yoga teachings

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: 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: Little moments are the building blocks

Good morning, mindful ones! I’m beginning to feel like we live in Seattle, not the Chicago suburbs!

But I’m not complaining! I love the rain. But it does become a bit of a hindrance during graduation party season!

As you may already know, my son graduated from high school in May and we are well into graduation party season.

As we celebrate this next chapter in our kids’ lives, it’s such a reminder that we’re actually celebrating all of the little, every day mundane moments that brought us to this big one.

Every Saturday morning spent on the (insert sport here) field;

every Cub Scout meeting;

every sleepover;

every pizza party;

every piano recital and martial arts belt test;

every brown bag lunch packed;

every random Wednesday morning;

every spring break and summer vacay;

every Christmas and Easter;

every birthday;

every driving lesson and late-night studying sessions;

Every ACT and SAT prep sessions;

Every single college application and endless essays;

Every college visit;

And every single day since they started kindergarten.

Such a reminder to cherish every moment of each day that we have been gifted.

Life is all of the boring, routine moments that lead us to the big life moments. It’s the daily grind.

It’s remembering that each breath offers an opportunity to grow closer to God or push further away.

So when you wake up on a Monday morning in June and it’s raining, remember that today is still a gift. And it’s up to you to receive it with a full and open heart or bitch and moan about the absence of sunshine.

It’s entirely up to you! But today is a very important day on your journey. One day you will look back with fondness and perhaps a little longing for the good old days. And I don’t want you to have any regrets.

I hope you embrace it all! The rain. The traffic. The slow poke in front of you. The losses. The transitions. The farewells and good byes. The leaky diapers. The late nights with a sick kid. The overbearing room mom.

It’s all so very precious when you look back.

I hope you fill this rainy Monday with memories!

Have a great week, lovelies!

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!

Mindful Monday: Be Happy

Good morning, dearest mindful ones!

And just like that …

It’s June!

My son has graduated from high school!

I have moved and purged 85% of my worldly possessions!

Life continues to move forward. And it’s entirely up to us how we choose to flow with life as it unfolds or dig in our heels and resist reality.

If there’s one thing I’ve learned in my nearly five decades on this planet, it is that I have created my own suffering and resistance all of these years. I have made my life exponentially more difficult than it ever needed to be!

I have finally discovered the secret to happiness! And it’s so super duper simple.

And today’s your lucky day because I’m going to share this timeless wisdom with you right here!

Embracing happiness requires only two things. And you, my friend, have both of them in abundance!

The first is the simple mental decision to choose to be happy. Now when I say simple I certainly don’t pretend that it’s easy! But simply make the decision that you truly choose happiness … No. Matter. What.

So choose happiness. Boom! Mic drop and walk away.

But what if …

There are no “what ifs” or “buts”.

It’s a choice to be made in every circumstance and in every single situation. It’s easy to choose happiness when everything is smoothly going your way. Duh! Where is the challenge in that?

Your real test is in choosing happiness even when (fill in the blank here). And don’t get it twisted, there will always be roadblocks. Expect them and count on them. And still choose happiness as you navigate up, over and around.

The greatest tool you have to support this decision is your gratitude practice. There are several studies, articles and publications touting the neuroscientific benefits of gratitude. Blah. Blah. Blah. Thank you medical and scientific community for validating a 5000 year old practice!

We don’t need all of those studies, because we live and feel the benefits and results through our practice.

So decide to be happy. And be grateful for everything.

Each time “cats in the cradle” plays in my head, I direct my energy towards gratitude for every single moment I’ve experienced with my son.

When I start feeling regret for all of the beautiful possessions I’ve sold and given away, I feel grateful that my load is so much lighter now.

When someone cuts me off in traffic or is tailgating me, I feel grateful that I have a beautiful car to drive and that I am safe.

So choose happiness in every situation

Be grateful for everything; especially the opportunities that are disguised as challenges and setbacks

Choose to let go and lighten your load. Always.

Happiest of Mondays, mindful ones!

Mindful Monday: Level Up

Happy Monday, Mindful Ones!

For me, 2019 has been about leveling up many aspects of my life. My practice. My teaching. My wellness and self-care routines. Reading and writing more. Expanding my knowledge base and deepening my current interests.

With the weather getting warmer and the days getting longer, I am coming to terms with the impending arrival of my biggest level up opportunity, hands down. Leveling up my non-attachment game.

As I write this post, my son is in Providence, Rhode Island on his first of four college visits. He chose to go without his dad or me. Let that one sink in for a few minutes.

I am fully prepared for the next two months to swiftly fly by as he visits three more schools and prepares for high school graduation. And he actually turns 18 on the day he graduates. I’ll let that one sit there for a few moments also.

These days I constantly bring my awareness back to the present moment. Right here. Right now.

And I remind myself that I’ve been preparing for this inevitable moment since before my son was even born. Each milestone that we celebrate in his life is another teeny, tiny act of learning to letting go.

To be a good parent means to prepare your child to leave the nest and fly away and thrive. Everything that we have taught him and tried to nurture within him was always going to be so that he will eventually leave us.

I have been meditating on the Buddha’s teachings on non-attachment. You can only lose what you cling to.

And then I focus so much on what a magical and exhilarating time it is for him. And that it might also be overwhelming.

My role as a parent will never end. But my relationship with my son will level up. Transitioning from parent to mentor and perhaps even friend!

What are some things you’re currently struggling with in terms of non-attachment and clinging?

Each moment of each day, Life tries to teach us. And we can only move in two directions: toward or away from growth.

Let’s always choose growth. And love. Let’s always choose love.

Have a great week, friends.

Mindful Monday: Day One or One Day?

Good morning, mindful ones!!!

It’s day one! The first day of another round of our 21 day detox.

For the next 21 days, our dedicated yogis will restrain from the following substances:

Sugar (processed and added)

Gluten

Caffeine

Alcohol

Animal products, meat, fish, dairy and eggs = essentially eating vegan for 21 days

On this journey together, we learn to take extremely great care of our bodies, and we experience real, discernible breakthroughs in mind, body and spirit.

Fasting and cleansing has been used throughout the centuries for physical healing and as a path toward enlightenment. Even the fathers of modern medicine Hippocrates and Galen learned that occasionally refraining from food was a proven way to cure disease and heal the body.

And the great philosophers Plato and Socrates regularly gave up certain foods to enhance the sense of physical well-being and to improve mental clarity.

It’s imperative to challenge yourself to let go of certain things you seemingly cannot live without.

All of our mindfulness practices: meditation, yoga, fasting and cleansing allow us to observe the deeper levels of our unconscious mind and uproot deep-seated complexes; current patterns; and fears. We may reveal a deeper sense of clarity within and break from the habit of instant gratification.

Removing these five substances will create space to observe a deeper connection to the role food plays in our lives and how it affects us on deeper levels. We give ourselves the opportunity to break from artificial stimulants and depressants and return to the natural rhythm and flow of the body thereby ending the vicious cycle of self- indulgence followed by self-flagellation.

Keep in mind that there are many ways to practice self-restraints according to our Buddhist teachings.

If you were unable to join our group this round, there are some other behaviors that you can observe and try to abstain from.

Gossip

Judging yourself and others

Over-scheduling yourself

Reacting to every feeling that you have or to the actions of others

Your day one could be anything that you want to observe and improve within your own life. And yoga reminds us that day one can start at any moment of any day. With each new breath that you draw into your body, you can begin again.

How will you use this precious gift of today to improve yourself and thereby elevating the entire universe?

Mindful Monday: Look Within

Happy Monday, mindful ones!

Have you ever wished things were different? Your relationships or perhaps work situations? Financial or social status? Or even your yoga practice?

Spending time lamenting is a colossal waste of your precious and valuable time! It certainly won’t change anything – in fact the more we focus on a certain feeling or circumstance, we are actually reinforcing the very thing we wish to change.

Where your mind goes is where your energy flows.

You would be much better served focusing on the present moment with acceptance, forgiveness and allowing. Releasing resistance to the circumstance and shifting awareness to your body.

When you think these thoughts, how does it feel in the body? Where specifically do you feel fear in your body? Anger? Sadness? Grief? How does your body react and process? Where does it clench and resist? How do you create tension and dis-ease in your physical body and correspondingly in your mind?

Allow yourself to feel and observe. As you make space for awareness, watch with interest but without attachment.

Life is giving you an opportunity: understand that this disturbance is an opportunity to heal and transform. You are not a victim! You are a powerful co-creator with Life.

What is showing up in your life is a meaningful disturbance designed to awaken you and give you an opportunity to elevate your soul’s growth.

We don’t have to love the circumstance or the person/teacher triggering the resistance, but with non-attachment we can practice releasing the resistance and creating a higher more powerful energy to transcend.

On some level, you have attracted and even created the very situation that is now causing dissatisfaction or discomfort. So that you can heal and grow.

But if we keep looking outside of ourselves for the answers, we will continue on blindly, stumbling and repeating the same Karma over and over.

He who looks outside, sleeps.

She who looks within awakens.

Today you have an opportunity to continue to sleepwalk or look within yourself and awaken. It’s your life and your choice.

I hope you choose yourself!

Make it a great week, yogis!

Mindful Monday: Success is an Iceberg

Good morning, successful, mindful ones!

It’s happened to all of us. We go to a yoga class, and there’s a yogi who flows from pose to pose with effortless grace. He practically levitates or she appears to have no bones!

Success is an iceberg. When we look at others (and when others look at us), we are only seeing a very limited representation of the complete picture.

It’s easy for us to think, “oh he must’ve been a gymnast” or “she was clearly a dancer before.”

What we see is a beautiful but tiny snapshot of their practice.

Well, in yoga (and life) things are not what they seem to be. What you see is just the tip of the iceberg.

The truth is sometimes a little bit darker and uglier than most of us think. To achieve excellence or success, years of struggle and sacrifice are precursors.

The “successful” ones know what hard work and dedication are, and most of them had many moments of desperation and failure.

They’ve fallen out of poses innumerable times and will continue to do so. What brought them to their mat likely may have been trauma or depression or unhappiness.

Don’t get fooled by the tip of the iceberg, people! It’s just that. Like many things in life, what you see (what’s visible) is not always, and even in most of the cases, what it actually is.

So whether it’s your yoga practice or any other aspects of your life, look at what’s below the water on the picture; do all of these things, and I guarantee you will achieve success.

Remember, it won’t get any easier, you’ll just get better!

Make it a great week friends!