Mindful Monday: Yoga Mala

Happy Monday, mindful ones. Well Chicago is definitely living up to its name. Wow! That brisk wind blasting my face this morning is exhilarating. Like a double shot of espresso!

It’s getting colder and darker, and I keep reminding myself that it’s OK. In fact, it’s necessary. So I really try to catch myself before I go on auto pilot and just start complaining about it. Practicing mindfulness with my thoughts and my words is a lifelong practice.

I’m really excited to begin preparations for Yoga by Degrees’ winter solstice celebration. We will observe this auspicious time of year by completing a yoga mala – 108 sun salutations!

According to Sri K. Pattabhi Jois, founder of Ashtanga yoga, each vinyasa (sun salutation) is like a bead to be counted and each asana (pose) is like a fragrant flower strung on the thread of the breath. The garland of yoga adorns us with peace, health, knowledge and self-awareness

While this may sound intimidating, it’s actually a practice that is super energizing. Sun salutations are the perfect way to lengthen, strengthen and flex the main muscles of the body while distributing prana throughout your whole system. Anyone can complete a yoga mala, regardless of physical limitations. Some will modify and some students actually intensify the practice!

When you begin your YBD classes with a handful of sun salutes, you right away feel your heart rate increasing, right? Sun salutes improve circulation, purify your blood and strengthen your physical body. Your lungs, digestive system, as well as your muscles and joints all benefit from this ancient practice. The more you do, the more vital prana circulation is increased, removing energy blockages and unlocking pathways for more energy to flow through you. The natural high you experience from the yoga mala is indescribable.

Our practice together will focus on the shortest day of the year as a turning point – emerging from a place of darkness to a place of light mentally, physically and even emotionally.

Some other benefits of sun salutations are:

• Promotes healthy digestion.

• Strengthens and tones abdominal muscles through alternate stretching and compression of abdominal organs.

• Ventilates the lungs, and oxygenates the blood.

• Rids body of enormous quantity of carbon dioxide & other toxic gases.

• Quiets the nervous system and improves memory.

• Promotes sleep and calms anxiety.

• Normalizes the activity of the endocrine glands – especially the thyroid gland.

• Improves muscle flexibility.

• Improves grace and ease.

Improves flexibility, especially your spine.

So what are you waiting for? Sign up at your studio today! I guarantee you will not regret honoring the changing of the season in this way. Plus it’ll be a great way to blow off some pent up holiday stress and pressure!

Have a great week, yogis!!!

Mindful Monday: The Niyamas or the Dos of Yoga


Happy Monday, yogi friends! Wow what a whirlwind we’ve experienced in the span of literally one week! It was a Wednesday night when our Cubbies clinched the World Series and the very next Wednesday morning when we arose to a new President-Elect. During these unsettling times, we are so grateful for the consistency of our practice. We delve more deeply into a complete practice which extends far beyond the ability to bend over backwards or balance on your hands. We covered the age-old question “What is Yoga?” in a previous Mindful Monday post, explaining that it is an eight-limbed practice.

The first of the eight limbs of yoga is the Yamas or the moral and ethical guidelines of the practice. Today we discuss the second limb called the Niyamas or the duties and disciplines practiced by yogis to cultivate structure and confidence. These five tools provide the opportunity to refine ourselves and live more happily and productively. Like the yamas, Patanjali instructs us in the Yoga Sutras to practice the niyamas in thoughts, words and deeds.

Saucha means purification and cleanliness. The sages instruct that not only is cleanliness the foundation for bodily health but also the gateway to deeper and more tranquil states of meditation. Saucha extends to the consumption of pure foods, purity of intentions and thoughts and cultivating a pure body and mind. When we step onto our mats, we are purifying the body by eliminating toxins and by irrigating all cells with fresh blood and prana. We also have the opportunity to purify our minds as we cease the restless monkey mind and direct awareness to physical sensations. That’s why we feel so great after our practice! The mind is docile and we can experience the cosmic force of our own true nature.

Santosha  means contentment. It is about cultivating happiness and joy by learning to maintain equanimity of mind regardless of circumstances. In yoga, we challenge the perceived limits of our minds and bodies beyond the notion of comfort. We purposely make ourselves uncomfortable both mentally and physically on our mats and then practice breathing and finding contentment. In this way, we learn to look beyond an expectation of ease and comfort from life, as we cultivate a sense of gratitude and contentment that springs from deep within us and remains unaffected by temporary external circumstances. The key to santosha is acceptance and joyfulness.

Tapas literally means heat in the context of discipline and determined efforts. Tapas accompanies any discipline that is willingly and gladly accepted in order to bring about a change of some kind—whether it be improved health, a new habit, better concentration, or a different direction in life. Tapas focuses energy, creates fervor, and increases strength and confidence. Hopefully you’ve joined our Grateful Warrior challenge – a great example of discipline and determined efforts. I see so many of you burning your tapas when you drag yourself to a 6 a.m. class or come to practice after a long, stressful day at work rather than going home and having a few beers or a glass of wine. The more we cultivate this disciplined heat, the stronger and steadier we become!

Svādhyāya means self-study. You’ve undoubtedly experienced the benefits of self-reflection and self-scrutiny through your consistent yoga practice. Also, reading spiritual yogic texts and deepening your practice through this study is an important part of evaluating and refining who you are. It helps you to see the truth and make sensible choices, rather than operating on the basis of delusions about yourself or complacency and being on “auto-pilot” which often results in less than ideal decisions.

Ishvara Pranidhana is about surrendering to the divine or the universe. If you believe there is benevolent power greater than ourselves, you can set a silent intention at the beginning of class, devoting your practice to this force, or someone in your life that needs divine love and support. Meditation at the end of class is another opportunity to move your attention away from ‘me’ and focus instead on the divine presence within and without. Also, by surrendering to the divine, it releases you from the pressure of trying to ‘make things happen’ because when you surrender your will to this intelligence, everything flows as it should. Enjoy the doorways that open through being attentive to the divine.

Have a great week, yogis! I’d love to hear from you on ways that you have begun to integrate the yamas and niyamas into your life! Until next time, live, breathe, sweat and smile! Don’t forgot those stickers on the challenge board! You’re earning them one at a time.