Whether You Think You Can, or Think You Can’t: You’re Right!

The power of thought makes an impact on our attitude. It can affect the way we feel about ourselves and the events and circumstances in our lives. Positive thoughts can help us stay energized through tough times, organized when we have a full schedule, and inspired during a big, scary life change.

The more we think about something, the closer we become to bringing the thought of that something into our reality. Some thoughts can promote negative experiences for us, so keep your thoughts on the sunny side.

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The following affirmations are only examples. Perhaps you’d like to come up with your own. Feel like sharing? We’d love to hear your words in the comments below.

 

Monday

“I rise and I shine”

Start the week off with this affirmation immediately upon arising. Believe you will shine throughout the day and shed positive light on whatever lies ahead. Trust in your heart that you have the remarkable ability to glow and be an inspiration to those around you.

 

Tuesday

“I nourish my body with good food”

Say this phrase to yourself while you are planning a meal. Notice how it enhances your relationship with food and your choices about nutrition. At those moments when you feel the urge to hurry up and eat whatever is available, repeat this affirmation with conviction, and take charge of your health. When you eat well, you’ll have more energy to do the things you enjoy doing.

 

Wednesday

“I am deserving of time for myself”

Mid-week can be challenging as we begin to pine for the weekend. Vow to alleviate a Wednesday slump and take some time for yourself. Give yourself permission to pamper your body, take care of your needs, or just relax. Repeat this affirmation as a firm reminder that you deserve it. Rest, and be your best.

 

Thursday

“I trust in my ability to get things done”

Procrastination can lead to depression and a sense of feeling overwhelmed with the tasks at hand. When you feel confident, you will have more energy to do what is needed. Tell yourself over and over again that you are fully capable to do what needs to be done, and tackle your to-do list with gusto.

 

Friday

“I have a strong and healthy mind and body”

When you believe something you are more likely to actualize it into your life. Repeat this affirmation whenever you need the inspiration to get moving. Try it when you are exercising and feel like quitting, or if you just need a little motivation to go for a run, roll out your yoga mat, or return to your favorite fitness class.

 

Saturday

“I value having fun”

All work and no play makes Jack (or Jill!) a dull person. Whether it’s reading a book, watching a movie, baking a cake, playing with your grandkids, dancing, hiking, laughing, the list goes on…. Have fun! The flood of feel-good hormones will give you a reprieve from your worries or anxieties. When you feel good, you can create and follow through with your dreams and desires.

 

Sunday

“I am allowed to feel what I feel”

Whenever you feel burned out, bored, or cranky, and none of these affirmations seem to work, don’t deny it. You are who you are. We are all human, and no one ever goes through life without feeling less than par from time to time. If we can just be okay with how we feel, we’ll have a greater ability to move on from those less-than-perfect feelings. Understand that, “this too shall pass,” and be triumphant in the face of a bad mood.

 

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Is Corpse Pose Killing You? A Guide to Mastering Final Relaxation in Yoga

Savasana (sha-vaa’-sana), aka corpse pose or final relaxation, is one of the most important yoga poses we’ll ever practice. However, instead of relishing in all of the goodness this pose brings, many people will use savasana to sort out their to-do list and ponder pending agendas. After all, it seems like the perfect time to figure out what to make for dinner, or day dream about your next vacation. I know, I do yoga, too. But, the point of final relaxation at the end of class is to slow our thoughts and merge into a place of complete peace. Easier said than done, that’s for sure!

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The following meditation is a guided imagery practice I created to help us stay present in savasana. I use it when my brain just can’t settle down long enough to let go. Notice how, with special attention, you’ll be able to soak in all of the glorious benefits of your time on the yoga mat. Make sure you savor every minute of it, as it will have long lasting effects.

Before reclining onto your back and into corpse pose, take a moment to visualize white snowcapped peaks atop tall mountains. Let the snowy tops of these mountains signify your current state of awareness; perhaps a little icy or rigid in thought. With this image in mind, begin to settle into savasana.

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While lying on your back, allow your body to adjust into a comfortable position. Revisit the image of those snowcapped peaks. Imagine the sun’s rays greeting the ice and snow, and see the frozen caps beginning to melt away. During this section of the imagery, let your thoughts feel warm, and flow slowly, much like melting snow. Let this image begin to wash away any bodily tension or mental anxiety.

Next, imagine the pure and clean liquid runoff from the snowcapped peaks merging into several larger streams that pour down the mountain. See all these fresh, new streams merging into one unhurried river. As your body flows into a deeper state of relaxation, let your consciousness become just like this river. Allow your thoughts to be like slow-moving liquid as they flow through your mind. Imagine the soothing sounds of a mountain stream.

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Natural streams refresh the landscape, as they carry channels of water all the way to the ocean. Your flowing streams of consciousness refresh your mind and your body, as they carry you all the way to a place of inner calm. In our yoga and meditation practices, streams of free-flowing consciousness can erode whatever is in our way to finding inner peace.

Imagine your river of thought merging into the ocean of your soul, washing away anything that keeps you from experiencing your best savasana. Swim in the ocean of consciousness until it is time to awaken. When you do finally come out of savasana, thank yourself for your efforts to clear your mind and calm your body. As it helps you, it will also help those around you. Namaste.

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Yoga: Beneficial or Artificial?

New York Times senior writer, William J. Broad, wrote a sensational article titled, “How Yoga Can Wreck Your Body.” If you haven’t read it, it’s worthy of scrutiny. Broad is also the author of the book, The Science of Yoga, which takes you through an in-depth look at the history, beneficial qualities, and artificial health claims of yoga in America.

While we know any type of physical activity comes with risks, we must also understand that we can be responsible for our own actions. As for yoga, we need not take it lightly. It is important to practice with the intention of truly listening to our bodies instead of following the false claims that troll this ancient practice.

These four tips will help you keep your practice beneficial, rather than artificial.

Take the proper class

Yoga styles are like snowflakes; there are no two alike. Before you take a class, read the description or talk to the instructor to determine if it is a good fit. For someone who’s never attended a yoga class, yoga may conjure up an image of middle-aged women sitting on the floor stretching. But in reality, it can be a hard-core and extremely difficult workout. As a beginner, you definitely want to avoid a class that only serves advanced students.

Take the options when needed

It is tempting to just do what everyone else in class is doing, but options are given and modifications are shown for a reason. If your teacher has been made aware of your personal needs, whether they are due to injuries, or other conditions, it is likely the options are there to serve your specific needs. Do not ignore them, use them.

Be physically conservative, at first 

One of the mysteries of yoga is that while we might not feel like we worked very hard on the mat in last night’s class, we’re almost guaranteed to feel muscles we didn’t know we had by morning. Yoga asanas, or poses, can greatly impact the musculoskeletal system at a very deep level. The effects are not always felt immediately, so it is best to leave class feeling like you could have done a little bit more. Until you fully realize how far you can safely push your limits, tread lightly.

Practice the basics

Don’t forget that professional athletes all started with the basics when learning a new skill. Yoga is a multidimensional discipline with a lot to understand and put into practice. If the Sanskrit pose names aren’t confusing enough, the chakras, bandhas, and drishtis can make your head spin. Practice with a beginner’s mind and focus on the most important thing first: your safety. Turn your awareness to your own body; take care of it as best as you can, and vow to learn about the other aspects of yoga whenever you feel ready.

Let yoga be of benefit to your health, rather than an artificial and superficial quick fix that may cause harm to your body. It takes a lifetime to learn, which is why it is called a practice.

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Decisions, Decisions: The Big Mind-Body Experiment

What Should I Do?

Making tough decisions is a learned skill. While some decisions are quite simple to make, others require time and careful examination. Whatever the size and importance of the decision, choosing the best option takes practice.

We have all had plenty of opportunities to lament over the horrible choices we’ve made, only to look back and hopefully learn from our ill judgment. But, when we are constantly battling the consequences of making poor decisions, life can wear us out.

The following meditation is a tool you can use to set your internal compass toward making positive and constructive choices. Good decisions in work and relationships are paramount to our personal development and happiness in life.

First, create or find a space that allows your mind to settle and your body to relax. Perhaps it is walking along a shoreline, or sitting on your own back porch. Go to the place that will best support your process of deciding what to do.

Next, imagine possible outcomes that might arise from your different choices. Notice how thinking about these consequences can affect your body. Do you have a nervous stir in your stomach? Is your heart heavy? Does your head ache when you ruminate over a particular outcome? While these sensations are par for the course in any tough decision making process, they are of great value to observe.

Ask yourself why certain feelings are present. For example, a nervous stomach could be a result of your fear of success or failure, as well as a lack of confidence in yourself. A heaviness in your chest might be a sign you are not following your heart, or are taking on someone else’s feelings. A headache often suggests you are not yet certain about what you want, or are overwhelmed by the process of following through with it. Observe your feelings so you can gather insight into what might be holding you back. Take as long as you need to get clear. Now, let your awareness move beyond your feelings and connect with your internal compass. Trust yourself; your inner guide will never let you down.

Finally, understand no scenario is ever going to be absolutely perfect. If you face your fears head on, set emotional boundaries, and get clear, the right choice often presents itself. And, always remember the words of Ralph Waldo Emerson, “Once you make a decision, the universe conspires to make it happen.” Go for it!

 

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30 Ways to Leave Your Anguish

The dawning of a New Year brings about a grand opportunity to set our intentions for what we want in life. For some, taking better care of our health is a top priority. Others value closer relationships with loved ones. Some pine for that big break in their careers. No matter how we construct our New Year’s resolutions, we all want the same thing. We all want to be happy.

Perhaps letting go of the desire to achieve your goals is just what you need. The Bhagavad Gita, and ancient yoga text, suggests we can not be free of anguish unless we let go of the results of our actions. In other words, to do something for the pure joy of it brings more happiness than hanging on to expectations and results.

The following are only 30 ways to celebrate happiness in 2017, and beyond. We’d love for you to add to this list. How do you experience pure joy? Please feel free to comment below, and have a very Happy New Year!

  1. Instead of asking, “What was I thinking?” when things don’t go as planned, ask, “What did I learn?” and then move on.
  2. Smile more often. Frowns will make you feel old and tired. Smiles bring light to those around you, too.
  3. Call a friend. Some girl talk or male bonding will work wonders for your mood.
  4. Eat well. Nourish your body with nutrient rich food.
  5. Make love. Sex is good for the soul, as long as it’s safe and consented.
  6. Enjoy a cup of tea. The warm liquid will relax your body and bring ease to your mind.
  7. Stretch. Staying limber helps to reduce morning stiffness.
  8. Pray. Having faith in something instills hope. Hope is necessary for inner peace.
  9. Hug someone. Human contact releases endorphins and allows us to feel connected. Don’t be shy!
  10. Write a letter. Put your thoughts onto paper and express your heart and mind.
  11. Go for a walk. Exercise gives you energy and puts you in a good mood.
  12. Take a new route home. A change in scenery will give you a new perspective and may help you work out a problem that’s been on your mind.
  13. Practice yoga and/or Pilates. But, of course!
  14. Be patient. The adage, “This too shall pass,” means if we can just chill out, we’ll soon feel better.
  15. Volunteer. The feelings you get from selfless giving are better than pharmaceuticals.
  16. Listen to music. Rhythms, beats, and tones bring on a sense of elation.
  17. Read poetry. Pick deep contemplative pieces like those of Robert Frost or William Blake and lose yourself in thought.
  18. Ride in the back seat of a car. Take a break from always being “up front.”
  19. Connect with nature. Watch how simply and effortlessly life evolves around you.
  20. Meditate. Take time to slow down and get to know yourself better.
  21. Dance. That’s right, just like no one is watching!
  22. Sing. Stretching your vocal cords gives you a rush of adrenaline.
  23. Speak your mind. Share you brilliance with the world.
  24. Say NO or say YES, but be firm. Enjoy your personal space and practice integrity.
  25. Give. For no reason, surprise someone with a special gift.
  26. Sleep in. If you are craving rest, by all means, let yourself have it.
  27. Toast life. Even if your glass is half empty, hold it up and say, “Thank you”
  28. Get some sun. Fifteen minutes a day is what the doctor ordered.
  29. Eat dessert. Feeling deprived is no way to live.
  30. Don’t worry. Be happy!

How do you celebrate happiness?

 

 

 

 

 

Don’t Be Cross Over Upper Crossed Syndrome

What do you call it when you frequently sit in a chair with an iPad in your lap? Bad posture! Anatomists call it Upper Crossed Syndrome (UCS). This postural misalignment is recognized by rounded shoulders, a head that leans forward, and an aching pain in the low back. It is most commonly seen in the elderly, however due to modern lifestyles, UCS is afflicting the young and middle aged.

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Anatomically speaking, UCS can be defined as tightness of the scalenes, pectoralis major and minor muscles, stiffness in the upper trapezius and levator scapulae muscles, and a weakening in the middle and lower trapezius, serratus anterior, and rhomboid muscle groups. This pattern of muscle imbalance creates glenohumeral dysfunction. In other words, when your neck and chest are tight and your upper back is weak, your shoulder joints will take a beating.  

To combat UCS, you can practice corrective exercises and movements designed to stretch the chest and strengthen the upper back.

The following suggestions may help enhance your posture and alleviate muscle aches. They are not intended to diagnose a disease, or prescribe exercises for an undiagnosed condition. Always consult with your doctor or physical therapist first, when your body is in pain.

 

Chest and Neck Stretches (Pectoralis Major and Minor, Scalenes and Sternocleidomastoid)

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Stand with right shoulder next to a wall. Reach right arm back and place right hand on the wall. Turn chest perpendicular to the wall, until a stretch is felt across the front of the right shoulder and in the middle of the chest. Hold for 30 seconds to one minute. Switch sides.

 

 

 

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Interlace fingers behind your back. If that is not comfortable, grab a yoga strap, a rolled up towel, or a belt with both hands instead. Reach arms down and back as you gently lift them away from your hips. Look up. Broaden your collar bones and squeeze your shoulder blades together. Hold for 30 seconds to one minute.

 

Upper Back Strengthener (Trapezius, Rhomboids, and Serratus Anterior)

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From a prone position, extend arms back with palms facing up. Lift chest, arms, and legs. Hold for 30 seconds to one minute.

 

Overall Chest and Back Toning Exercise

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From your hands and knees, begin to flex and extend your spine (aka: round and arch your back). Repeat 10 to 15 times.

 

A special thanks to our Whole Enchilada teacher David Stickler for providing the demonstrations. Come see us in 2017. We’re primed and ready to help you attain your goals in the New Year. 

 

Warmth on a Winter’s Day: A Guided Imagery Meditation

Wintertime can be challenging for anyone who has an aversion to cold temperatures. When we’re chilled to the bone, life seems unforgiving. In a perfect world, we would remain buried under the down comforter until the temperature rises. But inevitably, duty calls.

Scientists believe our core body temperature can be controlled by the brain. Advanced practices such as the Tummo method, have enabled a group of Tibetan monks to perspire in frigid waters. While you probably don’t have a desire to jump into a vat of ice any time soon, if you dream of fleeting to the tropics during the frosty months, the following guided imagery meditation practice will help you stay warm this winter.

Practice anywhere and at anytime, especially when you are feeling chilly. The first step is to bring your awareness to your breath. Gently narrow the passage way in the back of your throat to control the flow of air moving in and out of your lungs. This will produce a sound much like ocean waves. Go ahead and imagine you are actually in the tropics!

Now, during the inhalation phase, imagine a warm tone of red moving into your body. Equate this hue with an increase in temperature, and notice how it affects the way you feel. Next, at the top of your inhale hold your breath for one second. During this pause, imagine your body retaining heat. Feel the warming quality of your breath penetrate your bones and travel all the way to your icy fingers and toes.

As you exhale, imagine you are blowing out the cool color blue, as if to remove the cold from your body. You might even visualize your exhale creating a puff of vapor, if it isn’t already doing so. Allow your exhale to draw the shivers out of your bones and let the frigid air dissipate into the atmosphere.

When inhaling the color red, silently repeat the mantra, ‘warmth moves in.’ When exhaling the color blue, silently repeat the mantra, ‘cold moves out.’ Continue to use your imagination of pulling warm air in, retaining the heat, and blowing the cold air out.

While this mediation won’t bring you to the level of the famed Wim Hof, aka, “The Iceman,” who holds the world record for taking the longest ice bath, it helps when it’s time to part with your nice, warm bed on a cold winter’s morning.

 

Enlightenment: A Journey Through the Realm of Darkness

All throughout human history, people have been captivated by the pursuit of happiness. The pressure to have, be, and do whatever makes us happy can be a relentless, never ending spin on the proverbial hamster wheel. Exhausted by the process, many will settle for a quick fix, but instant gratification can only take us so far. In the end, we’re right back where we started, wondering if we’ll ever find contentment. The journey toward joy is not an easy path. It is convoluted with bumps, snags, and obstacles that blindside us when we least expect it.

Thankfully, we know coming to the yoga mat can help in some ways. If it’s not the quest for enlightenment, it is a desire to eliminate aches and pains in the body that rob us of feeling good. Some take it a step further and seek out a spiritual guru, one who will help bring them from darkness to light. After all, we want to experience the light of life, because if there is darkness in our lives, how could we possibly be happy?

While we understand darkness to be suffering and anguish of the worst kind, we must honor the fact that the dark is as natural and organic as the light. Neither exists without the other. While we equate enlightenment as the absence of dark, we can still be enlightened in the presence of darkness.

The Bible quotes Isaiah as saying, “The people who walk in darkness will see a great light; light shines on those who live in a land of deep darkness.”

Gandhi said, “In the midst of darkness, light persists.”

Without darkness, it would be impossible to even know light exists, and vice versa. We must experience one to understand the other.

Many of us are either taught to be, or are innately afraid of the dark, but embracing our darkness won’t make us bad people or promote evil deeds. Take a look around the room you are sitting in right now. You’ll see light areas and dark corners. Is one worse than the other? It’s as simple as asking yourself the question, “Is the glass half-full, or is it half-empty?” Do you see a half-empty, dimly lit world, or will you turn your gaze toward the light in life, especially in the midst of darkness?

 

The following meditation can help you embrace darkness so your inner light may shine on you, and out to those around you.

Begin in a comfortable position, in a safe and quiet room, preferably in the dark. Close your eyes and witness the complete absence of light. In your mind’s eye, study the dark. Notice any sensations that arise. Do you feel afraid, helpless, or ashamed? Continue to explore the darkness without judgment or fear.

Next, bring your attention to the place within you that is closest to your soul. To connect with this place, you might recall a fond memory, a place in nature that you love, or a moment in time when you felt completely happy. Appreciate the genuine feeling of connectedness with the light of your soul. If the feeling fades, or you become distracted, keep trying. Continue drawing your attention inward.

Now, imagine the light of your soul shining upon the dark spaces that surround you. It can be as simple as brightening the scary, dark corners of your mind, or shedding light on challenges in your life. Perhaps you imagine shining your light around the globe, reaching out to people in need.

While darkness will always exist, your spirit doesn’t have to be darkened by its influence. St. Francis of Assisi believed that all the darkness in the world cannot extinguish the light of a single candle, and it’s the same with the light of your spirit. When when you realize this, the light in your life, and possibly the light around the entire world, becomes so much more evident.

In your darkness, let your light lead the way, and may you live happily ever after.

 

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Got Snow? Winter Yoga is Bliss for the Hips

After a full day of playing in the snow, whether it be snowboarding, skiing, or snowshoeing, the muscles of the hips can shorten and tighten. Flexible, open hips are a must if we want to avoid injuries during the winter months.

The following yoga poses are suggestions for keeping the body healthy and limber this winter.

 

Warrior I, II, and Crescent Lunge for the Hip Flexors

The psoas muscles (psoas major and psoas minor), attached to the spine and spanning across the front crease of the hips, are the powerful muscles that help us walk through the deep snow with strength and stamina. When they are tight, the low back can become strained, and as a result, injury can occur.

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Psoas major muscle illustration/warrior one showing psoas major, hip adductors, and more

Friendly yoga poses that stretch the psoas muscles include warrior one and two, plus crescent lunge. Similar to a runner’s lunge, these poses extend the front of the hip, giving those mighty hip flexors a dose of elasticity.

For warrior two, stand with feet hip width apart. Step the right foot back until your left knee bends no further than 90-degrees. Place the back foot flat, at a 45-90-degree angle to your ankle, align shoulders and hips with the long edge of the mat. In warrior one, hips and shoulders are aligned with the short, top edge of the mat.

For crescent lunge, stand with feet hip width apart. Step the right foot back until your left knee bends no further than 90-degrees, keep back heel lifted.

In all three poses, the back knee is straight, or just slightly bent, and for best results, gently tuck your tailbone. Hold for up to five deep breaths and switch lead leg. Practice one or all pose options.

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Yoga and fitness teacher, David Stickler, in warrior two, crescent lunge

 

 

 

Hip Opener for the External Rotators and Gluteus Maximus

If there is one area in the body that works the hardest in winter sports it’s the ever so strong and tight gluteal muscle group. Responsible for punching through deep snow, keeping our balance and stamina while cascading down a mogul field, or getting to the bottom of a slope in one piece, the glutes take a beating in the winter months.

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Gluteal muscle group illustration/external rotators, glutes, psoas, adductors, and more

Hip openers are bliss for the hips, however they are not always accessible to everyone, especially those with cranky knees. The ‘thread the needle’ variation using a wall is gentle on the knees and low back. This pose will loosen, open, and stretch the deep six external rotators of the femur, and lengthen and restore the gluteus maximus muscle.

Bring both legs up a clear wall, free from baseboards, art, and other obstructions. Place your right ankle on top of your left thigh, just above your left knee. Begin to bend your left leg until you feel a stretch across the back of your right hip, and as far as it is comfortable. Hold for up to one minute each side.

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Yoga and fitness teacher, David Stickler, in ‘legs up the wall’ and ‘thread the needle’ poses

 

 

Reclined Wide Angle for the Hip Adductors

Ever pull a groin? Stretching the inner thighs is important to reduce the incidences of muscle strain and knee injuries, especially for women who tend to have slightly wider pelvic bones. Tight inner thighs pull the knee inward and out of a natural alignment, and this can lead to unnecessary wear and tear over time.

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Hip adductor illustrations

This restorative yoga pose is an efficient way to lengthen and relax tight inner thighs. With both legs up the wall, begin to widen your stance until you feel a comfortable stretch in both hips. If necessary, bend both knees and place the bottoms of your feet on the wall. That can alleviate any knee discomfort that might arise in this pose. Hold for up to one minute.

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Yoga and fitness teacher, David Stickler, in ‘legs up the wall’ and wide angle poses

 

Want to learn more about anatomy for yoga? We have anatomy workshops coming this summer, for teachers and students alike.

 

 

Waves of Kindness: A Meditation for Peace

What does it mean to be kind? In a world fraught with uncertainties, fear and anger can easily dominate our state of being. When we have no motivation for gentle, loving thoughts toward those who disagree with us, stress levels rise, and violent acts may ensue. Showing love for someone who upsets or hurts us may seem impossible, but, kindness is necessary if we want our human race to survive.

The following meditation is helpful whenever your mind becomes turbulent or agitated. Practice during times of disagreements and arguments, so you can readily retreat to the calm ocean of your soul.

Lie down in a comfortable position, free from external distractions. Take several deep breaths to start letting go of your anger. Bring your awareness to sensations throughout your body. Once you’ve begun to calm the flames of rage, notice subtle changes that are taking place in your body. Perhaps you are no longer clenching your teeth. Maybe your chest softens, and you feel your heartbeat slowing down.

Next, place your right hand on your belly, and your left hand over your heart. Feel under both hands, the gentle rising and falling motion of your breath, and your heart beating steadily. Let the wave-like motion of your breath, and the rhythmic beat of your heart, gently rock you to a place of peace.

Now, imagine your breath and heartbeat are sending ripple-like waves through your entire body. See these waves much like the ones created when you drop a rock into still water. Visualize these waves continuing to travel, beyond the boundaries of your physical body, and then out into the world around you.

Imagine these waves are sending healing light, love, and compassion to all people on the planet. Send them to someone who makes you feel angry. Send them to someone with whom you just had an argument. Send them to all human beings in your field of imagination.

When you radiate waves of love and compassion from your heart, it becomes an act of kindness. Trust that it works.

On some level, those who have upset you are reaping the healing benefits of your kindness meditation. It is not used to change someone’s opinion, it is simply a method to help you dampen the awful ugliness that arises when people misunderstand, hurt, or disagree with each other.

Practice as often as necessary, because as it helps you, it will indeed soften the hearts of everyone around you.

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Written by Jill Lawson, published in OM Yoga and Lifestyle Magazine, January 2017

Mid-Life Non-Crisis: A Catharsis for the Aging at the Telluride Yoga Festival

As many of you know, I presented for the 5th year at the Telluride Yoga Festival last weekend. For the first few years of the festival, I was excited to be a student, taking classes from some of the most coveted yoga teachers in the country. When I received an invitation to teach, I was flabbergasted! What could I possibly have to share with a community of diehard yogis? After months of questioning my abilities, I came to the conclusion that I was just going to be myself, and teach what was true in my heart. So I submitted a class description that included incorporating core work into a yoga practice. Go figure! As nervous as I was, once I started teaching I realized I was actually enjoying relaying the knowledge and insight I gained over the years as a fitness instructor, personal trainer, and yogi. I watched people take notes. I answered a ton of questions. I was genuinely excited and no longer nervous to be a part of something I once thought was too big for my teaching skills and aptitude.

This time, I was asked to do a repeat of my Yoga for Aging class, as it was well received the year prior. As we all know, the biggest population on the planet right now are the baby boomers, however it is the most underserved group of yoga practitioners in the yoga community at large. For those of you who feared the classes at the yoga festival would be too advanced, and only for the young and bendy, there is some validation in that trepidation. However, if you’ve ever been to my Friday morning Yoga Lite class, you’ll be relieved to know classes like that do exist at the fest.

 

The following is a recap of my class titled, “Mid-Life Non-Crisis: A Catharsis for the Aging.”

There were about 30 people in attendance. My guess is the age group ranged between 45 and 70 years. Prior yoga ability didn’t matter, I welcomed those completely new to the practice, although my hunch was most people had been practicing, even if just on and off.

I asked the group why they decided to take my class. The answers were similar, suggesting aches and pains, diminishing ability, wear and tear injuries, lack of pep on the yoga mat. One woman let me know she was recovering from a stroke, and that event instilled in her the fearful reality of her own mortality. We talked about death and someone shared what it meant for them to live a life of meaning and purpose.

In the weeks prior to the class, I dug up some statistics on aging. Aside from confirming what I already knew about the dominate number of baby boomers, I was surprised to find out that the anti-aging campaign isn’t just a patronization of this population, it is a 200-billion-dollar industry. Even more shocking, is the small amount of money spent on services such as gym memberships and yoga classes. Can you guess what most of that revenue comes from? Face lifts, plastic surgery, anti-wrinkle creams, Botox, and sexual performance enhancing pharmaceuticals.

The media paints a picture of youthfulness as a measure of success. I told the class that the best compliment one can get is when someone tells us that we haven’t aged a bit. Why? Because, if we don’t hear this, we feel as if we’ve failed on all levels. Aging is not a disease, nor is it a failure. It is one thing to take care of our health, but it’s another to pretend we’re not really getting older.

This began a conversation about change. One of the quintessential teachings of many spiritual doctrines suggests nothing is permanent, change is evident. Greek philosopher, Heraclites is remembered for saying, “The only constant is change.” To deny change is to fight with the natural order of everything, and to fight with this is to suffer. To deny the passing of time is to suffer. To turn the other cheek to the reality of getting older is to miss out on the miracle of life. To deny the beautiful process of aging is to deny the privilege of ever being born.

We proceeded with a meditation that began in corpse pose, the proverbial “death bed.” I asked the class to be present with all their aches and pains, their dislike of no longer being young and vibrant, and all the other concerns that were brought up at the beginning of the class. I asked the class to go back in time, year by year, through their young adult life, teenage life, as a toddler, and finally, a newborn. I asked them to examine what might have changed, and what remained the same. I said, “You know your body has changed, but is there something inside of you that has not?” While meditating on the sweetness of being a new born baby, I could see smiles of joy on their faces.

A concept that is presented in the book, Aging as a Spiritual Practice, by Lewis Richmond, brings to light our life’s timeline. The author talks about how we look at our lives in terms of a horizontal time line. We have our birth, the stuff that happens, and then death. Along this timeline, we have an evident past. The only evident future that is certain is our death. Looking at life and death in this way, for some, is dreadfully uncomfortable. It’s as if we’re riding a freight train straight into the brick wall of our own demise.

Richmond discussed his idea of a vertical timeline. Instead of past and future, in this vertical timeline, all we have is the present. I thought and thought about this and came up with my own concept. Based on his insight of vertical time, I assimilated it in my mind as a ‘vertical alignment’ of sorts. Instead of moving across the timeline straight for the end, we ascend along the vertically aligned timeline. In other words, we are moving up.

Where does “up” go? We talked about heaven, the afterlife, and ultimately, freedom and enlightenment. While ascending on the vertical timeline, we can’t look back, because there is no ‘back.’. When we want to look ahead, we are directed to look up. I quoted my dad as saying, “There is nowhere to go but up,” and that is how we can view aging; as ascending through life.

Before we began to move through some yoga poses and stretches, I talked about the need to reframe our practice as we age. I asked them to shift from ‘goal oriented’ to ‘experience centered.’ Rather than feeling like we have to do something a certain way because that’s what we’ve always done, or because we want to achieve something we’ve been working on, I asked them to savor the experience just as it is, in the body they have right now. “Honor yourself, practice without judgment, resist the urge to compare yourself to your young self, and don’t write a check your body can’t cash,” I said wittily.

If you’ve ever been to my Friday morning Yoga Lite class, you know just how we proceeded for the next 90-minutes. For the group, it was an oasis in a habitual mindset of competitive thinking and frustration with their aging bodies. I believe everyone exhaled the need to achieve and do, and enjoyed simply being.

As we settled into final relaxation, I asked the class to visualize their faces, grateful for every crevice and character line. We thanked our bodies for enabling us to practice yoga. Wayne Dyer once asked his classes to not look at growing older as aging, but instead embrace it as an opportunity to be ‘sage-ing.’ We imagined rising along the vertical timeline, taking a look around and enjoying the lofty view that comes with age and wisdom.

 

For a recap of my 50 Shades of Namaste class, please click HERE.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

50 Shades of Namaste at the Telluride Yoga Festival

Teaching a yoga class for the aging was a given for this year’s Telluride Yoga Festival, and it happens to be my favorite kind of class to teach. Blessed to have the opportunity to teach a second class, I was asked to submit a “juicy” description, something that might attract a lot of participants.

Juicy? I wasn’t quite sure what this meant, but what I did know, is that the Huffington Post had just published my article titled 50 Shades of Namaste, so I submitted a class idea with the same title.

For obvious reasons, the class description had nothing to do with the content of my article. Thank goodness. Since my article was published, I’ve received email inquiries asking me to discuss my expertise in the subject of inflicting pain for pleasure. I’ve had to make it clear several times, that my area of authority is in yoga, not whips and chains!

Shifting the meaning of the title to something that would be of value at a yoga festival, I came up with the following description:

Yoga in America is not black and white. We have numerous styles, varied approaches, and sometimes, conflicting instructions. How can we know what’s best? We’ve all heard the cues to listen to our body and do what feels good, but there isn’t always a clear distinction between the sensations of pleasure and pain. In this class we will discover how and why our bodies talk, and learn ways to enhance our mind-body communication so we can safely, and pleasurably navigate the gray areas of modern yoga practices.”

Everyone wants to do yoga the right way. So, I began by asking the class if there was any uncertainty as to how to practice a particular yoga pose. I didn’t expect this, but one man started by asking how he could get his students with poor posture to pull their shoulders back in a pose. That question paved the way for an anatomical synopsis of the shoulder joint, and what actually happens when we “pull our shoulders back.”

While the concept seems as simple as squeezing the scapulae (shoulder blades) together, there is a lot more to consider. I went on to explain how poor posture and muscle imbalance developed over time takes just as much time to reverse, and to expect perfect posture in one class is a misnomer. Certain poses that require the shoulders to be pulled back-but are prevented from doing so because of a tight chest, need to be looked at differently as to prevent unnecessary torque and misalignment of the shoulder joint, especially when the arms are bearing weight.

Other questions involved wrist placement in plank, knee position in revolved chair pose, and whether to tuck or untuck the tailbone in standing poses. When asked, my answers always started with, “it depends.”

During the next half hour, I discussed why it depends. The reasons are quite simple. No two styles of yoga are exactly the same, just as no two bodies that practice yoga are exactly the same. We might think deep down at the skeletal level, we are the same, but that is incorrect. The shape of our bones can greatly affect how we look and feel in a yoga pose, and that is a big factor in determining how and why it depends which way is the right way. When we do a yoga pose, two major elements come into play; our bones, and our muscles.

Referencing Paul Grilley, and his DVD, Anatomy for Yoga, I discussed the concept of compression and tension. Compression is a term that explains a permanent limitation due to bones blocking movement. For example, if you straighten your arm, you eventually come to a stop. This is because the bones of your humerus and ulna have locked in place due to a bony protrusion called the olecranon process, and nothing short of an accident will move them beyond that range of motion. This is an example of compression. It seems like a welcome protective mechanism, but this can happen in other areas of our bodies that are generally built to have more movement, such as the shoulder and the hip joint.

I went on to discuss the anatomy of the hip and shoulder joint, relative to the concept of compression. For example, the hip is a ball and socket joint. Sometimes the ball part of the joint is bigger than average, or sometimes the socket part of the joint is deeper than average. In either instance, this can have a tremendous affect on how much or little the hip can move, regardless of how flexible or inflexible the connective tissue around the hip joint may be. Apply that to yoga, and we understand that no amount of stretching will change the shape of our bones. If bone on bone compression has been met, in the case of the ball bumping into the socket, there is no going beyond that point.

Tension is different. Tension is muscle tightness, and that can be overcome. You know this to be true when you go to yoga, and at the end of the class you are a little bit more limber. After years of practice, you might even be able to touch your toes, etc.

Making clear that if certain movement patterns or limitations are due to compression, nothing can be done about it. If certain movement patterns or limitations are due to tension, we can work a little harder to overcome it. We all have a combination of both tension and compression happening in our bodies.

So, how can we tell which is which? I discussed how our bodies communicate with our brains.

We all have an innate sense of body awareness, and this is referred to as kinesthetic intelligence. This awareness is communicated through proprioception, which is the feedback sent from our muscles to our brain. If we need to make changes in our posture, our brain sends the message to our muscles to move.

Incidentally, the words proprioception and appropriate share the same root word, and that is proprius, meaning: one’s own. Proprioception can alert us when we might be doing a pose inappropriately, based on the feedback we receive from our body. Kinesthetic intelligence is the movement we execute to make the pose appropriate for our body.

We did a little practice to experience these mechanisms at work. We stood on one foot with our eyes closed. Proprioception told us when we were about to fall over, our kinesthetic intelligence moved our bodies into position so we wouldn’t fall over. This type of communication happens all the time, whether we are aware of it or not.

Sometimes, due to injury and pain, the messages we receive from our bodies can be misinterpreted. I discussed the cycle of pain and pleasure, commonly understood as runner’s high, but also experienced in yoga. Neurotransmitters such as dopamine reward our bodies after a bout of pain. (I had to bring in a discussion of pain, after all, this was 50 Shades of Namaste!) However, I pleaded with the class to not get caught up in a false perception of what is good for us because of a flood of feel-good chemicals brought on by a bout of pain. I did find it it ironic that a newly discovered neurotransmitter was aptly named anandamide. For those of you who don’t know, ananda is the Sanskrit word for bliss. We really don’t have to hurt in order to feel good. If you want to read more about the pain and pleasure cycle in yoga, read my article. For the record, I am not an advocate for pain.

As we proceeded to do some yoga, I quoted Leslie Kaminoff, author of Yoga Anatomy, the book we use in my yoga teacher training courses. Kaminoff says,

“Asanas [yoga poses] don’t have alignment, people have alignment. There is no universally correct alignment, only what is correct for the individual.”

I love this concept, because as a yoga teacher, it is easy to forget there isn’t a universal way to teach a yoga pose. It is an excellent reminder of how we are all built so differently. Honoring the individual, not some by-the-book ideal of a pose, is very important.

The ongoing question buzzing around the yoga community has always been, “Which way is the correct way to do a pose?” I’m confident to have made my point that it really depends on who is doing the pose. Yoga is a lifelong journey with no quick fix or immediate answers. Each and every time we practice is a little bit different. Knowing what we need “right now” takes time and attention, but it is possible for both teachers, and students to understand.

In addition to Paul Grilley’s DVD, and Leslie Kaminoff’s book, Yoga Anatomy, I also recommend the book, Your Body, Your Yoga, by Bernie Clark.