Mindful Monday: Are you Happy?

Happy Monday, dear ones!

How happy are you at this very moment? Hah! Excellent question, n’est pas?

It’s not a trick question. It’s pretty simple, actually. And the truth is, you are as happy as you want to be. So super simple and straightforward. But …. not even the teeniest bit easy!

We’ve been conditioned to think of happiness as a commodity; a valuable product to be purchased or at least earned through hard work and sacrifice. Buy this face cream and you’ll be beautiful and happy. Buy these hundred dollar yoga pants and you’ll be happy and chic on your yoga mat. Swathe your body head to toe in nothing but the finest fabrics and designer labels. Push yourself hard each day in beast mode – super happy! Don’t ever ingest another animal protein, that will do it! Drink coffee, don’t drink coffee. Do a 10 day silent meditation retreat. Get married. Get divorced. Quit your big job and become a full-time yoga teacher.

Now there’s certainly nothing wrong with doing any of those things listed above. At all. I’ve done all of them and many, many more! (A whole other blog’s worth.) But let’s not confuse those things with happiness, as I did for many decades.

As it turns out, happiness is an inside job.

So… Do you want to be happy? It’s a simple question, in fact, the only question that matters the rest of your life.

And the truth is, you are already so worthy of happiness. There’s no need to chase it or earn it. No certain race or religion has a monopoly on it. Like the sun shining on every living creature, happiness shines on all of us. It is essentially your birthright. Just by being born, you have every right to be happy.

So if you answer yes, it has to be an unconditional yes. Life will still happen to you. People will leave you. You’ll get a flat tire. You’ll be late for work because of traffic. Your teenager will say mean things to you. And many many many more things of that nature going to happen. But you have decided to be happy; those things will not veer you off your course of happiness, unless you let them.

There’s really great reasons to be happy.

I mean you practice yoga religiously to be strong and fit and flexible and healthy. So it’s kind of silly to do all of that and still remain unhappy, isn’t it?

The happier you are, more happy vibrations will be attracted to you. It has a compound effect.

And according to the Dalai Lama, it’s a pretty simple first step.

Perhaps the only step. And while you’re treating every other human with kindness, sprinkle some of that good stuff onto yourself!

Anicca! Anicca! Anicca! Be happy! Be happy! Be happy!

10 Best Beginner Poses For Men

With Father’s Day fast approaching, we got to thinking about all the men in our lives who have not yet experienced the gift of yoga! If you or the guys in your life need a little motivation, here’s the 10 best beginner yoga poses for men
1. Mountain (Tadasana)
Why you should do it: Simple but effective, mountain pose builds a solid foundation for all other standing poses. It strengthens and returns flexibility to your feet, improves your posture, and works your thighs and core.
How to do it: Stand with your big toes touching and heels slightly apart. Balance the weight evenly on your feet and lift up the arches. Engage the thigh muscles slightly to lift up the kneecaps, but avoid locking your knees.
Pro tip: With every inhale, imagine lengthening your spine by stretching your head toward the ceiling. Keep your shoulders relaxed and your shoulder blades drawing down your back.
2. Tree (Vrksasana)
Why you should do it: Like other standing balance poses, tree pose will improve your focus while strengthening the muscles in your ankles, calves and thighs. It also stretches the inner thigh and groin muscles on the bent leg.
How to do it: Shift your weight onto your right foot, pressing it firmly onto the floor. Bend the leftt leg at the knee and place the sole of the left foot on your inner right thigh. Point the toes toward the floor. If this is difficult, you can also place the sole of the foot on the inner calf or ankle (but avoid the knee). Bring your palms together in front of your chest and keep your weight centered over the left foot. Press the right knee back to open the groin while keeping your hips parallel to the front of the room. Release the foot and repeat on the other side.
Pro tip: To improve your balance, keep your attention on the floor a few feet in front of you.
3. Standing Forward Bend (Uttanasana)
Why you should do it: Standing forward bend can calm your mind, while also stretching the hamstrings and muscles of the spine.
How to do it: Start in mountain pose with your hands on your hips, then exhale, tucking your chin slightly toward your chest and bending forward at the hips. (As you fold forward, lengthen the front of your torso to avoid curling the spine.) Relax your head, neck and shoulders and let your arms hang loosely. Place your palms or fingertips on the floor beside or slightly in front of your feet. (If you can’t touch the floor, cross your forearms and grab your elbows.) To come out of the pose, bring your hands to your hips and lift up on an inhale. Keep your chin tucked and lengthen the front of your torso as you come back up.
Pro tip: If your hamstrings are very tight, bend your knees slightly to let the spine stretch toward the floor. Avoid pulling yourself down with your hands—let gravity do the work.
4. Warrior I (Virabhadrasana I)
Why you should do it: Warrior I is often encountered during the Sun Salutation sequence. In addition to improving your balance, this pose stretches and strengthens the ankles, calves and thighs. It also stretches the chest, lungs, shoulders and groin.
How to do it: From mountain pose, step your right foot forward and lift your arms overhead. Turn your left foot 45 to 60 degrees to the left. Bend your right knee until it is over the ankle. Bring the hips parallel to the front of the room. Arch your upper back slightly, lifting your chest up toward the ceiling. Press your palms together, if possible, or keep your hands shoulder width apart with your palms facing each other. Look forward or up at your thumbs. When done, step the right foot back into mountain pose. Repeat on the other side.
Pro tip: The most challenging part of this pose is lining up the front heel with the arch of the back foot. If you feel unbalanced, widen your stance.
5. Downward-Facing Dog (Adho Mukha Svanasana)
Why you should do it: Downward-facing dog, another pose found in the Sun Salutation sequence, strengthens the legs and arms, while stretching the calves, hamstrings, shoulders, hands and wrists.
How to do it: Start on your hands and knees, with your hands just in front of your shoulders and your knees directly below your hips. Press your hands firmly onto the floor, with index fingers pointing forward. As you exhale, lift your knees off the floor, keeping the knees slightly bent. Stretch your tailbone toward the ceiling to lengthen your spine. Press your heels down toward the floor and your thighs back to straighten your legs. Keep pressing the base of your index fingers into the floor and lift along your arms from your hands to your shoulders. Draw your shoulder blades against your back and down toward your tailbone. When done, drop your knees to the floor.
Pro tip: It’s okay to keep the knees slightly bent in this pose—focus more on lengthening your spine. Use your triceps to straighten your arms, but keep the shoulders from moving toward your ears.
6. High Lunge (Crescent Lunge)
Why you should do it: Also known as crescent lunge, this is similar to Warrior I, except with the back heel lifted and the feet about hip width apart. In this position, you may find it easier to keep your hips parallel to the front of the room, but your leg muscles will work harder to maintain your balance. High lunge will also strengthen the arms and stretch the muscles of the groin.
How to do it: Start in downward-facing dog. As you exhale, step your left foot forward between your hands, keeping your left knee over the ankle and your feet hip-width apart. As you inhale, lift your torso upright and bring your arms out to the side and overhead. If possible, bring your palms together—or keep the hands shoulder width apart with the palms facing each other. Press back through your right heel and lift up through the torso. To come out of the pose, bring your hands to the floor as you exhale and step back to downward-facing dog. Repeat on the other side.
Pro tip: Don’t lean forward—keep the torso directly over the hips, and think about sinking your hips straight downward while engaging the back thigh to keep the back leg straight. Don’t let the front knee move ahead of the ankle. To give your legs a rest, drop the back knee onto a mat or folded blanket, and focus on the stretch in your groin.
7. Boat (Navasana)
Why you should do it: While often known for its ab-busting potential, boat pose also works the deep hip flexors, as well as the spine. When you add in the arms, even your shoulders will get stronger.
How to do it: Start seated with your legs extended in front of you. Press your hands into the floor just behind the hips, pointing your fingers forward. Lean back slightly and lift up through your chest, to keep your back from rounding. As you exhale, bend your knees and lift your feet off the floor until your thighs are at a 45-degree angle from the floor. Straighten your legs slowly. When you feel stable, lift your arms off the floor and bring them out in front of you, parallel to the floor with the palms facing each other. To come out of the pose, lower your legs and arms as you exhale.
Pro tip: If your hamstrings are tight, keep the knees bent so you can maintain the neutral shape of the spine—similar to as if you were sitting in a chair. For a more intense workout, lift your arms overhead.
8. Locust (Salabhasana)
Why you should do it: Locust pose is a great way to slowly strengthen your back and prepare you for more challenging backbends. In addition to working the muscles of the spine, locust strengthens the buttocks and the muscles on the back side of the arms and legs. It will also stretch the chest, shoulders and thighs.
How to do it: Lie on your belly with your forehead on the floor and your hands by your hips, palms facing up. Point your big toes toward each other slightly to roll your thighs inward. As you exhale, lift your head, chest, arms and legs off the floor. Rest your weight on your belly, lower ribs and pelvis. As you inhale, lengthen your spine by stretching your head forward and your legs backward. Stretch back through your fingertips while keeping your arms parallel to the floor. Look down or slightly forward to avoid crunching your neck backward. Lower down on an exhale.
Pro tip: As you hold the pose, think about lengthening your spine on every inhale and lifting the chest and legs slightly higher on each exhale. If you feel pinching in the back, lower the chest and legs slightly.
9. Bridge (Setu Bandha Sarvangasana)
Why you should do it: A deeper backbend than locust, bridge pose stretches the front side of the body, as well as the spine and the rib cage.
How to do it: Lie on your back with your arms by your side. Bend your knees and bring your heels close to your buttocks, with the feet about hip width apart. As you exhale, push your feet and arms into the floor and lift your hips toward the ceiling. Keep your thighs parallel as your lift. Interlace your fingers beneath your pelvis and stretch your arms toward your feet. To come out of the pose, release the hands and lower your hips slowly to the floor on an exhale.
Pro tip: In the beginning, you may not be able to lift your hips very high. Instead of forcing it, focus on keeping the thighs parallel and stretching your tailbone toward your knees to lengthen the spine. With each inhale, lift a little higher. To keep the knees from spreading outward, hold a yoga block between your thighs while in the pose.
10. Reclining Big Toe Pose (Supta Padangusthasana)
Why you should do it: One of the best yoga poses for stretching the hamstrings, it also stretches the hips, groin, and calves. Done properly, it will even strengthen the knees.
How to do it: Lie on your back. As you exhale, bend the left knee and pull it toward your chest. Keep the other leg pressed firmly onto the floor while pushing the right heel away from you. Hold a strap in both hands and loop it around the middle of your left foot. As you inhale, straighten your left leg slowly toward the ceiling. Move your hands up the strap until your arms are straight, while pressing your shoulders into the floor. Once your left leg is straight, engage the left thigh slightly and pull the foot toward your head to increase the stretch. Stay here for 1 to 3 minutes. Then lower the left leg slowly toward the ground, keeping the right thigh pressed into the floor. Continue until the left leg is a few inches off the floor. Work the foot forward until it is in line with your shoulders. Inhale your leg back to vertical. Lower the leg and repeat on the other side.
Pro tip: When you extend the leg upwards, press the heel toward the ceiling. Once the leg is straight, engage the thigh slightly and lift up through the ball of the foot.
If you’re a really quick learner and breezed through those 10 poses, try these three challenging yoga poses to really release tension everywhere.
And ready to take on a bigger challenge? Stay tuned to your Inbox for 3 challenging yoga poses for men.
Be sure to forward this article to the guy(s) in your life!

The Best 3 Tips For Beginners

If you or the guys in your life need a little inspiration to get to yoga class, here’s the 3 best yoga tips for beginners:
1. Stay in the back row
For your first few visits, lay your mat down in the back row so you can see what the people around you are doing. This helps you learn, keeps your neck from straining to see what’s going on.
2. Remain calm
Yoga is not easy. Don’t freak out if your athletic build is getting in the way of some moves. Progress is supposed to be slow and steady, and the most challenging aspects are usually what your body needs the most.
3. Focus on your breathing
Deep abdominal breathing is a huge part of yoga, and it activates the parasympathetic nervous system. This lowers levels of cortisol, a hormone that forces your body to hold on to belly fat. Training yourself to breathe deeply through yoga can reduce stress and cortisol levels in your daily life.
Ready to feel a stretch like never before?
Now that you’ve found out why you regularly do yoga, it’s time to lay down the mat and start opening up your hips (and every other joint too).
Be sure to forward this article to your favorite guys!

Pose of the Month: June 2018 Parivrtta Surya Yantrasana

Our June 2018 post of the month is Parivrtta Surya Yantrasana – Revolved Compass Pose or Sundial Pose.

This is a simultaneously grounding and expansive yoga posture with powerful energetic effects. Rich in symbolism, the pose uses the body as an instrument to guide us back home.

This intermediate/advanced yoga posture requires equal parts strength and flexibility. Several areas of the body need to be warm and open before moving into this pose: the hips, groins, hamstrings, shoulders and side bodies.

Getting Into Compass Pose

1 Start seated in a cross-legged position. Place the sole of your right foot on the floor, leaving your left foot where it is, and hug your right knee into your chest.

2 Lengthen your right arm along the inside of your right knee and grab hold of the outside of your right foot. With your left hand behind you for support, lean back as you lift your right foot off the floor until the sole of your foot is facing the front of the room, shinbone parallel to the floor.

3 Holding onto the outside of the right foot with your right hand, flex your foot as you pull the right foot and knee straight back alongside the outer right ribs.

4 Flex your left foot as well, and firm your left inner thigh down to lengthen up through the spine. Then raise your left arm up and across your chest, reaching over the top of your right foot to grab the outer edge of that foot with your left hand.

5 With the left hand holding the right foot, release the right hand down to the floor beside your right hip with your right arm inside and under your right leg.

6 Leaning onto your left hip, pull your right knee further back with your left hand and swing the leg higher up and over your right shoulder (as though you were throwing a purse over your shoulder).

7 Pause and take a deeper inhale. With your left hand griping your outer right foot lean more into your right hand now, and begin to straighten your right leg, pushing your right foot into your left hand, on the exhale.

8 As you begin to straighten your right leg, simultaneously pull back with your left hand, bringing the left arm behind your head, and turn your chest, belly and gaze to the left, looking up under your left armpit.

To release re-bend the extended top knee, remove your right arm out from underneath your right leg and release the foot to the floor.

This pose can easily be modified by using a strap to connect your hand and foot together.

Mindful Monday: Harmony

Happy Monday, friends!

During my meditation this morning, the word harmony surfaced, and an immediate sense of well-being and peace washed through my body.

Such a lovely, fluid word! In music and art, harmony is a blend of various, individual elements to create a pleasing integrated composition.

According to Sri B.K.S. Iyengar, “Any action done with beauty and purity, and in complete harmony of body, mind and soul, is art.”

I’ve experienced those fleeting moments on my mat; when my breath is dominating my mind and I have a hyper awareness of my body balancing on my mat with a sense of ease and lightness. A feeling of effortless effort. Allowing my muscles to engage without any tension or resistance. For those few breaths, time slows down and expands. I am aware of all the energy surrounding me, and I can feel a single bead of sweat trickle down my back. And then a single thought enters my mind, and I waver and my balance shifts and the moment vanishes.

With that awareness of perfect harmony on my mat, I am able to recognize those moments off of my mat as well. Moments walking in nature. That perfect, elusive golf swing. Watching the sun rise and set each day. Sitting in the sun at an outdoor beer garden. Listening and dancing to music. Moments of complete, comfortable silence with a loved one. A few solid breaths of mental stillness during meditation. They are few and far between. But glorious and sublime and perfect.

And the truth is that each moment of life is perfect unto itself. And the human challenge is to cultivate that acute level of awareness and mindfulness to appreciate the full spectrum of life experience. Sadness, happiness, tragedy, good fortune, failure, success, love, fear, profit and loss.

Health refers to the physical body; wellness refers to our state of being. When body, mind and spirit are in harmony, we experience perfect health. I strongly believe that truth health is an integration of how we treat our bodies, but also so much more important is how our minds live in a state of wellness.

The thought of living in harmony with others is perfectly expressed in chapter 49 of the Tao Te Ching.

– 49 –

The Sage has no fixed mind; she understands the mind of the people.

She treats those who are good with goodness.

She also treats those who are bad with goodness

because goodness is the nature of her being.

~

She is kind to the kind.

She is also kind to the unkind

because kindness is the nature of her being.

She trusts people who are trustworthy.

She also trusts people who are not trustworthy.

This is how she gains true trust.

~

The Sage lives in harmony with all below heaven.

Her mind is like space.

People don’t understand her.

They look to her and wait.

She sees everything as her own self;

she loves everyone as her own child.

Of course, these moments are also so fleeting and rare. But such a lovely ideal to move toward!

Harmony in nature was another thought that arose in my sitting today. I believe that to be another complete topic for another time.

It’s imperative to live in harmony within your own body and mind as the initial step to harmonizing with others and nature. Practice and all is coming.

Have the best week ever, friends!

6 Reasons Men Should Do Yoga

YogaMenLogoWith Father’s Day approaching, we got to thinking about all the men in our lives who have not yet experienced the gift of yoga! If you or any guys you know need a little motivation, here’s 6 reasons men should do yoga:
1. Relieve stress
We all find ways to deal with stress but going to amped up gyms or punching a punching bag can make you more aggressive or more tired. Yoga, on the other hand, employs a number of relaxation techniques, which, with regular practice, can make you calmer overall. Along with training your body, yoga trains your mind to see the bigger picture and act from integrity instead of freaking out.
2. Get flexible
Most series of yoga asanas (physical postures) include one or more spinal twists to loosen the many joints that make up your spine. This can improve your tennis game and golf swing, as well as promote detoxification and good digestion. Think of the body as a sponge filled with dirty sink water. Gentle twists help to wring the sponge out and purge toxins.”
3. Build more muscle
Yoga widens range of motion and increases access to more muscle fibers, allowing for more substantial hypertrophy in any given muscle group. Hypertrophy is when a muscle is enlarged because its cells are enlarged (it’s basically muscle growth on a cellular level).
If you supplement your regular lifting routine with yoga classes, you’ll be able to activate ignored sections of muscle. For example, take the serratus anterior or “boxer’s muscle,” which is located under your armpit and over the side of your ribs. This muscle provides stability for your shoulders and is a base for developing deltoids and pectorals. Making your serratus anterior pop will help your abs look ripped, and you can get at it with yoga.
4. Prevent workout injuries
Most yoga classes begin with a reminder to honor your body’s particular needs and limits on that particular day. This basic ability to scan and assess yourself as you practice will help reduce the incidence of injury when running or playing other sports. Plus, flexible, well-stretched yoga muscles will heal and recover more quickly after working out or getting strained.
5. Calm your mind
In the midst of a jam-packed schedule, committing to the relaxed space of a yoga class might be the only way for some guys to slow down and breathe right. A 2013 review found that yoga relieves mild clinical depression, even in people that didn’t take antidepressants. The ancient Indian practice also was found to help you sleep better and longer. Furthermore, A study in the Journal of Physical Activity and Health found that 20 minutes of Hatha yoga stimulates brain function more than walking or jogging on the treadmill for the same amount of time.
6. Smell better
Seriously. Yoga is very much about waste removal. Pheremonally, regular practice is more effective than cologne. Exhaling and sweating help get rid of toxins during class, so that afterward, your sweat really will smell sweeter. After a class your body is cleaner, more confident and focused than when you walked in.
Now that you’ve found out why you regularly do yoga, it’s time to lay down the mat and start opening up your hips (and every other joint too).

Mindful Monday: Pivot and Go With the Flow

Happy Monday, y’all! I had the loveliest of all weekends! Hope you’re enjoying this weather and my favorite time of year as much as I am.

A few days ago I had about an hour of downtime between classes. It was such a spectacular day, so I went to my local forest preserve area with my trusty sidekick Coco.

My plan was to do some much needed grounding work. Summertime with its flurry of activities can really unground me as I have a vata dosha. So quiet, solo journaling in the warmth of the sun was my agenda. And so much what I need to balance and recharge myself.

As I was writing in my journal, Coco made friends with another Yorkshire terrier; and the dog’s mother wanted to make friends with me!

My initial reaction was resistance to being drawn away from my contemplative activities. I only had an hour between classes. I’d been hustling for the past few days. I hadn’t had much downtime. I’d been outputting so much, and I really needed some time to refill my tank. I was on a roll developing such a great thought in my journal. And it would have been pretty easy to shut down the conversation and carry on with my original plan.

But rather than react to my initial resistance, I responded to the woman and her dog. I put my journal down, and I ended up having the loveliest time with Alice and her dog Missy.

Alice is 79 years old, and we talked about everything from God to yoga (of course!) and I got some really great insight on parenting. Coco and I also got invited to her family reunion in July. Heck yeah we’re going!!!

It was such a strong reminder to me how easy it can be to just pivot and go with the flow! It’s definitely important to know the direction you’re heading, and to have somewhat of a plan to get there. It’s also so important to be open to detours. Enjoy those moments where you are seemingly off-track, because that’s where you get the little nuggets from life.

This week, let’s really cue into all of the subtle indicators and reminders from the universe that let us know we’re still on the right path.

Hope to see you on your mat this week as we kick off our Summer Challenge!

Anicca! Be happy, yogis!

Mindful Monday: Memorial Day

Good morning and Happy Memorial Day, friends.

This holiday weekend always brings me right back to my public sector roots. I worked more than a dozen years in state and then municipal government. My former bosses State Treasurer Judy Baar Topinka and later Naperville Mayor A. George Pradel were both huge advocates of the military. Treasurer’s son Pepe serves as a JAG officer in the Army and Mayor Pradel himself served as a Marine.

So I spent many memorial days walking in parades and attending memorial services.

Memorial Day is the time to show honor and reflect upon those that have given the ultimate sacrifice in the name of our nation. Officially declared by Congress in 1968 as the final Monday of May; Memorial Day exists to honor our countries fallen.

Whether relaxing by a pool side barbecue or taking that out of town trip, Memorial Day weekend has evolved into a celebratory and festive time and an unofficial kickoff to summer vacation.

Many will argue that the weekend has lost its value and meaning amongst Americans today. We may not all visit a burial site or attend a ceremony for the fallen, but we should all take a personal moment to reflect and remember those that were lost. I can think of no better way to honor those that have fallen in the name of this country, than to live the greatest life that we can within our communities. I hope you live today in remembrance of those that have fallen, respectfully honoring their self-sacrifice that give us the freedoms we enjoy each day.

I always take a moment to remember the families of those who gave their lives in the support of the ideals of our nation as well.

Our studios are open today with a holiday schedule with last classes at most locations at noon today. 11 am in South Naperville. Please check the schedule at all of our locations to find the time and format that works for you!

Happy memorial day, friends!

Mindful Monday: Blessings Counted

Good morning, mindful ones!

As I lie here in my warm, cozy bed admiring the sounds of rain and thunder, I am overcome with the feeling that today is a great day to be alive!

Right now is the perfect moment to count my blessings.

  • It’s a blessing that I woke up this morning.
  • That I am able to hear all of the sounds of nature.
  • That I am in a warm bed sheltered from the rain.
  • That my hands can hold my phone and I have fingers to type.
  • It’s a blessing that both of my parents are still alive and healthy and strong.
  • My son Julian is my blessing and my teacher.
  • It’s a blessing to have a brother and nieces and nephews. And cousins. And uncles and aunties.
  • I’m blessed to be healthy, happy and so darn clever 😜
  • I’m blessed to have amazing friends in my life; old and new, gold and silver. Some since kindergarten!
  • I’m so blessed to have my yoga practice.
  • It’s a blessing to have so many talented and wise yoga teachers and students.
  • I am blessed to have all of my hurts, disappointments and sadness for all of the wisdom and experiences they’ve brought.
  • I am blessed to experience the full range of human emotions in this life experience.
  • I am blessed to work at yoga by degrees and actually make my passion a career.
  • I am blessed my little Coco is in my life.
  • I am blessed to be surrounded by love always. And to finally see it and appreciate it.
  • It’s a blessing to have running water and access to clean drinking water.
  • It’s a blessing to have electricity.
  • I am blessed to have a vehicle to get me through my day safely with ease and comfort.
  • I’m blessed to be able to share my thoughts with you through this blog.

Won’t you take a few moments this morning to count your blessings?

You are a blessing to me and so many others.

Anicca! Anicca! Anicca! Be happy. Be happy. Be happy.