Mindful Monday: Learning to Let Go

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Why is it so difficult to detach? From things, situations, people. Walking away is always hard because you don’t know what lies ahead. It’s a big risk!! You could be leaving “good enough” for “way worse”!!!

However, in choosing to stay in a less than ideal, uplifting, nurturing, inspiring situation, fear is your captor. And the greater risk is in never having tried; never having had the courage; and most importantly, never trusting in a higher power and purpose to lead and support you.

It may seem safer to remain in a known environment than risk the possibility of ending up with less than you started with. You may feel more in control of your life and feel you have more certainty and stability. Unfortunately, security and safety are states of mind – intangible concepts that are not guaranteed to any human being walking this earth. We all know life can change in an instant – and the mediocrity that we have been clinging to can be snatched from our grasp, leaving us empty handed.

On the flip side, being willing to trade in all you have and all that you have become for just a shot at the opportunity for true fulfillment, purpose, motivation, passion and freedom seems less of a gamble in the bigger picture! Look at your life backwards; how do you want your children and grandchildren to remember you and eulogize you? What will your legacy be? How will you explain your life to your Source after all is said and done?

We are all magnificent, unique manifestations of God’s purpose for us. Yet we spend so much time conforming: seeking approval from others, trying to impress them, wanting their acceptance, that we stifle the very uniqueness that makes us special and relevant.

Your journey has led you to exactly where you are destined to be right now. While you cannot predict the future,  security comes from within and is not attached to what you possess. As we continually listen to our inner voices, we can focus on fulfillment rather than “success.” And you will never look back with regret and longing for what might have been. Trust in the power and beauty of your dreams.

Mindful Monday: Pranayama

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Happy Mindful Monday, YBD friends! What a beautiful winter wonderland we have to feast our eyes on today! As we are moving into full throttle in our holiday preparations, it’s a great time to remember to mindfully BREATHE!

We’ve begun a deeper look into Ashtanga or the Eight-Limbed Path of Yoga as expressed in Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras. In previous weeks, we’ve discussed the first three limbs: the Yamas or the guidelines for social behavior, the Niyamas which refer to how we discipline ourselves, and the Asanas or the yoga poses that we practice together at YBD.

This brings us to Pranayama, the fourth limb, which means breath restraint. The word prana means “life energy” or “life force,” which is the very essence that keeps us alive. And yama means “restraint,” as we discussed in a previous post in more detail. Our breath literally is our life energy, as we animate the mind and body with it.

According to Patanajali, the goal of pranayama is to regulate the breath to make it slow and subtle to facilitate the steady flow of energy throughout the body. It is believed that through control of the breath, life can be prolonged.

Aside from that, breathing techniques and breath control can also be employed to help us to deepen our physical poses as well as calm us down and keep us centered during chaotic, busy or stressful situations. This is something I’m sure we can all use this holiday season!

We’re halfway through our preliminary study of the eight limbs of our yoga practice. The first four limbs refer to the external practice of yoga. Next week, we’ll discuss the internal yoga practice and the remaining four limbs.

Have a great week, yogis! BREATHE. Sweat. Smile!

 

 

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DECEMBER POSE OF THE MONTH: FIVE POINTED STAR POSE

It’s easy in the hustle and bustle of the holiday season to forget to give yourself the gift of self care. Take 3 minutes out of your busy day to practice Five Pointed Star, and afterwards you’ll find yourself feeling more energized, confident and ready to greet your day with a smile!

Five Pointed Star Pose:

  • Spread your arms wide and hover them at shoulder height
  • Step your legs apart so that your feet are in line with your wrists
  • Turn your toes out and keep your heels in
  • Make yourself strong and rooted by pressing into the outside edges of your feet, engage your thighs and feel your kneecaps lift
  • Gently tuck your tailbone
  • Soften your shoulders down your back away from your ears

To find even more joy in this posture, you might take it a step further:

  • Lift your gaze
  • Raise your arms high
  • Turn your palms to shine towards the sky
  • Fan your fingers wide

Benefits of Five Pointed Star Pose:

  • Lengthens and realigns the spinal column
  • Opens and energizes the entire body
  • Improves circulation and respiration

“You are responsible of your own space. Your own well being. Your own light. Take care of yourself first! Heal your own heart and cherish your own body and celebrate your own soul. Then go out there and live. Love. Make a difference! Use the magnificence you’ve created by celebrating who you are, bring it out into the world and make it a better place. It all begins with you.” – Rachel Brathen

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MEET GEORGE, YBD TEACHER OF THE MONTH

We are so very lucky to have this guy as part of our YBD family. You may have seen him welcoming you with a warm smile while studio attending at any one of our 6 studios or maybe have taken one of his kick butt sculpt classes! George goes above and beyond – always. He’s completing his 200 hour teacher training here at Yoga By Degrees so you’ll soon be able to take a Vinyasa class with him! He is a true rockstar! Here’s where you can find him:

 

MONDAY          8:30am Sculpt ELMHURST

TUESDAY         4:30pm Sculpt WESTERN SPRINGS

WEDNESDAY   6:00am Sculpt ELMHURST

THURSDAY      4:30pm Sculpt Fusion DOWNERS GROVE

                            7:15pm Sculpt ELMHURST

FRIDAY              6:00am Sculpt Fusion ELMHURST

SATURDAY       2:00pm Sculpt ELMHURST

When and how did you come to yoga?

After over 25 years of full contact martial arts, my battered body required back surgery. In my recovery state, my wife Linda suggested I try yoga. It didn’t really spark me until after my first class with Meghan that I was hooked. I immediately went to the front desk asking how can I work at Yoga By Degrees.

Why did you start teaching yoga?

I found that being a part of a healthy mind, healthy body and healthy spirit atmosphere is a blessing in and of itself. So being able to teach and inspire others to reach for those things that make us better human beings is inescapable. I love it!

What is your favorite pose?

Crow…I find it challenging and I have slowly learned how to stop trying to muscle myself up and instead focus, breath and balance. Long way to go to perfection though. 

Who inspires your teaching?

In actuality all of the teachers at Yoga By Degrees inspire me. Each one has something that they bring to the table to share with all of the students and teachers alike. I am impressed by them in every class I am lucky enough to take.

Tips for beginners…

Don’t worry about how you think you appear to others in the classroom. Just focus on what you can do. Everything takes time and the only competition in the room is with ourselves. Nobody is paying attention to you anyway, everyone is focused on what they themselves are doing.

What is your favorite quote?

There are so many quotes I can be inspired by…I can’t really pick one. But to share something I will go with:

“Notice that the stiffest tree is most easily cracked, while the bamboo or willow survives by bending with the wind.”

– Bruce Lee

YBD Holding Bone Marrow Drive For Former Downers Grove North Student

Yoga by Degrees is hosting a bone marrow registry drive from 10 AM to 4 PM Saturday and Sunday, Dec. 10 – 11, at two of Yoga by Degrees’ studios, 54 Ogden Ave., Downers Grove and at 914 Roosevelt Rd., Glen Ellyn and encourages anyone between the ages of 18 to 44 to attend and take part the quick registration process. All it takes is a quick cheek swab to be placed on the Be The Match Registry and find out if you could be a match for Cara Pagels or somebody else.

carapic7Cara grew up in Downers Grove and attended Downers Grove High School. After high school she set out to attend college and ended up going to DePaul University. Cara worked at Sawbuck Productions, helping to create and disseminate multimedia materials concerning matters of public health, poverty, substance use/abuse, and other social concerns, such as inequality and racism.

Meanwhile she landed a job at the South Korean Government run, English Program In Korea (EPIK). Cara was enjoying her life abroad until one day all of that changed.

“In my third year of living abroad in South Korea, the life I love came to a halt. Out of nowhere, my ankles bruised and swelled up! I was absolutely exhausted by simple everyday tasks such as cooking or even walking 15 minutes. What has been a whirlwind month, I moved back to Chicago and I’m preparing for treatment.” Said Cara

After several blood tests and a bone marrow biopsy Cara was diagnosed with Aplastic Anemia, a rare bone marrow failure disease. A bone marrow transplant may cure Cara of this life-threatening disease. Unfortunately, her three siblings are not matches, so the transplant will need to come from a donor that is on a donor registry called the “Be The Match Registry”.

Loukia Mastrodimos is a friend of Cara’s. She is currently a yoga teacher at Yoga by Degrees, but she used to work at Downers Grove North, where she met Cara. She reached out to the studio managers for help.

“When I learned that Cara was ill, I immediately wanted to do something to help her. Every teacher has a ‘Cara’ in class. The student who engages with you, takes an interest in your subject, and shows kindness and compassion to her fellow students. We’ve kept in contact since she graduated 8 years ago and news of her illness broke my heart. As a teacher, our students are always our students, no matter how old, and we instinctively want to help them. That’s how I feel about Cara.” Said Loukia.

Be The Match Registry Program has been helping patients receive life-saving transplants. They depend on Be The Match to find a match to save their life. A simple cheek swab is all that is needed to determine if you could be a match for Cara or someone else. The power to change lives is in your hands.
 
According to the Be The Match Registry: “Bone marrow transplantation has been a life-saving therapy for more than 30 years and for many patients, offers the only cure. Thanks to our dedicated researchers, bone marrow transplant has evolved from a new procedure to standard treatment for many life-threatening diseases. Today’s researchers are improving transplantation to increase survival, reduce complications, and possibly treat more diseases.”

Research has already delivered results. Over the past five years, the one-year survival rate for unrelated donor transplants has increased from 42% to 60%, a rate that is now comparable to that of transplants with a family member donor. Survival rates are also higher for many patients, as many now receive transplants earlier in the course of their disease. Research has shown that this improves survival outcomes.

 

Mindful Monday: Asanas or Yoga Poses

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Happy Monday, yogi friends! As we settle back in after our holiday last week, let’s continue our study of Ashtanga or the Eight-Limbed Path of Yoga as expressed in Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras. In previous weeks, we’ve discussed the first two limbs: the Yamas or the guidelines for social behavior and the Niyamas which refer to how we discipline ourselves. So now we move on to our third limb: the asanas or the yoga poses that we practice together at YBD.

The first two limbs prepare us to more fully inhabit this human body through our asanas. The postures that we practice are designed to develop discipline, focus and concentration in order to prepare us, the yoga practitioner, to sit with ease in meditation. The root of the word asana is “as” which means to sit. This is such an important point; the postures practiced in yoga, comprise the third of eight limbs, which factors out to a mere 12.5 percent of our complete practice. In the yogic view, the body is a temple of spirit, and the proper caring of it is an important stage of our spiritual growth. Through the practice of asanas, we develop the habit of discipline and the ability to concentrate, both of which are necessary for meditation (and life!).

The eight limbs are not necessarily developed in a linear fashion. Indeed, I spent the first eight years of my yoga practice firmly mired in the pursuit of the third limb with the other limbs much less developed. This is a common dilemma that we may find ourselves in- which is ok! The entry point of our practice is just that – how we enter into this lifelong practice. Like life, it evolves and transforms with its own natural rhythm.

There is so much focus on the physical portion of our practice, mainly because it appears to be a tangible. But we really cannot actually SEE yoga – we FEEL it. The only alignment instruction Patanjali gives for the Asana is “sthira sukham asanam”, the posture should be steady and comfortable. The next time you are in class, observe yourself:  are you gritting your teeth and tensing in order to find a more advanced variation of a pose? What if you pulled back and focused on calm, steady breathing?

While the asanas are only a small percentage of our complete yoga practice, let’s not forget they are a really fun part of it as well! Have a great week, yogis! Breathe, sweat and smile, my friends!

Mindful Monday: Let’s Give Thanks

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Happy Monday, YBD Tribe! So hard to believe that this is the week of Thanksgiving! The Universe has given us so very much to appreciate this holiday season. As the days finally begin to get colder, and we start to wind down the year 2016, it’s natural to take some time to reflect on all of the ups and downs we’ve experienced.

Yoga helps us to understand that there really are no ups and downs; there is life and its natural cycle and infinite wisdom. It’s in constant motion and transition and transformation. It is our misguided need to control and judge life’s ever unfolding  epic that causes our own suffering.

What we slowly begin to see is that every moment is a blessing and a gift and a tremendous opportunity for true growth.  When things don’t go our way, we learn humility and acceptance. When things do go our way, we learn gratitude and graciousness. When we taste sadness and anger and bitterness and pain, we learn we are human; we realize we must grow in a direction that is uncomfortable. When we taste the sweetness of love, joy, pleasure and sublime happiness, we experience the true purpose of our presence here on Earth.

So as we prepare for the feast of Thanksgiving, whether you are surrounded by family and friends or you are serving complete strangers who are down on their luck, count your blessings. What are you so grateful for in your life? And remember, there’s no real challenge in being grateful for the obvious things; the challenge is in identifying the perceived lows and finding the lesson of gratitude within it.

I certainly count each and every one of you in my blessings! Especially those of you who challenge me into re-thinking and into opening and growing in ways I never expected.

Happiest of Thanksgivings to you, friends!

Mindful Monday: The Niyamas or the Dos of Yoga

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Happy Monday, yogi friends! Wow what a whirlwind we’ve experienced in the span of literally one week! It was a Wednesday night when our Cubbies clinched the World Series and the very next Wednesday morning when we arose to a new President-Elect. During these unsettling times, we are so grateful for the consistency of our practice. We delve more deeply into a complete practice which extends far beyond the ability to bend over backwards or balance on your hands. We covered the age-old question “What is Yoga?” in a previous Mindful Monday post, explaining that it is an eight-limbed practice.

The first of the eight limbs of yoga is the Yamas or the moral and ethical guidelines of the practice. Today we discuss the second limb called the Niyamas or the duties and disciplines practiced by yogis to cultivate structure and confidence. These five tools provide the opportunity to refine ourselves and live more happily and productively. Like the yamas, Patanjali instructs us in the Yoga Sutras to practice the niyamas in thoughts, words and deeds.

Saucha means purification and cleanliness. The sages instruct that not only is cleanliness the foundation for bodily health but also the gateway to deeper and more tranquil states of meditation. Saucha extends to the consumption of pure foods, purity of intentions and thoughts and cultivating a pure body and mind. When we step onto our mats, we are purifying the body by eliminating toxins and by irrigating all cells with fresh blood and prana. We also have the opportunity to purify our minds as we cease the restless monkey mind and direct awareness to physical sensations. That’s why we feel so great after our practice! The mind is docile and we can experience the cosmic force of our own true nature.

Santosha  means contentment. It is about cultivating happiness and joy by learning to maintain equanimity of mind regardless of circumstances. In yoga, we challenge the perceived limits of our minds and bodies beyond the notion of comfort. We purposely make ourselves uncomfortable both mentally and physically on our mats and then practice breathing and finding contentment. In this way, we learn to look beyond an expectation of ease and comfort from life, as we cultivate a sense of gratitude and contentment that springs from deep within us and remains unaffected by temporary external circumstances. The key to santosha is acceptance and joyfulness.

Tapas literally means heat in the context of discipline and determined efforts. Tapas accompanies any discipline that is willingly and gladly accepted in order to bring about a change of some kind—whether it be improved health, a new habit, better concentration, or a different direction in life. Tapas focuses energy, creates fervor, and increases strength and confidence. Hopefully you’ve joined our Grateful Warrior challenge – a great example of discipline and determined efforts. I see so many of you burning your tapas when you drag yourself to a 6 a.m. class or come to practice after a long, stressful day at work rather than going home and having a few beers or a glass of wine. The more we cultivate this disciplined heat, the stronger and steadier we become!

Svādhyāya means self-study. You’ve undoubtedly experienced the benefits of self-reflection and self-scrutiny through your consistent yoga practice. Also, reading spiritual yogic texts and deepening your practice through this study is an important part of evaluating and refining who you are. It helps you to see the truth and make sensible choices, rather than operating on the basis of delusions about yourself or complacency and being on “auto-pilot” which often results in less than ideal decisions.

Ishvara Pranidhana is about surrendering to the divine or the universe. If you believe there is benevolent power greater than ourselves, you can set a silent intention at the beginning of class, devoting your practice to this force, or someone in your life that needs divine love and support. Meditation at the end of class is another opportunity to move your attention away from ‘me’ and focus instead on the divine presence within and without. Also, by surrendering to the divine, it releases you from the pressure of trying to ‘make things happen’ because when you surrender your will to this intelligence, everything flows as it should. Enjoy the doorways that open through being attentive to the divine.

Have a great week, yogis! I’d love to hear from you on ways that you have begun to integrate the yamas and niyamas into your life! Until next time, live, breathe, sweat and smile! Don’t forgot those stickers on the challenge board! You’re earning them one at a time.

Mindful Monday: Season of Gratitude

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Happy Monday, radiant yogis! WOWZAH! What an amazing week we had! The weather, the extra hour of sleep and DA CUBS!! Blessings abound as we enter into this season of gratitude. Take a moment to think of what you are grateful for in your life! An attitude of gratitude can really shift our perspective and make what we have exactly enough.

I’m so grateful for the Cubs historical victory as it has brought the world together in one level of consciousness – truly an example of one love, one energy and how we truly are all connected where it matters most. The Cubs victory was the seventh largest gathering in human history!  As we head to the polls tomorrow, we remember that we all live in the most amazing country in the world, and we all want the same things for our families.

I’m also so grateful for the women and men who serve and have served this great country of ours; people who are willing to give the ultimate sacrifice to ensure that all Americans are safe from harms way. Yoga By Degrees is teaming up with the Wounded Warrior Project, a veterans service organization that offers a variety of programs, services and events for wounded veterans of the military actions following September 11, 2001, to present our GRATEFUL WARRIOR CHALLENGE.

Here’s how it works:

Just sign up at any of our six YBD locations (it’s FREE to join) and take 22 classes in 30 days beginning on Veterans’ Day, Friday, November 11 through Saturday, December 10.

We’ll donate $10 to the Wounded Warrior Project for each of our students who complete the challenge! And for every class that you take, you’ll be automatically entered to win WWP branded items that you can wear with pride along your journey to mark your milestones and show your support of our veterans.

I’m so very grateful to each and every one of you who comprise this amazing community of people who come together to spread love and light and gratitude and peace each and every day.

Have a great week, yogis! Next week we’ll talk about the Niyamas, our second limb of yoga! Until then, breathe, sweat and SMILE!

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NOVEMBER POSE OF THE MONTH: CHILD’S POSE

Child’s Pose, Balasana

Do you keep a Gratitude Journal? For many of us adding another thing to our ever growing to do list may seem like a hassle, but journaling with joy and appreciation in our hearts reminds us to pay attention to all of the abundance that surrounds us and to appreciate the little things we may take for granted.

This November, we challenge you to create a list of 5 things for which you’re thankful. Those who keep a Gratitude Journal are said to experience many benefits including better sleep, decreased instances of illness and greater levels of happiness.

To commence your practice of thanks, begin with Child’s Pose to still your body, heart and mind:

  • Start in a tabletop position
  • Bring your big toes to touch and your knees mat-width distance apart
  • Melt your heart towards the floor as you drop your torso between your thighs
  • Lay your palms on the earth and extend your arms forward
  • Rest your forehead on your mat or a block

To add Anjali Mudra to your practice, bring your palms to touch, bend your elbows and kiss your thumbs to the back of your neck. Anjali Mudra further develops a meditative state and heightened awareness. Allow this openness to spread within you as your reflect on your practice of gratitude and thanks.

Benefits of Child’s Pose include:

  • Reduction of stress, anxiety and fatigue
  • Opening of the heart
  • Provides a soft stretch for hips, knees and ankles

“Gratitude can transform common days into thanksgiving, turn routine jobs into joy, and change ordinary opportunities into blessings.” – William Arthur Ward

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Meet Lola, YBD Teacher of the Month

Have you gotten to take this beautiful yogi’s class yet? Lola completed her teacher training at Yoga By Degrees in the Winter of 2015. Since then, she’s been sharing the yoga love with all of our studios and students. She fills the room with her loving, grounded, positive energy from the moment she walks in the door. We are so grateful to have her as part of our community! Here’s where you can find her:

Wednesdays – Wheaton

YBD 2 105 8:00pm-9:00pm

Thursdays – Western Springs

YBD 2 105 8:00pm-9:00pm

Saturdays – Wheaton

YBD 1 85 2:00pm-3:00pm

YBD 2 105 4:00pm-5:00pm

Sundays

South Naperville

YBD 1 85 9:00am-10:00am

YBD 2 95 10:30am-11:30am

Wheaton

YBD 2 95 4:00pm-5:00pm

 

Get to know Lola:

*When and how did you come to yoga?

I started practicing about 10 years ago and consistently 4 years ago at YBD.

*Why did you start teaching yoga?

In the hopes of Inspiring others and to support and promote all the positives that yoga brings to me and those I know.

*Tips for beginners…

Keep practicing and have an open mind!

*What’s your favorite quote?

Osho: You are not accidental. Existence Needs you, without you something would be missing in existence, and nobody could replace it. That’s what gives you dignity that the whole existence will miss you […]