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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!

Mindful Monday: Tending to Yourself

Good morning, dearest mindful ones!

It’s so easy to get caught up in a swirl of non-stop activities, isn’t it? In fact, you may even take pride in your perpetual state of busyness and being able to handle so many things at once. But eventually, there’s a tipping point: where stress builds up and burnout creeps in. That’s why tending to yourself is so vital to a true state of wellness and contentment.

What does your Mind conjure up when you think of tending to yourself?

I think of paying attention to myself. Taking time to turn inward and see what’s really going on physically, mentally, emotionally, psychologically and spiritually.

Noticing what’s really happening and caring for and nourishing myself. Cultivating an overall sense of well-being and contentment.

Today, begin your week by deciding to give yourself some well-deserved attention. When you care deeply for yourself, you become the shiniest, best and brightest version of you that you are truly meant to be!

It starts on the physical level. Close your eyes and take some deep breaths. Your daily mindful practice … of course, take a yoga class at YBD!, but on those days that you just can’t seem to fit one in, still carve out some space to just sit and meditate and tend to yourself.

As the physical body is soothed and loved through proper rest, sleep, nutrition and movement, more awareness of what is happening mentally and emotionally naturally evolves. Notice thoughts and emotions as they arise, and make space for them to move through you. Rather than getting hooked and bogged down and making them mean something, give them so much space to move without attaching or identifying with them.

Take a few moments today to take some deep breaths and just pause. Make this as habitual as brushing your teeth and making your bed!

Take time today to tend to your soul.

Namaste, dearest ones!

Mindful Monday: Reality

Good morning, mindful friends!! Let’s get REAL this morning!

Reality.

Reality AS IT IS, not how you think it could or should be.

Not your opinions of it.

Not your preferences and projections.

Not your thoughts about it.

Reality. As. It. Is.

The truth is that the universe is always conspiring to keep you alive. To make you happy. On so many levels.

Think about all that must take place for you to survive this entire day! Think about it … your body alone must perform tiny miracles each moment: providing enough proteins and lipids to fuel your body, your mental faculties alerting you to dangers, your spleen regulating immune system. And that’s just on the micro level!

At the macro level, you need fresh, clean water; the Sun continues to shine and provide energy and life to everything on the this earth. You maintain a roof over your head and have plenty to eat.

I invite you to meditate on just how interconnected you are to the Earth’s ecosystem and to realize how important you are on this planet.

When we see just how miraculous and amazing each moment actually is, why do we spend so much time being paranoid. Anxious. Annoyed. Upset. Envious. Disdainful. Sad. Lonely. Depressed. Dissatisfied. Bored. Down on ourselves and those around us? Living in the past …

The universe has and always will provide you with exactly what you need in each moment. You are enough. You are sufficient.

The next time you start to feel anything but grounded in the present, in your body, in reality, take three deep, deep breaths and ask yourself ….

What in this moment is lacking?

Right here, right now, what is lacking in this moment?

As you close your eyes and deepen your breath, you come to the realization that there’s nothing lacking right now. You have and always will receive exactly what you need to get through each moment of your life.

Now that doesn’t mean you’ll always get what you want, but you will always get what you need.

And the more we understand that all of life is this moment and each moment, the less we have the need to project and judge life. As we relax into each moment, we accept life as it unfolds with so much gratitude.

Expectations begin to fall away, thus freeing us from heartache and disappointment.

We truly have the opportunity to embrace life and all its lessons.

Your life is right now. Reality is your next breath.

Mindful Monday: Smile

Good morning! Happy Monday, mindful ones.

There are millions of reasons to smile each day! Even in the midst of tragedy and loss, there’s always space for a smile.

One of my very favorite emotions is laughter shining through in the midst of tears.

But it doesn’t have to be so dramatic!

As we focus so consciously on breath work in our yoga and meditation practices, a very simple addition is to layer in a smile.

Inhale

Exhale

Smile

It’s the first time I do each morning.

Wake up

Stretch

Smile

Smiling can become a habit, much like all of our other conditioned and learned responses.

Start practicing on the easy stuff.

Today it’s pretty easy to smile at the sun and mild, springlike weather!

Smile at your barista.

Smile at your coworkers – especially the crabby ones! It annoys them and makes you smile even harder.

Smile when your friend texts you.

Smile at a funny meme.

Smile for no reason at all.

Then start practicing smiling at the harder stuff.

Just smile when your son spills his milk.

Smile when the person in the car in front of you is going under the speed limit.

Smile when the person next to you beeps their horn.

Smile when you really don’t feel like it.

When things are really rough, start digging deeply for one measly reason to smile.

Smile.

Smile.

Smile.

Choose happiness. Choose gratitude.

Smile.

Mindful Monday: Aloha!

Aloha! Good morning, mindful ones!

I had an amazing trip to Hawaii to kick off my 47th year around the sun, and I am so happy and grateful to be back home. And I brought the Aloha Spirit back with me!

From the moment I stepped off the plane at the Honolulu International airport, I was immediately enveloped in so much love, warmth and acceptance. This was my first introduction to the Aloha Spirit.

I always thought that Aloha was merely a way to greet someone hello and goodbye. And while technically this is true, Aloha means so much more. (Much like Namaste!)

Here’s the origin of Aloha:

Alo: sharing; in the present

oha: joyous affection, friendship

ha: life energy, life, breath

Aloha means love, affection, peace, sympathy, pity, kindness, mercy, and compassion. However, it is also a deeply ingrained element of Hawaiian culture.

The Aloha Spirit is a beautiful way of living, the ultimate organic lifestyle, and a direct path to living a peaceful and fulfilling life. It is so deeply connected to our yogic lifestyle.

It’s a deep reverence and respect for Mother Earth and Nature. And the acknowledgement that each of us is an important part of Nature. We all matter. We are all equal.

Aloha and Namaste, dearest, sweetest yogis!!!! Have a beautiful week!

Mindful Monday: Labor Day 2018

Good morning, friends! Happy Labor Day!

For most of us, we get an extra day tagged on to this weekend!

As we enjoy this last day of “summer” – don’t worry, we still have time until the official end on the fall equinox – let’s pause to honor the spirit of this day.

Today we celebrate all of the industrious, dedicated workers that literally built this country. And let’s remember that there are still many of those people who are actually working today!

Most of the professions have the luxury of not working today; but so many in the service industry still get up and get ready and go to work. Retail and restaurant workers, and of course, law enforcement, medical and emergency management folks are still on the job today. Aaaaaaaand of course many yoga teachers and other fitness professionals will still be punching in!

Where ever this beautiful Labor Day takes you today, take a moment to pause, breathe deeply and let gratitude for this gorgeous day and for our still great nation and all of its people course throughout your entire body. We are so darn lucky to live in a land of so much opportunity.

A huge shoutout to all of you working today! What a great opportunity to show our appreciation with just some extra kind words for those laboring today! I always overtip for services on days like this.

Happy Monday, y’all. And hellllooooooo pumpkin EVERYTHING this season.

Next week, we’ll talk about Mushin – The third Zen state of mind. If you’ve missed the past couple of weeks, you can read about the first Zen state of mind here and the second Zen state of mind here.

Mindful Monday: Fudoshin

Good morning and happy Monday!

Last week, we covered the first state of mind in Zen Buddhism known as Sho Shin or Beginner’s Mind. You can read more here.

Today, we move on to the second state of mind in Zen Buddhism, Fudoshin which means “Immovable Mind.

Fudoshin represents a peaceful state of total determination and unshakable will. It is the state of a spirit that is determined to win, and that is filled with courage, endurance and determination to surmount every obstacle that comes in its way. Fudoshin is associated with a feeling of invincibility, of a mind that cannot be disturbed by confusion, hesitation, doubt, or fear.

It is when your mind is in a total state of equanimity, characterized by mental calmness, composure, and evenness of temper, especially in a difficult situation.

Fudoshin is most commonly associated with martial arts, particularly the samurai warriors in feudal Japan. These warriors displayed a steadfast determination and absolute control over themselves. It should be noted that this doesn’t mean one in a state of fudoshin is being stubborn or angry. Rather a person in fudoshin is calmly resolute and cannot be swayed, tempted or concerned.

We channel fudoshin when we are holding our more challenging yoga poses. Visualize your strength, balance, determination and focus when you’re holding a Warrior III pose or an inversion! Total concentration, muscular engagement and a calm and peaceful countenance. No thoughts, just your breath and bodily sensations evoking a powerful sense of peace and stability within yourself.

In modern Zen practice, Fudoshin is the protection against the “Shikai” or four sicknesses of the mind: anger, doubt, fear and surprise. Through the disciplined practice of meditation, we learn implicitly to center ourselves and clear our minds, thus developing a Fudoshin mind.

There are so many opportunities each day to implement Fudoshin in our lives! Hopefully you won’t be facing a life or death situation, but one can never know what life is sending our way!

In this era of random acts of violence, road rage, bad behavior and other losses of self-control, development of fudoshin can contribute to a peaceful, more compassionate world.

Fudoshin means “unmoving mind/heart”or “immovable mind,” and connotes the imperturbability as well as courage of the truly mastered self. It is the mind/heart from which have been purged all impurities and weaknesses in the resolute process of forging artistic and self-mastery.

Have a great week, friends! Remember that fudoshin is just a few, slow deep breaths away.

Mindful Monday: Back to School – Another Lesson in Letting Go

Happy Monday, friends!

I’m incredulous that the 2018/2019 school year starts this Wednesday! I mean it’s not even the middle of August yet!

Such is the nature of life! In constant flux and movement. Which is why it’s so important to practice being present for each and every moment of life. The days can seem so long, but the years fly by on wings. I so clearly remember my son’s first day of pre-school. This week, he begins his senior year!

Change is inevitable. We can’t control it. We can’t fast forward or rewind. Our only sane, viable option is to embrace every single precious second as it unfolds, exactly as it is. As it is. Not how it should be. Or could be. But as it is.

Therein lies our greatest challenge and truest pathway to happiness.

To embrace life in all of its glory and misery, pleasure and pain, love and fear, belief and doubt, failure and success. All of it!

Sure, I could play the game of beating myself up for every mistake I made in raising my son. Or fast forward and suffer in anticipation of next year when he leaves for college. I’m really, really good at both!

But I see that these patterns of thinking create suffering for myself. And I remember that I really have no reason to suffer. And I definitely don’t enjoy it anymore.

And I remind myself that I’ve been in training for the past 17 years in the beautiful and brutal art of letting go. From the day he was born, I had to let go of having him all to myself within my body.

When I stopped breast feeding, I had to let go of being his main source of nourishment.

When I went back to work.

When he moved from his crib to his big boy toddler bed then later his loft/bunk bed.

Watching that tiny little boy walk into first grade all on his own, getting swallowed up into the crowd of much bigger kids.

His first sleepover at a friend’s house.

First time he closed off from me and didn’t need me to fix it.

Graduating from elementary school and starting middle school.

First day of high school.

First time he drove my car (I’m still traumatized by that one).

And now … senior year begins.

And I remind myself, this is all part of the training. And how it’s helped me so much in life.

It’s strengthened and conditioned me. Learning to release and let go of so many things. Learning to let go even when I’m not ready, because it’s time.

So I have one more year to train for the inevitable. And I remind myself that if I’ve done my job well as a parent, he will fly away with confidence and have all the tools he needs for success.

Sigh. Good luck to all of you parents out there! We got this!