Mindful Monday

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: Center and Focus

Good morning and happy Monday, friends!

Well we’re quickly sliding into the holiday season and wrapping up the end of 2018.

This week, carve out some contemplative time to ask yourself the questions listed below.

Find a quiet, comfortable space where you will have no interruptions. Your favorite meditation spot or even all cozy in your bed are both excellent places. Just somewhere that has great energy and brings you peace.

Have your journal or a notebook nearby to jot down any thoughts and ideas that surface.

It will serve you to jot the questions down ahead of time, so that you can leave your phone in another room to really be distraction-free.

Before you begin, close your eyes and take several long, deep inhales and exhales to calm your mind and help you focus.

Let’s begin:

1. So far, what kind of year has 2018 been for me? Why?

2. What are some of my accomplishments and successes this year? In my work/career? Personal growth? Relationships? Any other areas?

3. Where have I learned some major lessons? Keep in mind, the biggest lessons are learned through perceived “failures” or “setbacks.”

4. With a full two months still ahead, how will I take advantage of this gift of time to complete any projects or goals that I set for myself this year?

5. Looking forward a bit to 2019, what are some seeds I want to plant now to see grow to fruition next year?

With this information, create some clear affirmations for yourself to stay focused and aligned with what’s important to you.

Also, create a plan to take just five minutes each morning and evening to quietly meditate on your affirmations.

Make sure you schedule your yoga practices with yourself for the remainder of the year and plan to stick as closely as possible to your much needed self-tending time. When things start to amp up, you’ll certainly feel much more grounded and stable!

Remember, you can handle anything that comes your way with grace and composure when you tend to yourself first and foremost! With that being said, also be flexible so that you don’t miss out on all of life’s fun surprises and tiny moments.

Make it a great week, friends!

Be happy!

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: Fly Into Fall

Good morning, mindful ones! It’s the first day of October, and it definitely feels like fall.

After the autumnal equinox, our days get shorter and shorter and the nights become darker and longer.

This is the time for dramatic and drastic transitions evidenced by how quickly Starbucks started peddling their pumpkin spice lattes (end of August!) to all of the Christmas decorations retailers are already selling!!!! Can we please at least get through Halloween?!

Personally, I prefer to take my cues from Mother Earth. The lush greenery surrounding us turns to vibrant hues of orange, red and gold; a biting Vata wind flows through; trees slowly demonstrate the process of non-attachment, one by one eventually letting go of each and every one of their leaves.

Right now, as we transition into fall, we can capitalize on the light, clear, and moving Vata energies in our practice! Join me for an arm balance and inversion workshop this Friday in Elmhurst!

We will begin with a stabilizing and grounding warm-up, and we will spend the majority of the practice actually practicing poses like crow, one-legged crow, side crow, headstand, forearm stand and handstand!

You can sign up at any location or even online! Let’s fly!

Have a great week, yogis! Namaste 🙏🏾and aloha 🤙🏽

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: Zanshin

Aloha and good morning, my yogi friends! I’m writing this blog from our 50th state, Hawaii, and I’m overflowing with gratitude for simply being alive in this moment. And while it’s still pretty early morning here, I should really be wishing you a good afternoon! Here is my early morning view as I write this blog.

We are on the fourth week of a series about four Zen states of mind. It’s important to note that there are many other Zen mind training techniques and mental states than the four I’ve focused on these past weeks. I’ve chosen to highlight these particular states, because we can begin to apply them to our yoga practice and daily lives. This is in no way an exhaustive list!

Read more about the first three Zen states here:

Shoshin

Fudoshin

Mushin

Now, let’s move to our final state of mind called Zanshin.

Zanshin literally translates to “remaining mind” or the “mind with no remainder.”

Zanshin is a general and constant state of relaxed awareness or perceptiveness. This state means that although you’re not actively watching out for things, you are constantly aware of your surroundings and situation. Think of a public safety officer or a first responder: they are always sizing up situations even when off duty. Constant situational awareness.

The concept of Zanshin is that one should be fully present in whatever action is at hand. When eating, eat. The mind is fully engaged in the action of eating. When practicing yoga, practice yoga. When standing, stand. When writing, write. It is being in the here and now, totally immersed in the task at hand, and there is no “remaining mind” to think.

And to take it one step further, every action and every thought in the here and now must be right and harmonious. Every routine, mundane action is important and should be done with Zanshin.

A beautiful example of Zanshin:

Roy Suenaka, the author of Complete Aikido, tells a story about aikido’s founder that is the epitome of this concept. They were seated on the floor face to face having tea and talking when Morihei Ueshiba, without turning his head, casually reached behind himself and then held something out for Suenaka to see. “Ah, a young cockroach,” he said, before gently putting it to the side. Only later did the significance hit Suenaka. How was Ueshiba so aware that even when focused on their conversation could he not only sense the presence of something so small but be able to know exactly were it was so that he was able to pick it up without looking?

There is a samurai saying that roughly translates to: “When the battle is won, tighten your chinstrap.” This means that zanshin should always be practiced, even after a big success or goal has been met. Never rest on your laurels. Be prepared at any moment for another attack (if you’re a samurai). But also that the battle is never over until you stop striving.

If you’ve been working for years on a particular yoga pose, you don’t stop practicing once you achieve it! If you reach your PR in weight lifting or any other competitive sport or arena, it’s not the time to relax and start slacking.

There is a second component to zanshin that can be summarized with this beautiful thought: Everything is aiming.

There is a story of a master archer who consistently hits bullseye after bullseye, even splitting his own arrows in the middle of the bullseye, blindfolded and in complete darkness.

This is attributed to the process being of utmost importance, not the goal! Each and every small detail is preparation for the ultimate goal. But the paradox is that the ultimate goal is not the focus; each and every boring, mundane, repetitive task that is performed thousands of times is where focus lies. Once one has performed every minute detail ad nauseam, the goal is inevitable and can be reached without the luxury of seeing the target.

Have a great week, yogis! As always I love to hear your comments and feedback. And of course if there any topics you’d like covered in our weekly blog please let us know!

Mindful Monday: Mushin

Good morning, mindful ones!!!

We’re on week 3 of the Four Zen States of Mind! Week 1 was Shoshin and week 2 was Fudoshin.

Today let’s explore the concept of Mushin, which means “Without Mind.” It is very similar in practice to the Chinese Taoist principle of Wu-wei.

Mushin or Wu-wei refers to a state of total ease, in which you become completely lost in what you’re doing, feel no sense of exerting effort, and yet everything works out perfectly. You’ve probably experienced this feeling at some point on your yoga mat!

In this state of mind, you move with ease and maximum effectiveness and emerge from your experience feeling relaxed and satisfied. Sound familiar, yogi?

One of my very favorite Bruce Lee quotes epitomizes this lovely concept of Mushin or Wu-wei.

Basically, when we practice the Zen concept of mushin, we are cultivating an awareness that nothing has value until we place value upon it.

The Zen master who cultivates mushin will have a mind that is open to all possibility – not a mind that is stuck on objects and situations as they have previously experienced them, thereby limiting their real-time experience. A mind that is not fixed on specific thought patterns or emotions is more in touch with the “emptiness” from which all arises.

The “empty mind” isn’t one of an idiot. It is the mind of a master. It is unbiased, free, and completely adaptable. Like water.

Like the moon’s reflection in a perfectly still lake, we perceive reality as if it is “real,” but that moon, as realistic as it looks, it only a reflection. It is easily distorted by a small pebble being thrown into the lake, or a slight breeze rippling its surface.

When you practice mushin, you are practicing mind without mind – you are the clear surface. There are fewer distortions. When you eliminate mental chatter, worries, anxieties, and concerns about the future, the lake’s surface becomes smooth like ice. You can see everything around you more clearly.

The practice of mushin allows you to observe the world from a less distorted perspective.

How do you cultivate it? By getting still, and constantly reminding yourself that all that arises is phenomena reflecting like a pebble on the surface of a lake.

Have a great week, yogis!