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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.

Mindful Monday: Patience

Good morning, Mindful Ones!

“Patience is not about waiting, but the ability to keep a good attitude while waiting.”

Boy, did I have an awesome lesson in patience on Saturday morning!

I left my house early to take one of my favorite yoga classes. En route, I stopped to get my iced coffee. I buy my coffee from a spot that is a hidden gem – it’s never very busy because it’s kind of off the beaten path.

Well when I got there, I knew right away things seemed odd. There was a long line for the drive-through.

Simple enough. I parked my car and headed in. And that’s when I saw the long line of customers waiting agitatedly.

I caught the attention of my lovely barista Mârché, and she explained that there was only two people working that morning rather than the scheduled four people.

So, I understood very clearly why there was a longer than normal wait. I had compassion for the two girls working, because they were dealing with two long lines of inconvenienced customers.

And still, a well of annoyance, irritation and entitlement kept trying to bubble to the surface. And I kept breathing deeply and reminding myself of the perfectly logical reason why I was waiting. It was definitely a struggle.

And because I frequent that location, and I have had dozens upon dozens of great experiences there, I was able to restrain myself from behaving badly. Lol.

I had to wait so long, however, that I was now in danger of being late for class! Fortunately I had left quite early that morning, which in itself was a tiny miracle. 🤣 Had I left at my regular time, which generally gives me about a five minute window, I would have absolutely missed my class.

So about 12 minutes later (who was counting?) i’m in my car and speeding off with focus and determination to get to my yoga class.

Wouldn’t that be the morning that I caught every single red light? And not just regular red lights; Red lights that literally lasted like two minutes each.

And why was every driver in front of me the slowest in the history of driving?

Again, that hot flame of annoyance began to rise and build! It was growing into full blown road rage. I was clutching the steering wheel and hunching forward over it. I felt my shoulders tense upward toward my ears; my jaw was clenching. I was agitatedly pounding on my steering wheel!

And I kept reminding myself to breathe. That this was most definitely a first world problem. That I had already texted the teacher and she had put a mat down for me. That if I missed my yoga class there was 32 others during the day that I could take.

It was a constant back and forth struggle the entire drive.

I made it to class with two minutes to spare. I dramatically rushed in and got myself set up. I said hello to my fellow students and other teachers. And finally, landed on my mat filled with gratitude and joy.

Sigh. It’s always great to be back home.

Let’s remember together, dear ones, that patience is a sign of STRENGTH and anger is the hallmark of weakness.

Have a great week, great souls! And be so grateful if the universe sends you many, many opportunities this week to practice your patience!

Mindful Monday: Summer is Slipping Away

Good morning and happy Monday, dearest ones!

Summer is slip sliding away so quickly!

And isn’t time such a relative perspective?

For parents with young, loud, messy, high-energy, easily bored little ones, the advent of a new school year can’t come quickly enough!

For one of my dearest friends whose daughter is in her last two weeks of Beast basic training for the United States Military Academy aka West Point, time seems interminable.

For me? I’d love to slow down the clock because my son Julian leaves for Vanderbilt in less than three weeks! Not to mention summer is hands down (legs up) my absolute best time of year!

Thus is our human nature. Trying to cherry pick life’s moments and experiences. Attaching to and desiring what we perceive to be “good” and resisting and averting from what we deem as “bad.”

We can never achieve permanent, authentic happiness and inner peace if we are constantly defining the conditions for it.

I will be happy if he brings me flowers.

I can’t be happy if she keeps smacking her gum.

I will be happy once I can get my leg behind my head.

I can’t be happy unless I get married again.

I’ll be happy if my mother-in-law doesn’t criticize me.

Whether or not these (temporary) conditions come to pass, we can still choose happiness if we don’t expect or depend on them.

Think about why you take a vinyasa class at your favorite studio: it’s awesome specifically because you don’t know what the teacher had planned! You are a student: open, eager and ready for whatever unfolds on your mat! Especially when you first began practicing, right?

It was all shiny and new and challenging and intoxicating. You didn’t second guess the instructor or try to anticipate what was coming up next. You listened, tried, experienced it.

You learned how to try new things.

How to fall. And get back up with a giggle.

You learned how strong you are!

You learned where you had areas and potential for growth.

You learned to breathe

To listen to your heart.

To accept wherever you happen to be on your journey.

And the entire point of yoga is to transpose all of those lessons off of the mat into real life.

So, rather than trying to make time slow down or speed up, we breathe in fully and deeply each and every moment. We trust in the higher intelligence of LIFE. We surrender to being such a beautiful, integral part of the greater universe.

Of course, it ain’t easy! Lol. Where would the fun be in that?!

So even though my heart aches down to the deepest level of my soul, I choose to be happy even during my moments of deep sobbing and panic. To feel grateful that I am able to love on the deepest of levels. To be thrilled for this ridiculously bright and amazing future my son is embarking upon.

To know and trust that of course it is all necessary and amazing and beautiful. All of it. Especially those circumstances that break us down; crack us wide open; leave us feeling raw and vulnerable and tender.

For these are the opportunities for true growth. Here we learn compassion, patience, healing, acceptance, depth of love and letting go.

Each moment may seem to last forever, but they are so precious and fleeting.

And one day in retrospect, you’ll look back and those moments you tried to rush through are the ones that you deeply long for!

One more day of summer break with my son

One more afternoon answering endless questions

One more early Saturday morning of baseball/karate/track meet/practice driving/soccer

One more night filled with loud, silly, messy hungry boys sleeping over

One more weekday night after a long day of work to hear the words: “mommy, will you play with me”

Recognizing on the deepest level there’s no going back for do-overs, I know the next best thing is to stay mindfully aware and present for all of the moments of each day.

So take advantage of the gift of these last weeks of summer! What have you been planning to do? Get out there and make it happen! So when you do look back, it’s with a deep, joyful knowing that you appreciated and maximized each moment.

Have a great week, friends!

Mindful Monday: Checkpoint

Good morning, mindful ones!

Have you ever heard the saying, “How you do anything is how you do everything”?

Let’s look into that one as it applies to the weather.

How did you react to the big snow we had yesterday? In the middle of April?

Did you immediately act shocked and dismayed?

Did you start to complain and say how unfair it was?

Did you feel victimized and that you couldn’t take it anymore?

Did you wake up pleasantly surprised?

Did you think to yourself: Snow in the middle of April? Yes! Absolutely! It happened last year around this time, too!

Did you acknowledge the sublime power of Mother Nature and admire her work?

Whatever your thoughts were, they created an emotional reaction. They then became your words. You expressed those words to your friends, family and social media platforms.

How we react to random weather events can give us great insight into how we react to all of life’s experiences.

When something happens unexpectedly or in a way that you hadn’t anticipated, you will once again react in a very similar way to how you reacted to the weather.

So you may be thinking: yeah, so what? Which is another habitual pattern of thinking.

Well, it matters. It all matters.

Your conditioned patterns of thinking and reacting create your attitudes, emotions and behavior patterns. Your behavior patterns create your habits and lifestyle. Your habits and lifestyle attract people in your life vibrating at that same energy level. Literally your thoughts, words and actions in each small, trivial moment in life is how you live your life.

And how you reacted to yesterday’s weather, if you look honestly at your patterns, is how you react if someone cuts you off in traffic or doesn’t respond to an email or text as quickly as you’d like.

Are you a victim? Is it easy for others to steal your joy and peace of mind? Do you thoughtlessly give away your personal power every time there’s a little hiccup in your day?

Do you consciously cultivate positive thoughts and energy? Do you practice gratitude? Do you commit to your inner peace and equanimity regardless of what’s happening externally?

The truth is, any moment of any day is the perfect checkpoint of awareness of how we are doing anything in life.

Take moments to pause during your day and check in with yourself: are my thoughts and actions in this moment drawing me closer to my goals or pulling me away? There are only two directions we are moving with each thought and action.

We can’t affect shifts in our lives without awareness of our current vibrational levels. With that awareness, we have all the information that we need to decide whether we are ready to vibe up or if we’re content with our current circumstances.

Have a beautiful, mindful Monday, friends!

Mindful Monday: Day One or One Day?

Good morning, mindful ones!!!

It’s day one! The first day of another round of our 21 day detox.

For the next 21 days, our dedicated yogis will restrain from the following substances:

Sugar (processed and added)

Gluten

Caffeine

Alcohol

Animal products, meat, fish, dairy and eggs = essentially eating vegan for 21 days

On this journey together, we learn to take extremely great care of our bodies, and we experience real, discernible breakthroughs in mind, body and spirit.

Fasting and cleansing has been used throughout the centuries for physical healing and as a path toward enlightenment. Even the fathers of modern medicine Hippocrates and Galen learned that occasionally refraining from food was a proven way to cure disease and heal the body.

And the great philosophers Plato and Socrates regularly gave up certain foods to enhance the sense of physical well-being and to improve mental clarity.

It’s imperative to challenge yourself to let go of certain things you seemingly cannot live without.

All of our mindfulness practices: meditation, yoga, fasting and cleansing allow us to observe the deeper levels of our unconscious mind and uproot deep-seated complexes; current patterns; and fears. We may reveal a deeper sense of clarity within and break from the habit of instant gratification.

Removing these five substances will create space to observe a deeper connection to the role food plays in our lives and how it affects us on deeper levels. We give ourselves the opportunity to break from artificial stimulants and depressants and return to the natural rhythm and flow of the body thereby ending the vicious cycle of self- indulgence followed by self-flagellation.

Keep in mind that there are many ways to practice self-restraints according to our Buddhist teachings.

If you were unable to join our group this round, there are some other behaviors that you can observe and try to abstain from.

Gossip

Judging yourself and others

Over-scheduling yourself

Reacting to every feeling that you have or to the actions of others

Your day one could be anything that you want to observe and improve within your own life. And yoga reminds us that day one can start at any moment of any day. With each new breath that you draw into your body, you can begin again.

How will you use this precious gift of today to improve yourself and thereby elevating the entire universe?

Mindful Monday: Success is an Iceberg

Good morning, successful, mindful ones!

It’s happened to all of us. We go to a yoga class, and there’s a yogi who flows from pose to pose with effortless grace. He practically levitates or she appears to have no bones!

Success is an iceberg. When we look at others (and when others look at us), we are only seeing a very limited representation of the complete picture.

It’s easy for us to think, “oh he must’ve been a gymnast” or “she was clearly a dancer before.”

What we see is a beautiful but tiny snapshot of their practice.

Well, in yoga (and life) things are not what they seem to be. What you see is just the tip of the iceberg.

The truth is sometimes a little bit darker and uglier than most of us think. To achieve excellence or success, years of struggle and sacrifice are precursors.

The “successful” ones know what hard work and dedication are, and most of them had many moments of desperation and failure.

They’ve fallen out of poses innumerable times and will continue to do so. What brought them to their mat likely may have been trauma or depression or unhappiness.

Don’t get fooled by the tip of the iceberg, people! It’s just that. Like many things in life, what you see (what’s visible) is not always, and even in most of the cases, what it actually is.

So whether it’s your yoga practice or any other aspects of your life, look at what’s below the water on the picture; do all of these things, and I guarantee you will achieve success.

Remember, it won’t get any easier, you’ll just get better!

Make it a great week friends!

Mindful Monday: Cultivating Equanimity

Good morning, mindful ones!

We are quite familiar with the concept of mindfulness by now, right?

The dictionary defines mindfulness as:

1 the quality or state of being conscious or aware of something.

2 a mental state achieved by focusing one’s awareness on the present moment, while calmly acknowledging and accepting one’s feelings, thoughts, and bodily sensations, used as a therapeutic technique.

When we practice mindfulness, we are re-wiring our brains to seek a state of calmness and presence rather than be deeply affected by external circumstances.

Equanimity is defined as:

1 mental calmness, composure, and evenness of temper, especially in a difficult situation.

2 even-minded mental state or dispositional tendency toward all experiences or objects, regardless of their origin or their affective valence (pleasant, unpleasant, or neutral)

While the two practices are strongly intertwined, there are certainly distinctions to be made.

Mindfulness corresponds to our higher-level awareness of present-moment sensory, affective, and cognitive experiences. In other words, mindfulness can be described as the ability or process of maintaining an object of attention in working memory, whether this object corresponds to an external sensory stimulus, an internal sensation from inside the body, a chain of rambling thoughts going through the mind, or even a memory from the past.

In the yogic tradition, the term equanimity (or upeksha in Sanskrit) means leading a balanced life, removing intolerance and caring for all equally.

Upeksha teaches the practice of non-attachment, such an important element in our yoga practice both on and off the mat.

Equanimity means staying so calm within oneself that life is experienced fully without judgment or attachment. As life throws us its ups and downs, we are able to experience appropriate emotions and reactions without attaching to them, reacting to them and without judgment.

I always love to use the example of road rage, mainly because I struggle with it quite frequently!

Imagine that you are leaving a yoga class (preferably one of mine 😊), and you are feeling so calm and open and centered and happy! As you are driving home peacefully, with the gentle flow of traffic, some car speeds up, cuts in front of you and slows down quickly. Your reaction is immediate and physical. Your amygdala is stimulated in your brain triggering your fight-or-flight response. Your heart starts pounding, your brain becomes hyper alert and focused, adrenaline and cortisol is dumped into your bloodstream. You quickly slam your brakes on gripping the steering wheel.

Equanimity is how quickly you can bounce back from that jolting experience. How quickly you return to your equanimous mental and physical state.

Equanimity is not attaching or judging what just happened, but accepting that it happened. Allowing the surge of anger and panic to slowly dissipate without judging or blaming the other driver. Without dwelling on what just happened. How rapidly can you return to the cultivation of your equanimous mind?

This week, think of everything that happens as a test of your equanimity. As you’re moving peacefully through your day, how quickly will you bounce back from that person slamming their mat down next to you in as you are meditating before class or your loud obnoxious co-worker chewing or speaking loudly? Can you observe those around you speaking negative thoughts, venting and gossiping without judging their behavior and most importantly without being drawn into their negativity?

Life gives us so many opportunities to grow and transform. Remember every moment every experience is the teacher.

Anicca! Anicca! Anicca! Be happy! Be happy! Be happy!

February 2019 Pose of the Month: Backbends!

February is the time for ❤️ love. All kinds of love! But personally I’m celebrating sisterly love this month!

And YOU, my lovely friend, get a bonus pose of the month!

Pose One: Urdhva Dhanurasana or Upward Facing Bow (Wheel) Pose:

Step 1

Lie supine on the floor. Bend your knees and set your feet on the floor, heels as close to the sitting bones as possible. Bend your elbows and spread your palms on the floor beside your head, forearms relatively perpendicular to the floor, fingers pointing toward your shoulders.

Step 2

Pressing your inner feet actively into the floor, exhale and push your tailbone up toward the pubis, firming (but not hardening) your buttocks, and lift your buttocks off the floor. Keep your thighs and inner feet parallel. Take 2 or 3 breaths. Then firmly press the inner hands into the floor and your shoulder blades against your back and lift up onto the crown of your head. Keep your arms parallel. Take 2 or 3 breaths.

Step 3

Press your feet and hands into the floor, tailbone and shoulder blades against your back, and with an exhalation, lift your head off the floor and straighten your arms. Turn the upper thighs slightly inward and firm the outer thighs. Narrow the hip points and lengthen the tailbone toward the backs of the knees, lifting the pubis toward the navel.

Step 4

Turn your upper arms outward but keep the weight on the bases of the index fingers. Spread your shoulder blades across your back and let your head hang, or lift it slightly to look down at the floor.

Step 5

Stay in the pose anywhere from 5 to 10 seconds or more, breathing easily. Repeat anywhere from 3 to 10 times.

Pose Two: Bhujangasana or Cobra Pose

Step 1

Lie prone on the floor. Stretch your legs back, tops of the feet on the floor. Spread your hands on the floor under your shoulders. Hug the elbows back into your body.

Step 2

Press the tops of your feet and thighs firmly into the floor.

Step 3

On an inhalation, begin to straighten your arms to lift your chest off the floor, going only to the height at which you can maintain a connection through your pubis to your legs. Press your tailbone toward your pubis and lift your pubis toward your navel. Narrow your hip points. Firm but don’t harden the buttocks.

Step 4

Firm your shoulder blades against your back, puffing your side ribs forward. Lift through the top of your sternum but avoid pushing your front ribs forward, which only hardens the lower back. Distribute the backbend evenly throughout the entire spine.

Step 5

Hold the pose anywhere from 15 to 30 seconds, breathing easily. Release back to the floor with an exhalation. Option to bend your knees and lift your chest hire.

Mindful Monday: Yoga Cure and Endure

Good morning, mindful ones and happy snowy Monday!

Guess what? It’s really, really cold outside and it’s snowing like crazy. And it’s predicted the temperature will continue to drop this week.

That is our current reality.

What was your initial thought and reaction when you first heard about the cold weather continuing? When the cold wind penetrates through your many layers? When you have to walk so cautiously on the slippery surfaces? When the person driving in front of you is moving at a snails’s pace? Did you have to rearrange your entire work day or modify your schedule because your kids don’t have school today?

Isn’t it fascinating how we initially react when we are inconvenienced? We are outraged! Annoyed! Irritated! Impatient! Maybe even pissed off!! Or perhaps you felt victimized? Why did this happen to me? I can’t miss another day of work! I had an important meeting today. Why did the snow plows hit every street but mine? I’m gonna be stuck at home with my kids who are driving me nuts! Of course if you’re one of the kids home from school today, that’s a totally different outlook!

And once we have these thoughts and reactions, of course we articulate them! Maybe you called your girl friend or coworker to complain. A good old-fashioned social media rant. A text to your spouse or partner. Or even a group chat to your entire crew.

Of course, it’s always healthy to vent and blow off a little steam. But it’s rarely productive.

I’m certainly not here to criticize or judge whatever your reaction was! But I do offer you the perspective that how we react to things in life give us such a deep insight into how we live our lives.

How you do anything is how you do everything!

It’s in the small details of our lives that we truly understand ourselves and our mindsets.

Through my intimate practice of yoga, I continue to painstakingly learn that each and every action I take, word I speak and decision I make contributes to the creation of the life I choose to live. It all matters!

Most of our reactions and thoughts are pre-programs. Based on past experiences, observations of our parents and other influential people, we learn behaviors. We go on auto- pilot and mindlessly react. So many of the words we speak to others are also social conditionings. Pleasantries and polite exchanges. Or cultural behaviors: sometimes we get around certain groups of people and it automatically turns into negative, mindless gossip.

I always notice that what people say about the weather gives me such insight into their world viewpoint. Weather is such a great baseline, because it’s something that’s completely out of one’s control.

It seems so futile to me to bitch and moan about something that is completely outside of one’s control (most of life is as well!) Yes, it’s cold outside. I am also aware of that. But I don’t want to spend the next five minutes complaining about something that is not even unexpected since we live in the Midwest.

Yoga teaches us to endure what cannot be cured: as powerfully as we pray, meditate, and all agree that we wish it was warmer, we have zero influence over the temperature.

Yoga teaches us to cure what cannot be endured: if we cannot affect the temperature or the snowfall, we can certainly shift our attitude and approach towards it.

My friend who lives in Hawaii and my best friend who lives in Charlotte (both originally from DuPage County) both called me to apologize that it’s so cold here! Lol. They truly felt so bad for me as they enjoyed 78 degrees and 55 degrees respectively. Personally, I find this weather to be so magical and beautiful! It’s nothing short of a winter wonderland.

The beauty of yoga is not in one’s ability to master a pose – the true beauty is in raising one’s awareness of the beauty and wonder that surround us on a daily basis.

Have a white and wonderful wintry Monday, friends!

Mindful Monday: You Don’t Have a Soul

Good morning, mindful ones!

You don’t have a soul!

I’m not saying that you’re soulless, lol!

I’m saying that you ARE a soul. And you HAVE a human body.

And … Here is a perfect specimen of a human body.

The body is just a temporary house where your soul currently resides.

You have your physical body comprised of bones, skin, muscles and human “filth.”

And then there’s the energetic body, where prana or literally life animates the physical body. This is your circulatory, cardiovascular, digestive and lymphatic systems.

Then we have the mind. This is where most of our troubles and suffering begins. Here we create thoughts that are manifested as emotions and thus drive our actions. The mind is very limited. It’s compiled mainly of opinions about life experiences.

Fortunately we have the intellect, which has the power of discernment and logical thought. But we don’t dwell here consistently.

The final journey is within: our blissful body. In this state of being there is no thinking or suffering just vast and endless bliss. Unfortunately we spend very little time here.

The goal of our practice is to continue to connect to our blissful state and lengthen the time that is spent there.

Everything that we do affects our state of being.

The human body is literally the food that we consume. What you ingest creates the new cells of your body. Foods have different energy vibrations which affects our bodies down to the cellular level.

Our mind is shaped by how we react to life events. Do we resist? Do we think life is unfair? Do we compare ourselves to others? Who do we associate ourselves with?

The intellect is formed by how we nourish our mind. Do you spend endless hours trolling social media? Do you read books that uplift your soul and spirit? Do you watch violence and reality TV?

Meditation and yoga are two very direct paths toward a blissful state of existing. Someone can give you a direct map to get there, and many of our spiritual leaders and religious leaders have done exactly that; but you alone must walk the path. Nobody can do that for you.

Remember that your body is just a shell. Enjoy all the experiences of being human and honor the full range of those experiences. But also honor you are so much more than that.

You are light. You are love. You are kindness and compassion and patience and tolerance.

Be kind to yourself but remember your soul.

Have a great week, yogis!

Namaste