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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: Asanas

Happy Monday, oh Mindful ones!

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!

October 2019 Pose of the Month: Pincha Mayurasana or Feathered Peacock Pose

Happy October, yogis!

Our October 2019 POTM is Pincha Mayurasana. You may know Pincha Mayurasana or Feathered Peacock Pose by one of its common aliases: Forearm Stand or Elbow Balance.

Forearm stand is an advanced pose that opens your shoulders for backbends; builds arm strength for more-advanced arm balances; adds an uplifting quality to your spirit and practice and deeply connects to the entire abdominal sheath.

Here’s how:

Bring your mat over to a wall.

1 Come to your hands and knees facing the wall. Your fingertips should be pretty close to the wall. (An inch or two away is good. This is so when you kick up and your heels are on the wall, your spine is as vertical as possible).

2 Bend your elbows to bring your forearms and palms flat against the floor. Your upper arms should be perpendicular to the forearms. Your gaze should be down on your mat throughout this posture. 

3 Curl your toes under and lift your hips to come into a Downward Facing Dog (Adho Mukha Svanasana) position with your legs. This position is sometimes called Dolphin (Ardha Pincha Mayurasana).

4 Walk your feet in toward your elbows as much as possible. Ideally, your hips will come over your shoulders.

5 Lift your dominant leg (the one you like to lead with) to a Down-Dog Split (Eka Pada Adho Mukha Svanasana) position. 

6 Exhale and bend the knee of the leg that is still on the floor. Swing your lifted leg for a little momentum as your bottom leg hops up. Try to land both heels softly on the wall. Note that the head stays up off the floor. Keep your gaze on the floor between your hands.

7 If you are able to get both legs up and invert fully, begin to work on engaging your core so you can remove your feet from the wall one at a time and balance independently. Remain in the pose one to five minutes, breathing slowly and deeply.

8 Take five breaths in balsana or child’s pose to counter.

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!

Mindful Monday: the Journey

Getting upside down at the Grand Ole Opry in Nashville

Good morning and happy Monday, mindful ones!!!

It was Family Day at Vanderbilt this past weekend – the first time I’ve seen my baby boy since we said our farewells outside of Murray Hall on Sunday, August 18th.

We had a blast this weekend! Nashville is a thriving and beautiful city with so much to offer. It is overflowing with entertainment, amazing food and lovely people.

And to see my son in his beautiful new life and to hear him say that he made the right choice for himself is an indescribable medley of emotions: pure joy, happiness, pride, gratitude and comfort. He compared Vandy to the other top 15 schools he was accepted to, and said that Vandy students are ranked as among the happiest in the nation!

And I have to remind myself that the road to get here was certainly not a smoothly paved, perfectly straight path. It was far from that!

But the journey was worth it. A billion times over.

And those times where we struggled (he’s more stubborn than me!!) are now funny stories. And the big, significant milestone moments are precious memories that warm the heart.

And the every day grind times are the memories most cherished. The mundane, every day stuff that at the time felt routine and tedious and sometimes boring and annoying are what I miss the most during the course of my day.

But I certainly don’t dwell on that! I shift my focus and awareness to Julian, and we are so excited to see the amazing things unfolding in this young man’s future.

After only a month, he seems taller and he’s definitely filling out his frame with wider shoulders and more meat on his bones! 🤣😍

And watching his journey is a constant reminder to me to stay grounded in the present. To anchor my awareness to right now. And that it’s OK to feel whatever it is I’m feeling in each moment, as long as it’s honest and authentic.

Family day was experienced with my parents and my ex-husband. Just like the 18 year journey to get Julian settled into “the Harvard of the South” was rocky and less than smooth; this weekend also had its ups and downs. Lol.

The majority of ups! But a few instances where we were annoyed with one another. Lol. That’s called family living or just life itself!

The trick is to anchor down (<<< see what I did there?) into the present and love and accept every single moment. Even when you want to strangle someone. Or wrap them in your arms and never let go. It’s all good stuff. All of it!

Have a great week, my lovely friends! Embrace all of it!

Make it the best week ever!

Mindful Monday: Winds of Change

Good morning and happy Monday, dearest ones!

The winds of change have arrived! This powerful vata, fall energy is the time of big, sweeping transitions!

Let’s take our lead from nature. See how the trees are on their final rally! Preparing their most vibrant and eye-catching colors. Living their best life, leaving nothing undone. Full on blaze of glory.

And they will then be ready to let go. To release every last attachment to the summer; to their beautiful leaves. Their only possessions.

And they will go dormant. Slowing down during the colder, darker months. Gathering energy as they rest, nourish, replenish, strengthen and prepare for the next phase of life. Trusting in the brilliance and knowledge of Nature.

Nature is all powerful and all knowing. How foolish we humans are as we continue to rally against the inevitable. Our human egos believe that we know better and that we can do better.

As we prepare to transition, here are some great questions you may ask of yourself:

What are some of my accomplishments thus far in 2019?

What are three challenges I have overcome? What are the lessons I learned from these challenges?

What are three things I’m so grateful for?

What are some things I’m willing to let go of with gratitude and appreciation?

What has held me back from experiencing true growth?

Let this be the starting point! Next week we will work on focusing on various aspects of our lives and growth.

Make it a great week, dearest ones!

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: Happy Labor Day

    Good morning and happy Monday, dearest mindful ones.

    We have an abbreviated class schedule today in observance of Labor Day. We still have noons and 1:30 pms at our Downers Grove and Western Springs locations; there’s definitely still opportunity to get to your mat!

    Remember, Labor Day, is your day.

    No one deserves a break more than you do. And aside from BBQs and a fond farewell to summer, Labor Day is when we celebrate the economic and social contributions of workers, hard workers like you and me!

    A few ways I love to observe Labor Day:

    1. Take the day OFF. When I first started teaching, I worked every holiday! Now I allow myself the simple pleasure of turning it off to rest and recharge my mind, body and spirit.

    2. No schedule and no pressure. If I feel like practicing yoga, I will. But if I’m not feeling it, I give myself permission to chill out. I can Netflix all day by myself if that’s what’s calling to my spirit – or if I’m feeling more social, I’ll hang out at a friend’s BBQ. No forcing or making myself rally to do something I don’t really want to do.

    3. Sleep in. It is so amazing to go to bed Sunday night without setting an alarm. Staying up late having fun and then sleeping in and waking up naturally. And maybe even lingering in bed writing this blog.

    4. Move. Even if it’s going to be a lazy day, I’ll definitely spend some time in nature: A long walk or even a light jog (ok probably more likely a long walk) to boost seratonin levels and endorphins. Movement is the quickest, simplest life hack to instantly boost feelings of well-being.

    5. Quiet space. Per my normal routine, I always take some time to quietly meditate and cleanse and purify my thoughts. I’ll definitely take some extra time to reflect on all of my hard work, success and accomplishments over this past year!

    Happy Labor Day, dearest friends. Thank you for all that you do each and every day!

    Mindful Monday: It’s So Hard to Say Goodbye

    Good Mindful Monday morning, friends!

    “Life is a balance of holding on and letting go.”

    This has been my mantra this summer, as I prepare to say farewell to my soon-to-be college-bound son. He is a “rising” freshman as I’ve been told they are now referred to.

    I’ve been holding on to the preciousness and sanctity of each blessed breath and moment.

    And letting go of all of the thoughts of how I could have been a better mom.

    I’ve been learning to hang on dearly to memories of all of the laughter and fun and lightness.

    To release all of the disappointments and hurts that inevitably happen within a family and a personal relationship.

    And to grasp the nuggets of wisdom that result in learning the tough lessons of life.

    To hang on to the significance of each “last” before he leaves. Last weekend. Last family dinner. Last Sunday lunch. Last night before he embarks on his new adventure.

    And to leave behind the expectations and “shouldas” and “couldas.”

    To embrace with gratitude this gift of motherhood.

    And to acknowledge that this entire journey has always been about preparing to let go.

    To continue to trust in the brilliance of life’s plans.

    To relinquish the thought that I ever really had much control over any of it.

    To accept in my heart that we all did our best.

    And to surrender to the belief that this is exactly how it should unfold.

    This morning, I found a brand new park to sit in and write today’s post. It seemed fitting to write my last Mindful Monday before my heart and soul is ripped out and transplanted to another city and state. (Not dramatic at all!)

    As I sit on a bench with all the sounds of nature enveloping me, one of these birds flew directly towards me then looped around and flew away! So symbolic. I was completely engrossed in watching the flight. As an afterthought I snapped this picture of that bird with one of his bird friends.

    While I am well aware that I’m not the only mother in the history of the world to experience this deep, bittersweet sense of loss; I am definitely feeling connected to every human soul who has, for whatever reason, ever had to say a tough, gut wrenching, totally scary and absolutely necessary farewell.

    So when the time comes, I pray for the strength to be able to turn around and paddle away, knowing I’ve done all I can and trusting he will be surrounded with love, support and guidance always.

    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!