Light as a feather, stiff as a board

In his Yoga Sutras, Patanjali famously wrote “sthira sukham asanam.” This phrase is often translated as a recommendation to find a balance between effort and ease in our yoga postures. When we try Plank Pose for the first time, we might laugh at the thought of ever finding ease in such a demanding posture. However, with a little help from kinesiology, you might find yourself laughing with delight at how easeful your Plank can feel. Practice along with Amanda and our friend Cherie to find out how!

The Surprising Benefits of Online Training

Kitty’s favorite part was “meditation”

In March, as businesses the world over were grappling with how to move online, I got to experience the dilemma from both sides. Even as we set up a Zoom account for the school, purchased a webcam, and rearranged the studio, I was deciding whether to forfeit my spot in a long-awaited retreat, or to go ahead with online attendance. In the end, I decided to attend online, so I was able to experience first-hand some of the unique benefits of an online retreat or training. 

So what is it really like? And how did I translate my experience and feedback from our students into improvements for our 200 and 300 Hour Yoga Immersion Teacher Training Programs? Read on to find out!

About a week before the start of the retreat, I received the retreat materials–a booklet and a schedule of events. I love to know when things are going to happen, and what to expect, as it helps me to feel safe. Our students receive the Student Handbook, including the weekend calendar, as well as the Program Workbook in advance of the first training weekend!

A few days before the start of the retreat, I received the Zoom Meeting Information for the retreat. I was already familiar with Zoom, but I haven’t always been! If you’re not sure where to start, check out the Quick Start Guide on Zoom’s website. 

The day before the retreat, I made sure my space was ready. I reviewed the retreat materials for any special items I might need to have on hand. We recommend that our students have a yoga mat, 3-4 yoga blankets, 2 blocks, a yoga strap and an eye pillow. Don’t have some of those items? Don’t despair! You can substitute towels for the yoga blankets, thick books for the yoga blocks, and a long scarf or bathrobe tie can stand in for both the yoga strap AND the eye pillow!

I made sure to get a good night’s sleep, and then it was finally time to begin! I dressed and got ready, just as if I was actually attending the retreat in person. This can be so helpful as a means of letting our brains know that something special or out of the ordinary is about to happen. This was not a regular old day–I was going on retreat! I logged in using the information provided, and then we were off on our adventure.

Throughout the retreat I attended, the facilitators offered lots of opportunities for participants to speak up and ask questions, and to visit virtually with each other. Here at The Essence of Yoga Center, building community is part of our heartfelt mission. Our students have a private student portal where they can learn more about each other and access class resources, whether they’re attending online or in person!

The best part of attending a retreat or training online? I got to engage with new practices and learn new things in my space–where I can keep to my routines, sleep in my own bed, and not worry about commute times. Research indicates we learn best when we feel safe, and I found that to be so true with my online learning experience. Most importantly, I didn’t have to delay or cancel my retreat. I was still able to obtain the highest quality educational experience from the safety and comfort of my home.

The good news? You can too! Our 200 Hour Yoga Immersion Teacher Training Program is second to none, and it is now available 100% online. Your yoga, your way. Visit our 200 Hour page or contact us today to find out more!

Just do the twist!

We’ve all heard spinal twists are good for us, but why? The obliques are crucial for our postural support, and they are often neglected, particularly if we spend most of our time seated in a stationary position (ahem…perhaps in front of a computer screen?). But the obliques never have a chance to create a spinal twist if we are using our arms to pull ourselves into the rotation. Using the arms in this way is a cue you might hear often in yoga classes, but we’d like to invite you to try something a little different, and notice the effect on the obliques and on your spine. The arms do have a role, and believe it or not, so do the eyes!

Try out this exploration of a simple spinal twist, and surprise yourself with how good you can feel! You can do this one right at your desk…

Row Your Own Boat

When we hear the name Navasana, or Boat Pose, for the first time in a yoga class, we might think we’re in for a sweet and sunny experience, but for many of us, Boat Pose can be anything but. Depending on the length of the spine and torso, the length of the legs, and existing habits and patterns in the body, we might find ourselves struggling to maintain stability even as those around us are sailing blissfully on.

But sunny skies and calm seas are ahead! Check out the video below for the kinesiological keys to a happy, strong and cohesive boat pose.

Unlock the Power of the Bandhas

The Bandhas, or “locks,” in yoga practice can often feel esoteric, inaccessible or intimidating. However, utilizing the Bandhas in our practice can lend the body greater support and cohesion, as well as improving organ health and overall well-being. The good news is, there is a simple and natural muscular action behind this ancient practice. Try this short practice to “unlock” the mystery of this powerful action!

The Core of the Matter

Image courtesy of Rayner & Smale

We’ve all heard that to ensure a healthy, strong and pain-free back, we need to focus on maintaining or increasing our core strength. However, all core work is not created equally.

For many of us, when we think of the core, we think of what we can see and feel: the “six-pack.” However, there are three additional layers to the core in the front of the body alone! It’s the deepest layer of the core, the Transversus Abdominis, and the “back core,” the Multifidi, which we want to target in our efforts to protect and even rehabilitate the spine.

The good news is that achieving this enhanced core integrity is as easy as breathing. Literally! Try the short practice below to see what we mean…

Evidence based research explains why these two sets of deep core muscles are so important to our ability to move gracefully and safely through our lives. For more information on the Transversus Abdominis, check out this article, and for the low-down on the Multifidi, find more information here.

Our 200 and 300 Hour Yoga Immersion Teacher Training Programs explore these concepts and practices in depth through embodied experience. Want to join us? Check out our upcoming offerings on our homepage.

What’s the Vagus Nerve Got to Do With It?

As the longest cranial nerve, the vagus nerve makes its wandering way from the head all the way down into the lower abdomen. While it might be tempting to think of this nerve carrying information from the brain into the body, the truth is that 80% of its function is to carry information from the body to the brain. In essence, the vagus nerve is responsible for letting the brain know how the body feels. It is our interoceptive nerve.

This short practice is designed to release some of the common tension that arises around the base of the skull, where the vagus nerve “begins” its journey. The more freedom this “vagrant” nerve has as it journeys through the body, the more easily it can communicate crucial information to the brain.

For more innovative self-care tools, consider enrolling in our 200 hour Yoga Immersion Teacher Training Program, beginning October 10th!

Special thanks to our teacher Doug Keller for sharing this work. For more information about Doug, visit him over at

Questions for Clarity and Intention

The short, cold, dark days of winter are ripe with opportunity for the self-care practices I treasure: I huddle and cuddle inside the house with my two- and four-legged loved ones; I take long soaks in steamy baths; I get on my mat and practice yoga nidra to my heart’s content; I walk next to the dog until we find a place where the quiet cold of the winter sunshine rimes the tree limbs with beauty to cover their bareness. And from the fertile ground of all this being, I find the space to reflect.

The frenzy of the last few months–all of the hurdles and hiccups attendant to running a business, and a busy, albeit joyful, time in my personal life–left little time to take stock, to allow pure awareness to transform the bareness of experience into useful beauty. I stumbled upon this article at from the lovely Courtney Martin, and I’ve spent the afternoon considering my answers to the questions she poses, and considering what questions I would add or adapt to ask of myself as a yogi. Here’s what I’ve come up with:

  1. What have I held on to this year? Where have I been resistant to the flow of life? How has this affected my body-mind?
  2. What have I let go of? How have I surrendered? How has this affected my body-mind?
  3. What have I learned through practice this year? About my body? About my spirit? About my mind? What would I like to learn in the new year?
  4. Which relationships have enriched my life this year? What teachers have informed my practice, and my life? Is there a teacher I would like to learn more from in the coming year?
  5. When did I feel most balanced and whole this year? What conditions, actions and/or self-care practices led to that feeling? How can I continue to cultivate those conditions in the new year?
  6. When was I most physically joyful this year? How can I get there more next year? (I just couldn’t improve on this question…it is too good.)
  7. What is my deepest longing, my heart’s desire, my sankalpa? Can I be brave enough to live that desire as true in the coming year?

I’ve scribbled my first answers in my journal. I say first answers, because my wish for myself, and for us all, is that we keep asking, that we keep reflecting, that we keep transforming through this practice we love.

To that end, we here at The Essence of Yoga Center have been working on finalizing the details for our upcoming 300 hour Advanced Yoga Immersion Teacher Training. If your sankalpa leads you to take the next step in your yoga journey, we humbly hope you’ll journey with us.

In gratitude for this year, and in hope for the next,

Cara Sparkman

Did You Know?

You are perfect. Just as you are. And in this moment and every moment, the yoga practice you love is waiting to help reveal your perfection to you. To uncover your inherent wholeness. Will you follow the call?

Our 200 and 300 hour Yoga Immersion and Teacher Training Programs are designed with you in mind. We believe wholeheartedly in:

  • Approaching yoga asana as a tool to foster functional movement
  • Inclusivity and accessibility for all bodies, ages and ability levels
  • Giving ourselves and our community members permission to be ourselves, just as we are
  • Fostering an understanding of trauma, holding a safe space for practitioners and students, and conveying the tools to teach a trauma-informed practice
  • Providing space for students to develop their personal practice
  • Creating a path between interested, dedicated yoga practitioner and an inspired, capable and confident teacher

Our 200 and 300 hour programs take place one retreat-style weekend per month for 12 and 18 months, respectively, and represent a solid investment in your personal development, your future and the yoga you believe in.

Email us today to follow the call!

On the precipice…

In 2009, I found myself on the edge of a cliff. In the steep. At the moment of “about to”.

I had just ended a relationship, moved cities, and changed jobs. My life was in turmoil, but I caught glimpses here and there–like the sun stubbornly piercing the clouds–of stillness, and that place beyond stillness, and I decided I wanted more of that.

So I enrolled in a 200 hour yoga teacher training program. Yoga helped me with the turmoil and the chaos and the anxiety of in-between-ness. Yoga helped me balance on the precipice, and it gave me a path forward. A map to help me move onward.

For a year as I was skillfully guided through the rich and yielding labyrinth of my body-mind, I felt illuminated by moments of that sun-pierced stillness. I began to experience myself as more than myself, and it felt like coming home. I began to understand that yoga is not so much about learning, as it is about uncovering what we already know in our deepest, truest selves, and I felt excited and inspired and called to share what I had gleaned.

I began to teach, and life carried on in the way that life does. And in 2015, I realized it had carried me to another cliff. Another ending-beginning. Another in-between.

The problem with the precipice is that we can’t always see a clear way forward. Sometimes it feels like the only way down is to leap into the nothing-ness before us. We’re handed a map, but it’s partly blank, and life relies on us to fill in the missing pieces.

That map came to me in the form of 300 hour yoga teacher training with Amanda McMaine. I didn’t know where I would end up at the end of the 18 months of study and self-inquiry, but I knew it would be unexpected. I knew that if I leapt into the unknown that I would come out the other side, like that sun through the clouds, more myself than I had been before. Uncovered, and more precious for having been hidden for a little while.


I leapt.