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Mindful Monday: Meditation

Happy Monday, dearest mindful ones!

This week’s topic is one near and dear to my heart: meditation.

Did you know that the reason we practice our physical poses is to prepare mind and body to sit easily in meditation?

Yes! So interesting, right? Our asanas allow us to develop more awareness of reality; they discipline our mind and body for stillness; we learn not to react to sensations in the body; we learn to calm mind and body when the urge to run away is overpowering; we become mindful of how our thoughts can be mastered.

Physically, asanas prepare the body, especially hips and spine, to endure staying seated and upright without distractions from physical discomfort. Poses also identify and flush out energetic and muscular stress, tension and resistance. The physical practice paves the way for pranyama, breath awareness, which deepens the focus and slows the mind.

So the ideal opportunity to meditate is directly following asana and pranayama practice.

So what is meditation, exactly? Meditation is a habitual practice of training your mind to focus, redirect and eventually to still your thoughts altogether. Like all things worthwhile in life: it is hard work and it requires discipline and accountability.

“But I don’t have time!” This is not even an original excuse. We make time in our lives for things we prioritize. Wake up five minutes earlier. Cut into your social media time. Take just five minutes at the end of your day.

There are numerous studies and entire books, blogs and documentaries devoted to all of the benefits of a meditation practice. Here are some of the quick and dirty major benefits:

1. Stress release

2. Anxiety reduction

3. Increases focus

4. Decreases blood pressure

5. Promotes better sleep

Just like any new habit/discipline, start out slow and steady!

1. Try to get to yoga class a little early so you can sit and practice mindfulness! You’ll notice a definite shift in your vinyasa practice. This is exactly why we hold quiet space before and after classes.

2. Stay just a few minutes after class to sit quietly. If you’re on a tight timeline, forgo savasana for a seated meditation.

3. Wake up five minutes early and just sit (or lie in bed!) and notice sensations in your body and begin your day with a positive and clear mindset.

4. Take a few minutes right before bed to practice mindfulness. You can sit and observe or you can even do legs up the wall as you release your day and prepare for deep, healing sleep!

5. You can even practice mindfulness when you’re standing in line or sitting in traffic in your car! Or performing daily rituals and repetitive, habitual tasks, e.g.: vacuuming, doing dishes, cleaning bathtub.

Set yourself up for success. Have some short term goals and discipline yourself to stick to them! Not only will you get all the benefits of mindfulness practice, but you’ll get a boost to your self-esteem knowing you are supporting the development of your best and highest self.

Have a great, mindful week, dearest ones! I’d love to hear how your mindfulness practice is developing!

Mindful Monday: Ajna Chakra

The Ajna Chakra or the Third Eye chakra is associated with the LIGHT element and the color INDIGO.

Mantra: “I see” or “Aum/Om”

The Ajna is located on the forehead between the eyebrows, just above and between the eye line.

It governs your vision, intuition, illumination, psychic abilities, perception of subtle dimensions and movements of energy, connection to insight, wisdom, inspiration and creativity.

When your Ajna chakra is open and balanced, you clearly see reality without the filters of your ego, expectations, past experiences and other social programming. The gift of your Ajna chakra is the ability to be mindful and live in the present moment. Your third eye chakra is the center of your intuition and wisdom, allowing you to open your mind to deeper understandings and expand your intuition.

When it is blocked, you may feel stuck in the daily grind without being able to look beyond your problems and set a guiding vision for yourself and have a lack of clarity.

When it is overstimulated and without support from the rest of the chakra system, you may indulge in fantasies that appear more real than reality, and experience psychic fantasies and other illusions.

To balance this chakra, try forward folds, shoulder stand and balasana, childs’ pose.

See clearly, my dear yogis!

Mindful Monday: Samadhi

Good morning and happy Monday! We begin the very last month of this decade! Time keeps marching along, doesn’t it?

Last week we covered the difference between Dharana (concentration) and Dhyana (meditation).

Dharana sets the stage for Samadhi, which means harmony, “to bring together, to merge.”  

These final three limbs are generally studied together: dharana, Dhyana and Samadhi. These final three are at the most sublime and esoteric level of our study of yoga.

In Samadhi, subject and object merge as one. This eighth and final stage of yoga brings on super conscious awareness. One loses a sense of “I” and enters this Samadhi state where the meditator, the process of meditation and the object of meditation becomes one.

Samadhi is actually a series of states and experiences. Yoga Sutras describes various types of samadhis. One has to go through the different types of this Samadhi experience. Finally the practitioner reaches the highest stage of illumination called ‘Dharma Megha Samadhi’, which liberates the practitioner from all limitations of body and mind.

This identity without differences is a liberated soul that enjoys pure awareness. The mind and the intellect have stopped and there is only the experience of truth and unutterable joy. Which is the ultimate aim of our yoga practice.

Dear friends, wishing you a lovely week filled with mindfulness and increased awareness of all things.

Annica! Annica! Annica! Be happy! Be happy! Be happy!

Mindful Monday: Dhyana

Good morning, mindful ones! It’s the week of Thanksgiving, and we have so much to be thankful for!

Let’s move onward in our study of the eight limbs of yoga.

Last week, we covered dharana, our sixth limb of yoga. Dharana sets the stage for dhyana, the perfect contemplation of meditation.

Dhyana is total absorption into the object being focused on. This uninterrupted flow of concentration creates devotion. Dhyana distinctly differs from the one-pointed concentration of dharana in that it is ultimately a state of being keenly aware without focus. In this quiet stillness the brain produces few or no thoughts at all. The strength and stamina it takes to reach this state of stillness is quite impressive. In dhyana we dissolve separateness and experience the deep river of peace.

As you cultivate a consistent meditation practice, you will derive both mental and physical benefits in your life. Modern science and medicine are just now measuring the benefits of this ancient practice to explain how the body physiologically changes and how each of the trillions of body cells are charged with more prana (energy). Increased life force or prana results in joy, peace, and enthusiasm. Below I’ve listed a small percentage of the vast  benefits of mediation.

Physical Benefits

▪ Lowers high blood pressure

▪ Reduces anxiety

▪ Decreases tension-related pain, such as, tension headaches, ulcers, insomnia, muscle and joint problems

▪ Increases serotonin production that improves mood and behavior

▪ Improves the immune system

▪ Increases energy level, as you gain an inner source of energy

▪ Can assist with weight loss and other physical goals

▪ Improved athletic performance

▪ Can provide significant relief from asthma and allergies

Mental Benefits of Meditation

Meditation brings the brainwave pattern into a relaxed state that promotes healing. The mind becomes fresh, delicate and beautiful. With regular practice of meditation:

▪ Emotional stability improves

▪ Creativity increases

▪ Happiness increases

▪ Intuition develops

▪ Increase in mental clarity

▪ Sharpens the mind by increasing focus

▪ Slows aging of your mind

▪ Can help with improving relationships

How do you tell the difference between concentration and meditation? If there is awareness of distraction, you are concentrating and not meditating. The calm achieved in meditation spills over into all aspects of your life. Try practicing meditation during a hectic day at work, shopping for groceries, attempting to return/exchange holiday gifts, or even waiting in a busy queue of traffic!

Start small; set your timer for five minutes each day and build from there. Imagine yourself at this time next year after a full year of meditating! You are 100 percent pure potential, my friend! Let’s talk more next year… On behalf of all of us at YBD, wishing you and your family a safe, healthy and prosperous new year filled with love, happiness, success,  yoga and meditation!

Mindful Monday: Pratyahara

Happy Mindful, snowy Monday, darling ones!

We’ve swiftly arrived at our fifth yogic limb: pratyahara.

Our conscious breathing -pranayama- sets the stage for Pratayhara, where we transcend sensory stimulation and draw focus inward. We stay fully aware of the five senses, but we observe objectively and therefore the mind can rest. We stop living off the things that stimulate; we dispassionately observe the cycle of stimulation and reaction and are no longer a slave to the senses. No longer functioning in their usual manner, the senses become extraordinarily sharp.

This is a stage of yoga practice just beyond the physical where internal yoga practice begins.  Practicing pratyahara takes place when your individual consciousness is turned inward so you can master the flow of prana, or energy, in your body.  Specifically, pratyahara is the withdrawing yourself away from anything unwholesome, excessive, or distracting for the mind. 

Unfortunately, most of us don’t have the ability to withdraw into seclusion in the mountains to meditate without distractions. It is so much easier to harmonize with prana when you can renounce the distractions of the world to focus on controlling the senses!

However, in our reality, we have temptations of money, sex, fame, gossip, overindulgence in food, shopping, alcohol, etc. If you can overcome the temptations here and now then you have really mastered your senses.

Concentration, in the yoga room or the boardroom, begins as a battle with the distracting senses. In mastering pratyahara, you no longer unnecessarily respond to the itch on your nose or hear the baby crying in the restaurant. You are able to fix your focus on your main objective.

According to Patanjali, the eight limbs work together: The first five steps — yama, niyama asana, pranayama, and pratyahara — are the preliminaries of building the foundation for  a spiritual life. They are concerned with the body and the brain. The last three, which we will cover in subsequent posts,  are concerned with reconditioning the mind.

So it becomes clearer that yoga is nothing more than a process which enables us to stop and look at the habits of our own minds; only in this way can we understand the nature of happiness and unhappiness, and thus transcend them both.

Yoga provides an opportunity to ultimately attain enlightenment or the full realization of oneness with Spirit.

Have a great week, friends!!!

Mindful Monday: The Secret to Happiness

Good morning and Happy Monday, mindful one!

Would you like to know the secret to happiness?

*keep scrolling

Be happy!

Super simple, right?

You seem disappointed.

Well, it’s certainly not EASY! Who likes easy, anyway? We’re here for maximum growth and transformation! And that kind of magical stuff is never, ever as boring and mundane as … easy.

The truth is our natural state of being is one of happiness. Pure, sublime, delicious and simple happiness.

Here are the top ten ways that we give away our happiness every day. Relinquishing our own power and control of our life experiences. (Seems so insane when you think of it like that, right?)

1. Choosing to be unhappy rather than happy.

2. Fear of anything, especially of being a radiant, shiny rockstar or of falling in love over and over and over again.

3. Waiting for everything to be “just right” and in “perfect order” before jumping off that bridge.

4. Getting caught up in silly, irrelevant trivialities

5. Worrying what others will think and seeking validation from others

6. Attaching happiness to anything external, like: the weather (friendly reminder that you live in the Midwest amidst FOUR seasons); how other people drive, look, breathe, think, and live their lives; life unfolding in its own perfection and timetable

7. Focusing on what you don’t have rather than being eternally grateful for all you DO HAVE right now

8. Thinking of all the different ways things might go wrong rather than trusting and believing that everything is RIGHT, especially the detours and the so-called setbacks

9. Wasting even a single precious second on self-doubt. Please see #2

10. Cultivating negativity in thoughts, words and actions.

Ok, my little dove, go forth and soar like the radiant, creative, gorgeous being we all know you are.

Have a great week, friends!

September 2019 POTM: Anahatasana or Melting Heart Pose

Happy September, yogis!

Our POTM is Anahatasana, or Melting Heart pose (sometimes referred to as Extended Puppy pose). This beautiful backbend deeply opens the shoulders, pectoral muscles of the chest, thoracic spine, neck and lower back. Heart and lung meridians receive a fresh burst of prana. Try this yoga pose first thing in the morning to set the tone for the day ahead!

Here’s how:

From table top (hands and knees) position, slide your arms forward and begin to melt your heart towards the earth.

Listen carefully to your heart and body and move only to the degree that feels appropriate.

You can always layer a block under your sternum to help your heart meet the earth.

You can bring your forehead to your mat (or a block if necessary) and gently rock your forehead side to side, massaging your ajna or third eye chakra.

Ultimately your chest may lay on the ground, with the chin tilting up. This will compress and massage the back on the neck and must only be done if comfortable.

If your chest, throat and chin easily rest on your mat, you can tuck your toes, lift your knees off the mat and straighten your legs. Please note that this is an advanced variation, and should only be done if your chest can remain pinned to the earth.

Hold for 3-5 minutes, breathing deeply into the shoulders, neck, spine, chest and lower back. Always remember where your attention goes, energy flows and it is important in these more vulnerable yin, backbending poses to remain focused inwards and on your pranayama.

Observe the emotions rising in this yoga pose. Melting heart is particularly effective in releasing heavy, stagnant or sad feelings. It may trigger an emotional reaction and release, including the need to cry! By the end of the pose, you will feel joy and lightness.

Follow with Balasana, Child’s Pose.

Mindful Monday: Graceful Acceptance

Happy Monday, yogis!

It’s happening again, isn’t it? That final rallying that summer’s not really over.

Scoffing at pumpkin spice’s far too premature appearance. I mean seriously, my birthday is in September (oh, the 14th if you were wondering), and my birthday is literally always warm, bright and sunny. And I’m positive I saw pumpkin even before Labor Day!

Wearing shorts and tank tops, because, it’s like the first week of September! (Thank goodness I had my son’s track hoodie in my trunk for these early mornings.)

Still ordering iced chai rather than hot chai because I don’t need to warm my fingers – cold is like a mini Cryo treatment to my hands.

Then the realization that resisting the natural cycles of nature is just the same as complaining about the weather, which is my greatest pet peeve. Complaining about something that you have zero control or input over is an exercise in futility, frustration and insanity.

So today I ordered a hot coffee for myself and my friend Gina (not pumpkin) and felt gratitude for the chill breeze early this morning.

I admired how the trees are preparing for their big color show and inevitable release to bareness by slowly shedding extra leaves.

And I acknowledged the energetic effects of this transitional time on my body. It’s starting to slow down. It wants more rest and grounding.

The fall is characterized by vata dosha: airy, windy, cold, light, moving and dry.

As long as these qualities are in balance, a person whose dosha is predominantly vata (like me) will be healthy, creative, and exuberant. But when too much vata accumulates in the body and mind, the imbalance may manifest as physical or emotional disorders, including insomnia, dry skin, arthritis, constipation, high blood pressure, anxiety, and depression.

Many of us naturally and subconsciously move toward grounding ourselves during this windy, moving energy time. We move toward heavier, cooked foods that are filling and warming. We may see an increase in our appetites; be intuitive and take cues from your body on what it needs.

Tending toward softer, heavier fabrics in earth tones will ground and calm vata.

  • Even our yoga practice will reflect this transitional time: more stabilizing and grounding poses and flows.
  • As always, taking our cues from intuition and nature are the simplest ways we can gracefully weather life’s shifts and transitions. From the weather to kids back in school to shifts at work, in life and relationships, we learn to stabilize within and be more allowing to whatever flows our way.

    Have a lovely week, friends!

    Mindful Monday:

    Good morning, beautiful mindful ones!

    “Do not dwell in the past, do not dream of the future, concentrate the mind on the present moment.”

    Here’s a short story about life.

    There was once a man who had been wounded by a poisoned arrow. And when his family wanted to find a doctor to help him, the man said no.

    The mortally wounded man said that before any doctor tried to help him, he wanted to know who had attacked him. What was his caste and where was he from?

    He also wanted to know this other man’s height, strength, skin tone, the kind of bow he used, and whether its string was made of hemp, silk, or bamboo.

    So, as he wondered if the arrow’s feathers came from a vulture, peacock, or falcon, and whether the bow was common, curved, or made of oleander, he ended up dying before getting an answer to any of his questions. 

    How often do we this? Focusing so much on every myriad, irrevelant detail of the past, that we literally sacrifice our future?

    Focusing on the past robs us of our ability to fully experience the present, to enjoy every moment of the journey and to appreciate the beauty of life. Through yoga, we continually practice staying present in the moment. To focus, breathe, observe as we empty the mind of everything but right now.

    That’s exactly why we practice balancing poses! We are forced to feel the entire body and stay super focused – it’s hard enough balancing on two feet, let alone one!

    And most remember, dear yogis, that you are exactly where you are supposed to be in your journey!

    Make it the best week ever!

    Namaste

    Mindful Monday: Sangha

    Good morning and happy Monday, dearest mindful ones!

    I’m so grateful to be part of the Yoga By Degrees sangha. I’m so grateful for each and every one of YOU! 🙏🏾

    Sangha is a Sanskrit term meaning association, company or community.

    In Buddhism, sangha has two meanings: 1. A community of Buddhist monastic monks and nuns, or 2. a community of awakened beings.

    When I refer to our YBD sangha, I’m acknowledging that you are all my TRIBE! My peoples.

    I’m appreciating the fact that through all of my life transitions over the past eight plus years, YOU my dearest mindful one, have walked by my side; grabbed my hand and pulled me when I needed it; kicked me in my booty at times; pushed; cheered and supported me through ALL of it.

    And I sincerely hope that you feel I’ve been able to do the same for you.

    How lucky are we to have a sacred space to go and hide, heal, cry, laugh and receive love, compassion, support and understanding?!

    I am particularly grateful for all of the love, support, wisdom and much-needed advice as I’ve navigated the turbulent years of parenting a brilliant, talented and very stubborn (not sure where he got that from!) teenager!

    And yesterday was a successful launch into his brand new, bright, shiny future as a college freshman in Nashville at Vanderbilt University.

    It truly takes a village or a sangha to raise a child.

    From the bottom of my heart, thank you my dearest mindful ones.

    Namaste.