Live your Pura Vida

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Two weeks ago I traveled to Costa Rica for the second time. I felt so blessed to be back in a country I fell in love with 12 months ago and I found a deeper appreciation not only for the natural beauty of the country but the wisdom and internal beauty of the people who live there.

There is a mantra that permeates the daily life of the Costa Rican people, Pura Vida. The direct translation in English is Pure Life but the essence of the saying is a reminder to live life truthfully, authentically, and be happy for what you have. They use this saying pervasively…it means hello, goodbye, thank you and your welcome and works as a constant reminder each day to be full of life, to find gratitude and to enjoy what each day brings.

This was my inspiration for my classes last week. As we began in Childs pose on the mat, I asked my students to begin their journey inside, to connect inward to the mantra, Pura Vida. As we started Cat/Cows and moved into Sun Salutations  all I asked was that they practice from their truth. I always teach my classes with offerings to do less or do more based on what works for each student, but this week was truly multiple choice yoga.  I offered many variations so students could practice creating the yoga practice that allowed them Pura Vida .

We slowly crafted our Asana practice, building and growing from a place inside us. It was an honor to watch all levels of students stop along the way and move mindfully as they tapped into Pura Vida for themselves. Some students stayed in Malasana (squat) while others worked in Bakasana (Crow pose) and even a few tried  Eka Pada Bakasana (one leg extended). However,  each student was where they needed to be to connect to Pura Vida and that energy could be felt the room.

Later as we moved into half Hanumanasana for the 5th time, some students chose to explore full Hanumanasana (pictured above) while others did not. There was no sense of judgment of themselves or others. It was a true expression of Pura Vida.

What we practice on the mat, in this case living from our truth;  from the inside (what is in our hearts) out instead of letting the outside world dictate;  comes with us off the mat. On one of our excursions our tour guide was providing information about the agriculture in Costa Rica and he shared a story that captured the essence of Pura Vida off the mat. He explained that for many years it has been known that Costa Rica produces the best coffee beans and therefore the best coffee. The Costa Rican people feel very comfortable with this truth; so much so that even though in recent years Nicaragua (their neighbor) has claimed that THEY have the best coffee, Costa Ricans do not feel the need to argue. He said, it’s okay, Let Nicaragua believe that, it’s not hurting anyone and we know the truth. They are comfortable enough with their truth that they are not concerned about what Nicaragua says. Pura Vida…living authentically from the inside; not worrying so much what the outside world says. What an amazing practice.

I repeated the mantra Pura Vida often through my classes last week, just as the Costa Rican people do. And just as it is for them, it served as a reminder to my students and myself to love this life, to cherish it and be grateful. On this trip I was reminded that I get to live my true authentic life every day when I get on my mat to practice or teach and what an incredible blessing that is.  I got the chance to further explore a magnificent country, the beautiful people who live there, and myself. Now, that is Pura Vida. Namaste.

 

Clear your Mind of Fullness and be Mindful

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Summer is supposed to be carefree, fun and include a lot of lounging in the sun but that has not been my summer journey so far. One day last week I caught myself just as I was about to squeeze hand cream on my toothbrush. I stopped (thankfully), took a deep breath and realized My Mind was Too Full to be Mindful.

I took to my mat and moved through breath and Asana to clear some of the clutter. And as I prepared for my classes, my inspiration was very clear. Fullness in the Mind can take away our Mindfulness.

So Mindfulness is what we practiced on our mats. We began on our backs being mindful of the spine with Bridge pose and spinal twisting. Then we warmed up the abdominals slowly using the breath to keep our minds focused on the movements. Moving slowly through them allowed us to feel the strengthening more deeply, more intentionally.

As we began our familiar Sun Salutes, the chance was there to clear the mind a bit. Our bodies knew what was next and the Mind could rest. The physical movements in the opening sequences started to relieve some of the Fullness we store in the body as well. We opened the shoulders with arms clasped behind us and then used Dolphin pose to go deeper, as much of our stress and “Fullness” lives there. We began to work through the hamstrings with Parsvottonasana and Warrior 1 and 2 began to release “Fullness” from the thighs and gluts.

As the body began to release it’s “Fullness” then it became the Minds turn. Moving from Vrksasana (Tree) to Dancers pose asks quite a bit of the mind, to stay clear and focused as the body transitions.  When being truly mindful, often we need to slow down, create an intention as we move from one pose to the next. When we rush, sometimes we miss key steps in an effort to quickly  get to the “end”; like falling into a Standing Split from Warrior 3 instead of gracefully moving there.

Off the mat it is the same; the “end” for me was brushing my teeth but I almost missed a pretty key step that would have changed the result quite dramatically. Sometimes when our minds are so full we forget the destination completely;  we walk into a room with a purpose and then can’t remember why we came there to begin with… Our Minds are Too Full to be Mindful.

As I prepare my family for a much-needed summer vacation which will hopefully include some carefree sun worship and beautiful ocean water, I keep drawing myself back to a Mindful place. It is a constant practice to steady the mind with all the thoughts we have in our complicated lives. It  is also an opportunity and a gift to cultivate the practice of Mindfulness; To stop, take a breath, slow down and create an intention for what is next.

As I watched my students Mindfully create a Savasana that was restorative for them and lie still, lighter and freer of ” Fullness” than when they started on their mats,  it again became very clear to me that  With Intentional Moves On and Off the Mat the Fullness in the Mind will Subside and Mindfulness will Preside. Namaste

 

Grant Yourself the Gratitude

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last week I had a moment where I realized that I had taken something for GRANTED that I literally could NOT imagine living without. It wasn’t intentional but it happened just the same. It is human nature to not always appreciate things until they are gone or changed in some way so I asked my students to connect to their gratitude last week on their mats.

We can spend our energy focusing on what isn’t available, what could be better…or we can use  our energy to cultivate a place of gratitude for all that is available on our mats and off. As we moved through our familiar Sun Salutations, I reminded the students that while it is easy to assume that a Downward Dog or a Chaturanga will always be available, that appreciating them each time in some small way helps remind us not to take these small but important movements for granted.

Then later as we explored more challenging transitions such as Cresent Warrior into Pashasana, we could find joy and appreciation for what was available…not take it for granted…. and also let go of judgment for what wasn’t.

It’s like the breath; We take for granted we will wake up each day and breathe. Yet, when we put our mind to our intentional breath and connect to each breath, it feels different…truer and deeper and we find gratitude. Like with the breath, it is impossible to be thankful for everything all the time, but practicing gratitude on our mats helps us Grant ourselves that Gratitude off the mat as well.

The things and people we hold most dearly are sometimes the things we pay the least mind to. Just like the breath, we take for granted that they will always be there for us. They are fixtures in our lives…until they aren’t in the same way. We can learn these lessons through loss or through gratitude. I choose Gratitude. Namaste.

On your Journey is the Joy

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I found my inspiration last week in a small package…my six year old Son. He was struggling with kindergarten ending and camp starting. All of those changes; transitions were a lot for him. I realized that the milestones…the big moments….like the last day of Kindergarten; are only important because of all the days leading up to it. In other words; the journey to get there. Just like on the mat, we may achieve a new edge but all the days of practice to get there is where the Joy comes from.

So I asked my students last week to practice living in the Joy of the Journey on their mats. We reminded ourselves as we carefully crafted an Asana sequence that it wasn’t about the final pose, instead it is about mindfully and presently enjoying the whole journey. The practice was in the graceful transition from pose to pose, that is where the Joy lives.

We practiced moving back and forth between poses…from Parsvokanasana to Trikonasana to keep reminding ourselves that it was the transition…not the end pose that offered the gifts.  As we moved from Warrior Three mindfully into Tree pose, I asked my students to breathe and smile and enjoy the graceful transition.  See,  once we let go of the destination, then it allowed us to be more free to enjoy the Journey to get there.

As I worked with my Son to find some comfort and grace (as graceful as a 6 year gets) in his transition, I began to connect with some of my own. With the new puppy and some other added responsibilities I have been finding it more challenging to breathe through my own transitions off the mat. I pledged to myself last week to find my breath and set my intention towards  graceful transitions without as much focus on the destination. I reminded myself that even though there is always more on that To-Do List and always another Pose on the mat we are all blessed to wake up each day with breath in our lungs and love in our hearts. That is the Journey and that is the Joy. Namaste.

 

 

 

 

It’s your Attitude, Not your Aptitude that determines your Altitude

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As I have mentioned, we recently adopted a puppy. I was anxious and fearful leading up to her arrival and began to feel relief once she actually came.  Now, a few weeks into the journey,  I have been inspired by all that I have already gotten back from the experience. What you put in is what you get out as the saying goes.  I found this beautiful quote that partnered with this theme. “It’s your Attitude, not your Aptitude that determines your Altitude”  That became my inspiration for my classes last week.

I paired these together because there is an assumption that putting in the maximum all the time is going to get you the maximum return, not the case on our mats…or off for that matter. Rather, the inspiration comes both by committing (being in the moment) and by being true to what we need to receive and give that out.

As we began our practice last week, I asked my students to connect to what they wanted to get out of their practice that day. Perhaps they needed to be compassionate to their bodies and they would get that compassion back. By reminding themselves that it’s their attitude (perspective) not their aptitude (what poses they performed) that would offer them altitude (lightness and flight) on and off the mat, we set our Intention.

From Sun Salutations we moved into Parsvokonasana (Side Angle pose) and then Trikonasana (Triangle pose) and I asked them to draw the belly in and get taller..find their altitude;  not sink into the hips but instead cultivate lightness and space in the spine.

We also used the Bandhas to explore this idea of “What we put into our practice is what we will get out”. Both Mula Bandha (Pelvic floor) and  Uddiyana bandha (Abdominals) can add a deepness and lightness to the physical practice. We practiced Bakasana (Crow Pose) once without Uddiyana Bandha (nicknamed the flying bandha)  and then with the Bandhas engaged and we found our Altitude.

In Lizard we moved to Eka Pada Koundinyasana (arm balance) and then even tried to fly back to Chaturanga. This practice was about letting the Attitude lead us, not getting caught up in the Aptitude of it all, and then who knew…perhaps we would find Altitude.

As we slowed the practice with a long pigeon pose I came back to my puppy…the inspiration for the week. I shared that my daughter had to learn the same lesson we were practicing. In the first days with our puppy, my daughter was upset because she couldn’t understand why the puppy didn’t automatically love her. I explained that she needed to put the work in, to show our new family member that she loved her…not once for five minutes…but over time. And I assured her that if she was patient and loving and consistent, that she would get all of that back from this little furry creature. In Pigeon pose we offer the same to our hips, by showing them that we love them, patiently over time, we get that love back in the long run. We find lightness and altitude…we can fly.

That is what a Yoga practice teaches as well.  If we are patient and compassionate and loving of our bodies and ourselves, we will get all of that back in return. Our Attitude will dictate our Happiness, our Lightness and our Altitude way more than our Aptitude ever will. Namaste.

 

Find your Perspective and you will “Catch your Breath”

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It has been a very busy couple of weeks and not coincidentally its been that much time  since my last post. My messages over the past few weeks have been woven from a common thread; the impending and actual arrival of Dixie, our 13 week old lab puppy pictured above.

Leading up to her arrival, my message was “When you change the way you look at things, the things you are looking at change.”   I found myself  focusing  on all of the negatives  a 13 week old rescue puppy would bring and then she became just that, a very negative proposition. I used the practice to begin to connect with the positives as well  and at times I was able to see what a nice addition to our family she could be.  “When you change the way you look at things, the things you are looking at change”

Since she arrived last Saturday my mantra has been “Catch your breath“. That term is interesting because of its dual meanings. I have written about this before but this time I have been connecting to both meanings and how they work together. Sometimes we need to “Catch our Breath” in the slow down, step back, get perspective kind of way. And sometimes we get the chance to really “Catch our Breath” in another way…to truly own, and internalize our breath on the mat; to connect it to the movement and let the magic happen.

So that is what is what we did this past week on our mats. We stopped, backed off and rested when we needed to “Catch our Breath”  and we also embraced and owned our breath and “Caught it” as we flowed. Both allowed us to get perspective and with that, be Present in the Moment.

We used the count of three to equalize our inhale and exhale…breathe in for 3 counts and exhale out the same 3 counts as we moved slowly through the opening Sun Salutes. As we picked up the pace, we quickened the count but we were still Catching and H0lding onto our Breath. Flowing through a complicated transition from Warrior 3 right into Revolved Half Moon and then into Side Plank we had to be in the moment to Keep,  Own….. “Catch” the breath.

We rescued Dixie (our puppy) with the help of the  Labs4Rescue organization and last Saturday, as we stood in a parking lot and watched an 18 wheeler with 60 rescued dogs pull in I started to “Catch My Breath”.  And as Gregg, the driver from Rescue Road Trips, placed our puppy in my daughter’s arms, What I was looking at began to change in front of me;  I could fully  see all the good in what we were doing and this puppy became a blessing.

This past week has been a journey. I have spent more time in my yard in the last 7 days than in the two years prior.  I have had to slow down, so I took it as a chance to also step back and  take in my surroundings. I sat in the grass and looked up at the tops of the trees and I listened to the birds calling as they flew from tree to tree.  And As Dixie lay sleeping in my lap, I was reminded that things worth having are hard and sacrifice leads to satisfaction.

I found myself able to “Catch my Breath” by slowing down and being Present and I had “Changed the Way I looked at Something”… and boy Did What I was Looking at Change. Namaste

 

 

 

 

Bloom where you are Planted

bloomwhereplanted

This winter was a challenge here on the East Coast. I found myself getting angry and frustrated quite easily. Once Spring came, my mood lightened and I had very high expectations for a glorious, warm, sunny season. Unfortunately, for the last 6 weeks or so, that had not been the case.

Finally, there was  a warm weekend day and I decided to go for a run. As soon as I started down the hill from my house, the sky opened up and began to rain. I kept running, after reminding myself I wouldn’t melt, but Mother Nature had other plans. The thunder and lightning came in with force and I grudgingly surrendered to her and began to head back up the large hill I had just ran down.

Again, I found myself getting angry and frustrated, but just at that moment a friend was driving by and pulled over to ask if my soaking wet self needed a ride home. After I declined and kept up the hill, two more friends stopped and asked the same. I realized that every place has its limitations but there were some great things about this place too. True happiness comes from “Blooming where you are Planted”… this great Spring metaphor became my inspiration for last weeks classes.

“Blooming where we were Planted” on our mats is what we practiced. The Sun Salutations helped us establish where we were planted that day in our bodies; it was our opportunity to set up the foundation for our practice, by warming up the body and quieting the mind. The repetitive nature also allowed us to connect to the breath and begin the Blooming process.

We challenged ourselves throughout the practice to establish roots and bloom from there, whether binding in  Parsvokonasasna while keeping the heart lifted or exploring  Revolved Dancer’s Pose….there was always the opportunity to Bloom.

We used the breath to guide us as to whether we were enduring or truly blooming in each pose. Just like flowers and trees need oxygen to grow, On our mats, we need to breathe our intentional breathe and connect it to the movement in order for the body and the mind to flourish and bloom.

I asked my students to ground strongly into their standing leg as they crafted tree pose (Vrksasana). Then, once we established where we were planted, we lifted the arms to sprout our branches.  We then moved the arms slowly from side to side to allow the branches to “blow in the breeze”, to truly “Bloom where we were Planted”.

Off the mat, the opportunity also exists to “Bloom where we are Planted”. In the mind, we bloom when we let go of judgment and expectation. We all have seen plants and trees that grow under the most unlikely or unfavorable conditions; perhaps the flowers that sprout up through concrete or trees that grow in between high-rise buildings. Those flowers and trees have a lesson to teach. There is always the opportunity to bloom wherever we are planted; even if the growing conditions are not ideal. 

As we slowed our practice by rolling from our bellies onto our backs, I again reminded my students that the opportunity was there to “Bloom where they were planted” off the mat as well as on.

As humans, we spend so much time agonizing over and trying to fix what may not be going perfectly right in our lives….trying to create the ideal growing conditions. For Savasana, I asked them to instead  focus on something that is going really amazingly, wonderfully, right in their lives; something that Is Blooming as opposed to what is not.

As I watched them settle into their rest, I let go of the anger and frustration at Mother Nature.  I then began to feel Gratitude. Gratitude for the strong roots that I have grown and gratitude for the gift my family and I have to “Bloom where we are Planted” no matter what the growing conditions. Namaste.