yoga teachings

Mindful Monday: Zanshin

Aloha and good morning, my yogi friends! I’m writing this blog from our 50th state, Hawaii, and I’m overflowing with gratitude for simply being alive in this moment. And while it’s still pretty early morning here, I should really be wishing you a good afternoon! Here is my early morning view as I write this blog.

We are on the fourth week of a series about four Zen states of mind. It’s important to note that there are many other Zen mind training techniques and mental states than the four I’ve focused on these past weeks. I’ve chosen to highlight these particular states, because we can begin to apply them to our yoga practice and daily lives. This is in no way an exhaustive list!

Read more about the first three Zen states here:

Shoshin

Fudoshin

Mushin

Now, let’s move to our final state of mind called Zanshin.

Zanshin literally translates to “remaining mind” or the “mind with no remainder.”

Zanshin is a general and constant state of relaxed awareness or perceptiveness. This state means that although you’re not actively watching out for things, you are constantly aware of your surroundings and situation. Think of a public safety officer or a first responder: they are always sizing up situations even when off duty. Constant situational awareness.

The concept of Zanshin is that one should be fully present in whatever action is at hand. When eating, eat. The mind is fully engaged in the action of eating. When practicing yoga, practice yoga. When standing, stand. When writing, write. It is being in the here and now, totally immersed in the task at hand, and there is no “remaining mind” to think.

And to take it one step further, every action and every thought in the here and now must be right and harmonious. Every routine, mundane action is important and should be done with Zanshin.

A beautiful example of Zanshin:

Roy Suenaka, the author of Complete Aikido, tells a story about aikido’s founder that is the epitome of this concept. They were seated on the floor face to face having tea and talking when Morihei Ueshiba, without turning his head, casually reached behind himself and then held something out for Suenaka to see. “Ah, a young cockroach,” he said, before gently putting it to the side. Only later did the significance hit Suenaka. How was Ueshiba so aware that even when focused on their conversation could he not only sense the presence of something so small but be able to know exactly were it was so that he was able to pick it up without looking?

There is a samurai saying that roughly translates to: “When the battle is won, tighten your chinstrap.” This means that zanshin should always be practiced, even after a big success or goal has been met. Never rest on your laurels. Be prepared at any moment for another attack (if you’re a samurai). But also that the battle is never over until you stop striving.

If you’ve been working for years on a particular yoga pose, you don’t stop practicing once you achieve it! If you reach your PR in weight lifting or any other competitive sport or arena, it’s not the time to relax and start slacking.

There is a second component to zanshin that can be summarized with this beautiful thought: Everything is aiming.

There is a story of a master archer who consistently hits bullseye after bullseye, even splitting his own arrows in the middle of the bullseye, blindfolded and in complete darkness.

This is attributed to the process being of utmost importance, not the goal! Each and every small detail is preparation for the ultimate goal. But the paradox is that the ultimate goal is not the focus; each and every boring, mundane, repetitive task that is performed thousands of times is where focus lies. Once one has performed every minute detail ad nauseam, the goal is inevitable and can be reached without the luxury of seeing the target.

Have a great week, yogis! As always I love to hear your comments and feedback. And of course if there any topics you’d like covered in our weekly blog please let us know!

Mindful Monday: Mushin

Good morning, mindful ones!!!

We’re on week 3 of the Four Zen States of Mind! Week 1 was Shoshin and week 2 was Fudoshin.

Today let’s explore the concept of Mushin, which means “Without Mind.” It is very similar in practice to the Chinese Taoist principle of Wu-wei.

Mushin or Wu-wei refers to a state of total ease, in which you become completely lost in what you’re doing, feel no sense of exerting effort, and yet everything works out perfectly. You’ve probably experienced this feeling at some point on your yoga mat!

In this state of mind, you move with ease and maximum effectiveness and emerge from your experience feeling relaxed and satisfied. Sound familiar, yogi?

One of my very favorite Bruce Lee quotes epitomizes this lovely concept of Mushin or Wu-wei.

Basically, when we practice the Zen concept of mushin, we are cultivating an awareness that nothing has value until we place value upon it.

The Zen master who cultivates mushin will have a mind that is open to all possibility – not a mind that is stuck on objects and situations as they have previously experienced them, thereby limiting their real-time experience. A mind that is not fixed on specific thought patterns or emotions is more in touch with the “emptiness” from which all arises.

The “empty mind” isn’t one of an idiot. It is the mind of a master. It is unbiased, free, and completely adaptable. Like water.

Like the moon’s reflection in a perfectly still lake, we perceive reality as if it is “real,” but that moon, as realistic as it looks, it only a reflection. It is easily distorted by a small pebble being thrown into the lake, or a slight breeze rippling its surface.

When you practice mushin, you are practicing mind without mind – you are the clear surface. There are fewer distortions. When you eliminate mental chatter, worries, anxieties, and concerns about the future, the lake’s surface becomes smooth like ice. You can see everything around you more clearly.

The practice of mushin allows you to observe the world from a less distorted perspective.

How do you cultivate it? By getting still, and constantly reminding yourself that all that arises is phenomena reflecting like a pebble on the surface of a lake.

Have a great week, yogis!

Mindful Monday: Labor Day 2018

Good morning, friends! Happy Labor Day!

For most of us, we get an extra day tagged on to this weekend!

As we enjoy this last day of “summer” – don’t worry, we still have time until the official end on the fall equinox – let’s pause to honor the spirit of this day.

Today we celebrate all of the industrious, dedicated workers that literally built this country. And let’s remember that there are still many of those people who are actually working today!

Most of the professions have the luxury of not working today; but so many in the service industry still get up and get ready and go to work. Retail and restaurant workers, and of course, law enforcement, medical and emergency management folks are still on the job today. Aaaaaaaand of course many yoga teachers and other fitness professionals will still be punching in!

Where ever this beautiful Labor Day takes you today, take a moment to pause, breathe deeply and let gratitude for this gorgeous day and for our still great nation and all of its people course throughout your entire body. We are so darn lucky to live in a land of so much opportunity.

A huge shoutout to all of you working today! What a great opportunity to show our appreciation with just some extra kind words for those laboring today! I always overtip for services on days like this.

Happy Monday, y’all. And hellllooooooo pumpkin EVERYTHING this season.

Next week, we’ll talk about Mushin – The third Zen state of mind. If you’ve missed the past couple of weeks, you can read about the first Zen state of mind here and the second Zen state of mind here.

Mindful Monday: Sho Shin

Happy Monday, mindful ones!

Sho Shin is a concept in Zen Buddhism that means ‘a beginner’s mind.’ There are four states of mind in Zen Buddhism. This week, we’ll discuss the first state.

Sho Shin is characterized by an attitude of openness, eagerness, and a complete lack of preconceptions when studying a subject or beginning an endeavor.

Think about when you took your first yoga class. Or first 100 for that matter! You were excited and so eager to learn everything about this ancient practice! Your mind was like a sponge, simply and enthusiastically absorbing every thing you could about yoga.

When you are in a state of shoshin you are feeling enthusiastic, creative and above all optimistic.

It’s easy to be fired up about new, exciting endeavors. The practice is to remain open-minded and optimistic when you’ve practiced for many, many years and are considered an ‘expert.’

One of the key aspects of shoshin is an absence of preconceptions and a general sense of optimism. When you are in a state of shoshin you shouldn’t be thinking too much about what you think is going to happen, you should just be eager to accept whatever comes and assured it will all be for the best.

This release of preconceptions and attitude of viewing everything with fresh eyes is one of shoshin’s most valuable qualities. You can work on placing yourself in a state of shoshin even when doing something you’ve done before to keep each experience fresh and to ensure that you aren’t making poor decisions based on preconceived biases. It also helps train you to keep a positive and eager outlook about everything that might come your way.

For this reason, I always try to keep my teaching as well as my personal practice fresh with new and different sequencing and transitions. In order to do this, I MUST continue to practice with new and different teachers. I must continue to expand my knowledge base and work tirelessly to cultivate a state of shoshin. I often see experienced students turn on auto-pilot in class and assume they know where we are going next.

The danger of an ‘expert’s mind’ is that few possibilities exist in this mind. Less aspects of a situation are questioned and more are assumed. This often results in a narrowed perception and performing tasks on autopilot without room for a fresh, new perspective. Things are always done a certain way with no opportunities for improvement.

So how do we cultivate shoshin in our everyday lives and on our mats?

Just like all programs of thoughts in our minds, new thought patterns can be cultivated. Meditating and practicing gratitude are scientifically measurable ways to literally create new gray matter. Cultivating a beginner’s mind is exactly the same.

  • Try to approach situations without assumptions or expectations.
  • Don’t judge as good or bad. Be open to any outcome.
  • Be curious! Question with interest and wonder!
  • Switch things up. Drive a different route. Practice at a different time. Move your mat to a different place in the room.
  • Empty your mind!
  • Have a great week, friends!
  • Mindful Monday: Back to School – Another Lesson in Letting Go

    Happy Monday, friends!

    I’m incredulous that the 2018/2019 school year starts this Wednesday! I mean it’s not even the middle of August yet!

    Such is the nature of life! In constant flux and movement. Which is why it’s so important to practice being present for each and every moment of life. The days can seem so long, but the years fly by on wings. I so clearly remember my son’s first day of pre-school. This week, he begins his senior year!

    Change is inevitable. We can’t control it. We can’t fast forward or rewind. Our only sane, viable option is to embrace every single precious second as it unfolds, exactly as it is. As it is. Not how it should be. Or could be. But as it is.

    Therein lies our greatest challenge and truest pathway to happiness.

    To embrace life in all of its glory and misery, pleasure and pain, love and fear, belief and doubt, failure and success. All of it!

    Sure, I could play the game of beating myself up for every mistake I made in raising my son. Or fast forward and suffer in anticipation of next year when he leaves for college. I’m really, really good at both!

    But I see that these patterns of thinking create suffering for myself. And I remember that I really have no reason to suffer. And I definitely don’t enjoy it anymore.

    And I remind myself that I’ve been in training for the past 17 years in the beautiful and brutal art of letting go. From the day he was born, I had to let go of having him all to myself within my body.

    When I stopped breast feeding, I had to let go of being his main source of nourishment.

    When I went back to work.

    When he moved from his crib to his big boy toddler bed then later his loft/bunk bed.

    Watching that tiny little boy walk into first grade all on his own, getting swallowed up into the crowd of much bigger kids.

    His first sleepover at a friend’s house.

    First time he closed off from me and didn’t need me to fix it.

    Graduating from elementary school and starting middle school.

    First day of high school.

    First time he drove my car (I’m still traumatized by that one).

    And now … senior year begins.

    And I remind myself, this is all part of the training. And how it’s helped me so much in life.

    It’s strengthened and conditioned me. Learning to release and let go of so many things. Learning to let go even when I’m not ready, because it’s time.

    So I have one more year to train for the inevitable. And I remind myself that if I’ve done my job well as a parent, he will fly away with confidence and have all the tools he needs for success.

    Sigh. Good luck to all of you parents out there! We got this!

    Mindful Monday: Patience

    Greetings and blessings, Mindful ones.

    In this golden age of Amazon Prime, overnight delivery, and open-24-hour drive throughs … Instant Gratification rules!

    And our classic, good old-fashioned friend Patience gets a really bad rap. I mean, remember what it was like with the AOL dial ups back in the stone ages?

    Enter our practice of yoga! This is where we transform the toe-tapping, teeth grinding, fist-clenching, caffeine-fueled adrenaline rushes into one, unremarkable, slow deep breath of awareness at a time.

    As we work to reverse the tendency to push and do, we slowly learn to soften and BE. For me, yoga at times can be agitatingly slow and boring. It was a very long process for me to even stay for savasana. And it took many years before I would even consider taking a restorative class.

    But there was definitely something that kept me coming back to my mat. It was the sense of total peace. The realization that underneath all of that thrilling and glamorous rushing around, there was a very unglamorous, plain and PATIENT space within.

    I still work hard to cultivate this relationship. Patience is a great friend to have on my mat and off. On my mat, I learn to slow down and feel my body in each pose. To just wait with ease and grace. We have to slow down so much to allow the body to open and heal. And we learn to patiently accept our current limitations and barriers.

    I searched for Patience’s hand at the Cubs game last week when I was trying to nimbly and quickly navigate the crowds to make it to the one place in the whole ball park that sells Rum Chata. I literally had to stop myself and slow myself down, and realize I was not in any hurry at all.

    Throughout my regular, routine days, I find so many opportunities to connect with my dear friend. I may not always listen to her, but I know she’s always there for me.

    Have a great week, my friends!

    Mindful Monday: HB, America!

    Happy Monday and hulllllooooooo July!!!

    Boom! Just like that 2018 is half over!

    This is a great touch point to pause and check in with yourself. Where are you in terms of New Year’s resolutions and goals? Yoga reminds us that it’s never too late to begin again!

    This is also the time of year where we pause and celebrate the birth day of our beloved nation. We remember that, just like us, America has seen its shares of up-and-down’s. Times of prosperity and times of struggle. Times of war and strife and times of peace and harmony. Times of civil unrest and times, like the Fourth of July, that we put aside our ideological differences and stand together as one strong, proud America filled with love of country and national pride.

    On a smaller scale, our lives are also filled with peaks and valleys. We get caught up in the day-to-day fluctuations that life throws at us. It’s so important to step back and check out the bigger picture to see how far we’ve come and how all that we have overcome has made us stronger, wiser and more compassionate.

    For me, yoga is that opportunity for pausing and reflecting. It allows me to step away from the immediate demands and create enough space to take a higher level viewpoint. Things that may initially seem so urgent are proportioned. Situations are looked at from an entirely different perspective. And as I roll up my mat after practice, I tap back in with a fresh new start each and every time.

    I hope that you enjoy your mid-week holiday, friends! All six of studios will be open with a limited morning schedule on Wednesday, July 4. So come in to detox before your big retox!

    Mindful Monday: Are you Happy?

    Happy Monday, dear ones!

    How happy are you at this very moment? Hah! Excellent question, n’est pas?

    It’s not a trick question. It’s pretty simple, actually. And the truth is, you are as happy as you want to be. So super simple and straightforward. But …. not even the teeniest bit easy!

    We’ve been conditioned to think of happiness as a commodity; a valuable product to be purchased or at least earned through hard work and sacrifice. Buy this face cream and you’ll be beautiful and happy. Buy these hundred dollar yoga pants and you’ll be happy and chic on your yoga mat. Swathe your body head to toe in nothing but the finest fabrics and designer labels. Push yourself hard each day in beast mode – super happy! Don’t ever ingest another animal protein, that will do it! Drink coffee, don’t drink coffee. Do a 10 day silent meditation retreat. Get married. Get divorced. Quit your big job and become a full-time yoga teacher.

    Now there’s certainly nothing wrong with doing any of those things listed above. At all. I’ve done all of them and many, many more! (A whole other blog’s worth.) But let’s not confuse those things with happiness, as I did for many decades.

    As it turns out, happiness is an inside job.

    So… Do you want to be happy? It’s a simple question, in fact, the only question that matters the rest of your life.

    And the truth is, you are already so worthy of happiness. There’s no need to chase it or earn it. No certain race or religion has a monopoly on it. Like the sun shining on every living creature, happiness shines on all of us. It is essentially your birthright. Just by being born, you have every right to be happy.

    So if you answer yes, it has to be an unconditional yes. Life will still happen to you. People will leave you. You’ll get a flat tire. You’ll be late for work because of traffic. Your teenager will say mean things to you. And many many many more things of that nature going to happen. But you have decided to be happy; those things will not veer you off your course of happiness, unless you let them.

    There’s really great reasons to be happy.

    I mean you practice yoga religiously to be strong and fit and flexible and healthy. So it’s kind of silly to do all of that and still remain unhappy, isn’t it?

    The happier you are, more happy vibrations will be attracted to you. It has a compound effect.

    And according to the Dalai Lama, it’s a pretty simple first step.

    Perhaps the only step. And while you’re treating every other human with kindness, sprinkle some of that good stuff onto yourself!

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

    Mindful Monday: Harmony

    Happy Monday, friends!

    During my meditation this morning, the word harmony surfaced, and an immediate sense of well-being and peace washed through my body.

    Such a lovely, fluid word! In music and art, harmony is a blend of various, individual elements to create a pleasing integrated composition.

    According to Sri B.K.S. Iyengar, “Any action done with beauty and purity, and in complete harmony of body, mind and soul, is art.”

    I’ve experienced those fleeting moments on my mat; when my breath is dominating my mind and I have a hyper awareness of my body balancing on my mat with a sense of ease and lightness. A feeling of effortless effort. Allowing my muscles to engage without any tension or resistance. For those few breaths, time slows down and expands. I am aware of all the energy surrounding me, and I can feel a single bead of sweat trickle down my back. And then a single thought enters my mind, and I waver and my balance shifts and the moment vanishes.

    With that awareness of perfect harmony on my mat, I am able to recognize those moments off of my mat as well. Moments walking in nature. That perfect, elusive golf swing. Watching the sun rise and set each day. Sitting in the sun at an outdoor beer garden. Listening and dancing to music. Moments of complete, comfortable silence with a loved one. A few solid breaths of mental stillness during meditation. They are few and far between. But glorious and sublime and perfect.

    And the truth is that each moment of life is perfect unto itself. And the human challenge is to cultivate that acute level of awareness and mindfulness to appreciate the full spectrum of life experience. Sadness, happiness, tragedy, good fortune, failure, success, love, fear, profit and loss.

    Health refers to the physical body; wellness refers to our state of being. When body, mind and spirit are in harmony, we experience perfect health. I strongly believe that truth health is an integration of how we treat our bodies, but also so much more important is how our minds live in a state of wellness.

    The thought of living in harmony with others is perfectly expressed in chapter 49 of the Tao Te Ching.

    – 49 –

    The Sage has no fixed mind; she understands the mind of the people.

    She treats those who are good with goodness.

    She also treats those who are bad with goodness

    because goodness is the nature of her being.

    ~

    She is kind to the kind.

    She is also kind to the unkind

    because kindness is the nature of her being.

    She trusts people who are trustworthy.

    She also trusts people who are not trustworthy.

    This is how she gains true trust.

    ~

    The Sage lives in harmony with all below heaven.

    Her mind is like space.

    People don’t understand her.

    They look to her and wait.

    She sees everything as her own self;

    she loves everyone as her own child.

    Of course, these moments are also so fleeting and rare. But such a lovely ideal to move toward!

    Harmony in nature was another thought that arose in my sitting today. I believe that to be another complete topic for another time.

    It’s imperative to live in harmony within your own body and mind as the initial step to harmonizing with others and nature. Practice and all is coming.

    Have the best week ever, friends!

    Mindful Monday: Yoga as a Healing Modality

    Good morning, friends! Another Monday is here for you to write your own ticket. A fresh slate for you to create your own destiny. Of course yoga will play some role in that narrative, yes?

    Think about the last time you had a paper cut. You didn’t have to think about your blood creating platelets to clot and close the wound or to send neutrophils and macrophages to the site to protect against germs and infection, right? Your body just did what it was made to do: heal itself.

    When we practice yoga, we create an ideal environment for our minds and bodies to heal. Through the physical practice, we aid circulation, digestion, lymphatic release as we strengthen our muscles and create more flexibility in our joints and other connective tissues. Through the mindfulness practice, we forge new neural pathways and literally rewire our brains toward more peace and happiness.

    One of the simplest ways to enhance every physical and cognitive function in your body is through your diet. What you put into your body can greatly strengthen all of the body’s systems. Or it can tax your body and create more work.

    At least once a year, I cleanse my body with a 21 day detox. It’s a hard reset physically, mentally and emotionally. By removing foods that create inflammation and unduly stress our digestive systems and replacing them with foods that are easily digested and absorbed, we allow our bodies to focus on more important tasks like cellular repair processes.

    Since 2012, I’ve literally led about 150 YBD yogis through this process. Some of those people have adopted this program as a lifestyle. It’s perfectly safe and medically unassailable. Others have taken one or two habits along with them on their path. Many have gone through this cleanse multiple times with me.

    Personally I’ve experienced this detox nine times. Each time is different, and I continuously learn more and more about myself throughout the process.

    Are you ready for an incredible challenge? Is food your final frontier? Do you want to take your yoga lifestyle to the next level?

    If so, sign up today for this 21 day reset!

    But don’t just take my word for it. Chances are, you’ve taken a class with a YBD instructor and/or practiced next to a yoga student who has undergone this process with me!

    Here’s what yoga teacher Shaun Emerson said:

    “Nadja calls it a detox, a cleanse, but for me, it was deeper than that. With Nadja’s guidance, the 21 day period was an opportunity to be thoughtful about what I was putting into my body. Participating in past cleanses, detoxes, and diets, the energy was negative: lose weight, deny, and be miserable. With Nadja’s positive energy shared on a daily basis, the attention is on the transformative impact food can have on our self-awareness and our relationship with others and the world around us. For me, the 21 days was a detox and cleanse, but more importantly, the 21 days was the first 21 days restart in a healthier body, clearer mind and deeper sense of awareness.”

    So … what are you waiting for? Sign up today!