reality

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!

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.

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!

September 2019 POTM: Anahatasana or Melting Heart Pose

Happy September, yogis!

Our POTM is Anahatasana, or Melting Heart pose (sometimes referred to as Extended Puppy pose). This beautiful backbend deeply opens the shoulders, pectoral muscles of the chest, thoracic spine, neck and lower back. Heart and lung meridians receive a fresh burst of prana. Try this yoga pose first thing in the morning to set the tone for the day ahead!

Here’s how:

From table top (hands and knees) position, slide your arms forward and begin to melt your heart towards the earth.

Listen carefully to your heart and body and move only to the degree that feels appropriate.

You can always layer a block under your sternum to help your heart meet the earth.

You can bring your forehead to your mat (or a block if necessary) and gently rock your forehead side to side, massaging your ajna or third eye chakra.

Ultimately your chest may lay on the ground, with the chin tilting up. This will compress and massage the back on the neck and must only be done if comfortable.

If your chest, throat and chin easily rest on your mat, you can tuck your toes, lift your knees off the mat and straighten your legs. Please note that this is an advanced variation, and should only be done if your chest can remain pinned to the earth.

Hold for 3-5 minutes, breathing deeply into the shoulders, neck, spine, chest and lower back. Always remember where your attention goes, energy flows and it is important in these more vulnerable yin, backbending poses to remain focused inwards and on your pranayama.

Observe the emotions rising in this yoga pose. Melting heart is particularly effective in releasing heavy, stagnant or sad feelings. It may trigger an emotional reaction and release, including the need to cry! By the end of the pose, you will feel joy and lightness.

Follow with Balasana, Child’s Pose.

Mindful Monday: Graceful Acceptance

Happy Monday, yogis!

It’s happening again, isn’t it? That final rallying that summer’s not really over.

Scoffing at pumpkin spice’s far too premature appearance. I mean seriously, my birthday is in September (oh, the 14th if you were wondering), and my birthday is literally always warm, bright and sunny. And I’m positive I saw pumpkin even before Labor Day!

Wearing shorts and tank tops, because, it’s like the first week of September! (Thank goodness I had my son’s track hoodie in my trunk for these early mornings.)

Still ordering iced chai rather than hot chai because I don’t need to warm my fingers – cold is like a mini Cryo treatment to my hands.

Then the realization that resisting the natural cycles of nature is just the same as complaining about the weather, which is my greatest pet peeve. Complaining about something that you have zero control or input over is an exercise in futility, frustration and insanity.

So today I ordered a hot coffee for myself and my friend Gina (not pumpkin) and felt gratitude for the chill breeze early this morning.

I admired how the trees are preparing for their big color show and inevitable release to bareness by slowly shedding extra leaves.

And I acknowledged the energetic effects of this transitional time on my body. It’s starting to slow down. It wants more rest and grounding.

The fall is characterized by vata dosha: airy, windy, cold, light, moving and dry.

As long as these qualities are in balance, a person whose dosha is predominantly vata (like me) will be healthy, creative, and exuberant. But when too much vata accumulates in the body and mind, the imbalance may manifest as physical or emotional disorders, including insomnia, dry skin, arthritis, constipation, high blood pressure, anxiety, and depression.

Many of us naturally and subconsciously move toward grounding ourselves during this windy, moving energy time. We move toward heavier, cooked foods that are filling and warming. We may see an increase in our appetites; be intuitive and take cues from your body on what it needs.

Tending toward softer, heavier fabrics in earth tones will ground and calm vata.

  • Even our yoga practice will reflect this transitional time: more stabilizing and grounding poses and flows.
  • As always, taking our cues from intuition and nature are the simplest ways we can gracefully weather life’s shifts and transitions. From the weather to kids back in school to shifts at work, in life and relationships, we learn to stabilize within and be more allowing to whatever flows our way.

    Have a lovely 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: It’s So Hard to Say Goodbye

    Good Mindful Monday morning, friends!

    “Life is a balance of holding on and letting go.”

    This has been my mantra this summer, as I prepare to say farewell to my soon-to-be college-bound son. He is a “rising” freshman as I’ve been told they are now referred to.

    I’ve been holding on to the preciousness and sanctity of each blessed breath and moment.

    And letting go of all of the thoughts of how I could have been a better mom.

    I’ve been learning to hang on dearly to memories of all of the laughter and fun and lightness.

    To release all of the disappointments and hurts that inevitably happen within a family and a personal relationship.

    And to grasp the nuggets of wisdom that result in learning the tough lessons of life.

    To hang on to the significance of each “last” before he leaves. Last weekend. Last family dinner. Last Sunday lunch. Last night before he embarks on his new adventure.

    And to leave behind the expectations and “shouldas” and “couldas.”

    To embrace with gratitude this gift of motherhood.

    And to acknowledge that this entire journey has always been about preparing to let go.

    To continue to trust in the brilliance of life’s plans.

    To relinquish the thought that I ever really had much control over any of it.

    To accept in my heart that we all did our best.

    And to surrender to the belief that this is exactly how it should unfold.

    This morning, I found a brand new park to sit in and write today’s post. It seemed fitting to write my last Mindful Monday before my heart and soul is ripped out and transplanted to another city and state. (Not dramatic at all!)

    As I sit on a bench with all the sounds of nature enveloping me, one of these birds flew directly towards me then looped around and flew away! So symbolic. I was completely engrossed in watching the flight. As an afterthought I snapped this picture of that bird with one of his bird friends.

    While I am well aware that I’m not the only mother in the history of the world to experience this deep, bittersweet sense of loss; I am definitely feeling connected to every human soul who has, for whatever reason, ever had to say a tough, gut wrenching, totally scary and absolutely necessary farewell.

    So when the time comes, I pray for the strength to be able to turn around and paddle away, knowing I’ve done all I can and trusting he will be surrounded with love, support and guidance always.