10 lessons learned from my Yoga Practice

Always do your best Do your best to stay present and aware of your breath. Do your best to be compassionate to yourself, and to acknowledge your limitations. Know that your best is always changing, especially when you are physically sick, mentally distracted, or in emotional turmoil. When you do your best, you get the most of your practice, and will continue to grow and change for the better.   Rest if you need to Listen to your body before listening to the teacher. If your body gives you pain when you do a certain posture, go back to child’s pose and rest until the class comes to a sequence that you’re more comfortable with. Just like doing your best, the amount you will need to rest is constantly changing.   Talk to the teacher before/during/after class For your first class with a new instructor, come at least 15 minutes early to class to talk to him or her. Tell them your experience with yoga, injuries or surgeries you’ve had, and how you are feeling in your body. The teacher will then have an idea of alternative postures that s/he may want to show you, and what to expect from the class in general. During the class ask questions if you are unsure of the alignment of a pose, or if you feel pain or discomfort in one of the poses. After the class give feedback to the teacher, telling them what you enjoyed, and which parts you may have found confusing or difficult to follow.   Bring awareness of your posture into your everyday life Modern culture is very sedentary, and working sitting at a desk and computer can cause our posture to protract, or learn forward. Yoga is a great way to balance our posture, and leave us with a healthy, natural and flexible spine. In order to have more long term benefits we have to learn to bring the alignment and posture from yoga into our daily lives. Remembering to bring our shoulders up, back and down to open our heart, to sit straight with a slight curve in our lower back, and to bring our ears back over the shoulders to keep the natural curve of the neck. Throughout your day keep these principals in mind when you’re watching television, driving, or on your computer.   Use awareness of the breath to quiet the mind Yes yoga is stretching, but ultimately it is a way to quiet the mind, and create a union between your body, mind, and spirit. Focusing the mind on breathing allows the mind to be quiet, while becoming in touch with our body. When the mind is quiet, we are more open to our true nature, which is where true healing occurs. You can use this awareness of the breath within and outside of your yoga practice. Try bringing some of your awareness to your breath while you’re cooking, driving, going to sleep, or reading.   Do deep breathing exercises daily A full yogic breath starts by filling the abdomen, rising to expand the ribs, and going up past the chest to fill the lungs with oxygen and prana. Then you let the breath fall back down, contracting your abdomen to release as much stale air as you can. Repeat this process and you’ll gain all the benefits of deep breathing, including relaxation, peace of mind, balancing of physiological systems in the body, and an enlightened heart center. Another simple breathing exercise is alternate nostril breathing, where you close your left nostril and inhale a deep yogic breath through the right, close the right nostril and exhale out the left nostril, and inhale through the left, close the left and breath out the right nostril. You repeat the process until you feel relaxed and Balanced on both sides of your brain.   Loss of flexibility quickly follows after stopping your practice Before I started a more consistent practice of yoga, I remember going to yoga every day for a couple weeks, and then taking a couple weeks off. On the weeks where I did yoga it would take me a few days to get back into the groove. Then a few days after I stopped I would return to lower back tension, tighter hamstrings, and the sense of relaxation and peace was replaced with stress and tightness in my body. A consistent practice is essential for maintaining peace of mind, health and vitality.   Your personal practice is as important as your group practice With a personal practice you are able to hold postures longer, feel into your body, and develop more of a connection with yourself. You are able to practice the lessons you’ve learned from your group yoga classes, and it makes it much easier to apply them into your every day life. Another benefit of a personal practice is that you can pay less by taking one or two group classes a week, and yet feel as if you’re taking classes every day.   Learn the philosophy behind the practice From Pantajali’s Yoga Sutras there are eight limbs to yoga, and the physical asana practice is only one of them. I interpret them as moral practices(yamas), self-care habits(Niyama), the physical practice(Asana), Breathing exercises(Pranayama), Non-attachment to external circumstances(Pratyahara), Concentrated focus(Dharana), Contemplation of universal spirit(Dhyana), and connection of the self to the universal consciousness (Samadhi). There is so much to learn from each aspect of the yoga philosophy, and most of it is practical to your every day life. For more information on the philosophy of yoga, this website has a brief overview of the 8 limbs of yoga. Check in with your heart center throughout your day Especially when you make a decision. Look into your heart rather than your mind to see which decision feels right. When deciding how to spend your day look within and visualize which options feel the best. With everyone you meet in your day give them the gift of love, and do something heartfelt for them.   These are some of the lessons I’ve learned from yoga. What have you learned from your yoga practice? Travis is a massage therapist, you can find more information about his services at Massage.TravisDharma.com.

My Career Transition to Massage — Toastmasters

My second speech for Toastmasters.

My Career Transition to Massage Therapy from Travis Usinger on Vimeo.

I describe my story of moving from a career in film to massage therapy, and incorporate tips to help you to discover and transition to a career you’re passionate about. The points are: 1. brainstorm all options and see which path feels right 2. Research the training needed  3. Immersion in a training program 4. Find a mentor to learn from and 5. Give your services to the community Last year I was in college for film in a city that I didn’t connect with, working lighting, sound and projection for local events. I was unsure of my purpose, and as I looked forward to working as an editor for production films, I knew I would have to move to Los Angeles, and that I would be working on projects that I wasn’t passionate about. This was frustrating and disappointing to say the least, I hated living in a city, and didn’t want to move to a bigger one. While I was finishing college, I decided to work on time management, and in my free time I would journal about discovering and following a new career path. If you’re interested in making a career change, my story may help you to incorporate the shift in perspective necessary to transition to a new career. The method that I followed in finding a new career was to brainstorm all my options, see which path felt right, research the training needed, immerse myself in a training program, find a mentor to learn from, and give my services to the community. To discover your options I would write about any career paths that you think you could be passionate about. I wrote about everything from creating documentaries or facilitating and creating visual aids for speakers, to completely different careers like organic farming, massage and teaching yoga. After I’ve created this mix of different careers, I would read each one, look within to my heart, and notice how I feel being identified with that career. In order to figure out which career path feels right, I recommend choosing 3 or 4 options, writing a couple hundred words on each one, and envisioning it as already completed. I wrote this one year ago: “I am a role model for physical health. I do yoga daily, eat a healthy vegan diet and receive massage at least once a week. My clients are interested in being healthier and living with more inner peace and fulfillment. I show them yoga streches and give massage. I also hold a donation based yoga and meditation class for friends and clients. I have a blog where I share my goals and experiences in discovering my purpose and improving myself. I join a support group of massage therapists. We discuss how to create a welcoming atmosphere at your studio, how to build a good website, and other topics. I have plenty of time to myself for journaling, meditation, reading, and relaxation.” After reading this I felt joyous, enthusiastic and ready to start my journey. Now what I needed to do in the process was to learn more about the career through research and “testing the waters” to see if I’m truly passionate. I looked online for possible massage schools and training, I read blogs from successful massage therapists and bought books and DVDs so I could learn basic massage techniques. I interviewed successful massage therapists and learned more about their lifestyles and the strengths and hardships of being a massage therapist. I attended a weekend massage course at the Esalen institute in Big Sur a couple months later to discover if this was my true passion. I touched a dozen different bodies and souls and found the meditative style of Esalen massage to complement my introspective nature, and I loved it. The next step was to immerse myself in a complete training program with peer interaction and insightful teachers. That Summer I enrolled in a massage program in Santa Cruz that would allow me to be a licensed massage practitioner in California. I became very close to my classmates in massage school, receiving and giving massage three to five times a week and evaluating each other’s technique. The teachers were very helpful, answering any questions we had, and providing a demo massage session at the beginning of every class. It’s also very important to learn from someone more experienced, who has been successful in your career choice. The massage therapist that first inspired me to massage became my mentor, and I would trade massage with him once a week, showing him what I learned, receiving feedback, and learning new techniques from him. I saw my skills and expertise grow, and I was excited to have return clients and to continue to trade massage and learn more. After the two month training program, having become competent in giving massage, the next step was to give my services to the community to raise awareness of my new found career. I gave my services to seniors at a community center, at pool parties, Aids bike rides, and to friends and family. I shared a massage studio with a friend, and was building a client base while I continued my education in the fall, learning deep tissue and Thai massage techniques. Now this Winter I’m at the point where it’s time to re-evaluate, and discover where my career path will take me next. I will complete the 550 hour massage program in Santa Cruz, and will be nationally certified by next summer. I am starting this career path method over again, feeling inspired to become a yoga teacher. I have brainstormed, and feel the path of a yoga teacher is my next step. I’m now researching what it means to be a yoga teacher by going to yoga classes daily at the studio in Breckenridge, interviewing yoga teachers, and discovering the differences in how they teach. I am open to opportunity, and looking for a yoga teacher training program to immerse myself in for the Fall. After the program I will find an inspiring mentor, and give donation based yoga classes to the community. Maybe you’re in a similar situation whether it’s time to expand your current career options, or maybe you need to change directions completely like I did this last year. Where is your career path taking you? Is it time to re-evaluate and envision a new future?

“My Lesson to the World” IceBreaker Speech for Toastmasters

My Lesson to the World Speech [display_podcast] I gave my first Toastmasters speech today. After weeks of brainstorming, outlining, and half a dozen times recording myself practicing my speech, I’ve given my final presentation. There were about twice as many people as the first time I visited the group, and I was the first to give my speech. Overall I felt it was a great experience, much different than being a guest. I felt the community aspect and had great comments and feedback on my speaking abilities. The other speeches given were very inspiring, and I signed up to give another speech in two weeks. The Transcript I wrote for my speech is below: Everyone has a lesson to teach. This is your life’s purpose, why you are here, and what you will show others. A combination of genetics, family upbringing, life experiences, and the way you identify yourself creates this unique perspective from which you can teach from. Every speech that is given is a lesson, even humorous or entertaining speeches teach us to laugh more, and can have deeper meanings behind them. We’re all learning from each other, and teaching each other at every toastmasters meeting we attend. Today I will discuss what I believe my lesson to teach the world is, and what I hope to learn from Toastmasters and all of you. I have lived most of my life in nature, being surrounded by the tropical jungles of Hawaii while a child, the towering redwoods of the Santa Cruz mountains as a teenager, and now in the majestic mountains of Summit county. I believe these settings help me see the beauty and peace in nature that can seem to be void in urban cities and lifestyles. The presence of nature helps me to see how small our everyday problems are in comparison. This has helped me to pay less attention the trivial, stress inducing patterns that are so common in modern day society. This last year I’ve been training in massage, yoga, and Qi Gong, and have found these to be great ways to connect with your body, become more present, and enjoy the peace of nature. Through massage I’m able to connect with someone, bring them into a meditative state, and help them release unnecessary tension and holding in their body. All of these exercises are great for releasing stress, and allowing your body and mind to come back to a natural state of peace. I’ve always been a very introspective person. For example I’ve attended a 10 day silent meditation retreat, spent months practicing lucid dreaming techniques, and hours writing and journaling on visions of my future. I believe that everyone could benefit from looking within more. A lot of people skip this step and do whatever other people think they “should” be doing, whether that is going to college, getting a job they dislike, or living in a city they don’t enjoy. I want to teach people how to find the passion within themselves, to discover their individual meaning of life, and to fulfill their deepest desires. How will Toastmasters help me to teach these lessons? I want to learn how to connect with people within minutes, talking with passion, freedom, and inspiring others to act. I want to be able to share my personality fully on my blog, expressing myself through video, audio, and writing. I want to teach people Yoga postures, Qi Gong exercises, and self-massage techniques through how-to videos. Overall I want to believe in myself and learn how to proudly and truthfully express myself to the world. Now… Take a Breath. Look within yourself. Ask: What do I have to teach the world – and how does Toastmasters help?

Qi Gong exercises for warmer hands

Qi Gong exercises for warmer hands from Travis Usinger on Vimeo.

I recorded this video to show some of the qi gong exercises that I’ve learned to increase circulation through the arms and to stretch the tendons in the hands and wrists. With these exercises, in addition to regular exercise/movement, hot winter soups, and herbal teas you’ll have warm toasty hands and a healthy body flowing with Qi. The exercises include stretches that you can feel from your neck down to the tips of your fingers, wrist stretches to open the joint, and shaking and movement to flush lymph, blood, and Qi, creating greater circulation and flow. Stagnation causes disease, poor immune system, and cold extremities. By adding movement throughout the day you can keep your body healthy and flowing. I would recommend after every 45 minutes or an hour of sitting to take 10 or 15 minutes to do some of these exercises. Another way to get increased flow and movement in the body is through Thai massage. Thai massage is said to be “lazy man’s yoga” incorporating passive stretches and a flowing massage session that looks like a dance. I learned Thai massage at Twin Lakes College and have found it to be a very therapeutic style of body. Within the next few months I plan on creating a video that shows what Thai massage looks like. May you all enjoy your Winter, and stay warm. Massage.TravisDharma.com

Plane Delayed – What a great opportunity to connect!

People are sitting, waiting to board the plane, the captain comes over the intercom:
“Sorry but the fire warning light is on, we’ll have to have a mechanic come and check it out. I’m not sure how long it will take”
Groans and sighs emerge from the crowd, thumbs are busily dialing cell phones, they’re complaining to one another about how inconvenient this is, and how they had to wake up too early. I put my book away, stand up and start doing Yoga and Qi Gong exercises. The flight was early and I had skipped my usual morning exercise routine, so I decided to make up for it with the extra time I was given by the flight being delayed. You can tell from my last airplane post how much I see traveling as a great transition time to evaluate where you are and to do some great introspection and writing. I understand why people are initially upset by the plane being delayed. Their expectations were different than their reality ended up putting out. After doing all the actions possible; calling a friend who was going to pick you up, asking the steward about alternate flights, and of course updating your Facebook status, there is no reason to worry about it anymore. Many people kept on complaining, sitting and arguing with the steward. It looked as if steam was going to come out of their ears as they tapped their food on the ground and twiddled their fingers on their phone. In such a time of limbo, you should be thankful that you get the time to be with yourself. I find stretching and Qi Gong to be beneficial, because sitting for such long periods of time is a major cause of back pain and bad posture. After practicing for about 15 minutes, someone asked me if I was doing yoga, and started talking to me about her favorite postures. Another woman heard us talking, and recognized me from a yoga class we had together earlier that week. We started doing sun salutations together and talking about our favorite teachers. I’ve learned a new lesson: Airports can also be a great time to connect with people. On a typical day at the airport, crowds of people hardly even recognize the existence of one another. People push past to be first onto the escalator, in TSA screening people stand in line for up to an hour and never learn the name of the person in front of or behind them, on the plane itself people sit for hours and the only contact with their neighbor is to ask if they can get out to use the restroom. On your next flight, talk to the person in front of you in the TSA line. See if the person seated next to you is going home or on an adventure somewhere new. Try doing yoga before boarding time, and see if others will join you. Put yourself out there, and reach out to someone new.

Gratitude and Growth of 2010

This time every year people tend to look back on the best of the previous year, and look forward to set intentions for the new year. I recommend you take credit for the hard work and accomplishments of the year, and realize how much you’ve learned and grown. The last year I feel I’ve gone through tremendous growth and change. I left a school that wasn’t inspiring me, saved money to pay for massage school. I became active in creating the change I wanted, knowing that I no longer wanted to go to San Jose State. During my free time I would journal about my desires and visions of career paths, websites to create, and habits I wanted to incorporate into my life. Winter I knew I didn’t want to go to San Jose State anymore, and set a date to leave: June of this year. I decided to do my best, earn money, and learn as much as I could in the time that I was there. I learned a lot about time management, creating weekly goals and time sheets to manage school, work, and personal development. I started to do yoga, the gym, and cardio. I discovered Lucid dreaming, meditation, and Mantak Chia’s the multi orgasmic man book. These served as a great introduction to the metaphysical arts. Spring I became inspired by Steve Pavlina’s writing on self-discipline and started waking up at 6am, successfully converting to a morning person. I started going to a weekly meditation group and as part of my transition from San Jose State to massage school I went to a 10 day Vipassana retreat, which changed my perspective on meditation. I also started this blog and shared my goals and desires with the world. Summer In July I went to Steve Pavlina’s Conscious Growth Workshop and met other inspiring people and reaffirmed my passion for growth and learning. In July and August I completed a 250-hour massage training intensive and expanded my social circle and became four times as sociable and open to new people. Fall I continued my massage education, becoming proficient and finding passion with Thai massage. I continued to take classes in Qi Gong, which I had started in the summer, and met Lee Holden. I’ve started to work with him on his videos, and have learned much about Qi Gong movements and becoming sensitive to the life energy in my body. For the Winter I will be primarily living in Breckenridge Colorado during the winter months. I plan on doing a lot of studying on Qi Gong, web design, and the national massage exam. I will work to redesign this website, creating a custom wordpress theme. I will also be launching a website that will be a community resource for massage therapists and body workers. I see this next year being even better than the last, with many lessons for me to learn, and more for me to teach as well.

Why is Meditation difficult for you?

I know I’ve said these words: “I love the effects of daily meditation, but it is very difficult because while I’m doing it my mind wants to do everything except for observe my breath.” Why would you choose to meditate? The many benefits include stress relief, more restful sleep, lower blood pressure, developing self-discipline, and a peaceful, focused mind. I chose to meditate because I wanted a clearer mind, more lucid dreams, and to develop self-discipline. I started with practices of concentrating the mind, including counting deep breathes, focusing on a candle flame, and recorded guided meditations. When I started mindfulness meditation I found it much more difficult. My mind had nothing to control. It only had to focus on the natural form of the breath. Mindfulness meditation is observing your breath, mind’s thoughts, body’s sensations, and emotions without becoming attached to them. This type of meditation is very practical because you become more aware of how you are feeling throughout the day, and can respond consciously instead of reacting to situations. On my 10-Day Vipassana retreat, on day 5 or 6 I was becoming very frustrated with myself. I thought that this is so simple; you just sit and observe your breath. Why can’t I do that silently for even just 1 minute? I talked with the meditation teacher, and learned a lesson that I continue to learn every day. I need to observe the voice that judges myself, and learn to integrate it. I was judging myself for my mind being too busy and becoming frustrated at myself. This is something that I bring into my every day life as well, I have high expectations of myself, and if I don’t meet those expectations a voice in my head will say I’m not good enough or that I’m not trying hard enough. Through meditation I have discovered issues that I need to resolve within myself. All of us have a similar lesson that can be learned through our meditation practice. Why do you find meditation difficult? Do you have a voice that tells you that you aren’t good enough? Are you looking into the past and blaming yourself, or looking to the future with worry? Learn how your personality might take part in self-sabotaging your meditation experience. The last 3 months I’ve been contemplating my self-judgment more and have learned a lot about my self. I’ve opened up and become aware of feelings that I’ve tried to stop. I’ve talked with my self-critical voice to learn what it has to teach me, and to cooperate together. Being able to work through this has helped my meditation practice, allowing me to accept that there are thoughts, without blaming myself. So while my mind still wants to do everything except for observe my breath, I no longer find it difficult because I am not as attached to the outcome.

Traveling, Visions, and Planning

This month I’ve done a lot of traveling in airplanes. I’ve gone from Santa Cruz to Colorado, to Orange County (for a libertarian seminar), back to Colorado, and this Saturday I’ll be going back to Santa Cruz. In July I’ll be flying to Las Vegas for a Conscious Growth Workshop. I’ve found these travel days to be perfect for evaluating my life, planning and goal setting. Traveling is a natural transition period. I see these times as an opportunity to prepare to do my best in the following weeks. While traveling on an airplane I’ve enjoyed reading and listening to Philosopher’s notes, which are 20 minute mp3 summaries of one hundred of the most popular self-improvement books. After reading or listening, I’ll often have a flash of inspiration of how I can apply the wisdom in the books to my own life, and I will get out my journal and write. Today I had my weekly goals in front of me, with my to-do’s for the day, but I was still feeling unmotivated. I decided to envision myself at the airport, ready to leave for Santa Cruz. I asked myself: “How do I feel after achieving everything I wanted this last week?” I came up with this list: I am physically fit, having done cardio, yoga, abs, and upper body weight training. I feel closer to Jim, having connected with him while in Colorado. I have clarity on what I desire, having written daily in my Journal. I have published another blog, and have started writing three other rough drafts. I have made connections with yoga teachers and massage therapists in Breckenridge, having interviewed them about their career. I feel inspired to create, having journaled ideas for videos and other content for my website. I feel refreshed, having gone hiking in nature and enjoying the fresh mountain air in Colorado. I feel excited to start massage school, having researched and read blogs about the massage profession. Now I have more clarity on what I desire, and I feel more motivated to accomplish my goals by the time I’m on an airplane again. This new perspective of envisioning myself at the airport, or this place of transition, has given me another way of creating goals and visions for myself. Not only do I create goals when I’m at the airport, but when I become bored or lazy I can reinforce them by envisioning how I would like to feel when I’m at my next “transition point”. On your next flight, see if you can envision how you will feel at your next transition point (when everything goes as you desire).

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