5 comments on “Finding Balance ~ An Interview with Felicia Tomasko of LA Yoga Magazine”

Finding Balance ~ An Interview with Felicia Tomasko of LA Yoga Magazine

[Editor’s note: This is a guest post by Marina Chetner, who blogs at Bikram Yoga Musings.]

When it comes to her job as Editor-in-Chief at LA Yoga Magazine, Felicia Tomasko is a self-proclaimed jack of all trades. She’s in charge of everything from the publication’s overarching editorial content, to making sure the magazine’s Facebook page is up to date.  A yoga practitioner for the past 25 years, Felicia knows the importance of a regular practice, though there are times when foreboding late nights at LA Yoga Magazine could potentially get the better of her. It’s the power of the ‘positive peer pressure team,’ aka her close group of yoga practice buddies, who ensure she gets in her daily dose of yoga.

We chatted on the phone while she was running errands for one of her writers. So happy to share her knowledge, this is what Felicia had to say:

What does your day to day involve as editor of LA Yoga Magazine?

At LA Yoga we’re a pretty small and tight knit team. An editor is a jack of all trades– it’s being able to look at things from a very big picture of what is going on in the world of yoga: who are the personalities involved, what are the stories that inspire us… Then, looking at the details: timing, deadlines, websites, and emails. I get a couple hundred email messages every hour, as well as text messages, and phone calls. My day is jam packed and makes me really glad I practice yoga!One of the things with editing a magazine is that there are so many bits and pieces to juggle. My work life is a combination of going to meetings, going to yoga class, connecting with people, going to events. There’s a certain amount of time spent at the computer: working on what’s new, what’s coming up, and we write a lot of in-depth stories. I have some days when I am booked in meetings all day, and I have other days when I do not answer my phone and edit all day long.If we look at the teachings of yoga – the tradition of yoga – there’s so much that comes to us in the form of stories. Part of being a magazine editor is looking at all the submissions that come in, working with my regular writers, and asking ourselves: how are we telling compelling stories? I handle everything from story concept, to going to press. When we’re on deadline with the printers, there comes a moment where there is no longer a tomorrow.Being an editor is actually very interesting because some of my childhood friends think I go to a coffee shop, smoke, and sit at a computer. But with writing, there’s really an art to good storytelling. Ultimately, that’s what we’re trying to do with the magazine and the website.

How do you achieve balance on your toughest work days?

I find that I really focus on doing my personal practice first thing in the morning; before my day gets busy with the phone ringing, emails, or what I have to edit. My personal practice is really important to me. Sometimes it is very simple, sometimes it is more elaborate. I’ve worked with a few different meditation traditions and I’ll usually pick a practice to do for a period of time and commit to that. Right now, I have a specific mantra meditation practice I’m working on.

I also do asana practice. I find that my own personal practice in terms of asana varies quite a bit…  Because of long hours sitting at a computer, I do need to do something really active to balance that out. Sometimes I’ll go for a walk or a run in addition to my yoga practice. Our offices are located in Santa Monica so whenever I can, I try to arrange out of the office meetings to which I am able to bike. It’s amazing when I am able to do that because I can combine being outside, getting a workout, and getting to where I need to go. Multi-tasking is important!

I have a small group of yoga practice buddies and this is something that is extremely helpful to me. We’ll meditate together, we’ll run together, we’ll go to yoga class together. We even schedule yoga car pools to make sure we’re getting to class – we’ve got that part down! One of friend’s cars even has my yoga mat in it. It’s important in my life to have that positive support system and positive peer pressure to help get my practice in. It can be a temptation to look at my to do list, or to open my email, and think, “I can’t get to practice today, I have too much to do.” That’s a real trap because by the end of the day you’re cranky, your back hurts, you’ve been sitting at a computer, and thinking, “Wait, where did my practice go? I’m writing about yoga but how am I actually practicing it?”

What does your personal home practice consist of?

I love standing sequences – I’ll do some modified Sun Salutations, I love Downward Facing Dog, and I love standing balancing poses. I’ve been doing lots of sequences that involve Warrior poses and am creative in linking them together in different kinds of ways. And, I really do love Yin practice – I’ll usually do a full Yin practice once a week, and at one other time during the week – a partial Yin practice. I find if I don’t, I get stiff from being at the computer.

A lot of my practice is dictated by the fact I am an editor and the reality of that means a lot of hours at the computer keyboard. This is why I am not crazy about Chaturanga. In terms of my hands, wrists and shoulders, I have to really think about not overusing them but making sure I am doing things to stretch and open them up.

Which studios do you practice at?

I make the rounds of studios in Santa Monica. Sometimes I’ll go to one studio all the time and then rotate to another studio. With what I do at LA Yoga, I really like to stay connected to people in my home yoga community; I do that through going to class. It’s such a rich yoga community, with different teachers, different traditions, and different paths of yoga, so I’ll mix up my own practice.

One of the great things about yoga in general, is that there’s so much variety. We don’t get bored.

What would you recommend to the yoga beginner, faced with a varied selection of yoga styles, in choosing a practice right for them?

In this point in time, there are more people who practice yoga than probably at any other time in history. It’s a great thing, I think, that there’s this democratization of the practice because there are very few things that provide us a sense of: how do we get more in touch with our bodies, how do we develop this relationship that we have with ourselves, how do we become more skilful in our lives, how do we find a sense of ease and sweetness. All these things are what the philosophy of yoga purports to offers us, to teach us.

So how do you find the practice that is right for you? The advice I usually give to people is that a lot of it has to do with our personal relationship, or personal chemistry. If someone walks into a class and thinks, “this isn’t for me,” then it’s probably not yoga but the specific style, or the specific teacher. Even within different styles of yoga, teachers can have different approaches to the practice. So I usually advise that people try out a few different things before ordering the entrée.

It’s also important for us to keep in mind when practicing is how the practice supports our body: are we being pushed past out limits; are we in a situation where we’re able to do something that feels good and has a sense of ease to it; do we have a level of challenge that is appropriate; and, does the teacher support that process of us doing the practice in the body that we have right now?

Why do you think yoga is so popular these days, especially in this techie age?

I think that’s one of the reasons why yoga is so popular. Even though we are so techie, our bodies work best with movement. Many of the movements in yoga, even if they start off somewhat awkward, actually help us to have a better experience with our body. If we’re thinking about the performance of our car, or defragmenting the hard drive on our computers, well, yoga is doing the same thing for our biomechanics. Our own body is practiced in such a way that it is allowing for that.

Tell me about the role education plays in maintaining a yoga practice and general health.

In Yoga Sutras, Patanjali mentions Kleshas, which are obstacles, and one of the obstacles is Avidya – or ignorance. Sometimes we can’t get too mad about it (lack of education) because there is a lot of ignorance in the world. When we think about education, we have to think about how we receive it: it could be through formal schools, the things we read, through email, the things we say or do or write about, or the magazines we read. Whether we’re educated through movies, or through Twitter; when we look at what’s going on in the world today, as much as we can say there’s obesity, for example, at the same time, there are movements to bring yoga to more schools.

There are a lot of training programs that train yoga teachers how to work with school systems and kids. What it takes is not waiting for someone else to do it, but it’s that small part that we can do: how do we educate ourselves, how do we educate each other, how are we role models, and how do we encourage more in our school systems, and also more for people of any age.

I think this is also a time in history where people of different ages are practicing yoga and there is a greater understanding of some of the medical benefits of a yoga practice.

It’s important to be good advocates: for our children, our parents, for how we take care of ourselves, and being part of a positive peer pressure system; and then advocates on a larger level, whether it is in our town, in our school system, or health club.

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2 comments on “Jnana yoga – The Intellect Deconstructs Itself to Find Freedom”

Jnana yoga – The Intellect Deconstructs Itself to Find Freedom

[Editor’s note: This is a guest post by YOME – ‘The Yoga Portal For Wonderful Life’]

Whether you call it the path of wisdom or of ‘right knowledge,’ Jnana or Dhyana yoga (pronounced gi-ya-na) is a path of inquiry into one’s own mind in order to find deeper truths about the world.

Instead of looking externally, or practicing asana, the mind is cultivated and observed as a means of improving the self. Jnana yoga is based on a Vedic wisdom practice which sees the world as undivided, or non-dualistic. You can find this philosophy in Buddhism as well, in the form of dependent arising. This philosophy is not purely eastern in its understanding. Though it is also found in Sufism and Zen, the Gospel of St. Thomas also points to the non-dual nature of reality. As far as Jnana yoga’s Hindu teachers are concerned, Ramana Maharishi and Adi Shankara are two of the most prominent teachers.

In order to improve the ‘self’ one must see correctly. As long as we perceive ourselves as separate from all else, we are not seeing correctly and our actions will result from that ignorance. The path of Jnana yoga requires us to look past the veils of Maya or manifest reality, and see what is ever-present and non-changing. Some call it God. There are relative truths and then there is Truth, with a capital T and that is what Jnana yoga aims for us to uncover.

Who Am I?

One of the main teachings of Jnana yoga, in order that we might uncover greater truths about our world and the way we see it, involves asking one simple question – “who or what am I?” You are not your body. You are not your brain. You are not your parents’ ideas of you or your friends. You are not even your ideas about yourself. You are not a brother, mother, sister, wife, lover, etc. You are not any-thing that is singular. As long as you are tied to an individual reality, then you will suffer, because you don’t align yourself with your true nature – which is Infinite.

Peter Marchand writes in his book, The Yoga of Truth that Jnana yoga has such huge metaphysical underpinnings that it is often misunderstood. It asks you to rationally deconstruct everything about yourself, and this is a task, which the ego does not like to do. He states that, as difficult as this is, the more we remove the veils of body, mind intellect and ego; however, the closer we get to our divine nature, which shines through quite naturally, once the refuse and artifice are cast aside. Marchand also states that the concept of non-duality is a very simple concept – that we are all one – but one we make very difficult because we fear not being the concepts we have created for ourselves. After all, you can call yourself a woman and me a man, (or insert any other label you like) and when we die, we both become food for worms. These are only temporary definitions of a greater Wholeness, which more truly defines who we are.

The Practices of Jnana Yoga

The practices of Jnana yoga are primarily contemplative, meaning we use the intellect to deconstruct the intellect, much like the Zen saying “don’t’ mistake the finger that points at the moon for the moon.” Eventually, the intellect is subdued and one practices meditation, which is the opposite of intellect. It is a state of ‘no-mind’ and it is usually in this state that one can truly perceive their oneness with all that is.

Jnana yoga is considered one of the four pillars of knowledge (4 means and six virtues) required for a yogi to understand prior to reaching enlightenment. The school of Vedanta, a primary teacher of Jnana yoga) lists the following as important teachings for Jnana yogis:

  1. Viveka – discrimination, or the ability to see the difference between what is real and unreal, permanent and temporary, self and not-self. This principle is also found in the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali.
  2. Vaiargya – non-attachment, or the decreased yearning for the objects (material manifestations of this world) and a deeper yearning for the ultimate wisdom within.
  3. Mumukshutva – longing or strong passion for learning of the ultimate nature of reality, and thus oneself.
  4. Shat sampat – the six virtues, which include: tranquility, training, withdrawal, forbearance, faith and focus.

The use of mantra, and other tools is also common in Jnana yoga, but ultimately, one must do exactly as Marchand describes, and deconstruct the intellect to uncover the Truth of our Infinite reality.

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YOME- The Yoga Portal For Wonderful Life at: http://YogaMeditationHome.com

YOME- The Yoga Portal For Wonderful Life features FREE high quality, hand-picked, yoga videos categorized by physical, mental, soul needs and wants. YOME is for yoga students who want to practice yoga everywhere anytime and also for yoga instructors who need an online business platform to support their growth and spread their wisdom.

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1 comment on “Journaling the State of Yoga”

Journaling the State of Yoga

[Editor’s note: This is a guest post by Marina Chetner, who blogs at Bikram Yoga Musings.]

Bill Harper is publisher of the largest circulating yoga magazine in the world, Yoga Journal. Based out of Active Interest Media’s corporate offices in El Segundo, just north of Manhattan Beach in LA, his day is nonstop. Between managing a portfolio of products, keeping in touch with teams across time zones that stretch from NY to San Francisco, and granting time for interviews such as this one, there’s no doubt that he maintains the balance with a liberal dose of yoga.

Here’s what Bill had to say about running a successful brand and the state of the yoga today.

Bill, what’s a typical day like for you as publisher of Yoga Journal?

I would say a typical busy day usually starts in my house at 7:30 in the morning when I check emails from my sales staff on the East Coast.

As the publisher, I am essentially in charge of advertising revenue. This entails 3 specific areas – print magazine, online digital, and event sponsorships such as the upcoming San Diego Yoga Journal Conference. My main day is filled with generating ideas that sales people can sell with: what does the yoga market look like, what areas do we see growing, where do we see opportunities.

I leave the house at around 8:30 and, as my cell doesn’t work in my house but does in the car, I talk to teams in Chicago, Detroit, New York, Boston, and finish up on what we didn’t cover via email. I do like to talk versus email, and spend most of that 45 mins in the car on the phone. By 9, I’m at my desk – fortunately, or unfortunately. Then it’s communications with staff. I also work on Vegetarian Times.

The web has taken a much bigger part of my time because traffic is growing about 30% a year. We redesigned Vegetarian Times this year, which was very successful, and we’ll probably go through a pretty good sized redesign for Yoga Journal next year. Though there’s not a lot to do visually, there’s some back end to fix.

In terms of time, I spend 30% on web business, 40% on print business, and 30% on conference business/sponsorship as we have 4 conferences a year (San Francisco, New York, San Diego, and Colorado).

You’ve been with Yoga Journal for about 6 years.  Before that, you were at Wenner Media working on Rolling Stone, US Magazine, and part of the launch team on Men’s Journal. How different is it working for Yoga Journal?

Well, all are high profile magazines – very high quality and succinct in their mission statements. It gave me an opportunity to look at the yoga market and craft the way we would sell Yoga Journal to the advertising community… and really bring attention to the strength of the yoga market. Luckily, it has been growing and going in the right direction for me. Before Rolling Stone I was at Esquire, so I’ve really done nothing but magazines for my entire working life.

Yoga Journal has great editorial product, great graphics, and great photography. (Working here) It’s almost like night and day in terms of philosophy – the inherent goodness of the people on the staff, and what the magazine communicates outwardly. I guess at one time I became critical in my own life about messages sent out through everything from the television, magazines, and movies… and I was really looking for a place where I could work and feel good about the editorial products and the message that the product delivered. That’s where I think Yoga Journal and Vegetarian Times are impressive products that really help people live a better life.

So I do feel good in selling the content and the audience of the magazine to advertisers.

How has circulation of Yoga Journal’s portfolio of media increased over time?

We’ve had a very steady increase on the website; we’ve had a steady increase in the conferences; the magazine has been pretty consistent. In the state of the advertising industry at the moment, there’s more money going into digital and face to face interaction, with advertisers wanting to reach out to customers via sampling and ‘touch-feel.’ The good thing about the magazine is that it has been consistently strong. For the past 5 years we’ve been at a 350K circulation. It may not be growing as quickly as the other areas but we’re happy with it. The worst thing is to be with a magazine whose market is declining.

Yoga Journal has been available on tablet platform since February 2012 with Kindle and Nook, and we’ve been on the Google newsstand since about 2 weeks ago. So, every Android device will have Yoga Journal and Vegetarian Times available on it. We’ll be on the iPad in September. (Given this) there should be a big increase in the next 2 or 3 years.

Of print, about 50K is sold on newsstand, and there are 300K subscribers. Of the subscribers, 4 to 5% subscribe digitally.

With publishing undergoing all sorts of changes, what changes has Yoga Journal made in the way it shares content?

The majority of the people who read Yoga Journal practice yoga and look for everything from tips on yoga philosophy, to help with asana sequencing. The big change that has taken place is that we do relate the magazine’s content directly to the website – to make it come alive. Yoga is about movement and that’s where the website and video comes in; to show what the movement (sequencing) is all about.

Why do you think yoga has become so popular?

People have become more conscious of their wellbeing but it’s sometimes hard to find that on your own. I think that there are so many news and media outlets that write about yoga these days – it seems like it started 5 years ago with NYT, WSJ, LA Times, and local newspapers covering a lot. Then along came celebrities like Ashley Judd to Madonna and Lady Gaga. It’s very much out in the market place. Then, you get these big events like the Times Square Solstice where people go, “Wow, I guess I should be doing this…”Then they start doing it (yoga) and realize, “Wow, this is actually pretty good. I like this!”

Just look at the events like the one in Times Square, to upcoming global yoga in Central Park – I think they’re shooting for 15,000 people there. There are these large scale events that are bringing yogis and local communities together that keep getting bigger and bigger. It’s these kinds of things that begin to influence how big the yoga market is to advertisers.

MRI has been measuring yoga since 2001 (their studies include people 18 years and over). In 2001, 4.4 million people were doing yoga, now, there’s 14.5 million.

Were you a yogi before you started at Yoga Journal?

Actually I was not. I was very surprised by how difficult yoga was, and how good it was – not just mentally and emotionally, but physically. So I pretty much started out with Hatha Yoga and did basic flow for a period of time; then did Ashtanga until I pulled my hamstring. I practice at home most of the time. Every once in a while I’ll look at one of the over 200 videos on the Yoga Journal website.

What’s some advice you would give yogis the world over, in terms of their practice?

I would say that you never know until you try. Stick your toe in – the water’s great!

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Marina Chetner is a writer, hot yogi, and passionate world traveler. She writes about all things travel inspired on her eponymous blog, marinachetner.com,and Bikram yoga related on bikramyogamusings.com. At the moment, her favourite asana is Floor Bow because it is such a challenge, she can’t get enough of green juice, and Tokyo is at the top of her travel ‘to do’ list. You can follow her on the aforementioned blogs, or via Twitter: @mchetner.

8 comments on “Taking the Easy Way Out: Warrior III + Life”

Taking the Easy Way Out: Warrior III + Life

[Editor’s note: This is a guest post by Lindsey Lewis, yoga teacher, life coach and founder of www.libreliving.com.]

Grace doesn’t grow from strain and struggle; it arises when we let go.

On the mat

I used to think that if a pose was easy for me, it meant it was an easy pose—for everyone. I figured that if I felt strong, energized and calm in Warrior II then everyone did. Never mind the fact that every body is different. Never mind the fact that we’re all in different mental states—not just from each other but from moment to moment. Never mind the fact that different teachers teach things differently and following one teacher’s way of teaching may be easier than following another’s. If a pose was easy for me, it meant it was an easy pose—for everyone. Picture me with blinders on—like a horse plodding one foot in front of the other, seeing only the narrow vista right in front.

Here’s what I didn’t see: that when a pose was really challenging for me, it was me that was challenging the pose, not the other way around.

There I was in Warrior III, wobbling and tipping (and cursing), and my mind is going “Well, hey, of course you’re falling over, you’re on one leg. You’ve got your arms outstretched in front, too, silly. You wanna be stable? Ya gotta stand on two legs.” So I kept wobbling and tipping and cursing.

Until this: I remembered that our bodies are made for asana. And asanas are made for our bodies. In fact, standing on one leg doesn’t have to be difficult at all. But it will be if we convince ourselves it is. If we let our minds tell us it’s unnatural, we’ll topple for sure. But if we don’t….

Whaddya know? My next round was strong and solid—one-legged and everything.

Off the mat

How many times do we tell ourselves something will be hard, or the same as it always is, and it is? What might happen if we told ourselves it would be easy, and better this time?

Imagine what this might do:
– During an interaction with a co-worker you usually clash with
– At your in-laws place
– In a conversation about a topic that usually turns into a fight
– And on and on and on it goes

What recurring challenges do you face? When do you tell yourself that something is hard because it’s hard? Where do you challenge the instance and by doing so make it challenging? Where could you re-program to find ease, grace, and power?

As for me? My horse still likes the blinders, but we’re practicing taking them off as much as possible. He likes chocolate as a reward.