mind over matter

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!

Mindful Monday: Level Up

Happy Monday, Mindful Ones!

For me, 2019 has been about leveling up many aspects of my life. My practice. My teaching. My wellness and self-care routines. Reading and writing more. Expanding my knowledge base and deepening my current interests.

With the weather getting warmer and the days getting longer, I am coming to terms with the impending arrival of my biggest level up opportunity, hands down. Leveling up my non-attachment game.

As I write this post, my son is in Providence, Rhode Island on his first of four college visits. He chose to go without his dad or me. Let that one sink in for a few minutes.

I am fully prepared for the next two months to swiftly fly by as he visits three more schools and prepares for high school graduation. And he actually turns 18 on the day he graduates. I’ll let that one sit there for a few moments also.

These days I constantly bring my awareness back to the present moment. Right here. Right now.

And I remind myself that I’ve been preparing for this inevitable moment since before my son was even born. Each milestone that we celebrate in his life is another teeny, tiny act of learning to letting go.

To be a good parent means to prepare your child to leave the nest and fly away and thrive. Everything that we have taught him and tried to nurture within him was always going to be so that he will eventually leave us.

I have been meditating on the Buddha’s teachings on non-attachment. You can only lose what you cling to.

And then I focus so much on what a magical and exhilarating time it is for him. And that it might also be overwhelming.

My role as a parent will never end. But my relationship with my son will level up. Transitioning from parent to mentor and perhaps even friend!

What are some things you’re currently struggling with in terms of non-attachment and clinging?

Each moment of each day, Life tries to teach us. And we can only move in two directions: toward or away from growth.

Let’s always choose growth. And love. Let’s always choose love.

Have a great week, friends.

Mindful Monday: Day One or One Day?

Good morning, mindful ones!!!

It’s day one! The first day of another round of our 21 day detox.

For the next 21 days, our dedicated yogis will restrain from the following substances:

Sugar (processed and added)

Gluten

Caffeine

Alcohol

Animal products, meat, fish, dairy and eggs = essentially eating vegan for 21 days

On this journey together, we learn to take extremely great care of our bodies, and we experience real, discernible breakthroughs in mind, body and spirit.

Fasting and cleansing has been used throughout the centuries for physical healing and as a path toward enlightenment. Even the fathers of modern medicine Hippocrates and Galen learned that occasionally refraining from food was a proven way to cure disease and heal the body.

And the great philosophers Plato and Socrates regularly gave up certain foods to enhance the sense of physical well-being and to improve mental clarity.

It’s imperative to challenge yourself to let go of certain things you seemingly cannot live without.

All of our mindfulness practices: meditation, yoga, fasting and cleansing allow us to observe the deeper levels of our unconscious mind and uproot deep-seated complexes; current patterns; and fears. We may reveal a deeper sense of clarity within and break from the habit of instant gratification.

Removing these five substances will create space to observe a deeper connection to the role food plays in our lives and how it affects us on deeper levels. We give ourselves the opportunity to break from artificial stimulants and depressants and return to the natural rhythm and flow of the body thereby ending the vicious cycle of self- indulgence followed by self-flagellation.

Keep in mind that there are many ways to practice self-restraints according to our Buddhist teachings.

If you were unable to join our group this round, there are some other behaviors that you can observe and try to abstain from.

Gossip

Judging yourself and others

Over-scheduling yourself

Reacting to every feeling that you have or to the actions of others

Your day one could be anything that you want to observe and improve within your own life. And yoga reminds us that day one can start at any moment of any day. With each new breath that you draw into your body, you can begin again.

How will you use this precious gift of today to improve yourself and thereby elevating the entire universe?

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: Mindful and Conscious Living

Good morning, my beautiful, dearest mindful ones.

Happy Monday!

How you spend your days is ultimately how you spend your LIFE.

You have been given a precious, priceless gift today: this day.

It cannot be purchased.

Or inherited.

Or borrowed from tomorrow.

It cannot be gifted from a loved one.

It is a precious and finite commodity.

1,440 minutes

86,400 seconds

During this time, experts estimate you’ll think between 50,000 to 70,000 thoughts.

That’s between 35 to 50 thoughts each minute.

And when unchecked, 98% are the same thoughts that you had yesterday and are predominantly negative.

With all of these thoughts swirling around in our heads, it’s no wonder that we constantly feel disconnected, anxious, stressed, annoyed and overwhelmed.

This is why yoga and meditation are so critical to not only physical but also our mental health and well-being. Through these practices for short periods of time throughout the day, the mind becomes more calm and serene. When we are thinking less, our awareness of the present moment is sharpened and focused. We are more conscious of breathing. Or physical senses are heightened. We are able to truly connect with one another.

Your conditioned, repetitive thoughts have created your current reality. It’s time to raise your vibration!

Don’t allow your mind to wander undisciplined and randomly. Focus on your breath and on your five senses. Train yourself to be grounded in reality and in the present.

Watch your habits! If you have time to bitch about how cold it is, peruse social media mindlessly, binge watch Netflix, or sit at a bar for an entire afternoon; you have time to meditate, journal, practice yoga and plan nutritious meals for yourself!

Everything is a CHOICE. Being mindless and going through life on auto-pilot is a choice!

Here are some quick and easy choices that we can all make together to raise our vibrations and frequencies.

Drink lots of water

Sweat everyday

Fuel your body with foods that support your body’s natural ability to detox and de-stress

Get enough sleep

Avoid loud, obnoxious people and situations

Speak less, listen more

Don’t interrupt or talk over people when they’re talking to you

Remember that you can learn something from everyone, even if it’s just patience

Be conscious of every thought and every word that you speak

Harness your energy by thinking and speaking much less than you normally do

Spend time in silence and solitude each day

Read more, Watch TV less

Travel!

Take a different route to work

Get upside down every day!

Celebrate the simple things

Declutter your home and your heart

Hey friends, let me know if you have other mindfulness practices that you’d like to share!

Have a mindful week!

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!

Mindful Monday: Yoga Cure and Endure

Good morning, mindful ones and happy snowy Monday!

Guess what? It’s really, really cold outside and it’s snowing like crazy. And it’s predicted the temperature will continue to drop this week.

That is our current reality.

What was your initial thought and reaction when you first heard about the cold weather continuing? When the cold wind penetrates through your many layers? When you have to walk so cautiously on the slippery surfaces? When the person driving in front of you is moving at a snails’s pace? Did you have to rearrange your entire work day or modify your schedule because your kids don’t have school today?

Isn’t it fascinating how we initially react when we are inconvenienced? We are outraged! Annoyed! Irritated! Impatient! Maybe even pissed off!! Or perhaps you felt victimized? Why did this happen to me? I can’t miss another day of work! I had an important meeting today. Why did the snow plows hit every street but mine? I’m gonna be stuck at home with my kids who are driving me nuts! Of course if you’re one of the kids home from school today, that’s a totally different outlook!

And once we have these thoughts and reactions, of course we articulate them! Maybe you called your girl friend or coworker to complain. A good old-fashioned social media rant. A text to your spouse or partner. Or even a group chat to your entire crew.

Of course, it’s always healthy to vent and blow off a little steam. But it’s rarely productive.

I’m certainly not here to criticize or judge whatever your reaction was! But I do offer you the perspective that how we react to things in life give us such a deep insight into how we live our lives.

How you do anything is how you do everything!

It’s in the small details of our lives that we truly understand ourselves and our mindsets.

Through my intimate practice of yoga, I continue to painstakingly learn that each and every action I take, word I speak and decision I make contributes to the creation of the life I choose to live. It all matters!

Most of our reactions and thoughts are pre-programs. Based on past experiences, observations of our parents and other influential people, we learn behaviors. We go on auto- pilot and mindlessly react. So many of the words we speak to others are also social conditionings. Pleasantries and polite exchanges. Or cultural behaviors: sometimes we get around certain groups of people and it automatically turns into negative, mindless gossip.

I always notice that what people say about the weather gives me such insight into their world viewpoint. Weather is such a great baseline, because it’s something that’s completely out of one’s control.

It seems so futile to me to bitch and moan about something that is completely outside of one’s control (most of life is as well!) Yes, it’s cold outside. I am also aware of that. But I don’t want to spend the next five minutes complaining about something that is not even unexpected since we live in the Midwest.

Yoga teaches us to endure what cannot be cured: as powerfully as we pray, meditate, and all agree that we wish it was warmer, we have zero influence over the temperature.

Yoga teaches us to cure what cannot be endured: if we cannot affect the temperature or the snowfall, we can certainly shift our attitude and approach towards it.

My friend who lives in Hawaii and my best friend who lives in Charlotte (both originally from DuPage County) both called me to apologize that it’s so cold here! Lol. They truly felt so bad for me as they enjoyed 78 degrees and 55 degrees respectively. Personally, I find this weather to be so magical and beautiful! It’s nothing short of a winter wonderland.

The beauty of yoga is not in one’s ability to master a pose – the true beauty is in raising one’s awareness of the beauty and wonder that surround us on a daily basis.

Have a white and wonderful wintry Monday, friends!

Mindful Monday: Grasping

Life is a balance of holding on and letting go. It’s important to know how to do both.

One of our most primal instincts is to grasp. If you put your finger in a baby’s hand, it will latch on to it with superhuman strength. And that is crucial for a baby’s survival.

To grasp is an innate human survival technique. If you are walking down the stairs and lose your balance, that instinct can save you from falling.

But this skill doesn’t always serve us well. You certainly don’t want to latch on to a hot plate.

There’s an ancient Indian story of The Monkey Trap. The trap is a hollowed-out coconut, chained to a stake. The coconut has some rice inside which can be grabbed through a small hole. The monkey’s hand fits through the hole, but his clenched fist can’t fit back out. The monkey is suddenly trapped – but not by anything physical. He’s trapped by an idea, unable to see that a principle that served him well – “when you see rice, hold on tight!” – has become lethal.

If the monkey took a step back to observe the situation, he would release the rice, pull his hand out and turn the coconut upside down and get the rice!

And we start to see how we mentally and emotionally grasp, which can be such a cause of suffering for us. We all have the tendency to grasp, grab, latch, clench, hang on bit too long when it’s time to let go.

Rather than beat ourselves up over all the stuff we cling to, whether it’s a bag full of old clothes; a garage filled with memories of a time of our life that has passed; relationships that no longer work; outdated and inaccurate self-images or even a job that no longer fulfills us, just acknowledge that the instinct is a good one.

But to move beyond that clinging, we must take a step back like the monkey and see what we are actually trying to accomplish.

The things we cling to, whether they are thoughts, emotions or physical items, are symbolic of something else.

Remaining in a stale relationship or job because it’s familiar is an effort to stay stable and safe. But it also hinders any opportunities for growth and transformation.

The first step is to just create a bit of distance between you and the object you’re clinging to. You can do this by simply observing what’s happening and being compassionate to yourself by acknowledging that it is an innate instinct.

Just by stepping back and watching the process, it is impossible to participate in it. You can go back-and-forth quite rapidly between watching and grasping; but you cannot do both at the same time.

You slowly start to return to your centerpoint, which is always calm and confident and trusting. You know that you will always be OK no matter what unfolds in life, because all of the tools you need to survive and thrive are within you.

And in this way you’re able to slowly let go of whatever it is you’re holding on to so tightly.

And it may take hundreds of attempts. And you may release and think you’re done, but you look up and you’re doing it again. All of this is OK. It’s all part of the process.

Grasping is instinctual; releasing is a skill. Being a yogi is mastering both.

In the illustrious words of Kenny Rogers:

“You’ve got to know when to hold ’em

Know when to fold ’em

Know when to walk away

And know when to run.”

Have a great week, yogis!