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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!

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: Sho Shin

Happy Monday, mindful ones!

Sho Shin is a concept in Zen Buddhism that means ‘a beginner’s mind.’ There are four states of mind in Zen Buddhism. This week, we’ll discuss the first state.

Sho Shin is characterized by an attitude of openness, eagerness, and a complete lack of preconceptions when studying a subject or beginning an endeavor.

Think about when you took your first yoga class. Or first 100 for that matter! You were excited and so eager to learn everything about this ancient practice! Your mind was like a sponge, simply and enthusiastically absorbing every thing you could about yoga.

When you are in a state of shoshin you are feeling enthusiastic, creative and above all optimistic.

It’s easy to be fired up about new, exciting endeavors. The practice is to remain open-minded and optimistic when you’ve practiced for many, many years and are considered an ‘expert.’

One of the key aspects of shoshin is an absence of preconceptions and a general sense of optimism. When you are in a state of shoshin you shouldn’t be thinking too much about what you think is going to happen, you should just be eager to accept whatever comes and assured it will all be for the best.

This release of preconceptions and attitude of viewing everything with fresh eyes is one of shoshin’s most valuable qualities. You can work on placing yourself in a state of shoshin even when doing something you’ve done before to keep each experience fresh and to ensure that you aren’t making poor decisions based on preconceived biases. It also helps train you to keep a positive and eager outlook about everything that might come your way.

For this reason, I always try to keep my teaching as well as my personal practice fresh with new and different sequencing and transitions. In order to do this, I MUST continue to practice with new and different teachers. I must continue to expand my knowledge base and work tirelessly to cultivate a state of shoshin. I often see experienced students turn on auto-pilot in class and assume they know where we are going next.

The danger of an ‘expert’s mind’ is that few possibilities exist in this mind. Less aspects of a situation are questioned and more are assumed. This often results in a narrowed perception and performing tasks on autopilot without room for a fresh, new perspective. Things are always done a certain way with no opportunities for improvement.

So how do we cultivate shoshin in our everyday lives and on our mats?

Just like all programs of thoughts in our minds, new thought patterns can be cultivated. Meditating and practicing gratitude are scientifically measurable ways to literally create new gray matter. Cultivating a beginner’s mind is exactly the same.

  • Try to approach situations without assumptions or expectations.
  • Don’t judge as good or bad. Be open to any outcome.
  • Be curious! Question with interest and wonder!
  • Switch things up. Drive a different route. Practice at a different time. Move your mat to a different place in the room.
  • Empty your mind!
  • Have a great week, friends!
  • August 2018 Pose of the Month: Ardha Chandrasana

    Our August 2018 pose of the month is Ardha Chandrasana or Half Moon pose.

    This is a beautiful balancing pose that taps into our lunar energies and recreates the sensation of the moon suspended lightly and spectacularly in the sky.

    To Begin:

    Start from standing at the top of your mat. Bring your right foot all the way back so you’re at a Low Lunge with your left leg, hands framing the left foot.

    1. From here, engage your core, bring your right hand to your right hip and lift up your right foot and straighten your right leg out behind you, balancing on the left leg with your left hand on the floor. Gaze is at the left hand.

    2. Make sure your left leg is strong by engaging your glutes and quads, lifting up at the kneecap, and anchoring the four corners of your left foot, rooting into the earth for support.

    3. Now, rotate your right hip back, stacking it on top of your left hip. So instead of your hips being parallel to the earth, we want it to be parallel to the right side wall of the room.

    4. Next, energetically extend your right hand towards the sky, palm facing the right side of the room. Lift the shoulders out of your ears by gluing your shoulders blades onto your back. Maybe imagine you’re holding onto a pencil in between your shoulder blades.

    5. Stay with it for 5 slow, deep breaths.

    6. Slowly come out of it the same way you came in. Repeat the steps for the other side.

    For a variation, try to bring your bottom hand to your heart and float easily on your standing leg. You can also perform this a center against the wall to practice leaning back and opening your heart towards the sky.

    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!

    Mindful Monday: Patience

    Greetings and blessings, Mindful ones.

    In this golden age of Amazon Prime, overnight delivery, and open-24-hour drive throughs … Instant Gratification rules!

    And our classic, good old-fashioned friend Patience gets a really bad rap. I mean, remember what it was like with the AOL dial ups back in the stone ages?

    Enter our practice of yoga! This is where we transform the toe-tapping, teeth grinding, fist-clenching, caffeine-fueled adrenaline rushes into one, unremarkable, slow deep breath of awareness at a time.

    As we work to reverse the tendency to push and do, we slowly learn to soften and BE. For me, yoga at times can be agitatingly slow and boring. It was a very long process for me to even stay for savasana. And it took many years before I would even consider taking a restorative class.

    But there was definitely something that kept me coming back to my mat. It was the sense of total peace. The realization that underneath all of that thrilling and glamorous rushing around, there was a very unglamorous, plain and PATIENT space within.

    I still work hard to cultivate this relationship. Patience is a great friend to have on my mat and off. On my mat, I learn to slow down and feel my body in each pose. To just wait with ease and grace. We have to slow down so much to allow the body to open and heal. And we learn to patiently accept our current limitations and barriers.

    I searched for Patience’s hand at the Cubs game last week when I was trying to nimbly and quickly navigate the crowds to make it to the one place in the whole ball park that sells Rum Chata. I literally had to stop myself and slow myself down, and realize I was not in any hurry at all.

    Throughout my regular, routine days, I find so many opportunities to connect with my dear friend. I may not always listen to her, but I know she’s always there for me.

    Have a great week, my friends!

    Mindful Monday: Balance

    Good morning, friends! Happy Monday!

    We work a lot on balance in our yoga practice. Balancing on one one leg, one arm, upside down. Even balancing on our heads and hands. And in acroyoga, we balance on other peoples’ bodies!

    We learn that it takes focus and concentration to maintain balancing poses on our mats. And we see that these poses are dynamic, not static. Within the stillness of a pose, tiny shifts and adjustments are made to maintain balance. Sometimes we see visible shaking, other time it’s imperceptible to anyone else. The body makes corrections to help maintain itself.

    And of course lessons that we learn on the mat are meant to be integrated into daily life.

    There are so many things that can throw us off balance in life. Major life changes and transitions. Shocking news can literally knock you off of your feet. Even smaller, every day stuff. A major traffic jam can throw off your entire morning. One person on a team not managing their time effectively can throw an entire project out of whack. We’re constantly making these small adjustments as we seek stability.

    And then there’s the challenge of balancing work, time with friends and family, and self-care. It’s so easy to fall out of balance in these areas. Overwhelmed with projects at work often leaves little time for rest. Or maybe every weekend is filled with social obligations with little free time to do what we want. When we burn it at both ends for too long, trying to please everyone and “do it all,” our bodies shut down with illness and we’re forced to rest and recover and do little else. Again the body is adjusting itself towards equilibrium.

    Yoga has helped me immeasurably in learning the importance of working with mindfulness and awareness towards balance and stability. It constantly reminds me that it’s perfectly natural to fall sometimes! And the only option is to get back up and try again with as much grace and humor as I can muster.

    Yoga demands discipline and satya, truthfulness with yourself. It clears the maya, illusions, and helps one to truly center. And it reminds us so much that it’s a daily practice.

    And remember, dear ones, it’s yoga practice not yoga perfect!!!

    Have an amazing week!

    Mindful Monday

    Happy Monday, friends!

    Hope you had a lovely Fourth of July last week! It felt strange to have a holiday in the middle of the week, didn’t it? But it certainly made it interesting.

    Pauses from our daily grind are such a great opportunity to step back and relax and just have some fun! And it also provides a great vantage point to simply slow down and touch base with what’s really going on.

    We tend to go on autopilot as we move through our familiar, mundane daily grind tasks. It’s important to take a step back and make sure our thoughts and vibrations are in sync with our physical efforts.

    As you begin this new week, take a few minutes for yourself to adjust your mindset and mentally prepare for your week ahead. Your thought vibrations will make all of your work run smoothly and efficiently with very little effort.

    Have a great week, friends!