Exhale Spa – Saturday class with Emily

As a teacher and studio owner, it can be challenging to maintain my practice on the mat.  When I practice at home and I discover a sequence that I want to share with students, I will stop mid-practice to write it down.  It does not happen every self-practice, but enough that I have to consciously think about NOT doing it.  So, I was very excited when Sharon and I decided to visit different studios and take our practice ‘on the road’!  Sometimes I just want to be the student, not be known as a teacher, and when I am on the mat, I want to be fully present.

I met my sister at our Dad’s house in Woburn (right outside Boston where we grew up), we set the GPS for 28 Arlington Street and we were on our way.  When we arrived at Exhale Spa, I was immediately impressed by the lobby/reception area and the professionalism of the staff.  While Sharon was checking us in I noticed that we were also standing in the yoga boutique.  As I mentioned in a previous blog, I am always on the search for the perfect yoga top, so I turned to look at the clothing, was feeling the fabric of one of the tops and a gentleman said to me “Feels like butter, doesn’t it?”  I replied, yes it does – because it did.  We chose a few items to try on after class and happily purchased some butter-like yoga tops. (www.samtosaclothing.com)  The owner of the clothing line, David, was also attending Emily’s class and as we rode down the elevator, he said to us – “Are you two sisters?” (we get that a lot) and after we replied that we are sisters he said “you are like two buttons”.  We looked at him quizzically and he said “as in cute as buttons”.

It was finally time to enter the yoga studio, a space large enough for 40-50 students, dimly lit, with a large statue, and candles – it was really beautiful, warm and inviting. The teacher, Emily, instructed us to lie on our backs and get comfortable while she moved around the room to greet new students and say hello to returning students.  I got a bolster and immediately went into my favorite Restorative Yoga pose (remember I LOVE “Nappy” Yoga – see another previous entry).  When Emily arrived at our mats, she stood over me and Sharon and said “You are sisters, aren’t you?”  Then she looked at me and said “you are a yoga teacher”.  She informed the class that she can tell when someone is a teacher by how they are in the pose.  Well, so much for being incognito!

Emily did a fantastic job of managing the all levels class.  During the class I was impressed that she:  1) made everyone feel comfortable by welcoming EVERY student; 2) gave information to keep students safe from injury; 3) combined a lot of good information about correct alignment and modifications, 4)  reminded us to breathe.  It is an art to teach a great flow class providing information for all levels, while not talking too much and including in a funny comment here or there.  Emily did all this and more.

She started the class with the new version of the song “We are the World” and I thought – I have not heard this yet, I have been meaning to download it and here it is, playing while I am doing one of my favorite things – practicing yoga.  By the time we got to Savasana (the final pose, the resting pose, the ‘corpse pose’ signifying the ‘death’/the end of the practice), I was holding back the tears.  It was an emotional practice for me, to be on the mat, to be reminded of what my practice is like when I am truly present, to be connected with my soul.  I had a full-fledged ‘yoga bliss’ experience.  Yogaaaaahhhhh!

As teachers do not always know the impact we have on students who come to our class. We do not know what each student is facing in any given day – positive or challenging.  It is important that we teach from our hearts with authenticity and the knowingness that each student is receiving exactly what they need for this practice on this day.  And occasionally a student will tell us what it meant to them and it reinforces the good work we do to serve our community. So, when I got home I ‘Googled’ Emily, found her yoga website and sent her an email telling her I thought she was a wonderful teacher and thanked her for a fabulous class.



I had the most amazing experience at Exhale Mind/Body Spa in Boston Saturday. This spa has it all; the complete package to enhance your yoga experience and the ambiance was incredible. From the minute I entered I felt a sense of wellbeing.

With several daily classes to choose from Maureen and I selected the Saturday Level 1-2 with Emily Phillips. The website described it as “a class that will dive deep into all asanas with a moderate pace. This class was open to all levels, but due to the slower tempo it is appropriate for beginners as well” we felt is would be a good fit for us, since we are on opposite ends of the spectrum in regards to yoga training and experience. And boy did we make a GREAT choice.

Emily was everything I wanted and needed her to be that day; you might say she had good energy. I was a bit nervous entering into my first “true” yoga studio, especially one of this caliber. I was afraid I would not “fit in. But I was very wrong; in fact I fit in just fine and this class actually made me more aware of where my journey is headed. I felt my body and mind open. And guess what else? I did the breathing! I don’t know how it happened it just did. I listened to Emily; I watched Maureen and I became one of the yogis as I Exhaled!

This was a very good day!!!!!!!!!!

FYI…The cost is comparable to local studios and the lighting is perfect!!

Yoga Sutras and Ashtanga Yoga

I thought it would be helpful to provide some introductory information on the Yoga Sutras and the eight-limbed path (Ashtanga Yoga).  This may seem like too much to process as a beginner on the yoga path, however I thought it would be helpful to introduce you to the 8 limbs since you may hear about them in yoga class or in your independent study of yoga.

Yoga Sutras of Patanjali
Patanjali was a great sage who, in the 2nd Century BC, compiled 195 (some say 196) sutras divided into 4 chapters of divine spiritual wisdom.  The 4 chapters  of the Yoga Sutras contain:  the definition and purpose of yoga, the practical approach to achieving the goals of yoga, the powers of yoga and the nature of liberation.

Sage – a profoundly wise person
Sutra – a collection of aphorisms relating to some aspect of the conduct of life
Aphorism – a terse saying embodying a general truth, or astute observation

In the 2nd book of the Yoga Sutras, Patanjali outlines the practice of Ashtanga Yoga.

Ashtanga Yoga – eight-limbed yoga
Brief descriptions – each limb will be featured independently in future blogs

  1. Yama – moral codes, ethical disciplines – how to harmoniously interact with others
    –  Ahimsa – non-violence, harmlessness, kindness
    –  Satya – truthfulness – in words and thoughts
    – Asteya – non stealing, not taking what is not yours, not taking more than you need
    – Brahmacharya – sense control
    – Aparigraha – non-possessiveness, not hoarding
  2. NiYama – self observation and study – self discipline in the mind & body for achieving balance within oneself
    – Saucha – cleanliness in diet and practice
    – Santosha – contentment/embracing the moment for what is, whether enjoyable or difficult
    – Tapas – discipline, consistency
    – Svadhyaya – self study
    – Isvara Pranidhana – faith/trust in a higher being
  3. Asana – postures – the physical practice
  4. Pranayama – regulation or control of the breath; steadies the body and is helpful in quieting the mind preparing for the 6th limb of yoga (concentration);  Ujjayi Pranayama – Victorious breath control  – breathing technique used in Ashtanga Yoga
  5. Pratyahara – sense withdrawal, sense control – focus while unaware of outside distractions
  6. Dharana – concentration/focus
  7. Dhyana – meditation – the practice by which there is constant observation of the mind, focusing on one point and stilling the mind in an uninterrupted flow of concentration.
  8. Samadhi – liberation, enlightenment, contemplation, total absorption; to bring together, to merge the individual and collective consciousness.

Let me know if you have questions, thoughts, comments…. also see the link to the right of this page for a new yoga glossary we started – we will add to it as clarification and/or explanation is needed to further enhance your learning of all that is YOGA!



If you have an interest in the study of the Yoga Sutras, email me (mmillernh@comcast.net) or leave me a comment and I will provide resources.

Class at Boston Sports Club

I attended my first yoga class since the Introductory Session Maureen taught in Woburn, for family and friends, last month. Following my plan to try different class styles, locations, times, and instructors to find a home base, I started with Boston Sports Club in Woburn. They offer a two week guest pass for $20. I took them up on the offer (a great value) and tried the Monday night class with Julie. It was a Vinyasa class defined by the gym as “A vigorous and dynamic style of yoga with special attention paid to linking breathing with movement. There is an emphasis on standing postures.”

Julie was very mindful of the different levels of students that were participating in her class. Moving at a steady pace she continuously offered an alternative variation of the postures to keep us (the beginners) safe. I felt that I got a good workout and did not have any problems with any of the postures. Yes, I did choose to go with some of the alternate moves!

The only downfall was the atmosphere – they were unable to dim the lights so the brightness of the room (fluorescent) could affect your experience. Overall, I think it is a great place to begin and learn.


Have you ever had an MRI? Well I have and it can be a bit unnerving. After reading the “Yogi in the Machine” article by Mary Anne Lowell, in the March 2010 issue of Yoga Journal Magazine I will never look at that experiencing as daunting again.

Before the exam begins a nurse will usually ask what kind of music I like. The music I choose will play while I am in what I refer to as “the knocking machine.” But next time as they strap my arms, cage my head and plug my ears I will instead begin my meditation. Ommmmm!

Thank you Yoga Journal!!!

For full story see Yoga Journal March 2010 issue page 22.

Response – where to begin your yoga practice!

Sharon and other beginner yoga students,

An excellent question.   Beginner classes can have many names – Intro to Yoga, Yoga 101, Level 1, Gentle Flow, Beginner yoga, Easy yoga.  Ideally the website will have class descriptions that are clear so you can chose based on that.  If it is not clear, do not hesitate to contact the studio owner or manager for clarification.  If I receive many calls about a particular topic (i.e. the class descriptions are not clear), I will immediately update the website.  As a studio owner I assure you, owners encourage and listen to student feedback.

Some studios may have a web page devoted to ‘Where to begin your practice” – see http://www.yoganh.com/wheretostart.htm for an example.  (That is my website! J).  At Living Yoga every class is suitable for all levels.  Teachers will offer modifications for students who are new to yoga or have physical limitations (tight hamstrings, lower back sensitivity).   Offering a schedule with all levels classes provides more opportunities for folks to attend classes that fit their schedule, although the best scenario is when you can start with an Intro to Yoga or Gentle Flow class to become familiar with the poses and flow of the practice.  If you chose a yoga studio that does not have an intro class that best suits your schedule, it is important for new students to know if you attend an all levels class it is VERY common to be confused and looking around at other students to get a visual on what a posture looks like (if the teacher does not demonstrate as he/she teachers) a lot during the first weeks of yoga.  Over time you will become more familiar with the poses and less likely to look around.  If you are not comfortable learning that way, you may want to purchase an intro level book or DVD to practice and/or view the postures at home prior to attending class.  (See class names listed above as ideas for what the names of DVDs might be.)

When you attend a class, if you have an experience that is not pleasant or if you have questions, let the teacher and/or the owner know.  A yoga studio is like any other business and the owner wants you to have an amazingly positive experience and if you do not, the owner will want to know so they can take appropriate action to improve.

In closing, I have a suggestion for new yoga students:  call or email a studio owner prior to attending your first class, ask them any questions that you have that are not answered by perusing their website and then inquire as to whether or not they offer the first class for free.  If they reply ‘no’, then ask them if they would be willing to do so for you on a specific date and time (by being specific they will know you are serious about visiting their studio) because you want to try it out prior to making a commitment.  Anytime a student asks me, I always say yes.

Namaste (means  ‘I honor the light in you’),



Where to begin?

I am feeling very excited about my new journey and shared the news with some of my friends and co workers. Many of them expressed a sincere interest and are wondering “where to I begin?”

It seems most people that are contemplating becoming a yoga student have the same hesitations as I have about finding the right fit.

So when we look at class descriptions, how do we know if it will fit our needs and desires as “true beginners”?