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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: 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: 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!!!

    Mindful Monday: Saluting the Sun

    Good morning and Happy Monday, mindful ones!

    Have you ever really stopped to contemplate Surya Namaskar? It’s such a common part of our practice, that it’s easy to be on autopilot as you flow through.

    No worries! I have found myself doing this at times as well.

    Yes, sun salutes are the perfect “warm-up” for the physical body. We lengthen and engage all major muscle groups and joints; cardiovascular system increases; lungs, blood circulation and digestive system all benefit. In fact if you don’t have time for a full hour of practice, do 10 to 12 sun salutes for a perfect physical workout!

    But we know that Yoga transcends so much more than just the physical.

    In our sun salutations, we are yoking mind and body together, creating a pathway to dhyana or meditation, a state of deep contemplation and reception.

    In our fast-paced world, we are often ahead of the current moment. The mind has been trained to fast forward in anticipation. Our sun salutes offer the opportunity to pause, return to our center, rekindling our relationship to breath and pure awareness. With this new awareness of breath and movement, we connect to our deeper rhythm and experience a moving meditation. It’s not in fact the physical poses but the deeper awareness of our inner energetic flow that awakens the state of yoga.

    The Sun is central to this devotion, as it is the giver of all life on this planet. Without the sun, life on earth would dwindle and slowly die. The Sun warms our seas, stirs our atmosphere, generates our weather patterns, and gives energy to the growing green plants that provide the food and oxygen for life on Earth.

    Miraculously, we are the perfect distance from the sun. Any closer, and we would be scorched. Any further away, and we would be in the Ice Ages.

    The next time you flow through Surya Namaskar, focus on the miracle of your existence! Use your awareness to honor and notice where your body happens to be at this moment. Take each breath with gratitude.

    Namaste, dearest mindful ones!

    Mindful Monday: From the Mouths of Babes

    Good morning and happy Monday, beautiful mindful ones!

    Yesterday we celebrated fathers everywhere! They are the strength and providers (traditionally) of our families. Kudos to all of the loving, active, supportive dads everywhere with their corny dad jokes and all of their hard work.

    My dad is currently in Barcelona, so I was grateful to speak with him on the phone and wish him a happy Father’s Day!

    I spent the day with my mom, brother, son and nephew. What an epic day!

    After a delicious meal together, we tossed the Big Kahuna frisbee around. It’s all fun and games until someone gets beaned by that hard plastic flying disc!

    Which was me. Right in the shin! I’ll happily show you the bruise if I see you at the studio this week!

    I took a bit of a break to nurse my wound while the boys kept playing. After some time, my seven year old nephew told me to get back in the game. Lol.

    Which I did. But I was very timid at this point. He had tons and tons of advice for me: “Auntie Nadja, You have to run faster. You have to jump! You have to run towards the frisbee! Don’t look away. Keep your eyes on the frisbee. You closed your hands too soon.” It was a steady steam.

    And it was all great advice! When I told him that I was afraid of the frisbee, he told me: “It’s ok Auntie Nadja. Just don’t focus on the pain. Focus on the frisbee.”

    And that little nugget of advice struck me as so deeply profound.

    Don’t focus on the pain. Focus on the frisbee.

    Boom.

    How often do we get stuck focusing on the pain in a situation? Immersing ourselves in it. Sure, we need to pause and evaluate the situation. But then it’s time to move on! Get back in the game and move forward!

    Countless situations in life are painful. Divorce. Death. Kids leaving for college. Betrayals from so-called friends or loved ones. We need time to heal and reassess our life perspective.

    But rather than focusing on the pain, we can focus on the lesson. How is this pain an opportunity to grow and strengthen. Or to grow and soften. Let the pain be what wakes you up and gets your attention, but not the focal point.

    Brilliance. From a seven year old!

    Unbeknownst to me, as I was tending to my poor shin, my son got hit in the face with the frisbee and had a busted lip. This kid is an athlete. He has been since he was four. Which is probably why he didn’t even mention his busted lip for a solid hour to me! He continued playing without a peep.

    He had clearly gotten that don’t focus on the pain memo! Lol

    Life sometimes hurts us, dear souls. Let’s not focus on the pain. Let’s learn and grow from it. Let’s let the pain transform us and elevate us! (Insert gratuitous image of the Rock. You’re welcome!)

    Have a great week, my dearest ones!

    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: Live for Today

    Good morning, beautiful mindful ones!

    I spent the weekend with a group of phenomenal, beautiful amazing women in Michigan. What a soul igniting experience!

    This Monday morning my heart is filled with gratitude for each and every one of you.

    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. 

    Life is so short! Let’s stop focusing on irrelevant and insignificant things! Focus on what needs to be done now.

    Smile. Live. Love. Be Happy!!!

    Mindful Monday: May 2019 Pose of the Month Parivrtta Surya Yantrasana or Compass Pose

    Hi, friends! Happy May!

    Our pose for May 2019 is Parivrtta Surya Yantrasana or Compass pose. It’s also called Sundial pose.

    It is a deep and twisty shoulder, hip and hamstring-opening seated pose that requires a great warm up and a good sense of humor!

    After a thorough warm up of hips, hamstrings, shoulders and spine, here’s how:

    • From a seated position extend your left leg long in front of you, round your spine a bit, and take your right knee into right elbow and right foot into left hand. If there is more space, wrap arms around shin and slowly, as it feels good, bring spine upright. Breathe for 5 deep breaths. (If you want to rock shin left to right like rocking a baby, that is also great to loosen up the hip joint.)
    • From shin cradle, take right hand to right ankle, and take left hand over your head and to the outer edge of your right foot. You can use your strap here! Round your spine and shinny your right shoulder underneath your right knee. Start to lengthen spine as it feels good, and breath for five deep breaths.
    • From here, release your right hand to the ground, fingertips facing away from you, soften right elbow as much as you want, and start to poke your head under your left shoulder.
    • Start to lengthen right leg to any degrees that feels good, and breathe there for five deep breaths.
    • Now repeat on the left.

    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!