to Get Fit in 2017

Getting fit is all the rage these days. Especially at the beginning of a new year, when people like the idea of a clean slate to help launch a healthier lifestyle. Oftentimes, however, these well-meant plans are dashed by the second month. Usually this stems from overdoing it and expectations that are too high. Not everyone is built to hop out of bed at 6 am for a daily run, and not everyone has the time to attend a cycling class after work. Sometimes it’s even sheer boredom that pushes people off of their fitness plans. One of the best ways to get fit and stay fit is to find something you like to do and something that you look forward to doing. Once you get the hang of that, it’s likely you’ll want to incorporate other activities. Baby steps can truly lead to great strides. In the meantime, if you’re not sure where to start, here are some ideas to get you moving:

Social Dance
Take a social dance class in your community. Check a local college to see if they have classes you can audit or research dance studios in your area. You will have a unique workout experience and a ton of fun.

Become a dog walker
Spending time with dogs actually has incredible health benefits. A great way to incorporate those benefits into your life is to become a dog walker. With apps like Rover’s, it’s easier than ever to get connected with clients. And of course, dog walking is a great workout. Chances are you’ll get in so many steps a day simply walking your clients that you won’t need to spend much of your free time at the gym.

Geocaching
If you have ever been geocaching, you know that it involves a large amount of walking. Instead of just taking a walk down a neighborhood sidewalk, go on your very own treasure hunt! It will keep you so busy, you may not even remember you're exercising.

Yoga
It’s not just for relaxation! Yoga is an incredible way to work on fitness, strength, and flexibility. Not to mention that it forces you to be more mindful of your body. There are all different types of yoga available, too, and yoga is something you can do at home alone, or there are classes just about everywhere (i.e. studios, community centers, gyms). The physical and mental benefits of yoga can be truly life-changing.

Indoor Rock Climbing
You can typically find rock climbing walls at local gyms or college fitness centers. It will require a good bit of endurance, and it will force you to use nearly every muscle in your body. It is a fun way to get in a workout for the day while placing your focus on overcoming a challenge.

Clean The House the Old-Fashioned Way
Since we all have to clean our houses anyway, try doing a few tasks the old-fashioned way for a little extra exercise. For example, use a bucket and rag to clean the floor instead of mop or Swiffer, and wash the dishes by hand instead of using the dishwasher in order to spend a little more time standing.

Play with Your Kids
Play active games with your kids like hide-and-seek, tag, or Twister. Play fetch or take the family dog for a walk. You will have very little trouble finding active games to play with your kids, because their endless amounts of energy with make them the best fitness coach you could have.

Exercise on the Couch
The internet is full of exercise routines that you can complete while watching television. Accomplish simple things like leg lifts or crunches on the couch, and sit up straight instead of leaning into the couch cushions. You could notice a big difference in your core and leg strength, just by making these little changes through the course of your week.

Redecorate Your House or Someone Else’s
Have you ever moved furniture before? If you have, you know the physical strain it places on muscles all throughout your body. There is even a whole program, called “The Movement,” dedicated to the idea of getting fit by moving household items. If following a moving-inspired workout routine doesn’t appeal to you, you can always volunteer to help friends, neighbors, and relatives with their moves. You’ll get a good workout and have some brownie points saved up when the time comes to ask for help for your next move!

Racquetball
You may want to strap on some safety goggles and athletic shoes for this one. You will be moving all over a small court, attempting to swing a racquet precisely enough to hit the ball as it flies all over the room. These courts can usually be found at a local gym or college fitness center. Racquetball is tons of fun and constant movement.

Fitness is important for long-term health and well-being, but it has to be something you can and want to commit to. Set yourself up to make your goals happen by finding the right activity for you.

What is a Soundbath? Guru Mitar Explains the Benefits of Sound

We’re really looking forward to our upcoming Sound Bath with Guru Mitar Kaur at Goorus on February 12! We asked Guru Mitar a few questions so that you can know what to expect.

What is a Breathwork Soundbath?

It is a sacred healing journey; it is like a very deep and lasting massage tuning the body and soul to its greatest possible resonance. Like adjusting a piano, your body can be tuned to achieve optimal physical balance. Within a breathing sound journey, you allow the breath and vibrational sound to bring the body back to its full potential.   

What was your first introduction to sound baths and how did you get started? 

My first experience of a sound bath was in a Kundalini yoga class back in 2004.  My teacher was an expert in sound therapy; he would always bathe us in a sound bath at the end of each class. There was one particular evening when he was playing Venus the Gong of Love, that I felt like I had an out of body experience; it was as if I merged with the gong and was traveling beyond my physical body. After the session, I felt amazingly full of life and energy.  After that experience I wanted to share the experience with others, so I purchased my own Gong of Love. 

What kind of sounds do you create, what instruments do you use, and what are the healing aspects of the sounds, if any?

Scientifically, the sounds relax our nervous system and activate right brain activity (the creative, intuitive side). Our left brain (the logical side) relaxes, resulting in less mind chatter. During our waking state, the normal frequency of our brain waves is that of Beta; during the sound bath the brain-waves move into the deeper Alpha and Theta brain wave frequencies where profoundly deep healing can occur.

Today I use many sacred instruments, from drums, to gongs, healings inging bowls, winds chimes, tuning forks, tingsha meditation bells. 

The drum creates a low frequency and deeply penetrating sound vibration moving the brainwave activity to the Delta waves, similar to deep restorative sleep. It is within Delta brains waves that healing and regeneration are stimulated within the body.

The sound of the gong is the sound of the universe and by listening to it you are tuning in to the sounds of the cosmos. The gong has many unpredictable sounds which help the brain move smoothly from an active brain wave to deeper states of relaxation (Theta or Delta).   

I also play quartz crystal singings bowls. Quartz has the ability to transform, store, and amplify energy and is used in a variety of common items today including watches and computers. The human body is crystalline in nature and the sound of the bowls has a powerful healing effect on all of our bodily systems.

Tibetan singing bowls are considered a symbol of “the unknowable,” and their vibrations have been described as the “sound of the universe manifesting.”  The pure sonic waves that ring from the bowls are said to have the ability to awaken every cell within the body.  

What can people expect during your Breathwork Soundbath with us on February 12th?

First we will use the breath; the breath is a powerful healing tool. When you want to hold down and repress your feeling and emotions, you do so instinctively by holding your breath. The opposite is also true; if you consciously breathe you can allow deeply-held feelings and emotions to free themselves. Then, you simply allow the sacred healing sound to heal every cell within the body.

 

Guru Mitar Kaur teaches Kundalini yoga at Goorus on Thursdays at 8:30am.

December News & Announcements

Happy Holidays, yogis ~
 
We all know that yoga is not only good for you, but also loads of fun. However, not everyone is able to squeeze it into their schedule or budget. They may be feeling intimidated or just not able to follow through on their intentions.
 
If you know someone who could really benefit from a regular yoga practice, but is new to yoga, we have four two-hour workshops lined up for January through April—each of which includes a free week of yoga afterwards!
 
For those looking to learn deepen their understanding of Iyengar Yoga, Lori McIntosh will teach a special pop-up “Fundamentals of Iyengar Yoga” class on Thursdays in January from 5:45-7pm.
 
Silvi Winthrop will also teach two meditation classes on Wednesdays in January from 6-7:15pm; these classes will meet on January 4 & January 11.
 
If you know someone who can’t—or won’t—take group yoga classes, why not gift them our online, interactive classes? They never need to leave the comfort of their home!  We can also schedule private lessons with your favorite instructor or book a yoga party for a group of your friends—just say the word and we’ll make it happen. Goorus also carries a variety of yoga mats, blocks, and foam rollers if you are searching for the perfect gift for your favorite yogi or yogini.
 
In January, we have some amazing guest teachers leading incredible workshops. If your schedule permits, we encourage you to check out the following events:
 
Sun. 1/8/17 | 2-4pm
Sweet Release: Yin Flow
Jennifer Goodman
$35 early/$40 late
 
Sat. 1/21/17 | 2-4pm
Healthy, Happy Feet: Yoga for Your Feet
Wendy Shubin
$25 early/$30 late
 
Sun. 1/22/17| 2-4:30pm
Meet Your Fascia - A Practice for Your Practice
Diana Cummins
$25 early/$30 late (Franklin Balls will be available for purchase)
 
Since the New Year is nearly upon us, we thought it would be a good time to remind everyone (in a funny way, of course!) of yoga etiquette while in the studio. Enjoy the following, short installment from Tejas Yoga in Chicago! https://youtu.be/N-3f4lCkcsA

As we move from a heated election season into the busy holiday season, let your yoga practice provide a refuge. Why not try Nichola Dunne’s Urban Zen class on Sundays from 5:45-7pm? Ideal for all levels, this self-care practice consists of gentle, therapeutic movements and incorporates essential oils, Reiki, guided meditation.
 
John and I are so grateful for the wide community of friends, teachers, students, and all who have contributed to the Goorus community.  Wishing you a mindful holiday season!
 
Gretchen
 
P.S.  Goorus will be closed for the holidays on Sunday, December 25 and Sunday, January 1.

Instructor Profile: Paula Edwards

What do you hope to share and what can people expect during your classes at Goorus?

I hope to share that yoga is just a conspiracy to spread love. It is an ongoing practice that is unique and beautiful to each practitioner and the sooner one can embrace their own expression of each pose, the sooner they can deepen their own practices. I wish for my students to become more interested in how a posefeels--not how it looks.

I try to hold and create a safe place so each practitioner can have the experience that they are meant to have while practicing a challenging and balanced flow.

What are your 3 favorite yoga poses?

Ardha chandrasana/Half Moon Pose: It reminds me of life...trying to create stability out of instability...to expand in every direction and to shed light on darkness.

Virabhadrasana III/Warrior III: Again, I love the challenge of balancing while also cultivating awareness of all the nuances of this pose. The variations are endless!

Corpse Pose/Savasana: I think of the final resting pose as a metamorphosis for yogis. One may look like they are resting peacefully, but just like a caterpillar turning into a butterfly the practitioner is transforming.

I don’t have just one “bliss pose,” but I love the entire Surya Namaskar B (Sun Salutations) sequence, linking my breath to the movements and getting lost in the rhythm and the flow.

What bit of advice/yoga instruction do you find yourself sharing most with your students?

1) The harder you are on anything the quicker you wear it out, and 2) you can take care of anything without touching it.

Paula teaches Balanced Flow on Monday mornings at 9 and Fusion Flow on Saturdays at 8:30am; both are Level 2/3 classes.  If you haven’t yet tried Paula’s classes at Goorus, we encourage you to do so!

November News at Goorus

We are at a pivotal time in the year—we will elect a new President on Tuesday and the holidays are right around the corner. This season requires us to make choices that will impact our future and our relationships. In order to make the right decisions, we need to be honest, willing to take the time to contemplate all of our options, and trust our gut.

We also practice this on our yoga mats:  choosing the right class level, pose depth, and intensity so that we can maintain the steadiness of our breath, safe alignment, and the right blend of tension and ease. Begin to pay attention to your breath outside the asana room. Is your breathing smooth and even? Do you sometimes find yourself holding your breath?

One of the healthiest ways we can combat “election stress disorder” is to practice yoga. By approaching our life off the mat like we do our yoga practice, we can be more present and manage life’s challenge’s in a more proactive and thoughtful way (vs. reactive).

Goorus has a wide variety of teachers, classes, events, and workshops to help our students develop a stronger sense of equanimity and mindfulness.  To have all of this choice in one place is truly a gift—one which we hope you will use and share with others. If you will be traveling and away from home for work or pleasure, be sure to ask us about our live, online, interactive classes. Just because you are away from your home studio, you don’t need to give up your yoga practice!

Don’t know what to give your loved ones for the holidays? Why not give them a gift that keeps on giving? We just received a new shipment of Manduka yoga mats in a rainbow of colors, along with foam blocks and rollers. Goorus can customize gift certificates to meet your needs—perhaps your friends or loved one would appreciate one-on-one yoga instruction? Maybe they’d like to take a workshop with us? And, don’t forget, we can serve as a location for a fresh, fun, and healthy party.  Keep us in mind for your next girls’ night out, club meeting, or birthday party.

Back by popular demand! We have lined up four “Beginning Yoga for Newcomers” sessions in 2017 – the first one is with Nichola Dunne on Saturday, January 7, 11am to 1pm. This workshop, which costs $45, includes 1 week of unlimited yoga afterwards. If you know someone who would like to try yoga, please let him or her know about this tremendous opportunity!

Finally, we are also looking at adding a Yo-Box workshop with the amazing Thomas Taubman in January.  Stay tuned for more details…

Namaste,

Gretchen & John

P.S. Goorus will be CLOSED in observance of the following holidays: 1) Thursday, November 25 (Thanksgiving); 2) Sunday, December 25 (Christmas); and Sunday, January 1 (New Year's Day).

Ania Mechlinska's Journey to Yoga: Enjoying the Challenge

Ania loves challenges.  For her, if something comes easily it is usually not as important and she doesn’t appreciate it as much as the things she has had to work hard to accomplish.  Although she “barely survived” her first power flow class, the challenge of the class was what drew her back to the next one. Ania has always been a dedicated athlete. Growing up, she and her father religiously swam across their nearby lake each summer and ice skated across it throughout the winter months. Ania competed in a number of school races and successfully completed a number of marathons, but her “athletic body” was too weak to get in the groove of a flow yoga class…at first.

Ania grew up in multi-national family where the house was always filled with friends and family members, musicians, actors, entrepreneurs, and race car drivers. This environment shaped Ania into a free-spirited artist; at the age of 16, she left home to live in Krakow, Poland with a similar group of kindred souls. Before long, she had found another challenge:  Ania followed her friend into acting and graduated from L’art studio.

At her parents’ urging, Ania continued a “proper” education at Jagiellonia University, where she studied Art History with a concentration in Film and Theatre. While picking up some summer classes on the History of Religion, Ania met a Buddhist professor who first introduced her to Indian traditions; she joined this instructor and a few other students on an eye-opening trip to India. Ania was astonished by how different Bangalore and Delhi were from her world, and yearned to re-visit the country and learn more about this fascinating culture. The yoga aspect would factor in much later.

After returning from India, Ania applied for a student exchange program. She was feeling ready for another trip, another challenge. Following in her father’s footsteps, Ania moved to Princeton, NJ in 2002. Ania was accepted into an English Proficiency Program (TOEFL) to learn how to speak the local language. Learning English took dedication and practice and, once again, Ania was up for the challenge.

By the next year, Ania had moved to Los Angeles to continue her studies and had landed a job in a talent agency. Her long workdays and evening classes at UCLA began to wear her down.  Fortunately, Ania found a flyer for yoga classes close to her house.  Discovering the restorative and empowering nature of yoga, Ania began increasing her practice from 1 day a week to 3 days a week.  Before she knew it, she had signed up for her first yoga teacher training.

Ania knew the teacher training would be intense but rewarding; she was ready for this latest challenge. She did not plan on becoming a yoga teacher at first but the tense, stressful entertainment job was starting to affect her health and she chose instead to pursue yoga. Ania attended another teacher training where she discovered Ashtanga and became addicted to the practice: “I was going every day, sometimes twice a day. It was a breakthrough,” she says.

Ania began searching for senior Ashtanga teachers like David Swenson and Jorgen Christianssen and followed their teachings. It was bringing her back to the experience of India she remembered from her first trip.

After training with David Swenson in 2009 in primary series, Ania submitted her application to KPJAYI Institute in Mysore to study under founder and father of Ashtanga Krama Vinyasa Yoga, Sri Krishna Pattabhi Jois. The confirmation letter came and just as she was getting ready for this latest challenge, she learned of Guruji’s passing. While she hasn’t re-applied to the Institute yet, Ania has set this next goal for herself when the time is right.

In 2010, Ania became very ill.  She was unable to walk for over a year and spent several months in the hospital.  During one weekend in 2011, when she was allowed to leave the hospital, she married her sweetheart in jeans and flip-flops at the courthouse in Beverly Hills. Her “honeymoon” was spent recovering in the hospital. 

The recovery process took a long time, but she eventually bounced back and renewed her yoga practice.  In order to build up her strength, Ania had to become very mindful in her movements. Ania also recognized the various psychological barriers that she would have to work through in order to get back to 100%.

Since recovering from her illness, Ania has returned to her second love – running – and has completed two marathons.  She also completed another yoga teacher training, under the mentorship of Alex Crow at YogaWorks.

As a practitioner, Ania has learned how to be more understanding and caring about her own body. She uses this same compassionate approach with her students and clients.

“We all have different stories, and our baggage comes in different shapes. As a teacher, I have to recognize that in order to provide as beneficial a service to my students as I can. I don’t adjust everyone the same way, and I don’t approach everyone with the same alignment principles. Yoga has taught me to be less competitive, more patient and open-minded. Anything you practice, you will improve in,” she shares. “Practice, practice, practice and all will come as Guruji used to always say.”

Come challenge yourself in one of Ania's classes at Goorus: She teaches Progressive Flow (Level 2+) on Wednesdays at 9am and on Saturdays at 11am.