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Find Your Balance
Music To Move You
Find YOUR Summer Body
Mindful Cooking: Enjoy Your Time in the Kitchen
Taking Yoga off the Mat

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meditation

Find Your Balance

Summer is coming to a close. Kids are headed back to school. Vacation vibes are finished for now.  While the change of seasons always brings excitement, if also brings a bit of frantic energy to the air.  We are often running around, filling the schedule to the brim, and feeling drained a few weeks in.  It’s hard to strike a balance. How can we find peace when life gets hectic? Maybe it’s not about changing up the schedule to find moments to relax, but about finding ways to relax in each moment along the way.

The Yoga Sutras suggest that we should have an “alertness without tension and a relaxation without heaviness.”  Easier said than done! We are constantly walking a fine line between overworking and under-working, active energy and passive energy, alertness and relaxation.  BUT it is possible to find a balance. Here are some things you can do anywhere, anytime to stay centered.

Breathe
When a challenging moment arises we go into fight or flight mode. The sympathetic nervous system kicks in. Our heart rate increases. Our blood pressure goes up. We experience stress in our body and mind.  Deep abdominal breathing helps up tap in to the parasympathetic nervous system., allowing the body to go into a “rest and digest” state of being.  The good news is that your breath is easily accessible! It is flowing all day, every day. So next time you feel yourself fly into a state of tension try closing your eyes and taking 3 to 5 full, deep breaths. Feel the change.

Try a Mantra
Whether you are feeling sluggish or tense a mantra can be a useful tool in shaping your outlook on the day.  It can be one word or one sentence.  When you feel yourself teetering off your center, try repeating your manta a few times, either in your head of out loud.  They work great for kids too. I recently used this one for my 3 year old and myself: “I accept my feelings today, good or bad, just as they are.  They are perfect.” A few others that I find helpful are:
“I am strong, stable, and at peace”
“I am thankful.”
“My words are seeds.”
"Breathe in peace. Breathe out tension."

Practice Non-Attachment
When your to-do list is long and you feel your mind racing to keep up, try practicing non-attachment to guide you back to a place of peace.  Allow thoughts to flow without latching on to them or judging them. Positive thoughts AND negative thoughts can make us feel overwhelmed. Realizing that our thoughts do not make us who we are is liberating.  We have the power to let go. Try to detach by staying connected to the present moment. Look around you. Notice your physical surroundings.  Concentrate on your breath. Say your mantra.  Do some yoga! Non-attachment does not come easily, so practicing it just as you would with any other skill, sport, or artistic pursuit is necessary. With time it will come easy.

Happy fall! And happy balancing! :)

Music To Move You

Music and movement are undoubtedly intertwined. Studies have shown songs choices can make us move faster, work harder, and distract us from discomfort while exercising. One study even revealed that music can activate parts of the brain related to movement even in persons who are completely still. So why not use music as a tool, not to distract or push beyond natural limits, but to support your yoga practice moment by moment?  When choosing music for my personal yoga practice and classes I let the asana guide the soundtrack, not the other way around.

I want to provide music that will move yogis on a physical and emotional level, not distract them from what is happening on the mat. I try to choose songs that are ambient and soothing and suit each moment of class...Slow indulgent tunes for the warm up. Peppy, rhythmic songs for the work phase, and rich, cathartic sounds for the deeper more restorative poses. I want the music to support the asana from moment to moment. When you need a burst of energy the music is there to fill your body. When you are ready to open the emotional flood gates the music will give you permission to do so.

All this being said, taste in music is obviously a very personal choice. I can't please everyone all the time...But mixing the soundtrack with different sounds, genres, styles makes for an eclectic flow that is sure to please someone at some point (I hope). Opening with a more traditional Sanskrit chant and then sneaking in some Adele later on is not uncommon practice for me.

Practice yoga at home? Need some musical inspiration? Below is a sample playlist from a recent class. Enjoy with joy. :)

Warm up-
Stoned on Shiva by Steve Gold
A Path with a Heart by TJ Rehmi   
Gooey by Glass Animals

Work-
Soak It Up by Houses
Holiday by The Hip Abduction
Send my Love by Adele
Soul Miner by Tommy Guerrero
Sitar lights by Dj Drez
Sita Ram by Madi Das

Restore-
Let it Go by James Bay
Bell Service by Feist and Grizzly Bear
There is a Light by Steve Gold

Mindful Cooking: Enjoy Your Time in the Kitchen

Sometimes it seems impossible to drum up the time and energy needed to cook a healthy meal. And what happens to dinner when mommy (or daddy) has had a long day?  In our house, we usually end up ordering a less than nourishing take-out dinner. What if there was a way to embrace cooking, even on the challenging days, and actually find contentment in it?  Recently someone at in my mom's group mentioned Mindful Cooking. My ears perked up! I am a big advocate of mindful eating, so why I had I not thought to bring mindfulness to the kitchen as I prepared the food? As I started to read up on it I realized I already was practicing mindful cooking in many ways.

Mindfulness in its self is the state of being aware and present in the given moment. It is in those moments, when we allow ourselves to let go of that constant babble in the mind, we can find true contentment. “Be here now.” I often repeat this mantra to yoga practitioners when I am teaching. It’s easier said than done, but those moments of mental stillness can help us slow down and appreciate what is right before us. 

The kitchen is the perfect place to practice mindfulness. There are so many opportunities to keep the mind actively engaged in the here and now. By tuning in to the smell of the food, the heat of the oven, the sounds of chopping, and the sight of our creations we can learn to enjoy the experience of cooking. Instead of feeling burdened by a meal, one can actually find it therapeutic and relaxing!

Try these simple exercises in the kitchen.
*Before you get started on any of the exercises below, put all screens and electronic devices out sight. ;)

Express Gratitude:
This one works well if you have a lot of prep involved in your meal. With each ingredient whether you are chopping, seasoning, mixing, try to visuals and acknowledge the origin of that food. Did it grow from the ground? Or in a tree? Did it walk or swim? Breathe? When we see our food as having an existence other than on our plate we can truly appreciate it. Take a moment to express gratitude for the nourishment that each food will provide.

Use Your Senses:
If you are cooking something on the stove or in the oven take a few minutes to sit quietly nearby. Experience the fragrances, sounds, and sights of your food as it cooks. Notice the subtle changes in the room. Notice how those changes affect your body.
If your mind starts to wander off, gently bring it back to your cooking meal without criticism or stress. Allow yourself to appreciate the sensations that the impending meal drums up in your body and mind.

Infuse With Love:
Have you ever noticed that a home cooked meal prepared by a loved one just tastes better? Your mom’s Thanksgiving stuffing?  Or your grandfather's apple pie? It’s almost as if you can taste the love. Many people believe that food can take on the energy of the person preparing it and then be passed along to those who consume it. Next time you are cooking for your family acknowledge how each food will nourish those you love the most in the world. If you want to take it further, create a mantra to go along with it… “I am cooking with love.”

If you are interested in learning more about Mindful Cooking, read "The Mindful Cook: Finding Awareness, Simplicity, and Freedom in the Kitchen"  by Isaac Cronin.

Taking Yoga off the Mat

In my classes I often invite practitioners to take their yoga off the mat. I have had a love/hate relationship with yoga over the years…There was a time when the practice was solely about making shapes in space, strengthening the muscles, and blowing off steam. I was practicing for the physical benefits. After a while I started taking my yoga off the mat and noticed more profound changes in my mental well-being. Calm on the mat doesn't necessarily translate to calm off the mat. Here are 3 ways I try to in operate yoga into my daily life.

Breath Work
Challenging moments happen to all of us…from the mundane (the kids are screaming, you butt heads with a work colleague, someone cuts you off on the road), to the profound (you lose a loved one, you are dealing with illness, a difficult life decision presents itself). Deep breathing is a powerful tool that can help decrease stress in any situation. By using deep diaphragmatic breathing we stimulate our vagus nerve, which helps our body to relax and avoid feelings of fight or flight in stressful situations. Try it the next time you are feeling stressed. At first it might feel a bit forced, but after a while it will become a natural way to self soothe.

Practice Non-Attachment
Have you felt as if your thoughts would consume you? That you were missing out on the present moment by focusing on fears or worries in your own mind? This kind of thinking often does one a disservice. When I feel this happening to me I try to practice non attachment. I allow negative or stressful thoughts float into my mind just as easily as they floated in. A good way to detach from these thoughts is remind yourself to live in the present. Meditation techniques such as reminding yourself to breathe or using a mantra can help. “Be here now.” is one of my favorites. With practice, non-attachment will feel like second nature.

Namaste
Namaste stays it all: “The Divine light in me bows to the Divine light in you.”
It has taken many years to discover the weight of namaste, but I must say that understanding it greatly increases my ability to connect with others and find happiness in my relationships daily. In every person I meet I try to recognize that they have a Divine light. Each person has an experience as vivid and complex as my own. So whether it is the guy bagging my groceries or my own daughter, I try to treat them as if I was living their reality. Maybe it’s God? Maybe it’s just the universal spirit that connects us all? Whatever it is, recognizing that makes for a better existence. If you choose love you cannot go wrong.

Strengthening the Mind Body Connection through Childbirth

I thought I knew the power of the mind body connection.  However, it was through the recent birth of my second child that my understanding of it was strengthened tenfold. In the past, I used exercise (running, lifting, yoga) as a moving meditation, and I focused on how my physical actions effect my mental state. Exercise and deep breathing helped me to stay calm and centered. I was working from the outside in. When I labored with my first daughter Laylah I had a similar approach.  I was sure that my physical actions would help shape my birth experience into something peaceful and easy.

Almost 3 years ago when Laylah was born I found that all the physical strength in the world could not combat the pain of labor.  Giving birth sans epidural was important to me, so that’s what I did.  During the labor I tried to fight the discomfort with different physical postures, massage, props, gyrations, and vocalizations… all to no avail. I was afraid, stressed, and in major PAIN.  After all was said and done I came out of it feeling traumatized and a bit embarrassed by the whole experience. My poor baby came into the world hearing “F*#K! I am going to die!” It was all very dramatic.

When I got pregnant with Caia, I knew I had to take a different approach.
What would happen if I started from the inside and worked my way out?
That’s when I decided to read up on hypnobirthing. The goal of hypnobirthing is to practice deep relaxation, visualization techniques, and self-hypnosis to minimize the pain of childbirth. I studied hard. Along with practicing the techniques every night by listening to hypnobirthing tracks on my ipod, I read Hypnobirthing: The Mongan Method
by Marie Mongan. I was skeptical when I read things like “childbirth can be a pain free experience,” but I was willing and open to the thought of it. I felt as if I was training for a race. The more I practiced the meditations the more confident I became in my ability to stay relaxed when the big day arrived.

Labor started. I was nervous, but I kept my cool.  With each surge (Hypnobirthing lingo for contraction) I calmed my mind and allowed my body to relax completely.  In my mind I told myself that I was not feeling pain, only “pressure.”  This “pressure” concept really worked for me, and as labor progressed, I made sure to stay in the present moment. In the breaks between surges I savored the relaxation, and during the surges I repeated my “only pressure” mantra. The atmosphere was peaceful. I didn’t yell and scream. I didn’t waste mental energy anticipating the next surge. Time flew by, and all of a sudden my midwife told me it was time to push.  I was shocked! I thought that I was just getting started. Where was the pain and suffering that I experienced with my first labor? Was it possible that it was almost over?! With 2 big pushes my little one was safe in my arms. I felt proud and amazed at the ease in which she entered the world.

It was truly a wonderful birth experience, and it gave me a deeper understanding of the power of the mind... and how it can affect our physical experience. What an awesome tool to use in all the challenges of life. With the right mental approach, obstacles can be overcome without too much suffering. Whether it is exercise, a frustrating work moment, a painful loss of a loved one, or a screaming toddler in the back seat of your car, one can relax and ride the surge to the next break.


 
 
 
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