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Mindful Monday: Yoga Mala

Happy Monday, mindful ones. Well Chicago is definitely living up to its name. Wow! That brisk wind blasting my face this morning is exhilarating. Like a double shot of espresso!

It’s getting colder and darker, and I keep reminding myself that it’s OK. In fact, it’s necessary. So I really try to catch myself before I go on auto pilot and just start complaining about it. Practicing mindfulness with my thoughts and my words is a lifelong practice.

I’m really excited to begin preparations for Yoga by Degrees’ winter solstice celebration. We will observe this auspicious time of year by completing a yoga mala – 108 sun salutations!

According to Sri K. Pattabhi Jois, founder of Ashtanga yoga, each vinyasa (sun salutation) is like a bead to be counted and each asana (pose) is like a fragrant flower strung on the thread of the breath. The garland of yoga adorns us with peace, health, knowledge and self-awareness

While this may sound intimidating, it’s actually a practice that is super energizing. Sun salutations are the perfect way to lengthen, strengthen and flex the main muscles of the body while distributing prana throughout your whole system. Anyone can complete a yoga mala, regardless of physical limitations. Some will modify and some students actually intensify the practice!

When you begin your YBD classes with a handful of sun salutes, you right away feel your heart rate increasing, right? Sun salutes improve circulation, purify your blood and strengthen your physical body. Your lungs, digestive system, as well as your muscles and joints all benefit from this ancient practice. The more you do, the more vital prana circulation is increased, removing energy blockages and unlocking pathways for more energy to flow through you. The natural high you experience from the yoga mala is indescribable.

Our practice together will focus on the shortest day of the year as a turning point – emerging from a place of darkness to a place of light mentally, physically and even emotionally.

Some other benefits of sun salutations are:

• Promotes healthy digestion.

• Strengthens and tones abdominal muscles through alternate stretching and compression of abdominal organs.

• Ventilates the lungs, and oxygenates the blood.

• Rids body of enormous quantity of carbon dioxide & other toxic gases.

• Quiets the nervous system and improves memory.

• Promotes sleep and calms anxiety.

• Normalizes the activity of the endocrine glands – especially the thyroid gland.

• Improves muscle flexibility.

• Improves grace and ease.

Improves flexibility, especially your spine.

So what are you waiting for? Sign up at your studio today! I guarantee you will not regret honoring the changing of the season in this way. Plus it’ll be a great way to blow off some pent up holiday stress and pressure!

Have a great week, yogis!!!

Mindful Monday: Know Your Mind

Hello Dear Ones!

Another Monday has arrived. A beautiful fresh clean slate.

Remember that your mind doesn’t control you; you control your mind!

So fill your thoughts with abundance, acceptance, love, happiness, joy, prosperity. Fill your heart with compassion, laughter, tolerance.

Look for the goodness in every single person you meet. Even if you may need to look really, really long and hard.

Happiness is a choice. Entirely 100% up to you and you alone.

Through mindfulness practices like yoga, we begin to ascertain the deeply seeded thought patterns and reactions we’ve supplanted into our own minds. How easy it is to go on auto pilot and just react to situations that appear to be similar to those we’ve experienced in the past.

These samskaras become so deeply embedded into our subconscious that we are unaware of its effects on our thoughts, attitudes and behaviors.

We become trapped in this karmic wheel which keeps spinning around and around as we continue to react again and again.

These patterns are deeply rooted into our psyche. It takes deep awareness and dedication to acknowledge and uproot the samskaras.

To truly know your mind, you must find mental stillness in order to observe. From this place of observation and non-judgment, slowly one moment at a time our samskaras will reveal themselves.

Your yoga practice is such an amazing place to explore and familiarize.

Practicing yoga at least three times a week will have a profound effect in your life physically, mentally, emotionally and metaphysically.

Let’s commit to our mats during this crazy stressful and awesome holiday season.

This week Will be only as awesome as you decide to make it.

So much gratitude for you! Namaste.

Mindful Monday: Receive 


Happy Monday, lovely ones! Another spectacular week and weekend in the books! I hope your week was as lovely as you. 

I celebrated another trip around the sun last week — my birthday is always a time for reflection for me. Another year older and wiser. And a perfect time to check in with myself and to own ALL of my stuff. It’s super easy for me to own the seemingly “bad” and “negative” parts. I tend to dismiss the “good” and “positive.” But I’m practicing owning it all without labels or judgements. Soaking everything in as an opportunity for continued awareness and growth – therefore it’s all good! Painful things help me grow. Amazing blessings soften me with gratitude. 

This year, I worked very hard to practice receiving. A dear friend of mine challenged me to only RECEIVE on my birthday. Wow! That’s a tough gauntlet thrown down!

I realized that so often people try to “give” me a compliment, and it’s so difficult for me to receive it that I end up rejecting the compliment and often times unintentionally offending the giver! How insane is that?! But isn’t it so hard to just smile sincerely, receive the offering and intention, and simply say, “Thank you?”

I had to remind myself that  giving and receiving  is a dynamic universal exchange. It’s part of the yin (receive) and yang (give) of life. You can’t give without someone to receive. And you can’t receive if nothing is offered. We need both. 

So how could I practice truly receiving the tremendous outpouring of love that flooded my life on that day? 

Yes, yes, yes gratitude for sure! But even with gratefulness in my heart, was I truly receiving the offering?

The art of receiving demands some serious yoga discipline. First, we must have the awareness to recognize that something is been offered. Someone is trying to give you something. In my case, each happy birthday greeting and gift was an offering of love and appreciation.  Secondly, we must practice being open to truly hear and see and feel the offering — this requires STILLNESS. Third, we cultivate gratitude for the intention behind the offering. So… you’re all with me so far, right? Seems simple and straightforward. 

The fourth step is the most challenging for me. It’s to actually fully absorb and assimilate and accept what I’m being offered. And that means that I have to feel deserving of love and appreciation. To feel truly worthy to receive the remarkable gifts offered. 

The word “receive” comes from the Latin word recipere, which means “to take back.” This implies that what we receive is already ours in the sense that we do, indeed, deserve it, that it completes something within us, or simply that we’ve attracted it by the nature of our being.

In the picture above, I’m practicing the art of receiving from my dear friend Sarah P. The benefit of being able to receive in this pose is that physically my body can fold more deeply. But Sarah is offering so much more with this adjustment– she’s offering her love and support for my well-being and my practice. The more I opened and received, the more relaxed and truly nourished and fulfilled I felt. 

Receiving is a yoga practice in itself! The more we cultivate the art of receiving, we become more in tuned with the abundance the universe offers us each moment, each day. 

Have a great week, Yogi friends! 

Mindful Monday: Labor Day

Happy Labor Day, friends! Yikes! This three day weekend got me confused. Lol. So this is coming a wee bit later than normal. 

These long weekends are hopefully filled with good times. And that means different things for different people. 

Some of us may enjoy being surrounded by family and friends at the lake or in someone’s backyard. Others may enjoy the downtime to simply get re-grounded and relax. For me, the best is a balance between both. 

Labor Day is meant to honor the laborers, the backbone of our country. The hard working men and women and their contributions to the strength, success and prosperity of our nation. 

The word Labor is also applied to any hard work, especially that requiring physical exertion. Like childbirth. Or teaching yoga. 😜

I think of Labor as an expression of love. Anything that we undertake that challenges us, physically, mentally, spiritually and emotionally takes focus and dedication. It IS work. But within that work carries the seeds of  growth and transformation. 

We get to witness the fruits of our own Labor. And we experience the pure joy of time spent doing, feeling, contributing, giving and just being alive. 

However you have chosen to spend this weekend, perhaps you even worked today, I hope it is something that feeds your soul, honors your spirit and makes your heart happy. 

In case you’re wondering why the image of the Rock was selected for Labor Day … the pic should speak for itself. ❤️

 

Mindful Monday: April Showers Bring May Flowers

During a huge downpour between classes at YBD Downers Grove, Bernie, Katie and I did what most normal people do – we did a little yoga in the rain!

Happy Monday, radiant, hydrated, nourished ones! Yes, yes, yes it’s been raining for days! Personally, I love the rain.

The weather is our prime example of the impermanence of all things. Annica! Annica! Annica! Be happy! Be happy! Be happy! I can still hear the words of my meditation teacher S. N. Goenka.

Without rain, all things in nature would cease to exist. We ourselves can’t survive very long without water. In fact, we are pretty much walking skin bags of water!

There are songs and movies about the rain. It’s a powerful force of nature.  We have entire genres of clothing dedicated to the rain. Poets and photographers and artists try to capture its magnificence.

Your second – chakra – swadhisthana – is the water element: its primary association is emotional health, intimacy and creativity. When swadhisthana is open and balanced, we enjoy life fully and expansively. We live authentically without fear and experience love, intimacy, sensuality honestly and non-judgementally.

Water in its form of rain can be soft and rhythmic or powerful and even destructive. It’s both formidable and without form.

These rainy days won’t last – so put on your galoshes and go jump in puddles! When my son Julian was a little boy,  splashing in the rain (and mud!) was one of his favorite activities.


Have a great week! Stay hydrated! Be happy!

Mindful Monday: To Everything There is a Season

Happy Mindful Monday, my radiant YBD tribe! I’m stepping in to write our weekly blog post for the time being so that our lovely Carla has more time and energy for her gorgeous son Malcolm.

As always, so much goodness is happening in our yoga community. Nearly 30 dedicated yogis gathered during the Autumn Equinox at our Wheaton studio and busted out 108 sun salutations! What an amazing evening of effort, devotion, sweat, smiles, magic and so much love! And some pretty sore hamstrings and abs the morning after, for sure.

While some of us may mourn the end of summer’s long, sunny days, there is so much to celebrate about Autumn: pumpkin ANYTHING; football; apple picking; apple cider; the advent of the holiday season; haunted houses; fireplaces; hay rides; crisper, cooler air; daylight savings time; boots, sweaters and jackets; and the most breathtaking time of year to witness nature’s final blaze of glory.

As always, we seek to find BALANCE each day, and it’s particularly important to feel rooted and grounded during this blustery season of transition. We are shifting from the fire of summer to the  cooling of fall and winter.

We are moving from:

Sun to Moon
Light to Dark
Yang to Yin
Fire to Water and Air
Growth to Hibernation
Building up to Letting go
Movement to Stillness
Outer Achievements to Inner Reflection
Action to Contemplation

This week, try to carve out some time for inner reflection, perhaps while walking through nature. Some points to contemplate:

Where am I currently? Emotionally, physically, spiritually, financially
Which seeds did I plant in the spring?
What harvest am I currently reaping?
Which seeds never took root?
How will I find balance in these opposites?
Which routines do I have to keep myself nurtured, nourished and grounded?
What must I shed and release? Those things that do not ELEVATE me. Habits, relationships, thought patterns

“Life starts all over again when it gets crisp in the fall.”  – F. Scott Fitzgerald

September Pose of the Month: Bridge

Bridge Pose, Setu Bandhasana

September is a great time to open up and prepare the body for seasonal changes. Bridge pose is an amazing place to open the heart and throat chakras. Here’s how you do it:

  • Lie on your back
  • Plant the soles of your feet at hips distance
  • Reach your hands toward your feet and raise your hips
  • Clasp your hands under your hips and press them into the earth
  • Lengthen your neck
  • Option to raise your leg!

Benefits include:

  • Extends your thoracic spine
  • Lengthens your hip flexors
  • Opens your shoulders and chest
  • Calms your mind and reduces anxiety

 

Meet Jen P, Teacher of the Month

July is the time for celebrating our love for our YBD Teacher of the Month, Jenny Penny! Jen P (on the schedule) has a great attitude, strong customer service skills, connection to her students, and her continued effort to grow and evolve in her teaching makes her an exceptional yogi and instructor. Come take her class! See her schedule and Q&A below:

Tuesdays:

YBD Restorative 1:15-2:15pm Elmhurst

Yoga Sculpt 7:15-8:15pm Wheaton

Wednesdays:

YBD 2 95 6:00-7:00am Downers Grove

Yoga Sculpt 6:00-7:00pm Downers Grove

YBD 1 7:15-8:15pm

Fridays:

YBD 1 8:00-9:00am Wheaton

YBD Restorative 1:30-2:30pm Downers Grove

YBD1 4:30-5:30pm Glen Ellyn

Yoga Sculpt 6:00-7:00pm Glen Ellyn

Saturdays:

YBD1 2:00-3:00pm Wheaton

YBD2 105 4:00-5:00pm Wheaton

Sundays:

YBD1 8:30-9:30am Glen Ellyn

Yoga Sculpt 10:00-11:00am Glen Ellyn

YBD Restorative 1:15-2:15pm Elmhurst

When and how did you come to yoga?

Every morning since I can remember I would wake up and go through a set of poses like cat/cows, forward folds, etc. At the time, I didn’t even know I was doing yoga poses. So, I guess since I was in this world I have been doing yoga.  I started taking regular yoga classes in college at a local gym where I fell in love with the mind, body, and spirit connection. I was always active in dance, volleyball, basketball, and running BUT nothing compared to yoga. Once I found it, I was hooked.

Why did you start teaching yoga?

I wanted to pass along the power of yoga. I went through some difficult health issues and yoga is where I found solace and vibrancy again.  I wanted to teach yoga to give others a way to relax, rejuvenate, and increase their health and wellness as I had done.Yoga created a peace and awareness in me that changed my life. So, I decided to leave my corporate job last year and pursue yoga teaching and my nursing degree. I jumped into teacher training Fall 2014.

What is your favorite pose? 

Chair pose. This pose challenges my patience, strength, and body awareness.  It allows me to find my fierce side and channel that energy through my breath. You sink into your chair and work through that mental frustration in the intensity to then release into the next pose.  It feels amazing to transition from chair to other more surrendering poses.

Who inspires your teaching?

My mom.  She has been my role model my whole life and has taught first grade for over 20 years.  Her ability to give her whole heart to what she does and her graceful teaching inspires me to shine my light to my students to fully be present. She tells her kids the bumble bee quote “Aerodynamically, the bumble bee shouldn’t be able to fly, but the bumble bee doesn’t know it so it goes on flying anyway.” – Mary Kay Ash.  When I teach I try to instill this in my students to look beyond their “limitations”, fears, or routine and allow new space and breath to take them to a place of growth. Also, current books I read inspire me. When words speak to me, I try to make a sequence that embodies that energy and inspiration.

Tips for beginners…

Don’t let fear hold you back from freely flowing and finding your peace. Just breath, smile, and accept yourself exactly as you are on your mat every day. Hakuna Matata –No worries just feel the peace and ease.

What’s your favorite quote?

“Peace is not something you wish for; it’s something you make, Something you do, Something you are, And Something you give away. –John Lennon

Meet Heather, YBD Teacher of the Month

Heather has been an integral part of Yoga by Degrees so it is about time that we celebrate the amazing gifts she brings to our community. She is YBD’s senior manager, overseeing Wheaton and our western studios, a leader of our 200-hour Teacher Training and is one of our only 500-hour level certified instructors. Heather pours her heart out into everything she does and backs up that nurturing energy with a strong support of anatomy knowledge. Come check out her class at the Wheaton studio:

Tuesday, 9:30am YBD1

Wednesday, 1:30pm YBD2 95

Thursday, 9:30am YBD1

Thursday, 12pm Restorative

Saturday, 8am YBD2 85

Saturday, 10:30am Restorative

Saturday, 12pm YBD2 95, 75 minutes*

Get to know Heather better below:

When and how did you come to yoga?

I began a consistent practice in 2007 after the separation from my ex-husband.    While I had “dabbled” with practicing yoga this time it stuck.  There was a little studio walking-distance from my house and the more I practiced the better I felt.  When I began I couldn’t touch my toes; down dog was NOT a resting pose and chaturanga (yoga push up) was torture.  After it was all over I felt strong, empowered, calm and centered.  No matter how bad the day was or how difficult my life was at the time, I felt at peace.  Over time my physical practice improved but no mater how I struggled in my practice, I was at home on my mat.

Why did you start teaching yoga?

The funny thing is I never intended to teach yoga.  I never wanted to teach yoga.  I got my 200-hour yoga certificate in 2008 as a way to deepen my own practice and dive deeper in the philosophy of yoga.  I wanted to understand why I felt so good even in times of struggle.  My teacher training was for personal growth and nothing else.  One day a fellow teacher asked me to sub one of her classes while going out of the country for a month.   I said no without hesitation.  After a lengthy conversation about why I was not a yoga teacher she said to me “Heather, I think my students would like you and please think about it.”  After some searching I said to myself, “You are a sub.  If you aren’t good at this they never have to see you again.” So I subbed for the month and I fell in love.  I just shared what I loved about the practice and let that lead the way.  I am a very different teacher today than I was back then.  I received my 500-hour teaching certificate back in 2010 and use my knowledge of anatomy and kinesiology to help students in their practice.

What is your favorite pose? 

This a difficult question to answer.  Even poses that aren’t my favorite, I love what they do for me.  A few favorites are pigeon, down dog and wild thing.  Wild thing (camatkrasana) is a heart opener that makes me feel loving and graceful.

 

Who inspires your teaching?

There is no one person that inspires my teaching.  Inspiration can come from anything at any time.  I am inspired daily by all my fellow instructors and students.  Watching my students practice, seeing their moments of success, struggle and acceptance makes me want to be a better teacher for them.  In the end, it is about their experience.  I am blessed to work with wonderful teachers that ALL bring something special to the mat.  I try to use everything as an opportunity for growth both personally and as a teacher.

Tips for beginners…  

Remember that you ARE good at yoga.  I wish I had a dollar for every time I heard “I’m not good at yoga, but…..”  (I’d have some serious coin). Yoga means to yolk or unite.  Yoga brings us together.  Yoga doesn’t care how strong or how flexible you are.  Yoga accepts you in THIS moment just the way you are.  That means tight, feeling weak, injured (please honor your body. If it hurts, don’t do it), happy, or sad.   Show up on your mat for you, work toward self acceptance, and self improvement comes along for the ride.  Your time on your mat belongs to you and it is a chance to breathe, move and reconnect with yourself.

What’s your favorite quote?  

I say this every class: “Practice makes progress. You are already perfect.”   The more you practice, the more your practice improves. Perfection is already within you. We just cover it up with fear, expectations, judgments and thoughts that don’t serve us.  Strip it all away and there lies your perfection.

Meet Nikki, Teacher of the Month

We love Nikki! What an inspiring soul and skilled yoga instructor and fab Feb Teacher of the Month. Thank you for sharing your gifts, your authenticity and your spiritual energy with our community. Check out her class schedule to heal, purify, let go and leave feeling strong and serene:

4:30pm YBD Hot, Wednesdays in Downers Grove

5:45pm YBD2, Wednesdays (or temporarily Fridays) in Downers Grove

8:30am YBD Hot, Saturdays in Downers Grove

10:15am YBD1, Saturdays in Downers Grove

11:30am FREE Intro to Yoga, every other Saturday in Downers Grove

 

Inspiring words from Nikki, get to know her better below:

When did you first come to yoga?

I came to yoga about four years ago, and originally started with Bikram yoga. There are many reasons that I decided to walk into a yoga studio. For starters, I was recovering from an ACL surgery when I played rugby at Illinois State. I no longer could run, yet alone walk most of the time. I experienced constant pain, inflammation, and because of my lack of mobility my depression and anxiety increased. On the flip side of the coin, I already had issues upstairs. I deal with PTSD on a daily basis, and have been finding stability and healing through my yoga practice, but especially my teaching. Before I practiced asanas, meditation, or breathing techniques I would suffer from panic attacks on a daily basis and could no longer leave my home. It was awful! The first time I found peace, was on my mat, and I realized that there was a better, bigger life out there waiting for me. All I needed to do was be brave enough to take the first step. I found my first vinyasa class to be challenging and it tested my vulnerabilities as well as my ego. But, I kept going back; some attribute this to the ‘yogi high’ we feel post savasana. 😉

Today, I am able to finally look myself in the mirror and LOVE who I have become. The community of teachers and students inspire me to live my yoga every moment. I no longer suffer from panic attacks on the regular, but once in a blue moon. Life is far from perfect, however I am loving all the imperfections, and how they carve my journey.

Why did you start teaching yoga?

I am excited to announce that I am going into my third year teaching! This is more special to me than my actual relationship anniversary (luckily my fiance understands); because, in a way, I married myself. For once, I put my mind and body first. My experience teaching yoga has enabled me to make profound connections with other people, gave me a platform to share my struggles and experiences, and allowed me to help others heal as I heal myself.

What is your favorite pose?

Honestly, I am not being cliche, but it is savasana. It is always my opportunity to unplug, reconnect with myself, practice staying present, and allowing myself to transcend beyond all of life’s stressors into a deep state of rest. It is very closely connected to transcendental meditation, which is my preference. This posture creates such an in-depth relaxation that our brain waves actually change to mimic that of REM sleep. In addition, this is where we receive all the benefits from our previous postures. As a side note, if you stay with the natural rhythm of your breath while in savasana for at least 5 minutes you reduce the cortisol levels in your body, which decreases inflammation and stress (produced by your adrenal glands). If you are someone who struggles with trauma, present or past, savasana is your best friend, because it settles down the ‘fight or flight’ response messages that are overactive in our bodies.

Who inspires your teaching?

Everyone and everything; authentic experiences. That is what inspires me. I believe everything happens for a reason, and every person you meet has a purpose. The world is my mat, and I absorb the lessons like a sponge. I will say that my students and my teacher trainers tend to be the biggest source for inspiration. I love seeing their vulnerability, strengths, and will power as they test out their limitations (or lack thereof) in life.

Tips for beginners…

Don’t worry about what you look like, how inflexible you are, or what type of shape your beautiful body is in. Be open to mistakes, falling, and the unknown. My favorite reminder, “it’s yoga practice, not yoga perfect.” (Said by many, loved by all.) Also, your chapter one should never be compared to someone else’s chapter eight. Each person on their mat possesses a different anatomy, purpose, and length of time practicing. Some are natural, and some will always be clumsy (me!). We are here for the internal transformation, and the external benefits. Trust in the process, and it will unfold before your very eyes.

Last but not least, leave your ego, expectations, and judgments at the door; always lead with your heart.

What’s your favorite quote?

My favorite quote? I can ONLY choose one?! Okay…”If you are depressed, you are living in the past. If you are anxious, you are living in the future. If you are at peace, you are living in the present.” -Lao Tzu

Yoga teaches me to live in the moment, as it comes. Not as it was or how I wish it to be. This is how I have found my peace; by becoming aware of the whirlwind of emotions I feel inside (without judgment), and then asking myself WHY I feel this way. If it is because I have latched on to something where I have little to no control, then I reroute. Santosha, contentment, is my final destination in this lifetime.