eight limbs

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: Keep Your Head Up 

Good morning, my lovely mindful ones! Happiest of Mondays to you. I hope you had a lovely week and weekend. 

Last Monday I shared with you the erratic emotional swings I experienced leading up to the eclipse. This past week was filled with moments of pure sublime joy and happiness. I had such moments of clarity and peace that I was truly present for. 

That’s not to say that each and every moment was like that. On the contrary, I had the usual “ups and downs.” Whatever I’m feeling, I feel it so very deeply! Heartbreak is a physical pain in my chest. Happiness makes my heart want to leap out through my sternum. I literally lose my vision when I’m angry! I can’t see straight. And sadness, it overwhelms me to my core. When I miss someone (and there is someone in my life I miss terribly) my entire body weeps. But then life will send me something to laugh about and my body will vibrate with it. And when I feel love …. ahhhhhh. My heart belts out an opera solo. 

Last week, I was somehow able to pull myself back and stay a little more connected to this underlying current of endless peace and happiness.  It’s so different than the roller coaster of moment to moment emotions. It’s steady. It’s always there. Just beneath the surface. It’s your soul. 

It’s why we love yoga so much.  Yoga gives us a taste of our authentic state of being. Even while we struggle to hold a challenging pose, we connect to sense of beauty in the struggle. We feel without a doubt that we can endure anything for five breaths. 

In my my moments of sadness and despair last week, I reminded myself that I could only feel the depth of such sadness because I know the incredible highs of happiness. My despair was because of my extreme optimism. My loneliness was because of my deep connections in my relationships. We simply cannot have one without the other, can we?

Whatever you’re suffering through my friend, you can always use the tools of our yoga practice to find stability. Just keep your head up. 

Or. This. 

What does a nosy pepper do?

Get jalapeño business! 

Have a great week!! See you on your mat!

Mindful Monday: Samadhi


Happy Mindful Monday, friends! Wow have we been blessed with some beautiful spring-like weather these last few days! Such is nature and such is life, right? We never know what’s coming our way – well, sometimes the weatherman does actually get it right! – all we can do is make the very best of whatever life brings us.  Our yoga practice keeps us in tip-top shape physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually – so that we have all the tools that we need at our disposal to truly seize each moment as it arises!

We’ve been covering Ashtanga yoga – the eight limbed path of yoga. Below is a quick recap of the previous seven limbs that we’ve discussed.

  1. Yamas – the guidelines for social behavior: clean your home
  2. Niyamas – self-disciplines: reverence for your home
  3. Asanas – yoga poses: start to settle into your home
  4. Pranayama – breath control, life energy: animate your home
  5. Pratyahara – the withdrawal of external senses, to rest in your home.
  6. Dharana – immovable concentration of the mind
  7. Dhyana – perfect contemplation of mediation

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


Happy Monday before Christmas, friends! This time of year can have so much significance for us. Kids home from school. Time off from work. Inordinate amounts of time spent with family. For some, this can be a painful time of year, missing loved ones and dealing with loneliness and sadness. Many, myself included, have a marathon week of getting shopping done, gifts wrapped and staying focused on the many tasks at hand.

If you’ve been following our blog weekly, you’ll know that we’ve been covering Ashtanga yoga – the eight limbed path of yoga. Below is a quick recap of the previous five limbs that we’ve disussed.

  1. Yamas – the guidelines for social behavior: clean your home
  2. Niyamas – self-disciplines: reverence for your home
  3. Asanas – yoga poses: start to settle into your home
  4. Pranayama – breath control, life energy: animate your home
  5. Pratyahara – the withdrawal of external senses, to rest in your home.

As each stage prepares us for the next, the practice of pratyahara creates the setting for dharana, or immovable concentration of the mind. The root of the word is “dhar” which means to hold, maintain or keep. As the sixth limb of yoga, dharana is the practice of holding one’s mind onto a particular inner state or topic. We fix the mind on a single pointed focus, such as breath, the small space above the upper lip, or navel, without allowing the mind to  wander through memories, reflective thoughts, bodily sensations.

Through the disciplines of the previous limbs, we’ve definitely begun to develop our powers of concentration. Through yamas and niyamas, we’ve begun directing our attention. Through asanas, we have begun to temper the body and focus on specific and more subtle sensations. Through pranayama, we begin the task of refining our minds. Through pratyahara, we bring our senses under control and are still enough to become more observant of the mind. In dharana, concentration on a single point becomes effortless. You know the mind is concentrating when there is no sense of time passing. Extended periods of concentration naturally lead to meditation or dhyana, which is the seventh limb of yoga.

Now we truly begin to unleash the great potential for inner healing.

On behalf of all of the staff, teachers and management of YBD, we truly wish you a very Merry Christmas!

Mindful Monday: Pranayama


Happy Mindful Monday, YBD friends! What a beautiful winter wonderland we have to feast our eyes on today! As we are moving into full throttle in our holiday preparations, it’s a great time to remember to mindfully BREATHE!

We’ve begun a deeper look into Ashtanga or the Eight-Limbed Path of Yoga as expressed in Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras. In previous weeks, we’ve discussed the first three limbs: the Yamas or the guidelines for social behavior, the Niyamas which refer to how we discipline ourselves, and the Asanas or the yoga poses that we practice together at YBD.

This brings us to Pranayama, the fourth limb, which means breath restraint. The word prana means “life energy” or “life force,” which is the very essence that keeps us alive. And yama means “restraint,” as we discussed in a previous post in more detail. Our breath literally is our life energy, as we animate the mind and body with it.

According to Patanajali, the goal of pranayama is to regulate the breath to make it slow and subtle to facilitate the steady flow of energy throughout the body. It is believed that through control of the breath, life can be prolonged.

Aside from that, breathing techniques and breath control can also be employed to help us to deepen our physical poses as well as calm us down and keep us centered during chaotic, busy or stressful situations. This is something I’m sure we can all use this holiday season!

We’re halfway through our preliminary study of the eight limbs of our yoga practice. The first four limbs refer to the external practice of yoga. Next week, we’ll discuss the internal yoga practice and the remaining four limbs.

Have a great week, yogis! BREATHE. Sweat. Smile!



Mindful Monday: Asanas or Yoga Poses


Happy Monday, yogi friends! As we settle back in after our holiday last week, let’s continue our study of Ashtanga or the Eight-Limbed Path of Yoga as expressed in Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras. In previous weeks, we’ve discussed the first two limbs: the Yamas or the guidelines for social behavior and the Niyamas which refer to how we discipline ourselves. So now we move on to our third limb: the asanas or the yoga poses that we practice together at YBD.

The first two limbs prepare us to more fully inhabit this human body through our asanas. The postures that we practice are designed to develop discipline, focus and concentration in order to prepare us, the yoga practitioner, to sit with ease in meditation. The root of the word asana is “as” which means to sit. This is such an important point; the postures practiced in yoga, comprise the third of eight limbs, which factors out to a mere 12.5 percent of our complete practice. In the yogic view, the body is a temple of spirit, and the proper caring of it is an important stage of our spiritual growth. Through the practice of asanas, we develop the habit of discipline and the ability to concentrate, both of which are necessary for meditation (and life!).

The eight limbs are not necessarily developed in a linear fashion. Indeed, I spent the first eight years of my yoga practice firmly mired in the pursuit of the third limb with the other limbs much less developed. This is a common dilemma that we may find ourselves in- which is ok! The entry point of our practice is just that – how we enter into this lifelong practice. Like life, it evolves and transforms with its own natural rhythm.

There is so much focus on the physical portion of our practice, mainly because it appears to be a tangible. But we really cannot actually SEE yoga – we FEEL it. The only alignment instruction Patanjali gives for the Asana is “sthira sukham asanam”, the posture should be steady and comfortable. The next time you are in class, observe yourself:  are you gritting your teeth and tensing in order to find a more advanced variation of a pose? What if you pulled back and focused on calm, steady breathing?

While the asanas are only a small percentage of our complete yoga practice, let’s not forget they are a really fun part of it as well! Have a great week, yogis! Breathe, sweat and smile, my friends!

Mindful Monday: The Niyamas or the Dos of Yoga


Happy Monday, yogi friends! Wow what a whirlwind we’ve experienced in the span of literally one week! It was a Wednesday night when our Cubbies clinched the World Series and the very next Wednesday morning when we arose to a new President-Elect. During these unsettling times, we are so grateful for the consistency of our practice. We delve more deeply into a complete practice which extends far beyond the ability to bend over backwards or balance on your hands. We covered the age-old question “What is Yoga?” in a previous Mindful Monday post, explaining that it is an eight-limbed practice.

The first of the eight limbs of yoga is the Yamas or the moral and ethical guidelines of the practice. Today we discuss the second limb called the Niyamas or the duties and disciplines practiced by yogis to cultivate structure and confidence. These five tools provide the opportunity to refine ourselves and live more happily and productively. Like the yamas, Patanjali instructs us in the Yoga Sutras to practice the niyamas in thoughts, words and deeds.

Saucha means purification and cleanliness. The sages instruct that not only is cleanliness the foundation for bodily health but also the gateway to deeper and more tranquil states of meditation. Saucha extends to the consumption of pure foods, purity of intentions and thoughts and cultivating a pure body and mind. When we step onto our mats, we are purifying the body by eliminating toxins and by irrigating all cells with fresh blood and prana. We also have the opportunity to purify our minds as we cease the restless monkey mind and direct awareness to physical sensations. That’s why we feel so great after our practice! The mind is docile and we can experience the cosmic force of our own true nature.

Santosha  means contentment. It is about cultivating happiness and joy by learning to maintain equanimity of mind regardless of circumstances. In yoga, we challenge the perceived limits of our minds and bodies beyond the notion of comfort. We purposely make ourselves uncomfortable both mentally and physically on our mats and then practice breathing and finding contentment. In this way, we learn to look beyond an expectation of ease and comfort from life, as we cultivate a sense of gratitude and contentment that springs from deep within us and remains unaffected by temporary external circumstances. The key to santosha is acceptance and joyfulness.

Tapas literally means heat in the context of discipline and determined efforts. Tapas accompanies any discipline that is willingly and gladly accepted in order to bring about a change of some kind—whether it be improved health, a new habit, better concentration, or a different direction in life. Tapas focuses energy, creates fervor, and increases strength and confidence. Hopefully you’ve joined our Grateful Warrior challenge – a great example of discipline and determined efforts. I see so many of you burning your tapas when you drag yourself to a 6 a.m. class or come to practice after a long, stressful day at work rather than going home and having a few beers or a glass of wine. The more we cultivate this disciplined heat, the stronger and steadier we become!

Svādhyāya means self-study. You’ve undoubtedly experienced the benefits of self-reflection and self-scrutiny through your consistent yoga practice. Also, reading spiritual yogic texts and deepening your practice through this study is an important part of evaluating and refining who you are. It helps you to see the truth and make sensible choices, rather than operating on the basis of delusions about yourself or complacency and being on “auto-pilot” which often results in less than ideal decisions.

Ishvara Pranidhana is about surrendering to the divine or the universe. If you believe there is benevolent power greater than ourselves, you can set a silent intention at the beginning of class, devoting your practice to this force, or someone in your life that needs divine love and support. Meditation at the end of class is another opportunity to move your attention away from ‘me’ and focus instead on the divine presence within and without. Also, by surrendering to the divine, it releases you from the pressure of trying to ‘make things happen’ because when you surrender your will to this intelligence, everything flows as it should. Enjoy the doorways that open through being attentive to the divine.

Have a great week, yogis! I’d love to hear from you on ways that you have begun to integrate the yamas and niyamas into your life! Until next time, live, breathe, sweat and smile! Don’t forgot those stickers on the challenge board! You’re earning them one at a time.

Mindful Monday: What Is Yoga?


Whether you’re new to your mat or a seasoned practitioner, you’ve undoubtedly pondered this question: What is Yoga?

Is it being really calm and not eating meat? Or is it buying expensive yoga pants and learning to twist your body into pretzel like shapes? Maybe it’s juice cleansing and chakra aligning. Or going to a yoga retreat in Costa Rica and subscribing to Yoga Journal. Wearing mala beads and patchouli essential oil. Is yoga doing my 21 day cleanse and Jenny B’s sound healing? I know –  It’s drinking kombucha and balancing on your head! Does going to Burning Man officially make me a yogi?

Yoga is derived from the Sanskrit word “yuj” which translates to “yoke” or “union.” The practice of yoga is both an art and science dedicated to creating this union between body, mind and spirit. It’s a tool for us to learn how to use our breath and bodies to foster a deep awareness of ourselves as beautiful, individualized beings intimately connected to the unified whole of creation. In short, it is about making balance and creating equanimity so we may live in peace, good health and harmony with the greater whole.

This art of right living was perfected and practiced in India thousands of years ago and the foundations of yoga philosophy were recorded in The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, in approximately 200 AD. This sacred text describes the inner workings of the mind and provides an eight-step blueprint for controlling its restlessness so we enjoy  lasting peace off of our mats.

The core of Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras is an eight-limbed path that forms the structural framework for yoga practice. Upon practicing all eight limbs of the path it becomes self-evident that no one element is elevated over another in a hierarchical order. Each is part of a holistic focus which eventually brings completeness to the individual as they find their connectivity to the divine. Because we are all uniquely individual a person can emphasize one branch and then move on to another as they round out their understanding.

In brief the eight limbs, or steps to yoga, are as follows:

  1. Yama :  Universal morality
  2. Niyama :  Personal observances
  3. Asanas :  Body postures
  4. Pranayama :  Breathing exercises, and control of prana
  5. Pratyahara :  Control of the senses
  6. Dharana :  Concentration and cultivating inner perceptual awareness
  7. Dhyana :  Devotion, Meditation on the Divine
  8. Samadhi :  Union with the Divine

So you can see that the asanas or poses we practice equate to only 12.5 percent of a complete yoga practice! It’s an integral part of our holistic practice, but it cannot stand alone.

We’ll explore each of the limbs in a bit more detail for the next eight weeks! So make sure to check back in with Mindful Monday each week!

Namaste, my fellow yogis!

“Practice and all is coming.”  – K. Pattabhi Jois