Gratitude is our Superpower

superpower

As I was thinking about the end of 2016 and my personal intention for 2017, Gratitude came to mind. I have struggled this year with some physical issues that are slowly resolving and there have definitely been times along the way that I have not felt all that grateful.  In addition to and partially because of my physical struggles, this year has been one of personal growth for me in several areas. I know that I am not alone. 2016 has been a tough year for many people. Sometimes when we are going through difficult times it is powerful to use gratitude as a way to get perspective; to help us see the many blessings we each have.

As my theme for the week, I shared with my classes that the thought process of being grateful is incredibly powerful. It can transform our perspective…it is truly a Superpower that each of us possess because “Gratitude turns what we have into enough”

I asked my students to channel their own “Gratitude Superpower” on their mats this week and to remind themselves that what they have available to them in their bodies is enough. As we warmed the core and the spine and moved through our opening sun salutes I shared some of the other ways that Gratitude serves as our own individual superpower. If we are able to be grateful for what we can achieve on our mats (and in our lives) then what isn’t possible just doesn’t matter as much. Gratitude helps turn denial into acceptance, chaos into order and confusion into clarity. It provides important insight into our past, helps us find peace and happiness in the present and allows us create a vision for our future. If that isn’t a “Superpower” I can’t think of what is.

Just as our asana practice is just that; a practice, so is channeling our “Gratitude Superpower”. Several times during class, I asked my students to think about gratitude– to find it in whatever version of the pose that was available to them. While the students were in Side Plank , I glanced around the room at all the different interpretations and it was amazing to see each student pick a variation where they could be grateful; and it was “enough”. We used Stargazer (pictured above) as our “gratitude pose” as it is attainable yet powerful; heart opening, spine extending, joyful and freeing.

Off the mat we can channel our “Gratitude Superpower” as well. We can transform ourselves from a place of sadness to a place of joy just by connecting to gratitude. When times become challenging or we experience loss or disappointment, connecting to our inner gratitude helps to offer perspective, perhaps an understanding of why something happened and to even see the blessing that may exist within it.

Back on the mat, we sat together for a final moment of meditation. I again asked each student to connect to their individual “Gratitude Superpower” and  to remind themselves that with this power, they can turn what they have into enough. I then wished them all (as I wish all of you) a Happy New Year and best wishes for a 2017 filled with the Power of Gratitude. Namaste.

 

We have the tools within us to heal and be free

healandbefree

 

Better late yoga than no yoga is something I always say to my students if they worry about being late to class. I am holding to that philosophy as well when it comes to my blog posts (as this post is a few weeks late). Over the last 3 months I have been undergoing treatments to help repair some ligaments in my body that have been damaged over time due to a surgery I had years ago. The process has been quite inspirational because it uses my own white blood cells to heal the damaged areas. This became my inspiration for classes a couple of weeks ago.

Scientists have discovered that our bodies have amazing tools to heal ourselves. When we look at how vaccines work (creating antibodies to fight the disease) and stem cell transplants and immunotherapy treatments for cancer and even the treatment I am doing (PRP–plasma rich platelets) our bodies are truly remarkable. We have equally amazing tools to heal in the mind– to reset, break our negative thought cycles or habits called Samskaras– and free ourselves from emotional injury. Just like the body carries the baggage of past injuries (or surgeries in my case), the mind and spirit carry baggage as well. Our yoga practice both on and off the mat can help us rid ourselves of that baggage and move forward healed.

That was the practice as we took to our mats– to work from a place of healing; to listen to the body and the mind. As we flowed through our Sun Salutes it was an opportunity to begin to practice patience, acceptance and gratitude. We need these elements in order to heal. Then later, we challenged ourselves with balancing and handstands- again patience, acceptance and gratitude are needed.

That has very much been my practice over the last three months, listening, being patient, accepting where I am and finding gratitude in the steady improvements in my body. Just as our bodies have the amazing capacity to heal, these emotional healing properties inside each of us can heal our heart and spirit as well. Firstly we need to be patient as most things worth having take time and effort to achieve. Then we find acceptance for what is available and with that begin to let go of what may not be. From there, we are able to feel grateful for our blessings, for all the good that comes to us.

Physical and emotional healing are no different. They both require patience, acceptance and gratitude. With these tools, both our bodies and our minds can let go of negative baggage and be healed.  When we heal, we are FREE.

I am so grateful to all of my students for their support during my ongoing journey to heal. I am sending love and light to all of you. Namaste.

 

 

Acceptance is one of the keys to happiness

garudasana

Change can be a scary thing. Sometimes we fight it because we are afraid. But there is a freedom that comes with surrendering that fear and finding acceptance. And then, most of the time, what we find on the other end is happiness. My message for my classes this past week was just that. I asked them to think about Surrender as the Intersection between Change and Acceptance.

As we began to flow, I asked my students to practice surrender on their mats.  The first step is to let go of expectation and judgment of ourselves in our bodies. As we continued through our asana practice I kept reminding my students to surrender, to let go. When they encountered an “intersection in their bodies”– a place where they could go different directions– I asked them to surrender judgement and expectation and move from a place of letting go and acceptance.

After  we warmed up with Sun Salutes we spent extra time mobilizing the shoulder blades and creating space in the chest and shoulders. With space comes surrender and freedom. We then moved to a focus on Garudasana (eagle pose: pictured above). At the start of practice we used Eagle pose on our backs as an abdominal warm up and later we transitioned into and out of it from crescent warrior. Finally we held it and used it to further stretch our upper back and posterior shoulders all with the intention of finding surrender and from there….acceptance and happiness. Garuda, though often translated as “eagle,” is actually a mythical bird in the Hindu and Buddhist traditions. As the vehicle of the god Vishnu, Garuda is said to be the king of birds. Free and fighting for good just as we all hope to be.

Both on the mat and off sometimes we hold on very tightly to things, whether it be a specific pose that actually doesn’t serve us or a person, relationship or situation that truly may be doing more harm than good. The realization that surrendering can take us from change to acceptance off the mat as well as on is truly the practice. And once acceptance is found, happiness follows.

We began to slow our practice and made our way into Savasana.  As we sat together in a final moment of meditation, I thanked my students for their focus and commitment to surrender on their mats. I reminded them that both on and off the mat, change is the only constant and to be able to approach the intersections in our life and use surrender to find acceptance is a gift and a skill worth cultivating because acceptance truly is an essential element of happiness. Namaste.

Create the Habit of Happiness

 

habitofhappinessHumans are creatures of habit; both in our cycle of thoughts and our actions. In sanskrit the word for habit is Samskara. This past week I was reminded that our thoughts create our feelings; our perspective on events or moments create the emotions we have inside. We have the power to develop a positive thought process that can create happy feelings or we can take the opposite path of negativity. That choice is something each of us can own for ourselves. We can choose to create the Habit of Happiness. 

This past week I asked my students to cultivate the habit of happiness both on and off their mats.  Just like any other habit, the habit of happiness is created with repetition over time.  Asana is a great way to cultivate a positive practice of repetition. As we began our asana practice with a slow flow I changed it up by adding in some Janu Sirsana A’s, Star Gazers and even flipped Downward Dog (pictured above). These additions to our vinyasa required students to roll off their mats and then roll back on. It is quite amazing how just small changes in the expected routine can create new inspiration and a fresh perspective or create negative emotions by throwing our equilibrium off.

On the mat we cultivate positive Samskaras by building Strength, Flexibility & Balance in the body. The strength gives us power, the flexibility creates resiliency and balance offers steadiness and focus of mind and body.  Equal parts of these three is what allows us to grow the positive Samskaras of our practice on the mat. Off the mat, these three; Strength, Flexibility & Balance; are equally powerful in creating the Habit of Happiness.

It is empowering once we realize that we are largely in control of our own happiness. How we perceive a certain action by someone else (the emotions we have about the action) can completely effect our feelings about the event and the person. Having Strength, Flexibility & Balance in the mind aides us in the practice of giving someone the benefit of the doubt; and therefore positively affects our emotions about the event or person. This practice can help us create the Habit of Happiness.

As we moved mindfully through our final few postures and into Savasana, I asked my students to let go of their bodies and to more deeply cultivate the positive Samskaras in the mind. As we sat together for our final meditation,  I wished for my students to bring the Habit of Happiness with them off the mat. I felt gratitude for both the opportunity to guide them in this practice both on and off the mat and for the reminder that practicing the Habit of Happiness is a Samskara that can never be practiced too much.  Namaste. 

 

 

Be exactly who you are on and off the mat

beyou

I just am wrapping up a two year stint as co-president of the PTA for the school district my children attend. I am looking forward to having more time and space in my mind and in my life; a chance to get back to this blog and to be even more connected to my teaching. I got a beautiful card from my co-president last week; in it she wrote that I should always be myself. Be who I am. That is the most amazing compliment that someone can give– to remind us that being who we are is enough. That we are all we need to be.

So on our mats last week, it was all about us. There was less focus on how the poses looked– I cued alignment from a safety standpoint but minimal direction  other than that. Instead, I asked my students to make the practice their own. I reminded them that what you have on your mat is enough and to be exactly who you are.

We flowed and breathed but mostly we celebrated; celebrated the quieting of the inner critic, celebrated the reminder that our bodies and our practice on the mat are enough and celebrated that who we are off the mat is all we need to be. When we let go of expectations of what we are “supposed” to look like on our mats and instead worked from the inside out  to create what felt right, it fosters acceptance and from there…freedom (like my handstand photo above).

We often get what we need at just the right moment–the universe provides if we are accepting. In this time of transition for me, not just in the season and the schedule but in a shifting of priorities and stepping back from a huge responsibility, I was hearing my inner critic; I was questioning what was next.  Then came the reminder at just the perfect moment to always be myself–that I am enough.

As we began to wind down the Asana practice,  I shared a gentle reminder about what this practice can offer; the lengthening and strengthening  of the body allows us to become stronger and lighter at the same time. Just as acceptance and freedom in the mind can give us that same strength and lightness off the mat.

As we sat in final meditation together, we sat with full acceptance of ourselves. It is truly a gift to live with the belief that being yourself is enough. I was so incredibly thankful for the reminder and I felt lucky to be able to share that gift with my students. As we practice acceptance of who we are both in our practice and beyond, what we find is gratitude for both. Namaste. 

 

 

 

Grow with your Flow

 

 

A friend posted this amazing photo of a tree in “Dancers Pose” and underneath was the caption “Grow with the Flow”. To her it was an ode to Spring which is popping up all around us but that mantra became more to me this past week as I realized the different ways to interpret this powerful message.

As we began on our mats, I asked the students to think of the practice of Yoga as a tree with different branches that grow from a stable, grounded trunk. Those branches represent the many ways we “Grow with our Flow”.  As we began with Bridge pose and Navasana (boat pose), the body began to warm and energy started to flow which allowed the muscles to loosen and lengthen…they were “growing with the flow”. 

We moved from there into our opening Sun Salutations as we have done so many times before and I reminded them to notice the strength or space in their bodies…this comes with the growth of the asana practice over time. As we practice our physical asanas our bodies get stronger and more flexible; we are able to do more…we have “grown with our flow”. 

As we went deeper into our practice and explored binding,  I asked my students to connect to “growing with their flow” in a more challenging way…to practice becoming less attached to the achievement of the physical asana and turn to acceptance instead. I asked them to remember that the real growth comes from being mindful on the journey and surrendering the destination. 

We practiced smoothly transitioning  from Eagle pose into Warrior 3 with Eagle arms and then into Standing split with the arms still wrapped. The practice of smoothly transitioning through points of discomfort…both on the mat and off… is truly “Growing with the Flow”. We then explored Vrksasna (tree pose) and moved from there into Dancers as an ode to my inspiration this week. Cultivating balance through strong roots and flexibility is another powerful way to “grow with the flow”

Someone I have known for a very long time, who is brand new to yoga, asked me recently how Yoga has changed me.  To answer her took some reflection on my part.  Yoga has touched almost every part of who I am as I have “grown with my flow” over the past 15 years.  I  found strength and length in my body of course however, more importantly I have moved from a place of needing to achieve physical poses to a place of gratitude and respect for what my body can do and acceptance of what is not available. I have found the gift of nurturing myself and surrendering judgement (most of the time). I live more mindfully and presently and with more balance and stability on and off my mat. I allow my conscience to guide my actions.  To quote the sage Vasistha; “There is no power on earth greater than the right action in the present moment”.  I have “grown in my flow” by learning that the Journey is the Joy, to Grow is to be Present and to be Present is a precious Gift.

We slowed the practice with gentle back bending and supine spinal twists and from there transitioned into the final  rest. I reminded them again of the many ways we can “Grow with our Flow”. The physical growth of lengthening, strengthening and lightening our bodies is just the surface of the growth and from there we learn how to go deeper, to grow as people. Through mindfulness we can find balance and connect to acceptance and joy within ourselves that we then can share with the world. In order to grow, we need to rest, nurture and restore the mind as well as the body. Being mindful in stillness is when the most powerful growth can happen.

As we came together in a final moment of meditation to close out our practice,  I felt such  gratitude to my students. I thanked them for the opportunity they provide me to “Grow with my Flow” as a teacher each and every day.  Namaste.

 

 

Explore and Happiness is there

happy

This past week I did some personal exploration into what happiness is. First I asked myself; What does it mean to be happy?  What I realized is that we have to be unhappy sometimes to appreciate and feel grateful when we are not. As I explored further I found a few other perspectives on happiness that I wanted to share.

As class began, I shared my personal journey to define happiness. Happy Baby Pose and Cat/Cow warm ups began to cultivate happiness in the body as we searched for it in the mind and heart.

With our opening Sun Salutes I shared a perspective from Mahatma Gandhi; “Happiness is when what you think, what you say, and what you do are in harmony.” This is an incredibly powerful message. If we can create harmony within ourselves then we will find happiness. On our mats there is the opportunity for harmony as well; harmony between the body, the breath and the mind. I tasked them with this practice as we continued to go deeper and explored Parsvokonasana (side angle pose) with a bind.

From there we practiced some balancing poses and played with jumping back and forth from Standing Split to 3 legged Down Dog. I shared another piece of wisdom about happiness from Abraham Lincoln; “Folks are usually about as happy as they make their minds up to be.” Happiness is a choice, sometimes a harder one than at other times but always a choice.

Then we went to the wall to play with Forearm stand and Handstand creating different variations and I shared my last piece of inspiration. I don’t know who wrote this statement but the sentiment could not be more true to describe happiness. “Happiness is a direction, not a destination.” The practice of the journey both on our mats and off is all about just that…the process…the journey…the direction; not the destination. The journey is where we find the joy and joy is happiness. So, as the students played in their inversions at the wall I asked them not to worry about the end game, rather to enjoy the journey to get there; to stay focused on the mindful process and let go of the “destination”; achieving the full pose.

Off the mat, it is the same practice. We can take this same exploration. We can work to have our actions, thoughts and words be in harmony with each other. Sometimes we have that first instinct to react to a situation with maliciousness or dishonesty but we get to choose what our ultimate response will be, we get to choose to keep our thoughts, words and actions in harmony with each other and ultimately choose the happy path. Then once on that path we again get to choose… choose to stay present in the moment, to enjoy the journey and be less invested in the destination.

Back on the mat, the students began the transition into Savasana and I asked them to think about what happiness means to them. Is it about creating harmony by aligning their thoughts, speech and actions off the mat and body, breath and mind on the mat? Is it about making the choice however hard it might be to connect to gratitude and find happiness?  Or is it the reminder that the joy in this life is the journey, not the destination. They didn’t need to choose just one, the only choice I hoped they would make is the choice to be happy. As we sat together for our final meditation, I was so grateful to feel all of the happy energy in the room. Whatever their own personal journeys were, It felt that they were on their paths. Namaste.