Month: April 2014

Your Brain on Meditation


A glimpse of the physical change meditation causes in your brain.

“Yoga citta vritti nirodhah.” –Yoga Sutras 1.2

Translated: Yoga is the cessation of the fluctuations/disturbances of the mind. The ancient text (Yoga Sutras) outlines this yogic idea among other many other guiding principles for practicing yogis.  These sutras have helped centuries of yogis on their path.  Now, modern science has proven that yogic meditation reorganizes your brain and trains your brain to better concentrate, feel more compassion, and cope better with stress.

In our society, we have become accustomed to multi-tasking so our brains are usually doing many jobs at once.  Most of our brains are functioning in high gear for the majority of the day.  This powerful state usually shows beta wave readings in the brain.  Beta waves are not bad for you but overdoing it can cause stress-related illness or burnout.  Meditation gives you control of your brain waves. You have the power to literally change your mind and move away from thoughts that don’t serve you. Just through this mindful practice, you can restructure the anatomy of your brain.  Meditation trains your brain so you are able to focus on one thing. This single-pointed focus can be on a number of things including: your breath, a repeated mantra, or a goal that you are working on. Meditation makes you better attuned to receive the answers, tools and resources you need to fulfill your vision. It accomplishes this by developing your capacity to modulate and regulate the different frequencies of brain waves emitting.

In a 2009 study, Luders and colleagues compared the brains of 22 meditators and 22 age-matched nonmeditators and found that the meditators (who practiced a wide range of traditions and had between 5 and 46 years of meditation experience) had more gray matter in regions of the brain that are important for attention, emotion regulation, and mental flexibility. Increased gray matter typically makes an area of the brain more efficient or powerful at processing information. Luders believes that the increased gray matter in the meditators’ brains should make them better at controlling their attention, managing their emotions, and making mindful choices.

Considering all these benefits may peak an interest in sitting and meditating.  Seated meditation can be such a daunting task for those of us with Western minds.  Developing a disciplined seated practice can take years of patience and perseverance.  My favorite alternative to finding a seated meditation is to find meditation on the yoga mat.  In your yoga practice, you can access a moving meditation.  When you become focused on linking your breath with movement in a vinyasa flow, your mind no longer has time or space to obsessively fluctuate.  Instead of the endless to-do list, your attention is drawn to the rhythm of your breath.  According to Yoga Journal, for the past decade, researchers have found that if you practice focusing attention on your breath or a mantra during a yoga session, the brain will restructure itself to make concentration easier. If you practice calm acceptance during meditation, you will develop a brain that is more resilient to stress. And if you meditate while cultivating feelings of love and compassion, your brain will develop in such a way that you spontaneously feel more connected to others.  If you embark on this meditation journey, be patient with your human nature as you restructure and retrain your brain waves.

Pose of the Month: Fallen Angel



Side Crow Variation: Fallen Angel Pose

Strengthens the arms, wrists, and belly while improving balance.
Start in a squat position balancing on the ball-mount of both feet.
Begin to rotate and lengthen out of your side body while firmly planting both palms to the left or right. Hands should be shoulder width apart like in chaturanga.
Gaze 6 inches in front of you as you begin to lean forward, engage your core while your triceps support your knees your feet float up from your mat.
Once you have established balance on your triceps, gently support your head,cheek and ear to your mat. Begin to draw your knees into your chest while stretching your top leg up.
Use blocks under your palms to help support your weight.

Meet our YBD Teacher of the Month: Meghan

Meet the lovely Meghan, our inspiring Yoga by Degrees Teacher of the Month!  Meghan is a 200-hour certified yoga teacher, certified sculpt teacher, co-leader of our Sculpt and 200-hr Teacher Training programs AND Manager of our Western Springs location. Phew! What a busy gal. 🙂 You can enjoy Meghan’s classes in Western Springs and Elmhurst.  To check out Meghan’s class schedule, visit our website: .

So Meg….

When and how did you come to yoga?

As a dance major at University of Wisconsin, Madison, my body was exhausted and overworked. Frequently, my professors would use Yoga as a way to warm up before class and center before large performances. I felt an instant connection to the flow of movement and breath. It felt like I was dancing, but I could allow my mind to slow down, unlike my dance training where my mind was constantly stimulated trying to remember combinations and choreography. After college I started teaching dance and choreographing professionally full time and because my intense training schedule slowed down I finally stepped into an actual Yoga studio. That was it, my mind, body and spirit changed and began to lead me to a passion that was so deeply connected to my dance training yet so different. This experience has lead me to firmly believe and tell my students with passion that, ‘your body will always lead you where you need to be’.

Why did you start teaching yoga?

My now husband and I moved to Chicago in the Spring of 2011, I left all my dance behind….for love, awwwwwwwwwwwwwww 😉 haha, but really I left all the work I had created behind, but it felt right. Once we moved here I was left pondering what to do next, and suddenly the choice became obvious. I just felt that my love of yoga was leading me to begin teaching this practice to others, so I enrolled in teacher training in the summer of 2011. My first job, class and students were at Yoga by Degrees, and I have never looked back. 🙂 Still here and loving this space, community and practice.

What is your favorite pose?
I know you are expecting to hear, ‘Dancer’  ;), but my all time favorite pose is Half Moon.
Who inspires your teaching?
Most definitely my students and fellow teachers. One of the things I love so dearly about Yoga is that it is translated to ‘union’, and for me this is what it is all about, collectively creating and practicing Yoga together as a community. I love watching my students practice and transform it is the most powerful and fulfilling thing for any teacher, this inspires me. I am amazed every time I take a teacher’s class, at the different ways we all translate the practice into teaching, this inspires my teaching and helps me to grow as a teacher.
Tips for beginners…
Let go of how you think your body should look in a posture and really begin to get into how you feel. Stay safe and honor correct alignment, but allow your body to move in a way that feels good for you. Close your eyes often in postures so that you can get into the sensation of the pose, even if you fall out. Remind yourself that yoga is a practice not a perfection, and most importantly trust yourself and your body-it will lead you exactly where you need to be, on and off the mat.
What’s your favorite quote?
“Peace. It does not mean to be in a place where there is no noise, trouble or hard work. It means to be in the midst of all those things and still be calm in your heart.” unknown.

Community Love



Yoga by Degrees has been cultivating a strong community that can breathe, sweat, and smile together through the practice of yoga. Yoga is a lot more than the physical postures—it is a way of life.  Yoga by Degrees is excited to launch a new program, Community Love.  This karma yoga is designed to recognize and support individuals and organizations nominated by our students and staff within each studio’s immediate geographic area.  This opportunity is aimed to encourage the practice of service to others in the presence of yoga.

Community Love’s first devotion goes to Vayda, one of the Wheaton community’s littlest members.  Vayda is a 2 ½ year old, blue-eyed beauty, with a spunky personality.  Right now, she is facing a BIG challenge that took her parents and family by surprise on December 3, 2013.  Vayda has been diagnosed with Pre B Acute Lymphocytic Leukemia (ALL).

Since December 3rd, she has received five rounds of chemo and has a 2 ½ year treatment plan ahead. Vayda’s sisters, her parents, and uncle, a member of our YBD community, have been by her side constantly since the news broke.  They are armed with warriors including friends and family ready to help pull her through this “road map” of cancer treatment.

Spiritual and emotional support is abundant, but some have expressed a desire to provide more.  Here’s a chance. The funds contributed by people like you, will be used solely for Vayda’s out-of-pocket medical expenses, travel and other treatment incidentals.  Yoga by Degrees in our Wheaton location is accepting checks payable to Dan Marco, memo Vayda, in our donation box.  Alternatively, you can purchase a set of handmade mat straps for $15; 100% of the cost will be donated.  Yoga by Degrees donated $2 for every individual who attended class on Saturday, March 29th. Keep an eye out for another special donation class in April.  Donations for Vayda and her family will be collected through April 30th. Donations can also be done online at:

If you have a nomination for the next individual or organization for Community Love, please contact: to share ideas with Yoga by Degrees.