Month of Meditation

May is the National month of meditation. If you have never meditated, starting a meditation practice may seem the furthest from your mind. For those of us who have been practicing meditation, we like to prescribe is as a panacea. To those who have never tried it, however, it may seem the hardest concept.

Styles and lineages of meditation can be overwhelming. Do we sit still and focus on the breath? Do we find a mantra to focus on? Should we start with guided meditations?

Yes, to all of the above.

There is no cookie cutter answer. There is no solution that works for everyone. Like yoga, each person has to find the meditation that works for them. Trying different meditation styles, from guided to silent, each person can find what works for them and really allow the meditation to unfold naturally.

Meditation is our natural state, our calmest state. Society has not allowed us to embrace this, so we have to retrain our minds and bodies to allow ourselves to return to that state. By taking just a few minutes a day to try to retrain ourselves, we can really move towards a more peaceful and accepting life.

For apps to help start your meditation path, see my previous post on meditation.

 

New Year – Opportunity to Restart

Another new year, another new year’s resolution…right?

Maybe not so much! We don’t have to wait until the new year to restart our dedication to our yoga practice. Each day is a new day and a new opportunity to restart your daily yoga practice.

This year, I began the new year with a 30 day yoga journey created by Yoga with Adriene! Each year a new year’s restart is offered up, allowing us all to start the new year on a new track. It’s important to note, however, that we are not restricted to January to start a new year. Adriene offers monthly calendars on her website, allowing each month to become a restart.

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So get out there – find the calendar for you and restart your life! You’ll only have yourself to thank.

Pose Breakdown: Badha Konasana (Cobbler Pose)

Towards the end of a yoga sequence, relaxation poses are incorporated to help the body start to cool down, allowing the muscles to begin to let go of any tension caused by some of the more active poses. Badha Konasana (literally meaning “bound angle pose) is a relaxation pose often incorporated towards the end of yoga sequences. This pose is most often called cobbler pose or butterfly pose.

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Pose Breakdown:
-Begin seated with your legs straight out on the mat or ground, keeping your back straight.
-Bend your knees and slowly drop your knees out to the sides, like a book, bringing the soles of your feet to touch.
-Take both hands and wrap them around the feet.
-Sit straight and tall, focusing on the posture and breath. You can also slowing pull your upper body towards the feet, incorporating a forward fold.
Modification:
-Supta Badha Konasana is a modification where you are laying on your back with your legs/feet in the same position.
-Start laying on your back with both legs straight out in front of you.
-Follow the same directions with the legs as seated badha konasana.
-Take your feet further forward, away from your body, to ease any discomfort in your knees or hips. Using support items, such as blocks or blankets, under the knees can also assist with discomfort.
-Take one hand to the chest and one to the belly.
-Lay still, focusing on the breath.
Image result for supta baddha konasana
Benefits:
-Relieves menstrual cramps.
-Reduces symptoms of depression.
-Improve energy levels.
-Reduce symptoms of anxiety.
Enjoy this wonderfully relaxing posture!

Meditation Made Easy

Meditation has been proven to reduce physical manifestations of stress. The act of deep breathing assists in invoking calm and reducing anxiety. However, committing to a meditation practice can be a daunting idea. How do you even start? In our fast paced society, sitting still for a few minutes a day, trying not to let our thoughts distract us…this can be hard.

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Often, we rely on resources, like YouTube videos or applications on our smart phones, to assist us. Here are a few user friendly meditation apps that can be downloaded on any smart phone.

  • Headspace – Free
    • App requires membership after free trial ($7.92), beginner friendly, easy to use. Offers instructions on how to meditate.
  • Meditation Studio – $3.99
    • Powered by Gaiam, offers many different types of meditation, offer guided meditations
  • Calm – Free
    • App requires membership ($4.99), offers different types of meditations,
  • Stop, Breath, & Think – Free
    • App requires membership ($4.92), offers tutorials on types of breathing as well as guided meditations
  • Oprah & Deepak 21 Day Meditation – Free
    • App offers free 21 day meditations series, guided meditations with theme, offers mantras as well as journaling prompts

There are many more apps that can be used. Going to a meditation workshop is also an option. Anyway you do it, meditation is only going to be a benefit to your life.

Meditation can be done anytime, anywhere. Whether you’re just starting your day, in the middle of some work, or even driving home (though you don’t want to close your eyes during this meditation!), you can take a few minutes to meditate. Even going for a walking meditation can combine the calming benefits of meditation with the physical benefits of walking.

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So go, download an app, and let’s meditate!

Satya – Finding Your Truth

Satya is the Sanskrit word for truth. Truth is often seen as a binary, black and white issue. A truth is a truth and a lie is a lie…right? Well, people have different truths. Truth can be very subjective, specific to the individual. What is true for me isn’t true for everyone. Yoga philosophy teaches us that truth is when our thoughts, words, and actions are all in harmony. Gandhi equates this to true happiness. Yoga also teaches us that with truth, no harm is done.

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Using these principles in considering what is true and what is not, we can move from judging others towards acceptance. By accepting that all truths are different, one can live a more free life. Without the burden of judgment, we can detach ourselves from having to be perfect, from having to project our own truth onto others.

This is applicable to yoga as we often find ourselves judging and criticizing others on their yoga practice based on where we are in ours. Going to a studio can be daunting, as we may feel judged and compare ourselves to others. You may not be able to get into that headstand or handstand, you may have trouble with the warrior series. It’s okay…that’s your truth. Don’t judge your truth, your practice based on where others are at. Don’t feel like a failure if you use props. Props can be a great addition to an already established practice.

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Ultimately your practice is your own, your truth is your own. By trying to focus on that and not what others are doing, you will be happier and more free in life.

Happy practicing!

Finding Your Yoga

One of the questions I am asked most often is “which yoga is the best?”

I always respond the same way, it depends.

The type of yoga that is “best” depends on so many factors. It depends on the person practicing, it depends on the mood of the person, it can even depend on the time of day the person is practicing.

Here are a few things to ask yourself when looking for a “type*” of yoga to best suit you.

  1. What do I want to focus on with this yoga practice?
  2. What do I want to feel after this yoga practice?
  3. What is my primary reason for participating in this yoga practice?

These questions will give you a sense of what you’re looking for out of a yoga class and help guide you to specific types of yoga classes.

Here are a few popular types of classes available in most areas:

Hatha Yoga

This is basically the source of all yoga. It generally encompasses all practices of yoga. It is were most yoga practices stem from, from the asana (pose) sequence as well as pranayama (breath) practice.

Vinyasa Flow Yoga

This type of yoga is very much the typical yoga people think of. It’s very fluid, moving from one pose to another in line with the breath. You breathe in with one pose and out with another. This can fluctuate in intensity, from power yoga which is usually very active, fast paced, and builds strength, to Ashtanga, which holds a bit longer in each pose.

Yin Yoga

This type of yoga is slow paced, holding poses for long period of time (can be anywhere from 2 to 5 minutes).

Kundalini Yoga

This type of yoga blends together spiritual practice with asana. This practice incorporates movement with breath as well as chanting specific mantras. The goal is to increase consciousness as well as improving vitality.

Bikram Yoga

This type of yoga uses the same 26 poses in the same sequence. It stemmed from hatha yoga practice, joining movement with breath. Generally, Bikram Yoga is practiced in a hot room for 90 minutes.

There are many other types of yoga out there. I always recommend new yogis try different types of classes as well as different teachers. You may find you like the style, but a different teacher can really change the outcome of the class. Ultimately, like I said, the style of yoga depends on a lot of factors. The best thing one can do as a new yoga student is to be a YES, be open to the possibility of the class. You never know what you’ll find.

 

*(Note: I do not subscribe to types of yoga, for me its all about the sequence that is put together, not the name given to a sequence or flow)

A Yoga Sequence for the Feminine

In honor of International Women’s Day, I wanted to share a sequence that is often used to specifically honor the feminine within. Now, this doesn’t mean that men can’t do this sequence. On the contrary, I believe this sequence can and will help anyone, whether its to honor the feminine or just as an alternative sequence.

Traditionally, it is called the Moon Salutation. One can consider it the sequence to honor the moon, like the Sun Salutations are used to honor the sun and fire within.

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Here is are the poses (pictured above) that make up the Moon Salutation Sequence. (Note, this is one variation of Moon Salutation. Many more variations can be found online.)

Standing Mountain Pose — Tadasana

Upward Salute Side Bend/Half Moon — Urdhva Hastasana

Goddess Squat — Utkata Konasana

Star Pose

Extended Triangle Pose — Utthita Trikonasana

Pyramid Pose — Parsvottanasana

Low Crescent Lunge — Anjaneyasana

Low Side Lunge

Garland Pose — Malasana

Low Side Lunge

Low Crescent Lunge — Anjaneyasana

Pyramid Pose — Parsvottanasana

Extended Triangle Pose — Utthita Trikonasana

Star Pose

Goddess Squat — Utkata Konasana

Upward Salute Side Bend/Half Moon — Urdhva Hastasana

Standing Mountain Pose — Tadasana

This sequence can be done any time of day. Morning or evening, when the sun in shining or the moon is beaming, the Moon Salutation sequence can be incorporated in any yoga sequence.

Go forth! Honor the feminine within!

Happy International Women’s Day!

Yoga & Self-Love

Putting yourself first is often seen a negative, selfish. Altruism, or selflessly putting others before yourself is often rewarded and praised.

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So how do we take care of ourselves while still taking care of others? Those of us who have careers in public service or non-profit can understand the risk of burnout. Constantly giving ourselves to others can be quite exhausting and often takes a toll on our wellbeing. So what do we do?

Spoiler alert…yoga can help!

One of the key principles of yoga is the increase self-awareness, to promote self-realization. Once we are more aware of ourselves in terms of our feelings, our thoughts, etc, we can understand how external events or situations affect us. We can then cultivate better means to deal with situations which may later lead to burn out.

This is self-care. By engaging in regular self-care, we can allow ourselves to become the best possible versions of ourselves. This will allow us to continue serving others without as high as risk of burnout. By engaging in self-care, you aren’t saying that you matter more than anyone else…in fact its quite the opposite. Self-care suggests you simply want to make yourself better to help others more effectively.

Consider this: You wake up Monday morning after a mere four hours of sleep because you were up all night helping your child who was sick. You make breakfast and lunches for the family, then get ready for work. At work, you are helping people too, whether it is fellow staff or customers your company serves. During your lunch hour, you help a co-worker work through a personal problem. After work, you pick up your kids and head home to start dinner.

In this scenario, where is there any time for you to simply be? We are constantly doing, but when are we just being? I assert that if we took just a few moments each day to practice self-awareness, we would be less stressed and overwhelmed throughout the day. Even if its a simple five minute break, where we acknowledge our feelings and just allow them to be. There doesn’t need to be a solution at the end of this time, but awareness of the self promotes peace and tranquility, ultimately the ability to accept things as they are. This is key in self-care. By accepting yourself as you are, by admitting what you can do and what you can’t and accepting that…you can then truly serve others to the best of your abilities, whether it is family, friends, or in your career.

So…let’s get out there and practice some self-love!

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Pose Breakdown: Tadasana (Mountain Pose)

Let’s breakdown a pose that is fairly standard in most yoga practices: Tadasana (Mountain Pose)

First and foremost, there are many ways to do this pose and for each person it is going to look and feel different. That’s OKAY!

Here are two basic versions of Tadasana:

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The basic aspects of Tadasana are:

  • keep full contact of both feet on the ground
  • straighten legs
  • firm thigh muscles (squeeze them together)
  • bring belly in and up (engage core)
  • straighten back
  • relax shoulders (keep them down/away from neck)
  • keep gaze straight ahead (keep your focus, drishti, on something immobile)
  • keep breathing deeply, slowly
  • hands can be open, at sides or in prayer at the heart
  • feet can be together, touching or about hips width distance

Tadasana is a great pose for standing meditations or beginning a yoga practice. It can help bring focus to the mind, allowing you to feel grounded and present. These are important aspects to begin a yoga practice.

Tadasana also can encourage feelings of strength. Here’s a fun experiment to do with a friend. Stand completely relaxed, muscles and feet loose. Allow your friend to gently push you. Did you move or shift position? Now, come to Tadasana. Stand firm, grounded with muscles engaged. Now, again, allow your friend to gently push you. Did you move or shift position? In most cases, the invocation of Tadasana provides stability and strength, which leads to minimal movement when touched. Translated off the mat, being grounded and feeling strong can allow us to remain steadfast when presented with adversity!

Some other benefits of Tadasana:

  • improves posture
  • unifies body and mind
  • promotes better blood circulation
  • promotes lengthening of the spine

Enjoy practicing Tadasana and see how it changes when you’re more aware of your body!

 

Drugs, Alcohol, and Yoga

There seems to be a growing trend in yoga classes and yoga studios to add either drugs or alcohol to the yoga practice. I have recently seen stories of “Ganja Yoga” and “Beer Yoga” classes popping up across the country and all over the world. There seems to be this idea that having a high takes yoga to another level.

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I have to say, I don’t know if I’d agree. While I admit, I haven’t tried doing yoga while being in any form of mind-altered state, I can’t conceptually see the benefit to it. From my understanding, these substances are meant to take you out of yourself, take you away from the things in your mind that keep you rooted and grounded. These are forms of escape from your life. While yes, some people use yoga as a temporary escape, the true purpose of yoga is to unify yourself with yourself. Yoga is used, more often than not, to keep one grounded and centered. In the Yoga for Recovery training, we used yoga to embrace the feelings, good or bad, that came up during the practice. THAT’S THE POINT! Yoga literally translates to union…union of all parts of the self, mind-body-soul. I just don’t see how dissociating these things can really align with the traditions of yoga, any type of yoga.

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Now, maybe these substances are being used to help the body relax so that it can get into the poses during the asana practice. Maybe these substances help individuals with any anxiety or pressure they feel from being in a yoga class. I’m certain individuals who participate in these yoga sessions can come up with their own reasons and defenses. To that I say, to each his or her own. I can’t say that these classes are right or wrong. Honestly, if you want to try it, maybe it’s the fun thing that gets you into the yoga studio. In my humble opinion, I don’t think its for me. I know I can’t knock it until I try it, so I won’t completely knock it, but I don’t know if I’d ever want to try it.

*Please note, the statements above are 100% my opinion and do not reflect any stance taken by any other contributors to this blog or any classes mentioned above.