mind over matter

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:

Good morning, beautiful mindful ones!

“Do not dwell in the past, do not dream of the future, concentrate the mind on the present moment.”

Here’s a short story about life.

There was once a man who had been wounded by a poisoned arrow. And when his family wanted to find a doctor to help him, the man said no.

The mortally wounded man said that before any doctor tried to help him, he wanted to know who had attacked him. What was his caste and where was he from?

He also wanted to know this other man’s height, strength, skin tone, the kind of bow he used, and whether its string was made of hemp, silk, or bamboo.

So, as he wondered if the arrow’s feathers came from a vulture, peacock, or falcon, and whether the bow was common, curved, or made of oleander, he ended up dying before getting an answer to any of his questions. 

How often do we this? Focusing so much on every myriad, irrevelant detail of the past, that we literally sacrifice our future?

Focusing on the past robs us of our ability to fully experience the present, to enjoy every moment of the journey and to appreciate the beauty of life. Through yoga, we continually practice staying present in the moment. To focus, breathe, observe as we empty the mind of everything but right now.

That’s exactly why we practice balancing poses! We are forced to feel the entire body and stay super focused – it’s hard enough balancing on two feet, let alone one!

And most remember, dear yogis, that you are exactly where you are supposed to be in your journey!

Make it the best week ever!

Namaste

Mindful Monday: Sangha

Good morning and happy Monday, dearest mindful ones!

I’m so grateful to be part of the Yoga By Degrees sangha. I’m so grateful for each and every one of YOU! 🙏🏾

Sangha is a Sanskrit term meaning association, company or community.

In Buddhism, sangha has two meanings: 1. A community of Buddhist monastic monks and nuns, or 2. a community of awakened beings.

When I refer to our YBD sangha, I’m acknowledging that you are all my TRIBE! My peoples.

I’m appreciating the fact that through all of my life transitions over the past eight plus years, YOU my dearest mindful one, have walked by my side; grabbed my hand and pulled me when I needed it; kicked me in my booty at times; pushed; cheered and supported me through ALL of it.

And I sincerely hope that you feel I’ve been able to do the same for you.

How lucky are we to have a sacred space to go and hide, heal, cry, laugh and receive love, compassion, support and understanding?!

I am particularly grateful for all of the love, support, wisdom and much-needed advice as I’ve navigated the turbulent years of parenting a brilliant, talented and very stubborn (not sure where he got that from!) teenager!

And yesterday was a successful launch into his brand new, bright, shiny future as a college freshman in Nashville at Vanderbilt University.

It truly takes a village or a sangha to raise a child.

From the bottom of my heart, thank you my dearest mindful ones.

Namaste.

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!

Mindful Monday: Summer is Slipping Away

Good morning and happy Monday, dearest ones!

Summer is slip sliding away so quickly!

And isn’t time such a relative perspective?

For parents with young, loud, messy, high-energy, easily bored little ones, the advent of a new school year can’t come quickly enough!

For one of my dearest friends whose daughter is in her last two weeks of Beast basic training for the United States Military Academy aka West Point, time seems interminable.

For me? I’d love to slow down the clock because my son Julian leaves for Vanderbilt in less than three weeks! Not to mention summer is hands down (legs up) my absolute best time of year!

Thus is our human nature. Trying to cherry pick life’s moments and experiences. Attaching to and desiring what we perceive to be “good” and resisting and averting from what we deem as “bad.”

We can never achieve permanent, authentic happiness and inner peace if we are constantly defining the conditions for it.

I will be happy if he brings me flowers.

I can’t be happy if she keeps smacking her gum.

I will be happy once I can get my leg behind my head.

I can’t be happy unless I get married again.

I’ll be happy if my mother-in-law doesn’t criticize me.

Whether or not these (temporary) conditions come to pass, we can still choose happiness if we don’t expect or depend on them.

Think about why you take a vinyasa class at your favorite studio: it’s awesome specifically because you don’t know what the teacher had planned! You are a student: open, eager and ready for whatever unfolds on your mat! Especially when you first began practicing, right?

It was all shiny and new and challenging and intoxicating. You didn’t second guess the instructor or try to anticipate what was coming up next. You listened, tried, experienced it.

You learned how to try new things.

How to fall. And get back up with a giggle.

You learned how strong you are!

You learned where you had areas and potential for growth.

You learned to breathe

To listen to your heart.

To accept wherever you happen to be on your journey.

And the entire point of yoga is to transpose all of those lessons off of the mat into real life.

So, rather than trying to make time slow down or speed up, we breathe in fully and deeply each and every moment. We trust in the higher intelligence of LIFE. We surrender to being such a beautiful, integral part of the greater universe.

Of course, it ain’t easy! Lol. Where would the fun be in that?!

So even though my heart aches down to the deepest level of my soul, I choose to be happy even during my moments of deep sobbing and panic. To feel grateful that I am able to love on the deepest of levels. To be thrilled for this ridiculously bright and amazing future my son is embarking upon.

To know and trust that of course it is all necessary and amazing and beautiful. All of it. Especially those circumstances that break us down; crack us wide open; leave us feeling raw and vulnerable and tender.

For these are the opportunities for true growth. Here we learn compassion, patience, healing, acceptance, depth of love and letting go.

Each moment may seem to last forever, but they are so precious and fleeting.

And one day in retrospect, you’ll look back and those moments you tried to rush through are the ones that you deeply long for!

One more day of summer break with my son

One more afternoon answering endless questions

One more early Saturday morning of baseball/karate/track meet/practice driving/soccer

One more night filled with loud, silly, messy hungry boys sleeping over

One more weekday night after a long day of work to hear the words: “mommy, will you play with me”

Recognizing on the deepest level there’s no going back for do-overs, I know the next best thing is to stay mindfully aware and present for all of the moments of each day.

So take advantage of the gift of these last weeks of summer! What have you been planning to do? Get out there and make it happen! So when you do look back, it’s with a deep, joyful knowing that you appreciated and maximized each moment.

Have a great week, friends!

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!!!

June 2019 Pose of the Month: Eka Vrschik Pada Koundinyasana or One Legged Scorpion Pose Dedicated to Sage Kaundinya

Happy June, friends!

Our pose of the month (POTM) is Eka Vrschik Pada Koundinyasana or One Legged Scorpion Pose Dedicated to Sage Kaundinya.

Sometimes this pose is called hurdlers pose – it’s an intermediate level arm balancing asana. This month, we’ll add a fun twist with a scorpion tail leg!

Let’s go!

1. From downward facing dog, lift your right leg up and step it outside of your right hand at the top of your mat.

2. Start to work your right shoulder behind the back of your right thigh, bringing your leg as close to your shoulder as possible.

3. Plant your palms down firmly and activate your core. Extend your left leg straight behind you pressing your toes into your mat and pushing energy through your left heel. Take a few breaths as you breathe from your left heel through your heart chakra.

4. Start to hinge forward onto your left tippy toes as you bend your elbows Chathuranga style. Make a shelf with your right tricep for your right leg as you extend right leg forward and float right foot off of your mat.

5. As you bend your arms push like crazy through your chest and your shoulders into the mat and simultaneously lift your left leg up with your left hamstrings.

6. From here, dip your chest down and hook your left foot toward your head.

7. Smile and take five deep ujayi breaths.

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!

April 2019 Pose of the Month: Parivrtta Hasta Padangusthasana: Revolved Extended Hand to Big Toe Pose

Our lovely student Zoe Justh embodies our pose of the month

Happy, happy April, dearest yogis!

Our April pose of the month is a big one! Parivrtta hasta padangusthasana or revolved extended hand to big toe pose.

Here’s how!

1 Start Revolved Hand to Big Toe pose from Mountain pose at the front end of your mat. Shift your weight into your right leg, finding all four corners of the foot and lifting energetically up through the sole. Begin drawing the left foot away from the floor while finding your balance.

2 Once you’re balancing on your right foot, draw your left knee into your chest. Take your time to breathe here, lengthening the spine and strengthening your standing leg. Use your index and middle fingers of your right hand to hold the big toe of your left foot. Continue rooting down through your tailbone as you start to extend out your left leg. The left thigh should be parallel to the floor and your spine should be perpendicular.

3 Reach through your heart and broaden across the collarbones to counter the tendency to slouch forward when extending the left leg. Take your left hand to your hip, level your pelvis, then begin to reach the hand toward the back of your mat. Deepen the twist by rooting the femur of your left leg into the hip joint as you draw your right ribs forward.

4 If you can remain balanced, slowly start to move your gaze back towards your left hand. Do this movement slowly and intentionally to avoid losing balance. Hold this pose for five to ten breaths before untwisting and slowly lowering the lifted leg down to the floor. Stay in Tadasana for a few breaths before repeating on the other side.

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!