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Mindful Monday: Ajna Chakra

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

Mantra: “I see” or “Aum/Om”

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

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

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

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

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

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

See clearly, my dear yogis!

Mindful Monday: Manipura Chakra

The Manipura Chakra is associated with the Fire element and the color YELLOW.

Mantra: “I do or “Ram”

The Manipura is located between your naval and your solar plexus.

It governs your feelings of will, inner power, strength, ego, stamina and self-esteem.

When this chakra is balanced, you feel powerful, strong, confident, capable active and determined.

When it is blocked, you may experience feelings of unworthiness, lack of energy and determination, guilt and fatigue.

When it is overstimulated, you will experience control issues, stubbornness, be overly critical and tend toward perfectionism.

To balance this chakra, try Navasana (boat pose), dhanurasana (upward facing bow) or and standing twists like crescent lunge with prayer twist or revolved Trikonasana (trianglepose).

Be powerful, my dear yogis!

Mindful Monday: Muladhara or Root Chakra

Good morning, and Happy Monday, Mindful Ones!

To review last week’s blog post, a chakra is an energetic center within the auric and physical body of all human beings. Chakras can be thought of as vortexes that serve as a non-physical highway through which cosmic energy travels connecting this energy with the physical body. This cosmic energy is what we know as life force or “Prana.”

Today, we’ll cover the first of the seven main chakras.

The Muladhara or Root Chakra is associated with the Earth element and the color RED.

Mantra: “I am” or “Lam”

The Muladhara is located at the base of your spine, between your perineum and genitals.

It governs your feelings of survival, groundedness, belonging, and stability. Your earliest memories are stored here, including whether or not your basic needs were met.

When this chakra is balanced, you feel strong, confident and able to stand firmly on your own two feet. You are confident that your basic survival needs are met and that you can handle anything life throws your way. You feel secure, stable and full of health and vitality.

When it is blocked, you feel unstable financially and/or emotionally, fearful, anxious, unsure, ungrounded. You may be easily angered or feel yourself shut down totally. You may become needy.

When it is overstimulated, you feel aggressive, cynical, materialistic, and greedy. You may engage in self- destructive behaviors.

To balance this chakra, try Warrior II, Malasana, or Tree pose. Seated poses also help to provide stability and groundedness.

Be courageous, my dear yogis! Until next week …

Mindful Monday: Dhyana

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

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

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

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

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

Physical Benefits

▪ Lowers high blood pressure

▪ Reduces anxiety

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

▪ Increases serotonin production that improves mood and behavior

▪ Improves the immune system

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

▪ Can assist with weight loss and other physical goals

▪ Improved athletic performance

▪ Can provide significant relief from asthma and allergies

Mental Benefits of Meditation

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

▪ Emotional stability improves

▪ Creativity increases

▪ Happiness increases

▪ Intuition develops

▪ Increase in mental clarity

▪ Sharpens the mind by increasing focus

▪ Slows aging of your mind

▪ Can help with improving relationships

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

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

Mindful Monday: Dharana

Good morning, mindful ones!

We have swiftly come to our sixth yogic limb: dharana.

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.

Namaste, sweet yogis. Here’s to a beautiful, mindful week filled with awareness and intention.

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: Pranayama

Happy Mindful Monday, YBD friends! November has arrived! As we are slowly winding down this decade, 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

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!

Mindful Monday: the Niyamas

Good morning and happy rainy Monday! The weather mirrors the constant changing and shifting of life. And here in the Midwest, we sometimes can get all four seasons in the span of a week!

That’s why I’m so grateful for the consistency of our yoga practice.

Let’s delve more deeply into a complete practice, which extends far beyond the ability to bend over backwards or balance on your hands. Yoga 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, which we covered in last week’s Mindful Monday post.

Today we discuss the second limb called the Niyamas or the duties and disciplines. The niyamas are 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. 

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!

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

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.