E-RYT 500, yoga instructor for children and adults

Posts tagged ‘stress’

Practice What You Practice

People are drawn to the practice of yoga for a multitude of reasons. There’s plenty of evidence showing it can help improve strength, flexibility, and physical health. Meditation is also becoming popular, mainly for its ability to relieve stress. These and other benefits to the body and mind, though wonderful, are still not the ultimate purpose of this ancient philosophy. In Louisiana we’d call these benefits lagniappe, a little something extra we can enjoy, but not to be mistaken for the main event. Yoga is a spiritual practice meant to lead the aspirant to enlightenment. In the West we often think of our being as two-fold, mind and body. In this dichotomy the body is external and the mind is internal. In Eastern philosophy however there are 3 parts to us: mind, body, and spirit. The spirit is the real deal, and the mind is just as unreal and external as the body. This is why our own mind can be such a mystery, seemingly controlling our thoughts, words, and actions. Through the practice of yoga we use the body and mind as tools to transcend both, getting in touch with the true nature of our inner being, our spirit.
In the yoga sutras, Patanjali says yoga is the calming of the mind. He chooses to mention friendliness, kindness, joy, and equanimity/non-judgment (1:33) as the four qualities to cultivate within ourselves in order to have a calm mind. Later he describes the 8 limbed path that includes the restraints, observances, postures, breathing, introspection, concentration, and meditation that will lead us to enlightenment. But before all of that he chooses to call attention to these four practices that anyone, regardless of ability to stretch or sit, can begin to practice and therefore get more clarity of mind.
I often tell my students, we don’t do yoga to get better at yoga…we do yoga to get better at life. I believe one reason we call it “practicing” yoga is because the things we do on the mat or while meditating are practice for the main event, which is life. Whatever we do on the mat or cushion is helping us to learn the principles of yoga which we then apply in our lives. And we must take our practice off the mat, we must be able to translate those lessons to our experiences in this life. That’s why we were given this incarnation, to learn and experience until we return to our Source. It’s great if we can practice being kind to ourselves when we can’t perform a challenging asana, but if we don’t take that lesson with us and speak kindly to ourselves when we’re stressed about money, or to our co-workers in a tense meeting, then we’ve missed the real benefit, and perhaps even the purpose, of yoga. It’s wonderful to find that state of peace while in meditation, but if we leave the meditation hall, get in our car, and get angry and yell at the drivers around us, again we’ve blown it. To be clear, I’m not saying we have to be perfect people. As Wayne Dyer said, you can only be better than the person you used to be. An effective yoga practice supports us in being our best self in each moment, evolving along the way.
Your thoughts, words, and actions are the results of what you practice. By practicing these principles when we do yoga postures, sit for meditation, or breathe deeply we are strengthening our ability to be friendly to a difficult person, kind to someone who has hurt us, to find joy even in the midst of challenges, and to remain even and non-judgmental through the ups and downs of life. The true measure of a yogi is not just our ability to be present during our practice; it’s in how we treat ourselves and others during the moments between practices.

Hashtag Savasanuary

It started as a joke, as good ideas often do. On a random Facebook thread, my good friend and fellow yoga teacher Shana Stein of Operation Yoga said, “I really want to nail my savasana this year.” She was making a tongue in cheek reference to all the yoga challenges, progress pics, and advanced asanas that appear all over social media. Now, I’m not saying these are all bad.  I’ve participated in some really fun Instagram challenges with gracious hosts who offer modifications and encouragement to all yogis. I also see that sometimes the focus on the image overly emphasizes “getting the pose,” yet misses getting the yoga. Yoga is about union, connection, calming the mind, and overcoming the ego. There is a reason for asana, and postures are an important part of the yoga path for many, including myself. Asana can also be a double edged sword. Postures can trigger the ego, telling us we aren’t as good as another yogi because our backbend isn’t as deep, or that we’re better than someone else whose crow isn’t flying quite as high as ours. The important work is what we do with these thoughts, how we face our fears and challenge our ego based beliefs. When I teach kids I often say, “Savasana is the hardest pose in yoga.” Although it may be easy for the body, simply lying down, it’s the mind that can struggle to find the “steadiness and comfort” that Patanjali recommends for a successful asana. So back to Shana’s comment. I loved it. I ran with it. And so #savasanuary was born.

Jump in anytime for this “unchallenge.” Just take a pic of yourself in savasana, post it on the social media platform of your choice, and tag #savasanuary. No hosts, no sponsors, no pressure. The prize is peace! Give yourself the gift of a few moments of rest each day and share, if you’re so inclined, to encourage others to do the same. Do it every day or any day, whatever works for you. Enjoy!

savasana

I’ll Be Om for Christmas

Maintaining equanimity amidst the holiday rush can be challenging for even the most mindful yogis. The good news is even regular Joe-gis can benefit from some simple techniques drawn from the yoga tradition. Come with me on a journey of OM from AM to PM!

Snooze Button Meditation
The holiday season sometimes means late nights and early mornings, which isn’t great for motivating you to get up early to meditate. Make it easy on yourself by using this snooze button meditation technique. When your alarm goes off, hit the snooze button and sit up cross-legged in bed or hang your legs off the edge. With a tall spine, rest your hands palms face up on your thighs. Inhale and exhale deeply and slowly, observing the sounds and sensation of your breath until the alarm goes off again. Bonus points if you set your alarm a few minutes early and get up for a longer session!

Traffic Jammin’ Dance Party
Typical rush hour traffic is bad enough, but add in the shoppers, travelers, distracted drivers, and bad weather and it can get downright nasty out there. If you find yourself caught in traffic, you can either arrive late and angry or arrive late and happy! Practice the yogic principle of santosha, or contentment, and make the best of the situation. Take advantage of the awesome acoustics in your vehicle and have a good old fashioned traffic JAM! Put on your fave holiday tunes, or any song that lifts your spirits, and sing and dance along. True story, one day I was getting super frustrated in traffic and glanced in my rear view mirror to see the driver behind me singing and grooving, having a blast! It made me smile and reminded me not to take anything too seriously. Bonus points if you can get the driver next to you to dance along!

Under the Table Tennis
Standing in line for Santa in those cute holiday heels may be fun, but your feet won’t be happy! Bring a tennis ball to work or keep one at home to roll your feet on under the desk. The feet are the endpoint for many energy channels, sometimes called meridians or nadis, that run to different parts of the body. By massaging the feet you also stimulate and balance the organs, glands, spine, and chakras. I like to roll my feet while working on my laptop. Bonus points if you take it outside and take off your shoes, connecting to the healing energy of the Earth!

Mall Meltdown Mantra
When faced with the hectic shopping scene, create a serene space inside your own head. Repeating a calming word or phrase to yourself can distract your busy mind from those worrisome, negative thoughts and replace them with something positive. One I like to use is, “It’s all good.” You can mentally chant in any language, whether it’s the traditional Sanskrit or your native tongue. Of course, “Om” is always a good choice. Om is the sound of the universe, and though it doesn’t have a literal translation, you can think of it as meaning “light.” Bonus points if you get brave and chant out loud!

Present Wrapping Pranayama
During routine tasks like wrapping presents, baking cookies, or writing cards, you can perform a mental version of analoma viloma, or alternate nostril breathing. In the traditional breathing exercise you use one hand to periodically close off one nostril then the other, inhaling and exhaling between sides. If your hands are busy, you can simply visualize the air flowing in through one nostril and out the other. Here’s the rhythm: Inhale through the left nostril, Exhale out the right nostril, Inhale through the right nostril, Exhale out the left nostril. Repeat as many rounds as necessary to achieve a calm, balanced state of mind and body. Bonus points if you use a neti pot in the mornings to clear those nasal passages, allowing the breath to flow freely and helping nip any winter colds in the bud!

Yogic Sleep and Sweet Dreams
Use a guided meditation to help you wind down before bed. You can find yoga nidra, or yogic sleep, guided relaxation videos on YouTube. I like this one by Jennifer Reis. This healing and restoring guided meditation technique helps to turn on the body’s natural healing response and counteract the “fight or flight” stress mode that many of us maintain throughout the day. Bonus points if you fall asleep during the nidra and stay in a state of peace all night!

No matter what traditions or beliefs you celebrate this winter, I hope these simple yoga practices help keep you merry and bright! Happy Holidays!

christmas star

EDIT: This blog topic was prompted by a request from Oscar Insurance, a new insurance company that currently has availability in New York and New Jersey. Since I’m in Texas I can’t personally attest to their quality, but I love their focus on holistic healing and progress in the area of health insurance. You can check out more info about them here: www.hioscar.com

Turn the Radio On

“If you want to find the secrets of the universe, think in terms of energy, frequency and vibration.”

–Nikola Tesla

When you ask the Universe/God a question you have to be in tune with the Universe/God to receive an answer. I typically use the terms god/universe/source/love/light/spirit interchangeably. God is the whole universe, the source of everything, is pure love and light, and is present in spirit. When we are negative and complain that we are not receiving guidance, it’s like turning the dial on the radio to static then complaining that there’s no music. Spirit is always talking to us, but we aren’t always listening. You have to feel good as they say in “The Secret,” get into the zone or “the vortex” as Abraham calls it, to see your intentions manifest. You must tune your inner radio to the correct frequency to get the message that is coming in. Often it is in our darkest times that we think to ask our inner guide for help. And it will help, if we are able to receive the guidance. It is a practice, like everything else, to know where to look, how to receive, what to listen for. We can practice through living mindfully, cultivating awareness, and meditating. Meditation comes in many forms, and can include, but is not limited to: sitting silently, mantra repetition, breathing deeply, singing, chanting, practicing postures, walking, running, cycling, being in nature, gardening, journaling, guided meditation, working with animals, volunteering, playing, and creating art. Even our diet and activity level have an effect on our ability to perceive the voice of our inner guide. If we don’t practice this technique and don’t train our spiritual muscles, they get weak. We become confused and lost. We may get frustrated or doubtful, saying, “Where were you when I needed you?” We stick our fingers in our ears, cover our eyes, and cry out, “My God, why have you forsaken me?” I know. I’ve been there. Even Jesus Christ has been there. Unable to see the bigger picture amidst our own pain, we sit in a deep dark hole, gazing down into the abyss and neglecting to turn our eyes up to the light above. Even after years of therapy, treatment, yoga, meditation, and mostly healthy living, I still have moments and sometimes days of fear and doubt. More and more often now, though, I am able to lift my own head. I can find that spark of light that urges me to keep moving forward. I have practiced and trained my mind to sit for meditation even when I don’t feel like it, to read enlightening texts, to practice and teach yoga, to remember to be grateful, to listen to upbeat happy music, to avoid negativity, and to tune back in to a positive frequency. In “The Secret” these mood-boosting techniques are called “secret shifters.” Yours may be different, but as long as they make you smile, laugh, or feel happy, then they work to pull you out of that darkness and glimpse the light again. They give you the motivating energy to tune into a positive frequency and vibrate in harmony with god, thereby allowing you to glimpse the secrets of the universe.

The Only Way to Fly

As the holiday season gains momentum, I see many conflicting messages about how to spend those two precious resources, time and money. We are urged to reach out to help those in need by volunteering our time and donating our money. At the same time, advertisements temp us to spend these resources on ourselves, telling us that we deserve to indulge. We often confuse self-care with selfishness, and self-neglect with selflessness. At times we may feel that we don’t have enough resources to spread around. It may seem that we have to choose between helping others and helping ourselves. Ultimately, however, self-care is selfless, and vice versa. If we spend our money and time wisely, we can maintain our own well-being and still have some left to help others. The familiar warning we hear every time we fly on an airplane helps to illustrate this idea. The flight attendant reminds us to place the oxygen mask over our own nose and mouth first, before helping a child or companion fasten their mask. Some people take this idea and emphasize the fact that you put yourself first. They use this excuse to be selfish under the guise of “self-care.” But they are missing the second half of the statement. After taking care of yourself, you then proceed to help someone else. You don’t stop at the act of self-care; you extend this care to those around you. Others may think they know better and ignore the first part, trying to help others first and put themselves last. But once the time comes to take care of themselves, they are too drained and exhausted to do so. Eventually this wears them down and in the end they don’t have the energy or resources to help themselves or anyone else. In addition, many people don’t even know how to truly care for themselves, instead seeking instant gratification through things like food, liquor, shopping, sex, or gossip. These pursuits may be fine when done mindfully, in moderation, and as a form of entertainment; not when they are the only way for you to feel better. I have personally tried all of the above, and trust me, it doesn’t end well. You’re left bloated, hung over, broke, alone, disliked, and with all the same problems you had before. My friend and fellow yoga teacher once said, “Vegging out is not relaxing.” True restoration and relaxation come when we tune in to our bodies, minds, and spirits. Mediation for you may involve walking in nature, writing in a journal, creating music and other art, or of course practicing yoga. We can mediate in many different ways, the common thread is that we take the time to slow down and look within. Only then can we truly set priorities that will serve to nourish us and also leave us with a reserve of energy to share with others.

Karma

Charlie and I ordered iPhones right after we got back from our honeymoon, at the end of September. He had been using the same phone for 4 years and me for almost 3. We were so excited to get new phones on a family plan together as we began our life as a married couple. At the time we had them put insurance on both phones. We were supposed to get them in 2-4 weeks. Two weeks later Charlie called to check on the status and they said they were still on backorder. Two weeks after that he called them again and they said the same thing. Two more weeks after that he called again and they finally realized something was wrong with the original order. They had to cancel the original order and redo it. At this time we decided to remove the insurance from the phones to lower the bill, and they then overnighted us our phones. We received them on November 7. As I said, we both had iPhone before and were using the old lightning cables to charge the phones nightly. They stayed plugged in by our bed and our new kitten, Moses, never bothered them. The second day we had the new iPhone cables plugged in, he destroyed them both. He must like the 5s. I went to the Apple store at North Park and bought two more cords. Despite our efforts to keep them out of his reach and train him not to play with them, he ruined one of those too. Someone suggested I go back to the Apple store and see if they would replace one or more of the cords. I thought it was worth at least asking, and even if they said no, I needed to buy a replacement. Yesterday, Nov 14, I went there and was pleasantly surprised that they were able to replace all three cords at no charge. In the process of entering my information and confirming my warranty, the Apple store employee had me turn off the “find my phone” feature. Charlie found out later that this is standard; they have to turn it off to get into the system or something. I don’t know, I’m not a tech person. And because I’m not, I neglected to turn it back on. I didn’t really understand what it was for, and I had no notion whatsoever that my phone would need to be found.

That same evening I taught my weekly class for Dirt Cheap Yoga at the Lake Highlands North Rec Center. Class ended at 6:30, and at 6:40 PM I had just gotten into my car to go home. I was parked not too far from the entrance, but it was dark. Suddenly a teenage female knocked on my window. I rolled it down a bit and she asked if she could use my phone. I got out of the car with just my keys and phone, locked it, and stood next to her as she made a call. Then a teenage male walked up who I hadn’t seen before, he must have been hiding off to the side. I started to get a bad feeling so I said, “I have to go, I need my phone back.” I tried to reach for it, but she handed the phone to him and they started walking away. I said, “Oh come on really? Please?” And he responded, “It’s your keys or your phone, I’m taking one,” then they started to run. I was shaken but not hurt, and grateful for that. I went back inside the rec center and called the police, told them exactly what happened, and gave a description of the kids and which way they were heading. I was given the option to stay at the rec center until they came, but they had no idea how long it would take and I figured it would be too late anyway to catch the kids. So they said they would call me back later that night to file the official report. I went home and we immediately called T-Mobile and reported the phone stolen. They disabled it so it can’t be used on any network. At this point the only use for it would be to sell it for parts, which I don’t think the kids even realized when they took it. We told the T-Mobile representatives what happened and they were extremely kind and helpful. Because of the mess of our initial order, the fact that we did have insurance in the beginning, and since we had only had the phones for such a short time, they graciously agreed to retro-activate the insurance plan and have a phone sent to us the next day. We only had to pay the deductible and the monthly insurance payment, so it still cost us money but not nearly as much as a new phone.

Unfortunately, because I did not turn “find my phone” back on, there was no way to track the phone. The only thing I could do would be to file a police report and give them the serial number in hopes that it would be found and reported. It was a long shot, but I wanted to file a report on principle if nothing else. I told Charlie that if they did catch those kids, I would want them to be sentenced to the maximum number of community service hours so they could learn something about compassion and selflessness. The police called me back later that night and I told my story again, with the same details that I reported the first time. This time the representative on the phone told me that my situation does not constitute a theft because I gave the person permission to use the phone. Because I handed the phone over instead of it being snatched from me, I could not report it as stolen. This sound seriously fishy to me, and I don’t understand the point of that kind of loophole in the law, but that is what I was told.

Charlie and I felt that the Apple store needed to know that this scam was happening and that apparently their customers would then have no legal recourse even if the phone was located. We also wanted to request them to change their policy so that their employees remind the customers to turn that feature back on and to explain to those of us that aren’t so tech savvy why it is important. After telling the Apple store manager the whole story, including the fact that we are already getting a replacement phone under our insurance, he still decided to give us a phone for free. I am blown away by the wonderful people who have been so generous and kind as we dealt with these issues. We decided to sell one of the replacement phones to a good friend, just for enough money to recoup our costs from the insurance, and he is still getting an amazing deal on a new iPhone. I will have a working phone again by this afternoon, less than 24 hours after mine was stolen. I try to live a good life, I consider other people’s feelings, and I strive to do the right thing. I sincerely believe that this whole crazy convoluted story is a lesson to believe in karma and trust in the plan. Along the way there were times when I began to doubt, to think, “why me,” or got discouraged. From the delay in getting our phones, to the cords being ruined, to the scary experience of being robbed, things did not seem to be going my way. There were moments when I cried, cursed, and felt defeated. But then I used my yoga and meditation techniques to breathe and trust. We remained positive, took inspired action, asked for what we wanted, and were honest and up front about every detail. Many people forget that karma means simply “action.” It isn’t good or bad, but we perceive it as such. Our actions lead to consequences. Acting from love leads to favorable consequences, and acting from ego leads to unfavorable consequences. So the moral of this story is this: Sometimes it takes a while, sometimes it’s instant, but at some point, good or bad, karma’s gonna’ get ya’.

You Don’t Have Time Not To

When life gets busy, especially during the upcoming months of seasonal colds and holidays, people often neglect their wellness routines. But the catch is that this can create more illness and stress in their lives and ultimately take up more time than the workouts would have in the first place. I teach a weekly class at an office, and last week after class one of the participants said, “I really didn’t have time to come today but I’m glad I did.” I responded, “You didn’t have time not to.” Yoga has as many benefits as there are people who practice it, but two major effects which are important at this time of year are stress reduction and immunity strengthening. Holidays can be joyful but also stressful and it is important to take some time for yourself. A yoga class forces you to slow down and look within, which helps to remind you of what is truly important when you feel you are being pulled in many different directions. Yoga also helps deepen the mind-body connection so that you become more in tune with your own biological processes. Being aware of your body can help to prevent some illnesses from coming on and reduce the severity of the ones you do catch.  And when your body is strong and healthy your immune system can fight germs more easily. The great thing about having a yoga class right at your workplace is you don’t have to find the motivation to fight traffic to get to a gym or studio. A group of co-workers can pay individually to have me come teach a class, or your corporation may be willing to sponsor the class as part of an employee wellness initiative. I can teach the class before or after work or at lunchtime.  Contact me to schedule your own workplace yoga class.

AstroSync

Opening the wheel, web and flower of life

OPERATION YOGA

Helping people who are ready for better