Connect to your strength below the surface

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Life is like the ocean. There are calm days and rocky ones and all types in between. When our “ocean conditions” are rough we can get swept up in the turmoil on the surface or we can make the choice to go deeper. Two quotes together inspired my message last week.  “In quietness and calmness is our strength” and “Calm waters run deep”. When we only focus on the surface turmoil, we live a “shallow” life. If we delve deeper we can go where the calmness and strength reside.

On the mat last week, we set the intention to connect to the quiet deep waters regardless of what was happening at the “surface” in our bodies. Suynamaskara A felt like calm familiar seas; safe and comfortable. Then as we swept arms up and down in high lunge and the intensity began to build, we channeled the calm, quiet strength within. No matter what the pose, how challenging, the practice was to connect to the still waters below the surface. We used Star Gazer pose with a flow into Side plank several times to simulate rougher seas as we continued to practice calmness of the breath and mind. When we felt the “surface conditions” begin to penetrate, we took a rest, to again connect to what the true practice was.

On the mat we practice, off the mat we live. Our practice of connecting to the calmer waters within ourselves,       (no matter what we were working on in our bodies) was in preparation to live our Yoga off the mat.  As humans we can expect to spend some time on the surface handling whatever conditions exist but as we practice; it can become easier to access our calm inner strength and to more often live a “deeper” life. The breath can be our guide on and off the mat as it navigates us through the rough seas with a calmness and consistency that can serve us any time. I often find myself exhaling with a hissing sound in my throat (Ujjayi breath) to help me connect to my “deeper” waters. It is a gift to be able to live in a place below the surface sometimes.

Back on the mat, we noticed that sometimes it can be harder to stay in the calm deeper space once the body is at rest. Savasana is the ultimate test of this practice; with nothing to distract us from the deeper mind, can we stay calm and focused? Can we access our inner strength or does the clutter and rough water at the surface prevail? I reminded my students that “Calm waters run deep” and that “In quietness and calmness is our strength”. What we practice on the mat, becomes our life off the mat. We get to make the choice; do we stay at the surface or do we go DEEP. Namaste.

 

 

Learn what the Breath can Teach

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The body can teach us so much. This year of studying anatomy has reinforced that for me more than ever. The physiological process of inhaling and exhaling is actually very enlightening, not just from an anatomical standpoint but from a spiritual one as well.

Very simply, when we INHALE our diaphragm moves down, our ribcage moves up and space is created for the lungs to take in air. The lungs are not muscles, they don’t actually pull the air in, rather when space is created in the cavity, the lungs accept what is being offered. The larger the space (the larger the inhale), the more the lungs can accept. When we translate this out of the body, there is a powerful message; The more open we are in the mind, heart and spirit, the more space we have to receive what the universe is offering.

What is there to be learned from the EXHALE?   When the body exhales, it releases out what it no longer needs, what is not serving it. Again, from a spiritual perspective a lesson is there; We can use the exhale as our  opportunity to surrender and let go of what is not serving us spiritually.

We began practice in seated meditation and visualized the air moving in and filling the lungs (taking in what the universe is offering) and then moving out of the lungs (as we surrendered that which is no longer serving us).  In the opening Sun Salutes each movement connected to an inhale or an exhale. As we moved from Warrior 1, to Half Bound Parsvokonasana and then into Half Moon, we continued our journey into the breath. With each inhale we accepted what the universe was offering in our bodies, in our hearts and spirits as well. With each exhale, we surrendered, released out into the universe what we no longer needed, what was not serving us.

From there we began a series of balancing postures with the intent to appreciate one more aspect of the breath, the concept of BALANCE. Air moves into the lungs when the pressure outside the lungs is greater than the pressure inside and vice versa.  The universe (and the body as a participant in the universe) is striving for balance, to equalize the pressure. So, just as our bodies are constantly working to achieve this balance of pressure, we worked on finding and cultivating balance in our poses. As we interlaced the hands in Warrior 3 and slowly lowered to Standing Split keeping the hands clasped behind our backs as long as our balance would allow, we appreciated all the subtle things that were working together to achieve that balance.

Off the mat, these lessons still apply. I spent quite a bit of time in my breath last week, visualizing the process and using its powers. It’s so amazing and comforting to have it. When I needed to be open to what the universe was offering (or throwing my way as it sometimes felt), I focused more on the inhale. When I needed to let go of something (an action or statement that wasn’t serving me) I embraced the exhale. And when I just felt overwhelmed or out of balance, I connected to the relationship between the two.

As the asana practice began to wind down it was a chance to start the transition of these lessons from the body to a deeper place. I encouraged them to learn what the breath can teach; to be open and accepting of what the universe is offering, to practice letting go of negative or unhelpful energy and to appreciate all the factors that work together to create balance in our lives. As we sat in our final seated meditation, we all inhaled and exhaled together. I felt such gratitude for the gift of the breath and all it can teach us, in our Yoga practice and in our lives.  Namaste

 

Little Moments Build a Joyful Journey

 

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Vacations are like miniature versions of our life journey…there is a beginning, middle and an end…there are some big, wonderful moments along the way and many many small moments. The more PRESENT we are on our journey, the more we get to connect to the joy from not just the big moments, but those small moments as well; the ones happening everyday. These are the moments that make the Journey Joyful.

I traveled to Hawaii last week with my family and it was wonderful.  We experienced  BIG things; the top of a 10,000 foot Volcano, an immense bamboo forest, an 80 foot waterfall, massive breaching whales and all-encompassing sunsets. However, to me, it was the LITTLE moments that made the journey special. I fondly remembered having many of the same experiences on my honeymoon in Hawaii several years ago. I watched my husband cliff-dive into a waterfall pool and my son and daughter boogie board all the way up to the beach together.  Yet, there was another little moment that touched me the most; every time (for which there were many on this trip) a small hand slipped inside my own; the feeling of the fingers of my children curl around my fingers, unrequested, just because they wanted, made this journey so incredibly sweet.

As I taught my classes this week, my message was simple and sweet (just like the feeling of one of my children’s hand inside my own as we walked) Be Present for the Small Moments and create a Joyful Journey. I asked my students to connect to an everyday moment off the mat that made them smile or feel warm in their hearts and to set intention towards having a joyful journey on their mats this week by acknowledging those special, little everyday moments on the mat that offer joy.  I shared that the feeling of my children’s small fingers interlaced with my own still makes me feel warm inside.

On our mats, we began our practice of connecting to those everyday special moments with our first Downward Dog of the day. I asked them to take it in, to connect to the feeling, the sensation as the body prepared for what it knew was to come. We spend so much time in Downward Dog on our mats, entering it and exiting it, using it to transition from one pose to the next that it seemed like the perfect pose to represent our little everyday special moments on our mats. We practiced Warrior 2 with arms behind our backs and when we did stretch the arms out fully in Warrior 2, we could appreciate how wonderful that “ordinary” pose felt, and we smiled. Often we focus on the BIG poses, the challenging arm balances or binds and less on all the small transitions and “ordinary, everyday” poses we do regularly in our practice that give our bodies what they need, that keep us coming back to the mat. Those are the small moments, the ones that provide the everyday joy. And off the mat, the same…often we measure our journey by those “big” moments and we are not as present for the “small, everyday” ones that can provide so much joy.

As we flowed through our Asana practice, we retraced our steps quite a bit; transitioning from Standing Split back to Warrior 3 and then Warrior 1 and from Dancers (pictured above) to Dancers Half Moon and then back to Dancers again. These served as powerful reminders that the journey is not a straight line forward…and sometimes retracing our steps, (as I did many times on my trip) can offer clarity and appreciation for where we have been and all the moments along the way.

Gradually we transitioned into Savasana and I reminded my students again to connect to their everyday moment off the mat, the one they had identified that made them feel joy or warmth or gratitude; perhaps something as subtle as a smile. The practice of being present, of connecting to the everyday joy in our lives is just that, A PRACTICE, one that we can take with us off the mat.

After class, a student came up to me. She said “I just loved that first Downward Dog”.   A smile came to my face, I felt warm inside and I realized that this moment was another one that I didn’t let pass me by. Namaste

 

Breathe in your So and out your Hum

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It’s been a couple of weeks since I have last written. I have been struggling with not only the time and focus but also the desire to write my thoughts.  I write when I have something to say and I have had that less in these recent weeks. However, it feels as if the desire and the voice are returning now and for that I am truly grateful. Last week, my message was simple and focused, (as my mind is attempting to be), and forgiving and accepting of body and self (as I have set my personal intention).

So Hum, very simply…the sound of the inhale (so) and the exhale (hmmm). So Hum in Sanskrit is I AM THAT….I am connected to the energy, greater power, higher consciousness around me. However, I see it having more meanings than that. So Hum can be used as an affirmation; I am That! A proud declaration of who we individually are. Also, when it’s used as a mantra repeated through the practice with each inhale and exhale, it is a statement of acceptance (without judgment) of ourselves… I am that I am that I am.

As we flowed on our mats, I asked everyone to pick an interpretation that served them, and use it as a guide for practice. After inner core warm up and Sun Salutes, we moved deeper through the flow and found Bound Side Angle Pose and Bound Trikonasana (pictured above). On our mats, as in our lives it is truly about the journey, not the destination….how we find ourselves in each pose, not whether the hands meet in the bind. We used straps if necessary to bridge the gap and stayed with our So Hum mantra; whether it represented a spiritual connection to a higher power, an affirmation of all that we are or an acceptance and appreciation of what was available… it was to each individual, their choice. As we danced in Dancing Camel (alternating one arm at a time reaching back to the same side leg), So and Hum were powerfully synchronized and the collective energy was powerful.

Off the mat, I have been battling my own judgment this year; with so many things on my plate but nothing I am ready to give up, I often need So Hum in all its forms to ground me. I have surrendered this year to the universe knowing things will be crazy until June when many of my commitments end, I have cheered myself on when I feel success in the juggling and I have found acceptance (without judgment…mostly) when I can’t do it all (like finding time and space to write this blog).

At the end of class, I watched my students release So Hum in the breath and come into stillness. I asked them to continue to connect to these Mantras in the mind. The breath is a simple yet powerful tool, it can calm the body and the mind. The inhale So and exhale Hum can connect us to a greater consciousness, it can be an affirmation of how amazing each of us are and it can cultivate acceptance of all that we are. As I again called to So Hum in my own mind as I have so often recently, it was there as it always is…this amazing gift comes with each of us wherever we go, and we all have the power to connect to it. Such gratitude. Namaste.

 

Channel your Power of One

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Last weekend I was reading the children’s book One, by Kathryn Otoshi to my Son. The book tells the story of the color Blue…Blue is shy and the color Red begins to pick on Blue. Blue begins to feel…well blue. The other colors in the book are nice to Blue but will not stand up to Red and inevitably Red begins to pick on them as well. At that point, the number 1 shows up and stands up to Red. Then all the colors feel empowered and stand up to Red and become numbers themselves…the moral of the story being Everyone Counts.

I saw another message in the book…the power of 1; one person, one action can positively effect many. This became my inspiration for last week’s classes.

As we began seated I asked my students to connect to their power of 1, to remind themselves of the incredible power they have on the mat to connect to what they need in their bodies and off the mat to make others feel happy…or not so happy. We have the power and the choice. And making that choice starts with ourselves. When we cultivate joy and happiness with who we are, then our power of 1 can be turned outward and used for good.

We began practice seated and then lifted our legs and balanced on our Sit bones in Navasana (boat pose) to warm up the abdominals before moving into our Sun Salutations. As we flowed several times right from Downward Dog into reverse warrior and from there into Half Moon, we began to connect to the individual power in our bodies. From there we added bound Parsvokonasana to our flow and later we went deeper into the power in our bodies and hearts as we lifted the front leg (bound or not) into a balancing pose at the top of the mat (pictured above).

As we moved from there into Prasarita Padottanasana and runners lunge we could feel the ripple effect of all we had done up to that point. The heat that was building was releasing Tapas (clutter) from the body and allowing us to connect to happiness and acceptance in our hearts. Just like in the book; the actions we take have a ripple effect. On the mat, when we practice mindfulness and acceptance in our bodies, we find space, strength and flexibility; and off the mat, if we empower someone and make them feel strong and worthy…then they in turn have the power to do the same to others. Our good deeds can effect many.

We began to slow down our practice with Pigeon, Janu Sirsasana, back bending and supine twisting  and from there, Savasana. As I walked around and gave final adjustments, I again connected to the Power of 1; the chance that each of us have to cultivate happiness within ourselves and put that out into the world is powerful. I felt hopeful at the ripple effects that could ensue and truly grateful for the chance to try. Namaste.

 

 

Be Resolute on your mat and in your life

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I find myself conflicted on the principle of New Years Resolutions. I believe that the journey of  self exploration and growth is gradual and continual and  when we resolve ourselves to something…it has to come from within our hearts…not because the calendar tells us to. However, I do respect that these times  allow us to ask the question, to probe deeper within and connect with what we are we would like to be resolute about. So, as I stumbled on the definition of Resolute as Admirably Purposeful, I knew what my message for the week was.

As I taught my class yesterday, New Years Eve day, I asked my students to be just that on their mats; Resolute; admirably purposeful. It is such a powerful description of what we have the chance to do every time we step on our mats. I carefully explained that being admirably purposeful on the mat does NOT mean doing the most, pushing past an edge, rather instead it meant making the conscious, purposeful choice to accept what served the body best in that moment and let go of what did not…now that is admirable.

We began practice on our backs in Supta Baddha Konasana with one hand on our belly and one on the heart to connect to what we felt resolute about. From there we moved on to core warmup and cat/cow stretches to find ourselves standing at the top of our mats ready for Sun Salutes. I asked them to connect to something, off the mat, that they were proudly resolute about; where they felt admirably purposeful; not something they would like to change, but something they were already resolute about.

After Sun Salutations, we flowed through a  deep twisting practice as we came back to Pavritta Parsovokanasana several times both dropping the back knee and with knee lifted, bound and not… in order to cleanse and purify the body. I reminded them that resting when they needed was very admirably purposeful; in other words Mindful. We moved from there into stretching the hamstrings in Parsvottonasana and Standing split before lifting the heart and opening in Half Moon pose. Once we were ready we moved into “Baby Hopper” pose (A version of Grasshopper; pictured above) the mindfulness was deeply present in the room and each student went to the place that served them in an admirably purposeful way.

Off the mat, the same principle applies..instead of just pushing ahead, checking things off our proverbial to-do list, we always have the opportunity to be mindful, admirably purposeful, in our decisions and how we live our lives..every day, every year. And, the second when the year switches from one to the next is a profound moment because it asks us to be present and mindful. As we practice on the mat, so becomes the practice off the mat.

We finished practice with hip opening and three deep backbends before settling into Savasana. I felt such as sense of pride in my students as they had all been truly mindful, resolute, admirably purposeful in their practice. I reminded them that again they had the choice, the gift, to translate that resolute-ness off the mat; to be admirably purposeful in their lives each day, each year. As we came to seated and finished with a quiet moment, I asked my students again to connect to the gratitude for that which they already have an admirably purpose for in their lives.

And later that evening, as the moment came to usher in the New Year with 20 close friends and all of our children, I took in that moment. I reminded myself of my ongoing intention to live in an admirably purposeful way, in 2015 and beyond. This is my life’s journey and I truly appreciated the chance to be reminded. I felt Gratitude for all that I already connect to in an admirably purposeful way and incredible Hope for more to come.  I wish for a Happy and Healthy New Year to all. Namaste.

Let your worries be “Up in the Air”

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The holiday season finds us all a bit on edge I imagine. I know it finds me that way. So last week, when I was asked my suggestions for staying calm during this time, I took a step back and embraced the frenzy in order to find inspiration. What I realized was that life was feeling very “Up in the Air”…unsettled, stressful and the opposite of calm.

However, as I thought more deeply about those words…”Up in the Air” a glimmer of inspiration came to me. “Up in the Air” doesn’t have to represent stress and anxiety. In fact, it can be just the opposite.  “Up in the Air” can mean just that… SURRENDERING our concerns about things that are out of our control…up in the air (up into the universe). Whether it’s the weather or a hectic holiday schedule, letting go of some of it creates Space to Embrace the Change that we can affect. 

So, as we went to our mats this week, we used our Asana practice to help us focus on the freedom to allow things to be “Up in the Air”. We began seated, with Alternate Nostril Breathing (a technique using the thumb and 4th finger to alternate closing one nostril while inhaling through the other, then closing off the “inhale” nostril and exhaling through the other) to begin to settle the mind and start to release thoughts”Up in the Air”.

As we proceeded through several rounds, this powerful Pranayama technique began to restore imbalances in the brain and calm the nervous system. I asked my students to identify thoughts that were entering their minds, to acknowledge them and then to let them pass by or “up” as the case may be; to perhaps surrender the thought and put it out there for the universe to work out… send it “Up in the Air”.

From here we began to warm the body using the core and moving through Suynamaskara A & B (Sun Salutations).  We used heart opening poses as a constant reminder to release and surrender; first in High Crescent Warrior adding a small back bend with elbows bent and gaze to the sky and then flowing through Side Plank into “Rockstar” (a.k.a flipped Downward Dog).

From there we transitioned to our Balancing series of Uttitha Hasta Padangustasana into Half Moon and from there, Standing Split. Balancing truly asks us to surrender up what is not serving us. We tend to find our deepest judgment of ourselves when we are working through balancing postures.

Often we can’t control or change limitations in our bodies and yet sometimes we can. When we take the opportunity to determine what we can’t change and therefore need to let go “Up in the Air” and what we can change or improve; like the chance to skip something, or modify it to suit us…therein lies the practice. When we let go of what we can’t control we have Space to Embrace the Change that we can affect.

off the mat, this practice can also serve us. Last week, as I was leaving to teach my class, my car wouldn’t start. As I waved goodbye to my husband (who gave me a much-needed ride to class) I let the thought of my stranded car move “Up in the air”. I surrendered it to the Universe for the time being. We have that opportunity with us all the time, the chance to focus, to breath and to surrender “Up in the air” that which we cannot control.  It frees us up to channel our energy into positive change.

Back on the mat, we spent a long time releasing out the hips in Pigeon pose and Gomukasana and I asked my students again to acknowledge the thoughts as they inevitably came to the mind, and then to surrender to the Universe what didn’t serve them in that moment. We finished our practice with Headstand. Headstand (and any inversion) gives us the chance to do just that…turn things on their head. It gives us a new perspective, another chance to let thoughts move “Up in the Air”.

It was time for the body to rest in Savasana, but again I reminded my students that their work was not done. The practice of surrendering “Up in the Air” what was out of their control was still there for them in the stillness. I looked around the room and felt sincere gratitude for the opportunity to guide them in their practice on the mat and help them to transition that practice off the mat as well. And after class, as I waited for Triple A to come jump-start my car, I felt lighter and freer.  My worries were Up in the Air, I had Space to Embrace and it felt GREAT. Namaste.