What Yogis Can Learn from Prize-Winning Pumpkin Farmers

Recently, while internet surfing for a weekend activity, I came across a list of Giant Pumpkin Festivals. Giant pumpkins are a vegetable phenomenon that can weigh over 1,000 pounds.
One farmer grew a pumpkin, on a single vine, which matured to a weight over 2,700 pounds. That’s more than a ton of gourd! However, size is not the only factor taken into consideration when awarding a ribbon to a giant pumpkin. Color, shape and overall health are all considerations in determining prize winners.
Giant pumpkin farmers work hard at their craft and have developed best practices for gaining the most return on their efforts. Looking at the process that these farmers use to develop massively successful vegetables, it occurred to me that yogis can benefit from the recommendations of prize winning pumpkin farmer’s as we seek to grow our practice.
The Pumpkin Plan for Yoga:
1. Prepare your soil. 
Smart pumpkin growers begin composting, tilling and fertilizing their soil during the spring before planting season. Yoga takes root in your heart and mind and then grows out into your physical practice. Even if your first experiment with yoga is on the mat, you will come back because of something that resonated with you at a deeper level than your biceps.
Looking at what, in the practice, struck you – the peace and calm; the opportunity to care for you; the “Ah-Ha” moment; the flash of self realization. Identifying what struck you early in your yoga practice, will help you see where you need the most fertilizer and consideration in your life.
2. Grow the pumpkin you’re passionate about. 
There’s a wide variety of breeds to choose from. You might as well grow the pumpkin you love. There is a yoga teacher and style that is right for everyone. However, as you change, what calls to you may change.
I started my practice with diligent alignment and focus in the Iyengar tradition. In my 20s, I found freedom in power yoga. In my 30s, I fell in love with the flow of vinyasa. In my 40s, I started combining everything I was passionate about into the style I teach today. Every style of yoga has value, benefits and purpose. When you find the one that lights your fire, your growth will be self sustaining.
3. Develop your root system. 
Pumpkin vines grow a long way, so enriching your whole garden will help secondary vines grow strong. As your practice develops you will start to see its roots infiltrating your daily life. Your yoga quickly becomes more than the hour you spend on the mat.
You will find its influence in the other 23 hours as well. Through your mat practice, you learn to study, and increase yourawareness of, thoughts and reactions in your mind-body. As you apply techniques to manipulate your breath and observe your whole self, you gain control over your ability to generate focus, calm or strength as you need it. These skills intertwine and expand into your family and work life. Once it’s thriving, your root system of tools and skills will support you in your challenging moments and amplify your joyful moments.
4. Prune and weed. 
Giant pumpkin farmers are ruthless when they find something that doesn’t belong in their garden. Weeds and disease spread quickly. To keep the patch healthy, farmers must be diligent at detection and removal of potential problems.
Thoroughly weeding out bad habits, and harmful thought patterns, prevents disease in your body, your mind and your yoga practice. You will naturally bring negative auto responses, such as judgments and criticisms, with you onto your mat. Systematically weeding out what you don’t need (before it takes root) creates new space for your practice to flourish.
5. Mindful, steady growth yields better results than fast growth. 
Pumpkin damage is often caused by the plant’s own rapid growth, which causes splits and cracks that can lead to rot. If you rush through any part of your yoga practice, you steal the benefits of the process from yourself.
Rewiring your mind, growing mentally and physically, takes time and attention. For example, imitating a pose to achieve an immediate result without developing the understanding that comes inherently through practice, proper alignment and steady progress doesn’t build power. Fast growth only looks good for a brief moment before the damage becomes apparent.
The Pumpkin Plan for Yoga will yield the type of unique and inspiring success that wining giant pumpkin farmers achieve. When you practice the yoga you are passionate about, and cultivate its growth from a strong foundation with care and control, your achievements will be massive – if not 2,700 pounds.


Do You Lift Weights? No, I Do Yoga.

At least once a week, I’m asked how often I lift weights. “I’m a yoga teacher, I don’t lift”, is generally met with polite skepticism. The truth is, my practice is the reason behind my physique, and also my ability to maintain my sense of humor because strangers rarely believe me.
I teach my style of power yoga once a week in a bare bones, no kidding around, “muscle gym”. The first time a member takes my class they are shocked at how difficult it is to access the strength required to do foundational poses, like Plank, Chatturanga and Upward Facing Dog (yoga variations of a push-up). Weight lifting isolates each muscle, but rarely asks their body to use its entire self in a single movement. The opposite is true of yoga. Each posture tones and strengthens muscles throughout your whole body. Although you will not build the bulk of a serious lifter, yoga stretches your muscles while simultaneously contracting them, resulting in increased flexibility, definition and a chiseled, leaner, longer physique.
A power yoga class can burn about 300 calories. Put that class in a hot studio and you’re burning 600 calories. The successive movement from one pose to the next will increase your heart rate, your respiration, and the amount you sweat.
If you’re going to work out for more than an hour each day, it should be with something you look forward to. If you drag yourself to the gym simply because you want to stay in shape, it’s time to reconsider. Most yogis truly enjoy their workout time, and you can retain the metabolic and strength benefits of your old regime, while adding flexibility, detoxification,  mental clarity, balance and a greater sense of well being.
Ultimately, the proof is in the practice. Take a class and notice how your muscles feel the next day. They’re sore for good reason – and your body never lies to you.

*originally posted on MindBodyGreen