mind over matter

Mindful Monday: Zanshin

Aloha and good morning, my yogi friends! I’m writing this blog from our 50th state, Hawaii, and I’m overflowing with gratitude for simply being alive in this moment. And while it’s still pretty early morning here, I should really be wishing you a good afternoon! Here is my early morning view as I write this blog.

We are on the fourth week of a series about four Zen states of mind. It’s important to note that there are many other Zen mind training techniques and mental states than the four I’ve focused on these past weeks. I’ve chosen to highlight these particular states, because we can begin to apply them to our yoga practice and daily lives. This is in no way an exhaustive list!

Read more about the first three Zen states here:

Shoshin

Fudoshin

Mushin

Now, let’s move to our final state of mind called Zanshin.

Zanshin literally translates to “remaining mind” or the “mind with no remainder.”

Zanshin is a general and constant state of relaxed awareness or perceptiveness. This state means that although you’re not actively watching out for things, you are constantly aware of your surroundings and situation. Think of a public safety officer or a first responder: they are always sizing up situations even when off duty. Constant situational awareness.

The concept of Zanshin is that one should be fully present in whatever action is at hand. When eating, eat. The mind is fully engaged in the action of eating. When practicing yoga, practice yoga. When standing, stand. When writing, write. It is being in the here and now, totally immersed in the task at hand, and there is no “remaining mind” to think.

And to take it one step further, every action and every thought in the here and now must be right and harmonious. Every routine, mundane action is important and should be done with Zanshin.

A beautiful example of Zanshin:

Roy Suenaka, the author of Complete Aikido, tells a story about aikido’s founder that is the epitome of this concept. They were seated on the floor face to face having tea and talking when Morihei Ueshiba, without turning his head, casually reached behind himself and then held something out for Suenaka to see. “Ah, a young cockroach,” he said, before gently putting it to the side. Only later did the significance hit Suenaka. How was Ueshiba so aware that even when focused on their conversation could he not only sense the presence of something so small but be able to know exactly were it was so that he was able to pick it up without looking?

There is a samurai saying that roughly translates to: “When the battle is won, tighten your chinstrap.” This means that zanshin should always be practiced, even after a big success or goal has been met. Never rest on your laurels. Be prepared at any moment for another attack (if you’re a samurai). But also that the battle is never over until you stop striving.

If you’ve been working for years on a particular yoga pose, you don’t stop practicing once you achieve it! If you reach your PR in weight lifting or any other competitive sport or arena, it’s not the time to relax and start slacking.

There is a second component to zanshin that can be summarized with this beautiful thought: Everything is aiming.

There is a story of a master archer who consistently hits bullseye after bullseye, even splitting his own arrows in the middle of the bullseye, blindfolded and in complete darkness.

This is attributed to the process being of utmost importance, not the goal! Each and every small detail is preparation for the ultimate goal. But the paradox is that the ultimate goal is not the focus; each and every boring, mundane, repetitive task that is performed thousands of times is where focus lies. Once one has performed every minute detail ad nauseam, the goal is inevitable and can be reached without the luxury of seeing the target.

Have a great week, yogis! As always I love to hear your comments and feedback. And of course if there any topics you’d like covered in our weekly blog please let us know!

Mindful Monday: Fudoshin

Good morning and happy Monday!

Last week, we covered the first state of mind in Zen Buddhism known as Sho Shin or Beginner’s Mind. You can read more here.

Today, we move on to the second state of mind in Zen Buddhism, Fudoshin which means “Immovable Mind.

Fudoshin represents a peaceful state of total determination and unshakable will. It is the state of a spirit that is determined to win, and that is filled with courage, endurance and determination to surmount every obstacle that comes in its way. Fudoshin is associated with a feeling of invincibility, of a mind that cannot be disturbed by confusion, hesitation, doubt, or fear.

It is when your mind is in a total state of equanimity, characterized by mental calmness, composure, and evenness of temper, especially in a difficult situation.

Fudoshin is most commonly associated with martial arts, particularly the samurai warriors in feudal Japan. These warriors displayed a steadfast determination and absolute control over themselves. It should be noted that this doesn’t mean one in a state of fudoshin is being stubborn or angry. Rather a person in fudoshin is calmly resolute and cannot be swayed, tempted or concerned.

We channel fudoshin when we are holding our more challenging yoga poses. Visualize your strength, balance, determination and focus when you’re holding a Warrior III pose or an inversion! Total concentration, muscular engagement and a calm and peaceful countenance. No thoughts, just your breath and bodily sensations evoking a powerful sense of peace and stability within yourself.

In modern Zen practice, Fudoshin is the protection against the “Shikai” or four sicknesses of the mind: anger, doubt, fear and surprise. Through the disciplined practice of meditation, we learn implicitly to center ourselves and clear our minds, thus developing a Fudoshin mind.

There are so many opportunities each day to implement Fudoshin in our lives! Hopefully you won’t be facing a life or death situation, but one can never know what life is sending our way!

In this era of random acts of violence, road rage, bad behavior and other losses of self-control, development of fudoshin can contribute to a peaceful, more compassionate world.

Fudoshin means “unmoving mind/heart”or “immovable mind,” and connotes the imperturbability as well as courage of the truly mastered self. It is the mind/heart from which have been purged all impurities and weaknesses in the resolute process of forging artistic and self-mastery.

Have a great week, friends! Remember that fudoshin is just a few, slow deep breaths away.

Mindful Monday: Sho Shin

Happy Monday, mindful ones!

Sho Shin is a concept in Zen Buddhism that means ‘a beginner’s mind.’ There are four states of mind in Zen Buddhism. This week, we’ll discuss the first state.

Sho Shin is characterized by an attitude of openness, eagerness, and a complete lack of preconceptions when studying a subject or beginning an endeavor.

Think about when you took your first yoga class. Or first 100 for that matter! You were excited and so eager to learn everything about this ancient practice! Your mind was like a sponge, simply and enthusiastically absorbing every thing you could about yoga.

When you are in a state of shoshin you are feeling enthusiastic, creative and above all optimistic.

It’s easy to be fired up about new, exciting endeavors. The practice is to remain open-minded and optimistic when you’ve practiced for many, many years and are considered an ‘expert.’

One of the key aspects of shoshin is an absence of preconceptions and a general sense of optimism. When you are in a state of shoshin you shouldn’t be thinking too much about what you think is going to happen, you should just be eager to accept whatever comes and assured it will all be for the best.

This release of preconceptions and attitude of viewing everything with fresh eyes is one of shoshin’s most valuable qualities. You can work on placing yourself in a state of shoshin even when doing something you’ve done before to keep each experience fresh and to ensure that you aren’t making poor decisions based on preconceived biases. It also helps train you to keep a positive and eager outlook about everything that might come your way.

For this reason, I always try to keep my teaching as well as my personal practice fresh with new and different sequencing and transitions. In order to do this, I MUST continue to practice with new and different teachers. I must continue to expand my knowledge base and work tirelessly to cultivate a state of shoshin. I often see experienced students turn on auto-pilot in class and assume they know where we are going next.

The danger of an ‘expert’s mind’ is that few possibilities exist in this mind. Less aspects of a situation are questioned and more are assumed. This often results in a narrowed perception and performing tasks on autopilot without room for a fresh, new perspective. Things are always done a certain way with no opportunities for improvement.

So how do we cultivate shoshin in our everyday lives and on our mats?

Just like all programs of thoughts in our minds, new thought patterns can be cultivated. Meditating and practicing gratitude are scientifically measurable ways to literally create new gray matter. Cultivating a beginner’s mind is exactly the same.

  • Try to approach situations without assumptions or expectations.
  • Don’t judge as good or bad. Be open to any outcome.
  • Be curious! Question with interest and wonder!
  • Switch things up. Drive a different route. Practice at a different time. Move your mat to a different place in the room.
  • Empty your mind!
  • Have a great week, friends!
  • Mindful Monday: Back to School – Another Lesson in Letting Go

    Happy Monday, friends!

    I’m incredulous that the 2018/2019 school year starts this Wednesday! I mean it’s not even the middle of August yet!

    Such is the nature of life! In constant flux and movement. Which is why it’s so important to practice being present for each and every moment of life. The days can seem so long, but the years fly by on wings. I so clearly remember my son’s first day of pre-school. This week, he begins his senior year!

    Change is inevitable. We can’t control it. We can’t fast forward or rewind. Our only sane, viable option is to embrace every single precious second as it unfolds, exactly as it is. As it is. Not how it should be. Or could be. But as it is.

    Therein lies our greatest challenge and truest pathway to happiness.

    To embrace life in all of its glory and misery, pleasure and pain, love and fear, belief and doubt, failure and success. All of it!

    Sure, I could play the game of beating myself up for every mistake I made in raising my son. Or fast forward and suffer in anticipation of next year when he leaves for college. I’m really, really good at both!

    But I see that these patterns of thinking create suffering for myself. And I remember that I really have no reason to suffer. And I definitely don’t enjoy it anymore.

    And I remind myself that I’ve been in training for the past 17 years in the beautiful and brutal art of letting go. From the day he was born, I had to let go of having him all to myself within my body.

    When I stopped breast feeding, I had to let go of being his main source of nourishment.

    When I went back to work.

    When he moved from his crib to his big boy toddler bed then later his loft/bunk bed.

    Watching that tiny little boy walk into first grade all on his own, getting swallowed up into the crowd of much bigger kids.

    His first sleepover at a friend’s house.

    First time he closed off from me and didn’t need me to fix it.

    Graduating from elementary school and starting middle school.

    First day of high school.

    First time he drove my car (I’m still traumatized by that one).

    And now … senior year begins.

    And I remind myself, this is all part of the training. And how it’s helped me so much in life.

    It’s strengthened and conditioned me. Learning to release and let go of so many things. Learning to let go even when I’m not ready, because it’s time.

    So I have one more year to train for the inevitable. And I remind myself that if I’ve done my job well as a parent, he will fly away with confidence and have all the tools he needs for success.

    Sigh. Good luck to all of you parents out there! We got this!

    Mindful Monday: Balance

    Good morning, friends! Happy Monday!

    We work a lot on balance in our yoga practice. Balancing on one one leg, one arm, upside down. Even balancing on our heads and hands. And in acroyoga, we balance on other peoples’ bodies!

    We learn that it takes focus and concentration to maintain balancing poses on our mats. And we see that these poses are dynamic, not static. Within the stillness of a pose, tiny shifts and adjustments are made to maintain balance. Sometimes we see visible shaking, other time it’s imperceptible to anyone else. The body makes corrections to help maintain itself.

    And of course lessons that we learn on the mat are meant to be integrated into daily life.

    There are so many things that can throw us off balance in life. Major life changes and transitions. Shocking news can literally knock you off of your feet. Even smaller, every day stuff. A major traffic jam can throw off your entire morning. One person on a team not managing their time effectively can throw an entire project out of whack. We’re constantly making these small adjustments as we seek stability.

    And then there’s the challenge of balancing work, time with friends and family, and self-care. It’s so easy to fall out of balance in these areas. Overwhelmed with projects at work often leaves little time for rest. Or maybe every weekend is filled with social obligations with little free time to do what we want. When we burn it at both ends for too long, trying to please everyone and “do it all,” our bodies shut down with illness and we’re forced to rest and recover and do little else. Again the body is adjusting itself towards equilibrium.

    Yoga has helped me immeasurably in learning the importance of working with mindfulness and awareness towards balance and stability. It constantly reminds me that it’s perfectly natural to fall sometimes! And the only option is to get back up and try again with as much grace and humor as I can muster.

    Yoga demands discipline and satya, truthfulness with yourself. It clears the maya, illusions, and helps one to truly center. And it reminds us so much that it’s a daily practice.

    And remember, dear ones, it’s yoga practice not yoga perfect!!!

    Have an amazing week!

    Mindful Monday: Are you Happy?

    Happy Monday, dear ones!

    How happy are you at this very moment? Hah! Excellent question, n’est pas?

    It’s not a trick question. It’s pretty simple, actually. And the truth is, you are as happy as you want to be. So super simple and straightforward. But …. not even the teeniest bit easy!

    We’ve been conditioned to think of happiness as a commodity; a valuable product to be purchased or at least earned through hard work and sacrifice. Buy this face cream and you’ll be beautiful and happy. Buy these hundred dollar yoga pants and you’ll be happy and chic on your yoga mat. Swathe your body head to toe in nothing but the finest fabrics and designer labels. Push yourself hard each day in beast mode – super happy! Don’t ever ingest another animal protein, that will do it! Drink coffee, don’t drink coffee. Do a 10 day silent meditation retreat. Get married. Get divorced. Quit your big job and become a full-time yoga teacher.

    Now there’s certainly nothing wrong with doing any of those things listed above. At all. I’ve done all of them and many, many more! (A whole other blog’s worth.) But let’s not confuse those things with happiness, as I did for many decades.

    As it turns out, happiness is an inside job.

    So… Do you want to be happy? It’s a simple question, in fact, the only question that matters the rest of your life.

    And the truth is, you are already so worthy of happiness. There’s no need to chase it or earn it. No certain race or religion has a monopoly on it. Like the sun shining on every living creature, happiness shines on all of us. It is essentially your birthright. Just by being born, you have every right to be happy.

    So if you answer yes, it has to be an unconditional yes. Life will still happen to you. People will leave you. You’ll get a flat tire. You’ll be late for work because of traffic. Your teenager will say mean things to you. And many many many more things of that nature going to happen. But you have decided to be happy; those things will not veer you off your course of happiness, unless you let them.

    There’s really great reasons to be happy.

    I mean you practice yoga religiously to be strong and fit and flexible and healthy. So it’s kind of silly to do all of that and still remain unhappy, isn’t it?

    The happier you are, more happy vibrations will be attracted to you. It has a compound effect.

    And according to the Dalai Lama, it’s a pretty simple first step.

    Perhaps the only step. And while you’re treating every other human with kindness, sprinkle some of that good stuff onto yourself!

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

    Mindful Monday: Rise Above

    Happy Monday, friends!

    My dad always told me growing up, “If you can’t bring someone to your level, don’t lower yourself to meet them at theirs.”

    You know how you feel when you leave a yoga class? Lighter. Happier. Kinder. More compassionate. Stronger. More confident. Generous. Exuding positivity. Tolerant. Accepting. Open. Abundant. And beaming love, peace and contentment.

    Am I missing anything?

    Those are your natural states of being. The work is in maintaining those feelings no matter what happens around us. No matter what someone says or does. Whether teeny, petty things happen or some of the big body blows hit us.

    Let’s continue feeding the positive. Don’t waver from it. No matter what happens pivot towards the positive.

    Have a great week practicing, yogis!

    Mindful Monday: Yoga as a Healing Modality

    Good morning, friends! Another Monday is here for you to write your own ticket. A fresh slate for you to create your own destiny. Of course yoga will play some role in that narrative, yes?

    Think about the last time you had a paper cut. You didn’t have to think about your blood creating platelets to clot and close the wound or to send neutrophils and macrophages to the site to protect against germs and infection, right? Your body just did what it was made to do: heal itself.

    When we practice yoga, we create an ideal environment for our minds and bodies to heal. Through the physical practice, we aid circulation, digestion, lymphatic release as we strengthen our muscles and create more flexibility in our joints and other connective tissues. Through the mindfulness practice, we forge new neural pathways and literally rewire our brains toward more peace and happiness.

    One of the simplest ways to enhance every physical and cognitive function in your body is through your diet. What you put into your body can greatly strengthen all of the body’s systems. Or it can tax your body and create more work.

    At least once a year, I cleanse my body with a 21 day detox. It’s a hard reset physically, mentally and emotionally. By removing foods that create inflammation and unduly stress our digestive systems and replacing them with foods that are easily digested and absorbed, we allow our bodies to focus on more important tasks like cellular repair processes.

    Since 2012, I’ve literally led about 150 YBD yogis through this process. Some of those people have adopted this program as a lifestyle. It’s perfectly safe and medically unassailable. Others have taken one or two habits along with them on their path. Many have gone through this cleanse multiple times with me.

    Personally I’ve experienced this detox nine times. Each time is different, and I continuously learn more and more about myself throughout the process.

    Are you ready for an incredible challenge? Is food your final frontier? Do you want to take your yoga lifestyle to the next level?

    If so, sign up today for this 21 day reset!

    But don’t just take my word for it. Chances are, you’ve taken a class with a YBD instructor and/or practiced next to a yoga student who has undergone this process with me!

    Here’s what yoga teacher Shaun Emerson said:

    “Nadja calls it a detox, a cleanse, but for me, it was deeper than that. With Nadja’s guidance, the 21 day period was an opportunity to be thoughtful about what I was putting into my body. Participating in past cleanses, detoxes, and diets, the energy was negative: lose weight, deny, and be miserable. With Nadja’s positive energy shared on a daily basis, the attention is on the transformative impact food can have on our self-awareness and our relationship with others and the world around us. For me, the 21 days was a detox and cleanse, but more importantly, the 21 days was the first 21 days restart in a healthier body, clearer mind and deeper sense of awareness.”

    So … what are you waiting for? Sign up today!

    Mindful Monday: Get Grounded

    Happy Mindful Monday, yogis! Let’s take advantage of this lovely weather and get grounded!

    No, not the kind of grounded where you’re stuck at home with no contact with friends, no TV or electronics. (Although that may also prove beneficial! And actually sounds pretty lovely to me in moderate doses.)

    I’m referring to connecting with Mother Earth by walking barefoot! Ideally on the beach, but until spring break, we’ll have to make do with the wet grass. Or even in the mud! It’s called “earthing,” and aside from being a super yogi thing to do; it has amazing mental, emotional and physical health benefits!

    Here are just a few of the amazing and maybe even surprising benefits of this practice.

    Rejuvenates your senses and calms your mind

    Earthing is usually done in the morning or evening – but fit it in wherever you can!

    Taking deep breaths of fresh air provides oxygen for your entire body to function more efficiently.

    The calm atmosphere and brief moments of unplugging from the matrix and plugging directly into Mother Nature helps relax your entire body and mind, allowing you to release your stress.

    The green color of grass helps stimulate your body to produce calming hormones that help you relax.

    The feeling of cool grass beneath your feet, the calm stillness of early morning or early evening, connecting with nature and feeling the warmth of the sun will certainly boost your mood!

    Connects you to the earth and neutralizes your electrical field

    When we walk barefoot on grass, we are directly connected to the magnetic field of the earth, which affects the entire electrical and magnetic field of the human body.

    This exchange of energies helps neutralize negative electrical impulses in our body which are known to cause certain ailments.

    It is said to also neutralize the effects of spending hours in front of our computer, TV and smart phone screens.

    Cleansing our bodies of negative electrical energies can definitely have a positive effect on our overall health.

    Provides your body with the precious properties of sun energy

    The sunlight warms your winter body to the bone and naturally replenishes your essential vitamin D stores.

    Sun energy is a great source of healing our energies and restorative powers. In Naturopathy, it is referred to as the source of life and energy.

    Studies show that it helps disinfect the body, tones muscles and nerves and supplies the entire body with energy!

    According to experts, we can get the maximum sun energy benefits between 6:30 to 9 in the morning and between 4:30 to about 6:30 in the evening. Be mindful of over exposure to the sun in the harsh afternoon sun hours.

    So get off the pavement, take off your stuffy shoes, and go get grounded!

    Have a great week, my earthy, grounded yogis! See you on your mat this week!

    Mindful Monday: Tempus Fugit

    Good morning and happy Monday, mindful ones! Happy President’s Day! You may have the day off today, but all of our studios are open with our regular schedules!

    I was talking to a friend the other day who expressed so much fear surrounding money. She is overworked and overextended, but she continues plodding on at an unsustainable, breakneck speed driven by her fears. I think we’ve all been there. I know that was my reality when I left my role as the spokesperson for the City of Naperville to teach yoga full-time.

    But the reason I left the career that I once loved so much was that I wanted more freedom and flexibility with my time to spend more of it doing what I love.

    And I slowly realized that money is the currency that we use to purchase goods and services. It is a tool to use in the pursuit of a full and fulfilling life. It is not the purpose of life.

    The true currency of life is our tempus TIME. We exchange our precious, limited, finite time for money when we work. It’s a steep price to pay.

    Each day, no matter how good looking you are or how much money you have or how talented you are, you are given 86,400 seconds or 1,440 minutes. That’s all you get in one day. You can’t bank it, roll it over or save it for later.

    I always think of Steve Jobs and how all the money in the world could not prolong his life. He couldn’t cash in his vast fortune and buy another decade of life. But he certainly spent his seconds, minutes, hours and days in a way that impacted and changed our entire planet.

    Like death, time is our great equalizer. It does not favor the rich or the poor, the believers or non-believers. How you spend or squander your time determines your life, your future, your karma.

    Tempus fugit, carpe diem et memento mori

    “Time flees, seize the day, remember death”

    How will you spend your precious time this day? What will you receive in exchange for this priceless commodity?