As a society, we associate strength with a person who never seems rattled, always pulls it together, and doesn’t need to ask for help.
This is how we picture yogis in strong, confident poses such as warrior one and two. We see people in warrior poses and we associate their unshakable posture as them being unaffected by the struggle of their body wanting to surrender.
But, as we look at these yogis a little closer, we realize that they are not simply unaffected by struggle, but are instead choosing to listen to their bodies as the cue for when to surrender—to form a union of mind, body, and spirit as a trio for guidance in this trying posture.
As we apply this to our lives off the mat we realize that sometimes we reach a place of capability, expertise, and emotional regulation after we’ve been totally incapable, clueless, and emotionally exhausted.
Therefore, true strength is in admitting when life is knocking us down, and using our tools, our support system, and our practice to put the pieces back together.
So get into your warrior poses and pay attention to what comes up, breathe through it, accept it. Choose to find meaning in it. Ask for help if it’s needed.
Let strength in life and in your practice be in your ability to authentically gauge your limits, accept your emotions, find peace with your struggles, and stand tall knowing that even it can only be for a few minutes—it is real and it was earned, one mindful moment at a time.
The practice of the Niyama of Svadhyaya involves deep self-reflection and self-study. It is the conscious effort we can put forth to understand the depths of our being, when we live without the clouded murkiness that fogs over our true self when we become caught up in our thoughts and attachments.
So truly, the practice of this Niyama can be worked on through building and maintaining a mindfulness and meditation practice. This is why the most sacred part of the yoga class is savasana.
Savasana is a resting pose. It is the final pose of the physical practice of yoga-- sealing in the work that was done linking the body to the mind and maybe even the mind to the soul.
In savasana we lay still and focus on meditation. We try our best to place our attention on the breath instead of on wandering thoughts and personal attachments.
It is our opportunity to detach from anything that is plaguing us or occupying our thinking. Our chance to let it go. It is hard. Most of us lay in savasana constantly chasing our thoughts and reigning them back in to focus on the breath. But if you have done this successfully, even for a few brief moments, you recognize the sense of inner peace that washes over the body in that time of undisturbed inner silence.
Because our minds attach meaning and feeling to every single thing we experience, we wind up having this reality that exists in our heads, compiled with a lifetime of associations and automatic thinking patterns. We attach to our thoughts, to our experiences, to people, to possessions. We walk around in a fog of thoughts and attachments day in and day out—typically avoiding the opportunity to practice clarity until we lay down for our final resting pose of class.
So we end our physical practice of yoga by attempting to clear our minds. When we try this, when we really devote energy to it, we start to realize the typical thoughts that creep in and disrupt our inner peace. We become aware of the difference between our true self and the self that we might know better in day to day life. Our true self is the self that exists when everything else washes away. Our true self emerges when we quiet our minds and connect to our souls. We realize that all we need exists within us and that true knowledge and wisdom can be gained from looking internally instead of externally.
Practice this enough and find that you don't need to look for a sanctuary in anything but yourself. It is a profound goal to work toward, one that doesn't come easily.
So savasana is an easy place to start practicing svadhyaya, as each yoga class prompts us to spend time in quiet meditation. However, building a meditation and mindfulness practice is where the true ability to practice svadhyaya occurs. For now, if you are just beginning this process, begin to appreciate the benefits of savasana and work hard to clear your mind of thoughts during this time on your mat. Once you are comfortable here, think about looking into a more extensive and consistent meditation practice in your daily life.
There is a quote by Elizabeth Gilbert that says:
“Turn your face stubbornly to the light, and keep it there."
This is a reminder that we control our thinking. We have the opportunity to turn towards the light and away from the darkness every single day.
We alone can decide if we want to face our life with optimism or pessimism.
We wake up every morning with a clean slate and a choice to seek enlightenment in all of the incredible wonders around us and within us.
Take a rainy day for a simple example-- the event is out of our control, right?
We can't do anything about it.
Yet, people have such different inner dialogue surrounding rainy days. Some people view it as an opportunity to accept being indoors, relax, cozy up, drink some tea, or watch some movies. Other people feel like it's a total waste and just spend the day wishing it away.
Most of us probably fall into the second group. But, if we were to turn our faces stubbornly to the light, if we were to seek the beauty in that rainy day, to find happiness in what typically makes us feel depressed, then we would be much better off for it.
There is always an opportunity to turn our heads toward the light. There is always the option to seek enlightenment from the mundane or to choose optimism even when it's hard.
In yoga we learn how to pause from the hustle and bustle of our everyday lives in order to reclaim control over our thoughts, emotions and bodies. Yoga is our opportunity to turn our head toward the light. We have the power to unattach from our negative thinking, negative associations and any inclinations toward general pessimism in an effort to seek positivity instead.
After a yoga class, we begin again with a clean slate—a mind fresh from harbored thoughts or emotions.
So, if you are feeling lately that you have been turning your face away from the light, seek opportunities to practice yoga, mindfulness and meditation as an opportunity to embrace the beauty of everyday.
For February, we will focus on the intellectual dimension of holistic wellness and how mindfulness can support us in our desire to grow in this area.
As wellness reminds us that being well is not merely the absence of illness within the self, but instead, it is the presence of a flourishing, happy and growth oriented self.
When we think of this from an intellectual perspective, we might realize that at some point we might have given up on, or significantly decreased, our actions to step outside of our comfort zones and force ourselves to gain exposure to things that may allow us to expand our knowledge and interests.
So become mindful of this dimension for the month of February. February tends to be the most dreaded month of the winter season as the excitement of winter weather has dissipated and most of us are fully ready to dive head first into spring. This can lead to stagnation during this time, maybe a desire to simply sit back and wait out the month bundled up under a blanket and hoping that the groundhog won’t see his shadow, so we can be filled with excited anticipation of the next season.
This, as we know, takes us out of the present moment and our ability to enjoy what is happening right now.
So, think about these things as you focus on being mindful of your intellectual growth during this slow month of winter.
1. Start journaling
Write down your thoughts on a more regular basis. Consider observations of life that interest you and focus on journaling about these things. As you observe, maybe you read more about your topic of interest and generate ideas. These topics of interest can be different for everyone. Some people may enjoy observing and reflecting on psychology and the human connection, others might be interested in observing the complexities of nature, some people might have an interest in studying and journaling about politics, and others might be intrigued by architecture. The list goes on and on. The point is to identify what you find yourself drawn to and to spend more time observing, reading, reflecting and writing about it.
2. Participate in arts and culture activities
Again, this will vary for each person’s individual interest. But, there truly is something for everyone. Some individuals might want to see a new play or performance, others might be interested in visiting an art gallery, while some people might be more inclined to visit museums. There might even be local festivals celebrating different ethnic or cultural groups that you can attend in your area. These festivals might have food, music and history that you haven’t been exposed to before. This is yet another opportunity to step outside of your comfort zone and expand your knowledge during this time of mindful intellectual growth.
3. Socialize with new people in a unique way
Join a book club, attend a mindfulness workshop, or find a meetup in your area to ‘meet up’ with people who have interests similar to your own. These meetup groups allow people with similar interests to come together for excursions, social hours, book clubs, fitness classes, etc. Even further, think about joining a professional association for your industry or an industry you are interested in. This will allow you to gather with likeminded people who want to talk about the things that you’re passionate about. All of these options allow us to socialize with others in a way that promotes mental stimulation, learning, and growth.
4. Begin a Meditation Practice
It is easier than you think to begin a meditation practice. There are many sites online or on utube that can guide beginners through their first steps to developing a practice. First start out with five minutes then progressively lengthen as you get used to it. This will benefit you in many ways. Meditation relieves stress and releases serotonin to the brain which stimulates those happy feelings that we all crave in the winter. This can take the place of that much needed sunshine that we are missing during these long days of winter.
So, choose to use February as a month of mental rejuvenation. Be mindful of the importance that intellectual growth and stimulation has on your overall well-being. Reignite your passions by journaling, find new passions by stepping outside of your comfort zone, and meet new people who will light a spark in you to keep learning and growing.
February is the month where we might reflect on our relationships with loved ones and consider how we might be able to improve or show more love within those intimate relationships we hold dear.
With that, February’s yoga sequence focuses on heart openers. As you move through these 5 poses, think about how an open heart can allow you to let in more love, light and gratitude during this beautiful season.
1. Tadasana Mini-Backbend
Standing at the front of your mat, ground all four corners of your feet into the mat, lifting your toes and then lowering them back down. Send the energy up your legs, tightening your muscles in your calves and thighs. Ensure that your tailbone is pointing downward toward the mat, drawing your abdominal muscles in. With your hands at your side, take a deep inhale and allow your arms to rise above your head. From here, feel your pelvic bone shifting slightly forward as you lean back into this pose and open your chest, arms reaching up and slightly behind you.
From Tadasana, inhale and lift arms overhead and then exhale into uttanasana, (forward fold). Inhale, rise up halfway letting your hands find your calves or knees, and exhale return your hands to the mat in a fold. On the next inhale, gently step your feet back into a plank position. From here, exhale and let your knees come down to the mat as you tuck your elbows in toward your body and lower down to the mat completely. On the inhale, keep your elbows in towards your body as you lift your chest and come into cobra pose. Your legs are still grounding into the mat, but your upper body from your belly upward are rising off the mat.
From your camel pose, return to a kneeling position. You can then come forward onto all fours, finding a seated position and then a reclined position on your mat. Once in your reclined position, you can bring the heels of your feet as close to your body as possible. Allow your hands to press palm down into the mat as you slowly raise your hips. If you would like a little more of a heart opener here, you can touch your shoulders under your body and bring your arms to clasp hands underneath you.
4. Fish Pose
From Bridge pose, straighten your legs and lie flat onto your back. Then, come onto your forearms. If you need assistance use a small block under your thoracic spine to help elevate you. Once comfortable, allow the top of the head to hang down to the floor looking upwards. You have the option in Fish pose to keep your legs straight or come into badakanasan with the soles of your feet touching one another. Hold for five breaths in Fish Pose.
As you return to downward dog from wild thing on the left side, allow your knees to come down to the mat. From here, you may need to fold the mat under you to remove the pressure from your knees as you move into a camel pose. After you find your comfort, rise up to a kneeling position and on the inhale, let your arms rise above your head. There are different variations of camel pose. You have the option of allowing your hands to come to your lower back as you lean back, opening up your chest. If you want more of an upper body stretch, you can repeat camel by allowing your hands to come to two blocks next to your legs, or all the way down to your heels. You can allow your head to fall gently back. In this pose, ensure that your hips are still above your knees, so your upper body is the only part of you that is reclining back in this position.
After this flowing sequence, transition out of camel into child’s pose by sitting back on your heels and bending forward over your legs. You have the option of a wide-legged child pose as well. Reach forward with your fingertips, allowing your body to stretch out from all of the heart opening you integrated into your practice.
Flowing through these 5 heart openers allows us to remove the physical barriers we sometimes tend to place in front of our hearts. If you think about how often you cross your arms, position a purse in front of you, hold a book up to your chest, etc.—it becomes apparent just how uncomfortable we are with leaving our hearts open and unguarded.
Heart openers are an expression of vulnerability, which is a nice and importance place to be from time to time. This vulnerability allows us to be more reflective and open. It provides us with the space we need to give real thought and intention to what we feel most grateful for. Think about this as you move through these heart openers this month.
While the definition of aparigraha might lead people to think first of worldly possessions in the context of non-attachment, consider the more lofty idea of non-attachment to moments in time.
If we think about this a little more, we might recognize that we are often so attached to moments behind us or ahead of us, that we lose sight of the moment we are in. Most people can relate to being caught up in rumination over something that occurred yesterday, last month, or last year. We form an attachment to this memory—be it a good one or a bad one. We let it creep in and disrupt our present moment’s contentment and peace without even realizing it.
This same interruption of the present occurs when we become attached to future moments. While daydreaming, future aspirations, goal setting and planning are all positive—when we focus too much energy on moments ahead of us, we might start to feel anxious, antsy, depressed, unsettled or any of the above.
Practicing aparigraha and non-attachment allows us to rid ourselves (at least temporarily) of the pull within us to live in moments outside of the present. We recognize that attaching ourselves to thoughts of the past or future does nothing to serve us in the present moment.
With Valentine’s Day approaching next month, consider, as an example of this practice, how non-attachment to the past or future might positively impact your relationship.
Often times we hear couples speak of the ‘early days’ in the relationship—when the partner was more considerate, attentive, exciting, etc. Maybe this is something you experience when you think about the progression of your own relationship. But how often does this ‘past attachment’ serve us and make our relationship more whole? Feeling attachment to the past forces us to compare our partner and our relationship to mere memories of a different time. It sets an expectation for behavior that might be difficult to maintain after the novelty of a new love has worn off. Even further, as humans, we are growing and changing every day. Living in the memories of your partner from earlier days prevents you from recognizing and appreciating the person in front of you.
This is only one example of how rumination and attachment to the past might be impacting our relationships. The other, more obvious, example is when we become attached to actions of the past that might have hurt us. Even when we have ‘moved on’ from these actions, arguments, etc. we might still be feeling a sense of attachment to the memory. By choosing to let something go in our relationship—we are choosing to practice non-attachment to that memory. We are choosing to become more present oriented.
When we think about attachment to the future in the context of our romantic lives—we might realize the incredible expectations we put on ourselves, our partners and our relationships. Maybe when we think to the future and allow ourselves to live there in our minds, we become attached to the idea of having more money, a bigger house, well-behaved children, or a partner who works less (or more). We might even be placing negative expectations on the relationship without realizing it. Maybe when we think to the future we are expecting to feel disappointed or hurt by our partner—we are expecting to feel let down. Maybe we are waiting for the moment when the relationship falls apart. Any of this future thinking puts unnecessary pressure on the present moment and robs us, yet again, of the contentment and peace we can experience if we take life one present moment at a time.
So think about aparigraha over these next few weeks leading up to the holiday of love. Consider how this concept of non-attachment might serve you in enhancing the connection in your relationship.
Mindfulness extends far beyond the brain and the control of our thoughts. When we are being truly mindful, we also open ourselves up to be more in tune with every other aspect of our lives. Being mindful within our own bodies is one area that has amazing benefits.
Physical mindfulness provides us with an opportunity to check in with our bodies on a regular basis. In doing so, we might notice where we are carrying tension, how we physically process our emotions, how we need to move our bodies to relieve tension and emotions, how our bodies can be a signal to our mental state and how our mental state greatly impacts the health of our bodies.
This acknowledgement moves us from a place of separation in these areas to one where we view ourselves as a unified whole. We realize the intimate connection of each part of ourselves. We develop the capacity to utilize our minds to benefit our bodies and our bodies to benefit our minds—rather than fighting our way out of the negative effects when the two are working against each other.
Here are the two major ways that mindfulness of our bodies can greatly serve us.
1. Using our minds to promote a healthier body
Stress. Enough said. This is a perfect example of how something that begins in our thoughts makes its way into our bodies and manifests itself in different forms. We can experience an increased heart rate, stomach issues, body tension—the list goes on. This only gets worse if we are ignoring our stress. Why? Because we are not allowing ourselves to deal with it, rid our minds of it, and therefore rid our bodies of its effects. Stress is the product of letting our thoughts run away from us. But, when we are practicing mindfulness, we have the opportunity to let go of these thoughts and to shed the attachment we feel to them.
First, though, we have to recognize they are there. When we slow down our busy routines enough to sit in stillness during our mindfulness practice—we give ourselves the space to notice how much stress might be in our thoughts. Once we notice it, we have the power to let it go. We can focus our attention on our breathing. We can visualize a peaceful place and keep coming back to it when our mind wanders. We can utilize a guided meditation. Whatever the method—taking the time to let those thoughts float away allows us to free our bodies as well. We might notice our heart rate coming back down with a few deep, intentional breaths. We might find that our stomach feels less jittery after a few moments letting go of our stressful thoughts. The long term impacts of this practice are transformational for our overall health.
2. Using our bodies as a tool to clear our minds
The flip-side of this is that we can also use our bodies as a tool to clear our minds. Yoga is a perfect example of how we can do this. Another method is to practice a body scan or a progressive muscle relaxation exercise. In any of these examples, we are using our bodies as the avenue to take a break from our thoughts. In a yoga practice, we are focusing on our breathing, we are paying attention to the different muscle groups we should be working in every pose, we are trying to keep our balance and we are working to do each pose correctly.
In order to do all of this effectively, we need to come away from our steady stream of thoughts for a while. If we don’t, our practice suffers and we notice immediately. We might fall out of a pose, engage the wrong part of the body and feel the pose differently, etc. This practice allows us a physical way to approach mindfulness. We have to embrace the present moment more fully because it is the moment in which we are moving and engaging with our body. This same concept applies to body scans and progressive muscle relaxation. In both of these practices, we are shedding our attachment to our thoughts in an effort to tune into the body more fully. In body scans, we focus all of our attention on different parts of the body as we move through our scan. We send our mental energy into those body parts—maybe we visualize the energy in those parts or notice where we feel tight or loose. In progressive muscle relaxation, we move through each body part and consciously contract and release the muscles within. By doing so, we focus on each body part—one at a time—which allows us less mental space to overthink and become lost in our thoughts. Using the body as a tool to gain control of our minds might be the most tangible way to practice mindfulness for some.
All in all, the mind and body are incredibly linked in a mindfulness practice—focusing on one will ultimately benefit the other. Think about which approach feels like a more appropriate place to start for you. In a short while, you might see that choosing either approach brings you inner peace and relief from the effects of negative thoughts and emotions.
Balancing poses can be a continuous struggle in our yoga practice. Some of us have attended classes focusing on balance and tried the techniques for achieving better balance, but still feel like this is an area for growth in our practice.
One thing might resonate with you about balance is to follow these steps: clear your mind, find a focal point in the room and breathe.
Clearing the mind is always the hardest part. Standing still without the accompaniment of wandering thoughts can feel like an impossible feat.
However, when the mind takes off on a train to a destination of distractions, you lose the connection to the body. When you lose that connection, you are more likely to ignore the simple adjustments, movements, or shifts that your body is subtly making to throw you off balance, causing you to fall out of the pose.
This principle applies in our lives as well. When our minds are too cluttered to pay attention to the intricacies of the present moment, we lose our ability to stay tuned in-- to notice what is throwing us off balance and disrupting our equilibrium.
Too much of anything isn't good for the soul (work, play, exercise, TV time, food, the list goes on). Life is a balancing act. When it tips too far in one direction, we need to be aware and bring it back by readjusting, inserting, or removing whatever threw us off in the first place.
However, it is difficult to know and understand what adjustments need to be made if we aren't paying attention, if our awareness and our senses are overwhelmed with yesterday's events or tomorrow's to do lists.
So on our mat we practice balance.
Here are three balance poses to integrate into your practice as you work on clearing your mind, focusing on your dristi (gaze) and breathing.
1. Tree Pose
From a comfortable and grounded standing position, rotate the right foot to the side and rest the heel of the foot on your left ankle. You can stay here to begin the practice of balance. If you would like more of a challenge, bring the sole of your right foot to your left calf. Finally, if you want the most challenging variation of the pose, you can bring the right sole of the foot to the left thigh, ensuring it is resting above the knee cap. Once you find the spot most comfortable to you, you have the option of bringing your hands into prayer, reaching them above your head, or out to the side in a 'T.' You can then repeat on the other side.
2. Balancing Table
Coming to all fours on your mat, move into a table top position—ensuring your shoulders are directly above your wrists and hips are directly above your knees. Once you find this comfortable, begin my lifting your back right leg up behind you, forming a straight line from torso to right foot. Flex the right foot and feel free to remain here. If you want more of a challenge, engage your core and lift your left arm up in front of you to challenge your balance further. This often seems less challenging than it is, and it requires many muscle groups to balance effectively. Once you have finished on one side, repeat on the other side.
3. Warrior III
Warrior III is a more advanced balancing pose (for a les advanced version, follow the steps with a chair in front of you for support to assist with balance), but might be the one your body needs to truly put your balance to the test. You can access this pose most comfortably from a warrior I pose. From warrior I, rotate your back foot toward the front of the mat and walk it in a little closer to your front leg. From here, hinge at the hips, allowing the back foot to gently lift off of the mat as you find your balance. Ideally, you want your hips squared off and facing forward and your body in a straight line from your torso to your lifted back toes. Again, you can use whatever arm variation feels most comfortable to you. Then, you can repeat on the other side.
As you grow in your practice, think about balancing poses. Think about how difficult it is for you to clear your mind and just be present. How might practicing balancing poses be helpful on and off the mat? Give thought to the areas of your life that need more balance and how this practice can serve you in clearing your mind enough to notice.
As 2016 draws to a close, many people begin to buckle down with a list of New Year’s resolutions, often in the areas of self-growth, self-care and health.
We all know the January plight far too well, we begin the month with bright eyes and hopeful hearts—convincing ourselves that we will remain true to our resolutions. This will be the year that we put ourselves first and focus on growing in the areas we’ve set out to conquer. Maybe for some of us, it’s being more intentionally grateful in everyday life, for others it’s the conscious effort to integrate more exercise into our routines. We might aim to focus on our personal relationships with others—vowing to call more, send birthday cards or schedule in time for date nights.
Whatever the resolution might be, too many of us lose sight of it by February. We become swept away in our lives again, convince ourselves that everything is okay just the way it is—at least for now. We set a goal that we will pick up our resolution again when things slow down (and they often never do).
The thing about resolutions is that deep down we know the continuation of our plans will benefit us (assuming they are realistic and positive focused), but we lack the self-discipline to see it through.
This is where Tapas comes in. Tapas is the Niyama of yoga that encourages us to practice self-discipline and do something that we might not want to do—but that will ultimately benefit our health. Reflecting on this Niyama encourages us to be mindful of our intentions, to recognize where we can grow to be more moral, healthy and enlightened and then to see those intentions through.
To that end, here are 3 ways that might assist in utilizing the self-discipline that exists within you to continue self-growth after the start of the New Year.
1. Clarify Your Priorities
Part of staying true to a goal is feeling so tied to it that the thought of stopping feels like you might lose a part of yourself in the process. The only way to tether yourself so tightly to your goal is to link it to your personal values, your priorities. Write a list of what you value most in your life. What really matters to you? Then, think about what self-growth areas might support these values, allowing you to become a better version of yourself. Doing this more in-depth exploratory work removes the shallow goal setting we sometimes do on December 28 and instead replaces it with meaningful, intentional, and deeply personal goals that you feel intimately attached to.
2. Work Your New Resolution List into Your Routine
Spend time turning your seemingly lofty resolutions into SMART goals. SMART stands for: Specific, Measureable, Action-oriented, Realistic, and Time-Based. For each goal, run through these steps. If your growth-area is to connect more with your loved ones, your SMART version might look like this: Specific (Call friends and family more often), Measureable (Call each loved one once a week), Action-oriented (Use drive home from work to call one, two or three people every day), Realistic (Maybe only make calls 3 days a week instead of 5), Time-Based (starting January 1 and continuing indefinitely).
Doing this takes something more abstract and makes it concrete. You now have something in place that allows you to take your deeply personal resolution and turn it into an actionable plan.
3. Hold Yourself Accountable
This can happen in any way. You might want to journal about how your resolution is impacting your life, which might make you less likely to abandon it without giving it second thoughts. You could talk about your progress with a friend or significant other—because sometimes sharing our goals and progress with others makes us more accountable and proud. Maybe you reward yourself in some way for every week that you maintain your goals—making this specific to you and that will serve as a reason to keep going. Whatever holds you accountable, build that into your plan. This will again help you maintain your resolutions much longer.
Self-discipline requires practice. But, it is not as difficult as we might think. Following these steps might allow you to make your New Year’s resolutions last all year long (or longer). While self-disiciple is hard, reaping the benefits is far reaching.
Proudly powered by Weebly
Rebecca Dawson, 500 Hour Certified Yoga Alliance Teacher and Therapist (Yoga Therapy experience is not affiliated with Yoga Alliance)
Therapy Certification is through the IAYT (International Association of Yoga Therapists).
Rebecca has a desire to help people who are experiencing pain in any part of their body either due to injuries, neurological disorders or undefined causes. Rebecca has experienced a few injuries which were incurred by accidents. One was a car accidents where she had a compression of the Lumbar spine and the other was a skiing accident where she had dislocated her femur bone. Using yoga techniques and other holistic techniques she is now pain free and would like to help others to lead a pain free life. Rebecca has private classes available upon appointment. First initial consultation will be free and will be a twenty minute phone conference call which will be set up to get acquainted with the client. After that an appointment will be made. Please email email@example.com or call 267 718 6444 for details.