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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!

Mindful Monday: the Niyamas

Good morning and happy rainy Monday! The weather mirrors the constant changing and shifting of life. And here in the Midwest, we sometimes can get all four seasons in the span of a week!

That’s why I’m so grateful for the consistency of our yoga practice.

Let’s delve more deeply into a complete practice, which extends far beyond the ability to bend over backwards or balance on your hands. Yoga 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, which we covered in last week’s Mindful Monday post.

Today we discuss the second limb called the Niyamas or the duties and disciplines. The niyamas are 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. 

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!

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

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 Yamas

Happy Monday, dearest ones!

Let’s explore in more detail the Eight-Limbed Path of YOGA.

While the path is eightfold, we can work on each of the steps simultaneously or in any order that evolves organically. Most of us come to the practice through the third step – asana – which is a wonderful entry point! Remember that yoga meets you exactly where you are without reservation or judgement.

The first step in the path is called YAMAS – they can be considered as five moral guidelines, ethical considerations or universal vows. Yamas are basically the DO-NOTS of yoga.

Patanjali instructs us in the Yoga Sutras that we should practice the Yamas on all levels:  in our actions, words and thoughts.

1. Ahimsa is the practice of non-violence, which includes physical, mental, and emotional violence towards others and the self. The starting point of your yoga practice begins with YOU. The most violence that we create is often towards ourselves through our reactions to events and others, habitually creating judgment, criticism, anger or irritation. I have observed within myself that for many years I habitually bullied and shamed and criticized myself which I mistakenly thought was motivating myself to achieve more and be more successful. As I began to observe this, slowly I realized how much violence I was directing inward and ultimately outward through these thought patterns. The most effective way to foster ahimsa is to practice being compassionate to yourself, first and foremost, and then towards others.  I try to allow my heart to remain open and loving and I strive to accept events, situations and others exactly as they are. Each time I experience my reactive self, I try to replace those thoughts and feelings with kindness, acceptance and love. This is very challenging and usually not very fun.  And I practice forgiving myself for not having compassion with practicing compassion.

2. Satya is the practice of truthfulness. We strive to live and speak our truth at all times. As always, we start with truthfulness towards ourselves – being honest and authentic with our own reality, opening to acceptance and loving gratitude.   Since Ahimsa must be practiced first, we must be careful to not speak a truth if we know it will cause harm to another. Living in your truth not only creates respect, honor and integrity but also provides the vision to clearly see the higher truths of the yogic path. It also gives those around us the strength and permission to walk proudly within their own truth.

3. Asteya is non-stealing, and is self-evident:  not taking what is not freely given. While this may on the surface seem easy to accomplish, when we look at the deeper implications of this Yama, we see how challenging this practice truly is. As an action, this is pretty clear-cut; obviously, we know not to take what is not ours, like theft of items from a store or someone’s home. But when we look at the level of words and thoughts, it becomes an entirely different practice. Asteya also refers to taking others’ thoughts and ideas and passing them off as our own. Constantly arriving late and having others’ wait for you is a form of stealing someone’s time. Practicing asteya also relates to dominating conversations without allowing the other person to speak and burdening others with our negative chatter (ahimsa).

4. Brahmacharya or continence technically refers to practicing abstinence or moderation in a sexual context, but the overarching thought is to practice control over all of our physical impulses of excess. The thought is that we attain knowledge, vigor, and increased energy when we channel the satisfaction of physical urges into higher goals. This applies to the overindulgence of food, wine, social media, binge watching TV shows, shopping and even getting addicted to the physical practice of yoga. To break the bonds that attach us to our excesses and addictions, we need both courage and will. And each time we overcome these impulses of excess we become stronger, healthier and wiser. One of the main goals in yoga is to create and maintain balance. And the simplest method for achieving balance is by practicing Brahmacharya, creating moderation in all of our activities. Practicing moderation is a way of conserving our energy, which can then be applied for higher spiritual purposes.

5. Aparigraha is the practice of non-coveting. Yoga teaches us to trust in the abundance of life. When we truly open up to the the truth that any and everything that we ever need shall be provided for us, we can resist the urge to cling, grasp, grip and possess anything. This is similar to the concept of stewardship – that we are all here to care for and pass on the gifts of this Earth – but we own nothing. As with all of our Yamas, this one can be so challenging in our consumer-driven society. How can we deprogram our minds’ need to own, possess, acquire and collect? When we know our true intrinsic value, we can stop searching for our worth to be defined as what we have and focus on who we are.

Whether you are an enlightened being who lives, breathes and eats the Yamas to perfection, or you are a flawed struggling yogi like me just trying to do better and be better each day, please, please, please practice compassion for yourself! You are doing the best you can each day. We all stumble, and we all fall and get back up.

Make it a great week friends!

Mindful Monday: the Journey

Getting upside down at the Grand Ole Opry in Nashville

Good morning and happy Monday, mindful ones!!!

It was Family Day at Vanderbilt this past weekend – the first time I’ve seen my baby boy since we said our farewells outside of Murray Hall on Sunday, August 18th.

We had a blast this weekend! Nashville is a thriving and beautiful city with so much to offer. It is overflowing with entertainment, amazing food and lovely people.

And to see my son in his beautiful new life and to hear him say that he made the right choice for himself is an indescribable medley of emotions: pure joy, happiness, pride, gratitude and comfort. He compared Vandy to the other top 15 schools he was accepted to, and said that Vandy students are ranked as among the happiest in the nation!

And I have to remind myself that the road to get here was certainly not a smoothly paved, perfectly straight path. It was far from that!

But the journey was worth it. A billion times over.

And those times where we struggled (he’s more stubborn than me!!) are now funny stories. And the big, significant milestone moments are precious memories that warm the heart.

And the every day grind times are the memories most cherished. The mundane, every day stuff that at the time felt routine and tedious and sometimes boring and annoying are what I miss the most during the course of my day.

But I certainly don’t dwell on that! I shift my focus and awareness to Julian, and we are so excited to see the amazing things unfolding in this young man’s future.

After only a month, he seems taller and he’s definitely filling out his frame with wider shoulders and more meat on his bones! 🤣😍

And watching his journey is a constant reminder to me to stay grounded in the present. To anchor my awareness to right now. And that it’s OK to feel whatever it is I’m feeling in each moment, as long as it’s honest and authentic.

Family day was experienced with my parents and my ex-husband. Just like the 18 year journey to get Julian settled into “the Harvard of the South” was rocky and less than smooth; this weekend also had its ups and downs. Lol.

The majority of ups! But a few instances where we were annoyed with one another. Lol. That’s called family living or just life itself!

The trick is to anchor down (<<< see what I did there?) into the present and love and accept every single moment. Even when you want to strangle someone. Or wrap them in your arms and never let go. It’s all good stuff. All of it!

Have a great week, my lovely friends! Embrace all of it!

Make it the best week ever!

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: Happy Labor Day

Good morning and happy Monday, dearest mindful ones.

We have an abbreviated class schedule today in observance of Labor Day. We still have noons and 1:30 pms at our Downers Grove and Western Springs locations; there’s definitely still opportunity to get to your mat!

Remember, Labor Day, is your day.

No one deserves a break more than you do. And aside from BBQs and a fond farewell to summer, Labor Day is when we celebrate the economic and social contributions of workers, hard workers like you and me!

A few ways I love to observe Labor Day:

1. Take the day OFF. When I first started teaching, I worked every holiday! Now I allow myself the simple pleasure of turning it off to rest and recharge my mind, body and spirit.

2. No schedule and no pressure. If I feel like practicing yoga, I will. But if I’m not feeling it, I give myself permission to chill out. I can Netflix all day by myself if that’s what’s calling to my spirit – or if I’m feeling more social, I’ll hang out at a friend’s BBQ. No forcing or making myself rally to do something I don’t really want to do.

3. Sleep in. It is so amazing to go to bed Sunday night without setting an alarm. Staying up late having fun and then sleeping in and waking up naturally. And maybe even lingering in bed writing this blog.

4. Move. Even if it’s going to be a lazy day, I’ll definitely spend some time in nature: A long walk or even a light jog (ok probably more likely a long walk) to boost seratonin levels and endorphins. Movement is the quickest, simplest life hack to instantly boost feelings of well-being.

5. Quiet space. Per my normal routine, I always take some time to quietly meditate and cleanse and purify my thoughts. I’ll definitely take some extra time to reflect on all of my hard work, success and accomplishments over this past year!

Happy Labor Day, dearest friends. Thank you for all that you do each and every day!

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.