Stephen "Tree Man Steve" Duprey is a transplanted New Yorker, Urban Forester for the City of LA and Garden Advisor for the Peace Garden in Long Beach, CA. He enjoys music, art, military history, biblical archaeology and wood carving, and began his yoga journey in 1973 when he simultaneously dove into the fields of massage and meditation.
Since 2010, he's attended weekly yoga classes with Michelle Chua at his workplace fitness center in Downtown LA and connects with Root 2 Rise Yoga community on Hike + Yoga adventures, sharing his wealth of knowledge about plants on our most recent Waterfall Hike + Yoga at Monrovia Canyon Park in September. He also traveled to Costa Rica for our 2017 Retreat, now planning on his return for June 2018, with an added personal excursion to plant trees in the Costa Rican rainforest beforehand. Reminiscing about the retreat last July, he exclaims, "...whitewater rafting, zip lining, parasailing over the Pacific Ocean and fresh tropical fruits were the BEST!"
Sharing about his yoga practice, he finds gratitude in its ability to ease daily tension and fatigue while increasing his flexibility, saying, "Yoga grounds my body, while the outdoors grounds my spirit." Driven by his belief that humanity's purpose on earth is to find union with the divine, he shares insight from his personal practice, "Find what connects you to the divine. Follow that path--be it yoga, prayer, meditation, service, etc."
Stephen is passionate about his role as Manager/Advisor for the Long Beach Peace Garden, where he has taught youth for the past six years about the value and benefits of growing their own food for a healthier diet and awareness of nature. He deeply believes:
The more they (the youth) garden and learn about nature, it opens up a world of connectedness to plants, smells, tastes, insects, birds and soil. Living things have a magic in them, that iPhones, a can of Coke and a bag of chips cannot match.
Catch Stephen on one of our Hike + Yoga adventures with his gloves and cleaning tools picking up trash before or along our hike.
What's the bigger picture? (A Personal Testimony)
A busy-addict schoolteacher in 2001, I was first attracted to yoga because of how it could physically challenge me to my edge, as I only viewed it as exercise then. In any workout, I often overexerted myself, motivated by self-reprimanding discipline, ego-driven competition or catharsis for repressed emotions. 2006 hit me with a year of frustrating stillness and sadly slowing down, recovering from surgery after a dance injury.
Yoga then played a new role--a tool for genuinely being kind to myself, and thus, awakening to the bigger picture or WHY behind everything I did. I gave myself permission to not always push to my edge--to value rest and balance.
Living abroad teaching in 2009 brought a lot of alone time, amplifying the voice of my inner critic, which fueled much of my obligation to busy-ness and self-torturing workouts. A more dedicated yoga practice began peeling layers of my resistance to vulnerability and learning to listen compassionately to this inner critic, realizing the past experiences that gave it a voice. Love began coloring my approach to exercise, yoga, eating, running, working--everything. Busy-ness became less a currency of my self worth.
When I'm tempted to fall into my old mindset, Mother Nature kindly taps me to look over my shoulder as I'm on my computer intensely doing office work. She whispers through a beautifully fading sunset: Psst...remember the bigger picture. And I go upside down to get a fresh perspective.
Yoga & Mindfulness Writings…
Yoga Sutra Chapter 1 Verse 39 offers another revitalizing tool for attaining the goal of yoga, which is union with greater consciousness, or enlightenment: through contemplation (or dhyana, in Sanksrit) of love. It invites us to act, in daily life and in physical (asana) practice, with the motive of love to help align us with our bigger picture as beings on the path of awakening.
Mindfulness Author Pema Chodron shared:
When things are properly understood, one’s whole life is like a ritual or a ceremony. Then all the gestures of life are mudra, and all the sounds of life are mantra—sacredness is everywhere.
Great Poet Rumi encouraged:
Your task is not to seek for love, but merely to seek and find all the barriers within yourself that you have built against it.
Spinal Twists with Love…
This week’s asana sessions will focus on spinal twists, and their ability to help peel layers of stuckness—in digestion, in the lower back and in the subtle energy body.
Yoga Journal (Sept-Oct 2004) highlights the importance of spinal twists:
After we exert ourselves in forward folds and backbends, twistscan help reset the spine, coaxing it back to an even keel. This makes twisting an indispensable part of yoga practice, since the spine is, after all, the central axis around which we balance the body from left to right and front to back.
To dive into a deeper understanding of yoga postures and how they may lead to energetic release, emotional detoxification or spiritual awakening, I highly recommend reading The Secret Life of Asana, an informative article that provides a general overview of the tools and potency of Hatha Yoga.
Here are a few sample twisting postures:
Here are 4 Principles for Safe & Effective Spinal Twists, summarized from Susi Hately Aldous’ book, Anatomy and Asana: Preventing Yoga Injuries:
Transitions between seasons are a beautiful time to pause and reflect on what you have been creating with your daily thoughts, words, actions and focusing energy on. These mindful moments of self-reflection amid change can empower your awareness to let go of what may no longer align with your life’s purpose or serve useful in our world, as they may have in the past. Thus, you create space for or renew what you now choose to manifest and share with the world. This balance of surrender and non-attachment to goal (or, Vairagyabhyam in Sanskrit) and focused action with steady practice (or, Abhyasa in Sanskrit) are the two main qualities described in Yoga Sutras of Patanjali (Chapter 1, v. 12) for entering the state of yoga, that is, ultimate union with inner and universal consciousness.
At Fall Equinox, we prepare to transition from the leisurely pace of hot summer and its light seasonal cuisine of watermelons, asparagus and kiwi to cool autumn with its busier schedule paralleled by wind and some rain. In fall, nature offers her blessings of heavier produce—pumpkin, apples, brussel sprouts-- to sustain our increased activity and keep warm and nourished. In adapting to the new season, it’s important to nourish your entire being—body, mind and spirit. Here are some ways to use yoga to prepare for your transition into fall:
7-Minute Re-balancing Breath Work
To watch the guided meditation, click here.
Yoga Postures for Creativity & Welcoming Change
Opening the hips through both fluid breath-led movement and sustained postures aid in the clearing of the creativity energy center, called Sacral Chakra or Svadhisthana in Sanskrit. A balanced sacral chakra aligns with your ability to be open to change, take healthy risks with childlike curiosity, express yourself uniquely and embrace your sexuality. Thus, at a time of environmental seasonal change, embodying the natural element of water, as hip-openers promote, can well-equip you with resilience and joy.
10-Minute Yoga Sequence for Opening the Hips
To watch the guided yoga practice, click here.
Guided Meditation on Letting Go to Create
Stay tuned on our social media (Instagram or Facebook) this week for a guided meditation on letting go to create. Either before or after, enrich your meditative state with a nature walk, soaking in with all your senses the natural beauty of the fall season as it comes.
Connect with Community
Besides your personal preparations, gathering with a community of like-minded people also seeking personal growth and positive change offers a supportive and inspiring atmosphere for welcoming the new season. Consider joining a community event, such as Flow into Fall: Flow + Soul Movement + Restorative Yoga with Live Music gathering for increasing vibrations of peace as you enter autumn.
With these many suggestions, choose the practice that best resonates with you, if not all. However you welcome fall, allow your practice to guide you into clarity and grace flowing with life as it unfolds breath by breath, a means of predisposing your inner conditions to fully experience the present moment.
Backbends offer a physical opening of the chest, fronts of the shoulders and front of the torso, down to the hip flexors and quadriceps. Energetically speaking, they open the heart energy center, which encompasses our openness to connect with the world around us with love, as The (Deepak) Chopra Center article elaborates here.
Discover more about backbends and heart-openers in Eckhart Yoga's article, “All About Backbends.”
In exploring heart wisdom, experiencing life openheartedly is being open to the full range of our human condition, both joys and sorrows. Rather than the common tendency to avoid unpleasant feelings, allowing ourselves to completely be present with all that is empowers our capacity for compassion and two important virtues of yoga--equanimity, which is a mindset of non-attachment, and santosha, or Sanskrit for a pervading sense of contentment. A wonderful read exploring this concept further is Seeking the Heart of Wisdom: The Path of Insight Meditation by Joseph Goldstein and Jack Cornfield. (For more practice in living with an open heart, take a peek at Freedom to Flow, our upcoming yoga retreat in Costa Rica.)
Diving into yoga philosophy, here's a yoga sutra that complements the study of expanding your experience of the world, beyond the mind's eye, as extracted from Yoga International:
Yoga Sutra 1.3 - Tada drashtuh svarupe'vasthanam means:
Once the mind is crystal-clear, we begin to perceive the objects of the world the way they are; our perception is no longer distorted. We come to see that material objects are neither good nor bad, neither pleasant nor unpleasant, but neutral. It is our attitude toward them that makes them appear either positive or negative. Once this realization dawns, the mind finds no reason to be agitated. The charms and temptations of the world no longer affect it. Even while it is active in the world, the mind remains still.
In yoga that stillness is known as samadhi—a state in which the mind is free from all disturbances. Yoga likens this state to a perfectly clear crystal that poses no obstruction to light. In this state, truth is known in its fullness. That is called enlightenment or self-realization.
In the Yoga Sutras of Pantajali, Sutra 1.2 defines yoga as “the calming of the fluctuations of the mind.” So, how do we practice this in a Vinyasa Flow class? There are many answers to this question, but let’s explore the union of breath and body while in continuous movement, as is the characteristic of Vinyasa Flow.
Through a consciously balanced steady breath, particularly with the soft whispering sound of Ujayi Pranayama, or victorious breath, you can steady the mind’s focus on the sound and its soothing vibration and tune into an inner calm or sensation of stillness while moving the body from pose to pose. Specifically, during the physically warming Surya Namaskars, or Sun Salutations, the repetitive motions linked to sustained rhythmic breath create a feeling of peacefulness and ease, even while exerting effort in some potentially challenging movements and postures.
This practice of cultivating tranquility from the inside out, through balancing effort and ease, or sthira and sukha in Sanskrit, is an empowering practice that can be transferred to daily life within stress-inducing situations, like driving in traffic or conversing in an escalating argument. As yoga is always a practice, progress may vary with what you’re currently working with—physically or psychologically—in creating this state of equanimity through conscious breath and conscious balance of exertion. However, as with any new skill, diligent consistent practice opens the gateway for mastery.
Practice Sun Salutations A, B and C on our video tutorial here.
Take a look at Sun Salutation A (photo from Mark Stephen’s book, Yoga Sequencing), which are often repeated in various versions in a flow class:
Born and raised in Armenia, Anait came to to the USA with her family when she was 18. She loves helping people, especially the disadvantaged, so she chose the perfect profession to be able to do this. As a special education teacher, Anait loves working with students with special needs and their families.
Anait started her yoga journey at the East Valley YMCA about 12 years ago and have had several teachers since then. Seeking a workout to improve her posture, she walked into her first yoga class with her daughter. Little did she know it was going to become a lifelong activity to enjoy in many different ways. With encouragement from teachers and other yogis, she persisted in her yoga practice overcoming challenges on the journey.
Anait joined the Root 2 Rise Yoga community about 7 years ago when Michelle started teaching at the East Valley YMCA, and has been attending Michelle's Saturday classes regularly since then. She's also attended several retreats, hike + yoga, yoga + meditation + potluck at Michelle's mom's backyard (the original location for Root 2 Rise Yoga's early years of yoga tastings), Sunday yoga at the park and "am always looking forward to what's next," she says, "Every event with Root 2 Rise Yoga has been memorable because it's all about being yourself, sharing who you are and learning from each other."
Anait reflects on insights gained from her 12-year practice:
Yoga has helped me gain confidence and strength in my personal and professional life and in my relationship with my family. As we smile and find joy through even difficult poses and flows, I remind myself to do the same every day of my life. I always remember: smile, and breath, you are not going to be here forever. Yoga has made me stronger physically and emotionally. It has helped me understand myself, my habits--good or bad, and how to overcome them. As yoga poses are always work in progress, so are we as individuals. We continue to grow and hopefully become better in every aspect of our lives.
I am thankful and grateful to have met Michelle. I am always inspired by her energy, courage, love and compassion. As we all know, life happens. There have been periods in my life when I couldn't attend classes but continued my practice on my own and returned as soon as I could. I encourage everyone to not give up, continue taking classes and attending different events. The benefits are incredible for both mind and body. My hope is to join Costa Rica retreat with Root 2 Rise soon.
A Collective Blog about Yoga Lifestyle & Inspiration
REviews of Root 2 Rise Yoga with Michelle chua:
Michelle truly lives out what she teaches. She is so much more than a yoga teacher - I learned this when I went on her exquisitely curated trip that she organized to Costa Rica this past June 2018...Hopefully like me, you'll be delighted by her effervescent love of movement, nature, and all people!
Michelle clearly stands out with her beautiful and bright energy. I love how her practice and teaching encompass body, mind and spirit. She not only teaches yoga but lives and exudes it.
Michelle not only teaches 'yoga', she embodies it fully with her heart and soul...
Michelle is by far one of the best instructors I've ever had, period. Patient, clear in her explanations and demos, and so encouraging...
My first yoga class was with Michelle years ago. You can have the best (yoga pose) sequence and not teach from your heart. With Michelle, I also feel her passion when I'm in her class. I can see she loves what she does, and she inspired me to want to teach yoga, too.
Check out our upcoming retreats here!
I'm so grateful to have met Michelle! Her kind energy opened up my interest in pursuing yoga and meditation. She is such an incredibly light and soul. She starts with grounding ourselves through mindfulness and breathing exercise. She brings the most authentic energy to the class by sharing the history and understanding behind poses, names, and techniques. I truly appreciate her work and impact on my well-being!
I’ve had dozens of instructors over the years, but Michelle is far and away the best yoga mentor I’ve ever practiced with. She epitomizes grace during these difficult times. Michelle has saved my sanity and my back while working from home, keeping me grounded with her sharing of yogic teachings and meditation techniques. Her repertoire of physical asanas is encyclopedic, and I’ve loved learning new poses and stretching my boundaries. Jump in, all. You’ve got this!
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