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January 2019 Pose of the Month: Utkatasana

It’s 2019!! Our very first pose of the month this year is Utkatasana or Chair Pose.

Utkatasana or chair pose featured on the right

Here’s how:
Stand with your feet together, with your big toes touching. Beginners can stand with their feet hip-distance apart.

Inhale and raise your arms above your head, perpendicular to the floor.

Exhale as you bend your knees, bringing your thighs as parallel to the floor as they can get. Your knees will project out slightly over your feet and your torso will form approximately a right angle over your thighs.

Draw your shoulder blades into your upper back ribs as you reach your elbows back towards your ears. Do not puff your ribcage forward. Draw your tailbone down to the floor, keeping your lower back long.

Bring your hips down even lower and lift through your heart. There will be a slight bend in your upper back.

Shift your weight into your heels. Enough weight — approximately 80 percent — should be transferred to your heels so that you could lift your toes off the mat if you wanted to.

Keep your breath smooth, even, and deep. If your breath becomes shallow or strained, back off a bit in the pose until breathing becomes easier.

Spread your shoulder blades apart. Spin your pinky fingers toward each other so your palms face each other, rotating your arms outward through your thumbs.

Gaze directly forward. For a deeper pose, tilt your head slightly and gaze at a point between your hands.

Hold for up to one minute. Then, inhale as you straighten your legs, lifting through your arms.

Exhale and release back.

Happy new year, friends!

Mindful Monday: You Don’t Have a Soul

Good morning, mindful ones!

You don’t have a soul!

I’m not saying that you’re soulless, lol!

I’m saying that you ARE a soul. And you HAVE a human body.

And … Here is a perfect specimen of a human body.

The body is just a temporary house where your soul currently resides.

You have your physical body comprised of bones, skin, muscles and human “filth.”

And then there’s the energetic body, where prana or literally life animates the physical body. This is your circulatory, cardiovascular, digestive and lymphatic systems.

Then we have the mind. This is where most of our troubles and suffering begins. Here we create thoughts that are manifested as emotions and thus drive our actions. The mind is very limited. It’s compiled mainly of opinions about life experiences.

Fortunately we have the intellect, which has the power of discernment and logical thought. But we don’t dwell here consistently.

The final journey is within: our blissful body. In this state of being there is no thinking or suffering just vast and endless bliss. Unfortunately we spend very little time here.

The goal of our practice is to continue to connect to our blissful state and lengthen the time that is spent there.

Everything that we do affects our state of being.

The human body is literally the food that we consume. What you ingest creates the new cells of your body. Foods have different energy vibrations which affects our bodies down to the cellular level.

Our mind is shaped by how we react to life events. Do we resist? Do we think life is unfair? Do we compare ourselves to others? Who do we associate ourselves with?

The intellect is formed by how we nourish our mind. Do you spend endless hours trolling social media? Do you read books that uplift your soul and spirit? Do you watch violence and reality TV?

Meditation and yoga are two very direct paths toward a blissful state of existing. Someone can give you a direct map to get there, and many of our spiritual leaders and religious leaders have done exactly that; but you alone must walk the path. Nobody can do that for you.

Remember that your body is just a shell. Enjoy all the experiences of being human and honor the full range of those experiences. But also honor you are so much more than that.

You are light. You are love. You are kindness and compassion and patience and tolerance.

Be kind to yourself but remember your soul.

Have a great week, yogis!

Namaste

Mindful Monday: Begin Your Day with Intention

Good morning my beautiful, mindful friends!

Yesterday evening at our Western Springs studio, a small, committed group of 25 yogis met to embark on a 21 day journey toward wellness.

As we explore how we fuel (and poison) our bodies over the next three weeks, we will learn so much about all other area of our lives.

How you do anything, is how you do everything.

So if you weren’t able (or ready or willing) to join us, hopefully you can follow along with us with a mindfulness practice toward any other area of your life!

Lessons will be learned!

How can you participate along with us? There are a few ways!

1. Start a journal. Observe yourself and write about it!

One year, Sandy S. did the cleanse with us, and it was the first time in her four plus decades that she had ever stopped and given a single thought to herself about herself! She’d been so busy raising her three beautiful daughters, there was never any time leftover for herself. She found the journaling process so liberating and insightful, and it helped her deal with her empty nest.

2. Practice gratitude! When you wake up in the morning till you go to bed at night, search for every little thing to be grateful for.

I had flat tire yesterday and I was so grateful! Lol. Why on earth was I grateful? Well, I had driven to and from Michigan for the weekend, and made it both ways safely. When I got in my car yesterday to drive to kick off the cleanse, that was when I noticed the tire air pressure was low. Rather than panicking about being late, I called the studio and sweet Elizabeth was the studio attendant and said she would set up the studio for me. I filled the tire and zipped over to Western Springs. I was grateful that I was able to make it to kick off the cleanse and not disappoint 25 eager, dedicated souls! I was grateful that I made it home safely last night, even though I had to stop three times to fill up the tire with air. I’m grateful that Monday is my only morning off during the week, and I was able to get everything handled! I’m grateful that it was just a nail and I didn’t have to purchase a new tire. Gratitude is the key to happiness and to feeling in control of any situation.

3. Meditate each morning.

Start your day with intention and purpose and focus. Have a plan and goals for your day, but be flexible enough to switch up your schedule to say yes to a friend. Know that it’s not the end of the world if your list doesn’t get done today.

Have a beautiful day, dear souls, on this beautiful rainy Monday! Yes I’m grateful for the rain because I get to wear my rain boots!

Mindful Monday: Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays

Good morning and happy Monday!

Sending Christmas warmth and well wishes to all of our YBD family with a special dose of LOVE to those out there who may be far away from family – either through a physical distance or an emotional gap. Know that you are LOVED and CHERISHED every single day of each year of your life! Family isn’t always about blood – but rather those that surround us and care for us, love us, support us and root for us!!! And of course the most important love of all – love for your true, authentic SELF!!!

When we spend time together practicing yoga, sweating, falling and getting back up, allowing ourselves to be vulnerable and opening our hearts to one another, we pretty much define a family.

And if you still have some last-minute shopping to do, here are some Christmas gift suggestions:

To your enemy, forgiveness. To an opponent, tolerance. To a friend, your heart. To a customer, service. To all, charity. To every child, a good example. To yourself, respect.

ANNICA! ANNICA!! ANNICA!! BE HAPPY!! BE HAPPY!! BE HAPPY!!!

Mindful Monday: Holiday Stress

Good morning, mindful ones! We are in the home stretch for this holiday season and for this year!

When things are at their most frenetic pace and we find ourselves running around to holiday gatherings and for last minute gifts; it’s more important than ever to pause, breathe and reflect.

We live in the most technologically advanced time in human history. Anything we could possibly need is a phone call or even a click away and can be delivered right to the doorstep. Food is abundant (overly abundant!) We have instant heaters, electric blankets, reliable electricity. We have an endless supply of clean water that can also be warmed to any temperature for a hot cup of cocoa or a warm bubble bath.

There has never been a better time to be a human being. And we live in one of the best countries in the world in terms of economic opportunity, political stability, public safety and quality of life.

Pause. Wow we’re so lucky!!! Gratitude is truly the highest vibration. And it’s pretty darn easy to find a zillion things to be grateful for in this nation, even more so in our communities!

That being said, depression, stress and anxiety are at all time levels in our country! And they are predicted to continue to rise.

Well, that’s pretty puzzling, wouldn’t you say?

Actually, it’s really not … Because stress is an internal condition, not an external one!

Sure there’s tons of things happening right now: overstimulation of all the senses if you step foot in the mall (which I have pretty much successfully avoided this holiday season) or basically even out of your house.

But it’s our reaction that causes the stress! It’s how we process all the external stimuli that bombards us that can potentially create an internal state of stress.

Listen, it’s the holidays. Even the most well-adjusted, “normal”, traditional families will face some type of family drama.

And for the rest of us, it can get much more complicated. Single parents, people who have lost loved ones, those with social anxiety and even people with no family or friends to celebrate with.

“The most wonderful time of year” may be even more challenging for those struggling, because there’s the added expectation that everyone is in a carefree, celebratory state.

So with all of this emotional turmoil many people are facing, it’s really no surprise when people overreact to every day situations like waiting in line or driving in traffic.

People may snap more or react rudely. Let’s be honest, we see this behavior very often, unfortunately. When people are stressed, their fight or flight mode kicks in which can often lead to aggressive and anti-social behavior.

So let’s not pretend to be surprised when we witness this behavior, and be so gentle with yourself if you find yourself getting a little snappish or prickly.

And it always comes back to breathwork.

The reason you sweat it out for endless hours on your yoga mat is training for these very moments in life.

If you find yourself in a situation where you’re about to lose your marbles, take a moment to breathe slowly and mindfully and then breathe out. Allow yourself a few moments to pause to give yourself the opportunity to react in a way that you will be proud of and won’t create more anxiety and stress when you think back to that moment.

Reacting to someone else’s stress is your choice. Choosing to take a few breaths and remain stable and grounded is the best thing for your personal health and wellness. And your grounded energy might be just the anchor someone is searching for who may be tail spinning out of control.

In these critical moments in life, there is tremendous opportunity for our personal evolution. And trust me these opportunities are abundant year round! Can we cultivate compassion for ourselves and for one another during this holiday season?

It can make all the difference in someone’s life. We never know the burden they’re carrying.

Remember, kindness and compassion will revolutionize the world.

We got this, you guys!!

Mindful Monday: Miracles

Good morning and happy Monday, mindful ones!

Let’s talk about miracles! I totally, 💯 percent, without a shred of doubt in my mind or body, believe in miracles!

That’s a pretty bold statement; but it’s totally true. Well, what is a miracle?

According to the Dictionary:

• a surprising and welcome event that is not explicable by natural or scientific laws and is therefore considered to be the work of a divine agency.

• a highly improbable or extraordinary event, development, or accomplishment that brings very welcome consequences.

• an amazing product or achievement, or an outstanding example of something.”a machine which was a miracle of design”

According to me:

It is when the seemingly impossible happens!

• It’s when doctors have given up on a sick child and for no scientific reason, that child gets well.

• It’s when you’re down to your last dollar, have piles of bills to be paid, and a check arrives in the mail from some unknown source or an opportunity arrives out of seemingly nowhere. (This literally happens to me almost every single month!)

• It’s when a huge natural disaster hits and you are somehow spared in the midst of it.

• It’s on 9/11 and you stop to buy cigarettes before going to your job in the World Trade Center, and smoking saved your life.

• It’s when a child is born and you can’t believe how exquisitely miniature this new life appears.

• It’s when my brother was in Mumbai on business back in 2008 and his associate talked him into having one more drink before heading back to his hotel which was attacked by terrorists at that exact moment. Drinking literally saved his life!

• It’s watching the sunset on a deserted beach in Hawaii filled with a sense of awe and wonder and the deepest feeling of gratitude.

• It’s when you’ve prayed for a specific purpose and that prayer is answered.

• It’s when there is no earthly reason something wonderful has happened.

• It’s the sun rising and setting each and every day.

Miracles take place everyday. Sometimes they’re very subtle and quiet, sweeping in like a touch on the face. Other times, it’s very evident and public. It doesn’t matter who you are, miracles can and do happen to all of us!

If you take a moment to pause and reflect, you’ll start to see all of the wonderful miracles that have happened in your life.

Have a miraculous Monday, friends!

Mindful Monday: Giving Thanks

Good morning and Happy Monday, mindful ones!

Wow, it’s already Thanksgiving week! The holiday falls a bit early this year, and 2018 has flown by very quickly.

As we wind down for the year, it’s always a great opportunity to pause and reflect on all of the countless blessings that we’ve been given.

Gratitude is definitely a theme I use throughout the year; for me it’s an every day attitude I work on cultivating.

I’ve learned that when I search for things to be grateful for, it definitely impacts my mood positively. It makes me feel lighter and happier for sure.

I’ve also found that when I focus on all that I’m grateful for and what I do have, I can find contentment and appreciation.

It’s a perspective shift to find thankfulness for things we may take for granted because we’ve always had them. Or people who we assume will always be around.

It’s so prevalent in our society to think we need more. Especially as we gear up for the already-here holiday season.

Gratitude is the highest vibration that we can emit as human beings. It attracts more abundance and blessings.

As we gather with friends, family and loved ones this week, what are you truly thankful for?

Can you identify some perceived challenges or setbacks that you’ve experienced this year or even throughout your lifetime, and find gratitude for them? For the opportunity to grow, overcome, strengthen and transform?

Our trials and tribulations ultimately level us up to live with more awareness, compassion, humility and grace.

I’m eternally grateful to you, dear sweet yogis! And for all the yogis who have come before us and for all those who will carry on this sacred tradition when we are all long gone.

May this Thanksgiving season be filled with love, gratitude and continued blessings on your journey.

All 6 of our locations will be open Thanksgiving morning, so please check the schedule!

November 2018 Pose of the Month: Virasana

For our November 2018 pose of the month, we are featuring Virasana or Hero Pose to honor all of the veterans that sacrifice so much personally so that we can enjoy the freedoms and opportunities of our wonderful nation.

Hero pose can be quite challenging for many, so we will offer several suitable variations.

There are numerous benefits in practicing this pose:

▪ Stretches the hips, thighs, knees, ankles and feet

▪ Improves circulation and relieves tired legs

▪ Strengthens foot arches, relieving flat feet

▪ Improves digestion and relieves gas

▪ Helps relieve the symptoms of menopause

▪ Improves posture

▪ Therapeutic for asthma and high blood pressure

▪ Great alternative to lotus or easy seated pose during mediation.

▪ During pregnancy it helps to reduce swelling of the legs (through second trimester).

▪ Useful in Asthma and high blood pressure.

To get into Virasana:

Start from a tabletop position; bring your knees together and splay your heels apart.

Begin to ease your sitting bones back, trying to keep your knees together.

When you’re about halfway down to seated, reach back and externally rotate the fleshy part of your calves.

Ease back and down into a seated and upright position.

Straighten your spine: stack head over shoulders, shoulders over hips with a lift through the crown of your head. Puff through your chest, drawing shoulder blades down your back away from your ears.

You can always place a block between your feet and sit on the block.

Close your eyes and breathe deeply anywhere from 30 seconds to five minutes. You can gradually build up the time.

If you’re not feeling much sensation, and only if you’re not sitting on a block, you can start to ease onto your elbows, keeping chest uplifted and shoulder blades down your back.

For a deep expression, lower all the way onto your back and extend your arms overhead catching opposite elbows for Supta Virasana or reclined hero pose.

Your full expression is an advanced posture requiring very open quadriceps and flexibility in knees and ankles. This final expression is entered through bridge pose or setu bandha sarvangasana.

From bridge pose, walk your heels in closer to your back and tuck your toes underneath you lifting your heels. From here, gently ease your knees to the floor gently rolling to the crown of your head. Energetically extend your arms overhead and breathe deeply into chest and throat chakras!

Mindful Monday: Thank you, Veterans

Good morning and happy Monday, friends!

Veterans have such a huge place in my heart. Back in my political days, I would spend the day advancing my former bosses at local Veterans Day ceremonies and observances.

I worked closely with Lt. Col Jim O’Rourke as he advised the state treasurer Judy Baar Topinka on military affairs. Judy’s son Pepi is a JAG officer in the U.S. Army. And Naperville Mayor George A. Pradel proudly served in the U.S. Marine Corps. It was during those times that I truly understood the magnitude of what veterans actually sacrifice for our country.

Let’s remember that veterans are defending us 365 days a year. So often the heroism of our veterans from the American Revolution to the Global War on Terrorism is sometimes unnoticed by those of us who enjoy the security that their sacrifice has provided.

I was in the airport a couple of months ago, and I saw many groups of various military in uniform ready to be shipped off to their respective new homes – they were all barely out of high school. Just babies! Imagine leaving your home and every comfort you’ve ever known at the tender age of 18 to be subjected to a drill sergeant who will yell at you, humiliate you and push you to your physical limits.

I’m so very grateful for our veterans who endure long separations from their families, miss the births of their children, freeze in sub-zero temperatures, bake in wild jungles, lose limbs, and, far too often, lose their lives.

And special thanks are due to the military spouses who must endure career interruptions, frequent changes of address, and a disproportionate share of parental responsibilities.

And my heart belongs to the children of active military who deal with frequent changes in schools, separation from friends and, hardest of all, the uncertainty of whether or not Mom or Dad will live through their next combat tour.

Thank you so much to all who have served and all who serve this day. Your sacrifices are so deeply appreciated. You are our true heroes!

At Yoga By Degrees, we offer special military pricing so that our veterans know how much we deeply love and respect them and all of their sacrifices. It is always an absolute honor to share our beloved yoga practice with them. Many of our students have shared with me their myriad of injuries sustained in the line of duty, including shrapnel still lodged in their bodies! To say we are deeply humbled is an understatement.

Have a great week, yogi friends. Let’s remember and honor our heroes each and every day.

Mindful Monday: Daylight Savings

Good morning and happy Monday!

Well it’s my favorite weekend between Halloween and Thanksgiving … the weekend where we gain an hour of extra time!

Time is the most precious of all commodities. Money flows in abundance all around us. Fortunes can be lost and made and lost once again. But once we lose time, we can’t get it back. We can’t order it on Amazon or earn it back in exchange for a job well done. Once time flees, it’s gone.

Each day, every single person is given the exact same amount of time for the day.

24 hours

1,440 minutes

86,400 seconds

You get that quantity, just the same as Beyonce and the Rock.

Oh gosh, sorry … where was I?

Oh yes! We all get that same amount of time, except when we Fall Back and gain an extra hour, 60 minutes or 3,600 seconds!

What can one do with an extra hour?!?

Sleep in

Take an extra yoga class

Write Mindful Monday early

Figure out November pose of the month

Read a book

An extra hour out on Saturday night

Wake up early for a 6 am class on Monday

Organize closets

Watch the sunset

Get a massage

Watch the sunrise

Update expense spreadsheet

Watch Netflix

Drive to the city for brunch/lunch/drinks

Nap

Meditate

Post some items to sell online

Go through garage and donate a bag of unused sports equipment

Laundry

Practice handstands

Go for a run

Go for a walk

Go for a run/walk

Search up archived pics of the Rock

Learn the dance for Keke by Drake

Go shopping

Meet a friend for coffee

Get a facial

Play with your dog

Play with your kids

Practice piano

Play video games

Play candy crush on your phone

Organize photos on your phone

Journal

Plan upcoming week

Christmas shopping list

Prepare for thanksgiving

Volunteer

Whatever you did or did not do with your bonus hour, hope it was great!

Have a great week, friends!