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Mindful Monday: Hot Yoga in the High Heat of Summer? Yes, please!

Good morning and happy Monday, my beautiful, mindful ones!

There’s been tons of rain this summer, but summer is finally here!

Summer is hands down my absolutely favorite season! I love being outdoors. And summer in Chicago is literally the best place on the planet to live!

Summer concerts, Cubs games, street festivals, beach days, pool days, breakfast, lunch and dinner al fresco, long walks in nature, fireflies, funnel cakes, Fourth of July… the list is endless!

But when that heavy humidity is blanketing you, and sweat is dripping from virtually everywhere in your body … a hot yoga class may feel like the last place you’d ever want to be.

However, there are so many great reasons to continue your practice in spite of the summer heat!

1. Consistency and discipline.

The height and depth of your yoga practice (and virtually every other aspect of life) is directly related to how often you practice. That means being very consistent with your commitment to your mat. If you truly want to make Yoga an integral part of your life, it becomes habitual. Just like eating and sleeping. It’s a daily practice!

2. Detoxification.

Sweating aids in cleansing your organs, muscles and glands. Whether you’re feeling lethargic or overindulging during weekend barbecues, summer is a great time to detoxify your body! During the warmer summer months people tend to get sluggish. Doing hot yoga re-energizes you and helps you sweat out bad toxins. So go ahead and eat that Andy’s custard! Just work it off on your mat!

3. Training your cardiovascular system.

Your cardiovascular systems helps regulate and control body temperature. In our privileged society, we externally control our environmental temperatures with air-conditioning and heating. This ensures that we are comfortable throughout the changing seasons of the Midwest. However it does not allow us to train the vascular system to regulate body temperature internally.

When practicing yoga in a heated room, it provides a great opportunity for your cardiovascular system to also train and get a workout!

4. Strengthening your brain!

You’re either comfortable or you’re growing. It’s that simple. If you seek safety in life, relationships, career moves, you’ll never find true growth.

Learning to cope in high heat yoga classes teaches valuable coping skills off of your mat! You become much less reactive to external stimuli and become much stronger in mentally focusing and executing your life goals.

Whatever you “think” you are or do, is the absolute truth.

5. Deepen your asana practice.

After a long day sitting at your desk, you feel stiff basically like everywhere! With your body already warm from the outside temperatures, stepping into the heated studio gives your body an opportunity to become more limber and flexible. With the heat, you begin from a space of warmth and may find a depth to your poses not readily accessible in the colder, stiffer months.

I certainly see very clearly how students’ backbends are so much deeper this time of year. So much more space in the upper body when we’re not hunching over and bracing against the cold!

What are some other benefits that you are seeing through your consistent, year-round practice?!

Have a great week, hotties!!!

Mindful Monday: Saluting the Sun

Good morning and Happy Monday, mindful ones!

Have you ever really stopped to contemplate Surya Namaskar? It’s such a common part of our practice, that it’s easy to be on autopilot as you flow through.

No worries! I have found myself doing this at times as well.

Yes, sun salutes are the perfect “warm-up” for the physical body. We lengthen and engage all major muscle groups and joints; cardiovascular system increases; lungs, blood circulation and digestive system all benefit. In fact if you don’t have time for a full hour of practice, do 10 to 12 sun salutes for a perfect physical workout!

But we know that Yoga transcends so much more than just the physical.

In our sun salutations, we are yoking mind and body together, creating a pathway to dhyana or meditation, a state of deep contemplation and reception.

In our fast-paced world, we are often ahead of the current moment. The mind has been trained to fast forward in anticipation. Our sun salutes offer the opportunity to pause, return to our center, rekindling our relationship to breath and pure awareness. With this new awareness of breath and movement, we connect to our deeper rhythm and experience a moving meditation. It’s not in fact the physical poses but the deeper awareness of our inner energetic flow that awakens the state of yoga.

The Sun is central to this devotion, as it is the giver of all life on this planet. Without the sun, life on earth would dwindle and slowly die. The Sun warms our seas, stirs our atmosphere, generates our weather patterns, and gives energy to the growing green plants that provide the food and oxygen for life on Earth.

Miraculously, we are the perfect distance from the sun. Any closer, and we would be scorched. Any further away, and we would be in the Ice Ages.

The next time you flow through Surya Namaskar, focus on the miracle of your existence! Use your awareness to honor and notice where your body happens to be at this moment. Take each breath with gratitude.

Namaste, dearest mindful ones!

Mindful Monday: From the Mouths of Babes

Good morning and happy Monday, beautiful mindful ones!

Yesterday we celebrated fathers everywhere! They are the strength and providers (traditionally) of our families. Kudos to all of the loving, active, supportive dads everywhere with their corny dad jokes and all of their hard work.

My dad is currently in Barcelona, so I was grateful to speak with him on the phone and wish him a happy Father’s Day!

I spent the day with my mom, brother, son and nephew. What an epic day!

After a delicious meal together, we tossed the Big Kahuna frisbee around. It’s all fun and games until someone gets beaned by that hard plastic flying disc!

Which was me. Right in the shin! I’ll happily show you the bruise if I see you at the studio this week!

I took a bit of a break to nurse my wound while the boys kept playing. After some time, my seven year old nephew told me to get back in the game. Lol.

Which I did. But I was very timid at this point. He had tons and tons of advice for me: “Auntie Nadja, You have to run faster. You have to jump! You have to run towards the frisbee! Don’t look away. Keep your eyes on the frisbee. You closed your hands too soon.” It was a steady steam.

And it was all great advice! When I told him that I was afraid of the frisbee, he told me: “It’s ok Auntie Nadja. Just don’t focus on the pain. Focus on the frisbee.”

And that little nugget of advice struck me as so deeply profound.

Don’t focus on the pain. Focus on the frisbee.

Boom.

How often do we get stuck focusing on the pain in a situation? Immersing ourselves in it. Sure, we need to pause and evaluate the situation. But then it’s time to move on! Get back in the game and move forward!

Countless situations in life are painful. Divorce. Death. Kids leaving for college. Betrayals from so-called friends or loved ones. We need time to heal and reassess our life perspective.

But rather than focusing on the pain, we can focus on the lesson. How is this pain an opportunity to grow and strengthen. Or to grow and soften. Let the pain be what wakes you up and gets your attention, but not the focal point.

Brilliance. From a seven year old!

Unbeknownst to me, as I was tending to my poor shin, my son got hit in the face with the frisbee and had a busted lip. This kid is an athlete. He has been since he was four. Which is probably why he didn’t even mention his busted lip for a solid hour to me! He continued playing without a peep.

He had clearly gotten that don’t focus on the pain memo! Lol

Life sometimes hurts us, dear souls. Let’s not focus on the pain. Let’s learn and grow from it. Let’s let the pain transform us and elevate us! (Insert gratuitous image of the Rock. You’re welcome!)

Have a great week, my dearest ones!

Mindful Monday: Be Happy

Good morning, dearest mindful ones!

And just like that …

It’s June!

My son has graduated from high school!

I have moved and purged 85% of my worldly possessions!

Life continues to move forward. And it’s entirely up to us how we choose to flow with life as it unfolds or dig in our heels and resist reality.

If there’s one thing I’ve learned in my nearly five decades on this planet, it is that I have created my own suffering and resistance all of these years. I have made my life exponentially more difficult than it ever needed to be!

I have finally discovered the secret to happiness! And it’s so super duper simple.

And today’s your lucky day because I’m going to share this timeless wisdom with you right here!

Embracing happiness requires only two things. And you, my friend, have both of them in abundance!

The first is the simple mental decision to choose to be happy. Now when I say simple I certainly don’t pretend that it’s easy! But simply make the decision that you truly choose happiness … No. Matter. What.

So choose happiness. Boom! Mic drop and walk away.

But what if …

There are no “what ifs” or “buts”.

It’s a choice to be made in every circumstance and in every single situation. It’s easy to choose happiness when everything is smoothly going your way. Duh! Where is the challenge in that?

Your real test is in choosing happiness even when (fill in the blank here). And don’t get it twisted, there will always be roadblocks. Expect them and count on them. And still choose happiness as you navigate up, over and around.

The greatest tool you have to support this decision is your gratitude practice. There are several studies, articles and publications touting the neuroscientific benefits of gratitude. Blah. Blah. Blah. Thank you medical and scientific community for validating a 5000 year old practice!

We don’t need all of those studies, because we live and feel the benefits and results through our practice.

So decide to be happy. And be grateful for everything.

Each time “cats in the cradle” plays in my head, I direct my energy towards gratitude for every single moment I’ve experienced with my son.

When I start feeling regret for all of the beautiful possessions I’ve sold and given away, I feel grateful that my load is so much lighter now.

When someone cuts me off in traffic or is tailgating me, I feel grateful that I have a beautiful car to drive and that I am safe.

So choose happiness in every situation

Be grateful for everything; especially the opportunities that are disguised as challenges and setbacks

Choose to let go and lighten your load. Always.

Happiest of Mondays, mindful ones!

Mindful Monday: Yoga and Your Immune System

Good morning, mindful, healthy ones!

Although the crux of cold and flu season is behind us, we may still be susceptible to some of those pesky viruses. What’s the best prescription for a healthy immune system?

A consistent yoga practice partnered with a clean, well-balanced diet filled with tons of fruits and veggies, staying hydrated and getting plenty of sleep are exactly what the body needs to thrive and stay healthy!

When we are stressed and anxious and tired, our immune system is compromised. Yoga helps lower stress hormones that suppress the immune system, while also conditioning the lungs and respiratory tract, stimulating the lymphatic system to oust toxins from the body, and bringing oxygenated blood to the various organs to ensure their optimal function.

I often claim that yogis rarely get sick and even boast that I never get sick!

Well. I did recently come down with a nasty cough! What makes us sick is when the immune system is compromised and we are unable to fight off all of the daily viruses and bacteria that we normally encounter.

As a full-time yoga teacher, I come in contact with hundreds of students each week; and I practice in several different studios with dozens of different people as well. My goodness, I even step in people’s sweat and touch sweaty bodies on the daily!

So it is very easy for me to trace back and see where my immune system became compromised!

First of all, I never claim to be “sick.” I am a very healthy and strong. But my immune system was compromised and I caught a bug. See the distinction?! 🤪

I know it is from all of the external activities happening in my life: my son graduating from high school and turning 18 on May 24, which is also the week I am moving! Those additional responsibilities coupled with eating a less than ideal diet and not getting enough sleep were all that it took. My self-care routine was relegated to the backseat in my life, and my body and my mind rebelled!

Which raises an important question: should I practice hot yoga when I am sick?

It stands to reason that taking a heated vinyasa class will sweat out the toxins and quicken the immune system’s ability to fight off the body’s invaders.

But we should also consider the possibility of infecting those around us! And how important it is to rest, hydrate and rest some more while under the weather.

Ultimately, only you know your body; and if you listen carefully, it will tell you exactly what it needs.

Some guidelines:

If you have a runny nose and head congestion, you can probably practice. If you have a fever, aches and pains, or anything that originates in your lungs, your body will do best with rest, liquids and healing foods that soothe and nourish rather than tax your body.

Basically, if you have a cold and you’re not contagious, get back to your mat!

But if it’s something bigger like the flu, your best bet is to rest!

Remember it’s OK to be exposed to germs; in fact we simple can’t escape it! This gives the immune system the opportunity to do it’s job. But we must support our immune system by taking good care of the body and mind. Releasing stress is an immediate boost for your immune system!

What are some of your self-care rituals to staying healthy? Does it include essential oils or other natural remedies? I’d love to hear from you!

Enjoy this beautiful, rainy day, friends! Mother nature is giving you an opportunity to slow down and take care of yourself today.

Have a great week and I’m back to my regular schedule this week! See you on your mat!

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: 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!

Mindful Monday: Tom Brady Credits Six Super Bowl Wins to Regular Yoga and Meditation Practice

Good morning, mindful friends!

I’m not a huge football fan, but I am definitely fascinated by people who excel in their respective fields. The top of the top. The elite.

In Tim S. Grovers book, “Relentless,” he delineates among the professional athletes in the NBA there is good, great and unstoppable. Even in the crème de la crème of professional basketball, there are distinct differences among athletes. And of course this level of achievement can be extrapolated to any area of life.

So. Back to Tom Brady and yoga. Tom Brady is arguably the GOAT – but I’m certainly not here to debate that!

I’m actually here to support my fantastical claim that Brady attributes his success to yoga and meditation. I mean, there are a million different things we could discuss here. One particular thing made it completely evident to me, and it was something that happened off the field.

I watched horrified after the Patriots underwhelming win in Super Bowl LIII (I mean seriously, least exciting Super Bowl ever, except for those kickers!!) and Tom Brady was immediately thronged by a pack of rabid media cameras, reporters, and press handlers. Just watching, I felt so much anxiety and stress, especially witnessing that tiny female CBS reporter getting swallowed up and pushed and jostled in the jockeying to speak to Brady.

I mean, I freak out when there’s more than five people waiting in line to check in to my yoga class. Seriously, my heart palpitates; my breathing gets shallow; I start to sweat a little bit.

I was riveted watching how Tom Brady reacted under all of that pressure, in the midst of that chaos. And he was so calm and relaxed and PRESENT. He politely kept deflecting the reporters as a steady stream of Rams and Patriots broke through the huddle to speak with him. And you could see that he was having genuine moments with players, coaches and even the team’s owner. Genuine moments of true connection and clarity.

Wow! Just wow! I was literally watching yoga in action.

So of course I immediately googled Tom Brady and yoga. And I found a couple images. But it took like 45 minutes, because I ended up looking at tons of images of his gorgeous wife Gisele, and them together (greatest couple of all time) and their beautiful family.

I finally got back on track.

Because truly, our yoga practice doesn’t begin and end on our mat. It’s a practice that’s created so that we can live a life filled with grace, awareness and the ability to stay focused and anchored in each moment of life.

“Yoga is a light, which once lit, will never dim. The better your practice, the brighter the flame.”  – B.K.S. Iyengar

While we most likely will never be in the Super Bowl or married to a supermodel, we will all inevitably feel external stress and pressure on the daily. We will also have projects and tasks that require and deserve our undivided attention.

Fortunately, we won’t be under public scrutiny for each interaction we have with others or while we are actually doing our jobs.

Yoga is not a physical pose. It is a yoking of mind body and spirit. It is an internal state of being.

The practice is in maintaining our perfect inner calmness and stillness in the midst of external chaos. It is not the stress factors crushing us from the outside that creates discord; if there is already discord there, it will be surfaced. If we are filled with peace and inner calmness, that is what will surface from outside pressures.

Yes, of course the rigorous physical practice and training in any arena is required. But it all begins first with the mind. It is through the light of yoga that we understand on a conscious level the divine and inseparable connection of mind and body.

Have a great week, yogis!

January 2019 Pose of the Month: Utkatasana

It’s 2019!! Our very first pose of the month this year is Utkatasana or Chair Pose.

Utkatasana or chair pose featured on the right

Here’s how:
Stand with your feet together, with your big toes touching. Beginners can stand with their feet hip-distance apart.

Inhale and raise your arms above your head, perpendicular to the floor.

Exhale as you bend your knees, bringing your thighs as parallel to the floor as they can get. Your knees will project out slightly over your feet and your torso will form approximately a right angle over your thighs.

Draw your shoulder blades into your upper back ribs as you reach your elbows back towards your ears. Do not puff your ribcage forward. Draw your tailbone down to the floor, keeping your lower back long.

Bring your hips down even lower and lift through your heart. There will be a slight bend in your upper back.

Shift your weight into your heels. Enough weight — approximately 80 percent — should be transferred to your heels so that you could lift your toes off the mat if you wanted to.

Keep your breath smooth, even, and deep. If your breath becomes shallow or strained, back off a bit in the pose until breathing becomes easier.

Spread your shoulder blades apart. Spin your pinky fingers toward each other so your palms face each other, rotating your arms outward through your thumbs.

Gaze directly forward. For a deeper pose, tilt your head slightly and gaze at a point between your hands.

Hold for up to one minute. Then, inhale as you straighten your legs, lifting through your arms.

Exhale and release back.

Happy new year, friends!