AWEsome Announcement

Many of us have brains that habitually work a bit like an advent calendar.  For every situation, we go to the correctly corresponding number and find a reaction that is safely stored in that space.  We can put ourselves and the world around us in these little compartments, getting the "correct" package out for each situation & reacting in a predetermined manner.  In order to fully realize our own potential, our habitual responses need to be challenged.    

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Much of my own journey to wellness has been through the leadership in wellness program, Create Karma.  It has been a lot of effort to break down the walls of these mental compartments.  It has been a journey of movement, stillness, compassion, connection, strength, mobility and healing.  I have taken steps to define new possibilities for my life,  and helped others to do the same.  

Recently, I was listening to a podcast during my daily commute.  Cate Stillman spoke simple words that stuck with me, "sometimes you have to show up as you want to be seen".  This concept broke my compartmentalized brain wide open.  Not only could each of us define our own possibilities, literally anything was possible.  This was an awakening that took 2 years of learning to manifest.  All we need to do is realize when we are at our best and take action by showing up as we want to be seen.  I was being held back by the very compartments that I had created to keep me safe.  I began to see immediate changes in how I show up in the world, and I feel amazing.

Because this journey to wellness through Create Karma has meant so much to me, I am excited to lead the all new 2018 AWE program.  AWE is a journal to personal wellness that will allow you to define and explore wellness for yourself.  Experience a series of workshops and learn from amazing wellness leaders from around the country.  Set goals and receive coaching from me as well as support from your peers.  This training is for anyone who wishes to be in learning and community while creating their own plan to wellness.  

If you are ready to take an AWEsome adventure and show up as you want to be, apply now.  Can't wait to see what 2018 has in store!

 

Blessings!                                                                                                                                          

Beth Martin E-RYT 200, RYT 500, YACEP

 

    

 

Calm in a Troubled World

There is a lot going on in our nation and in the world.  I have been silent and contemplative, trying to take it all in.  I have noticed repeatedly that there is distress and unhappiness regardless of which candidate each of us supported on election day.  I have looked to the practices of yoga, mantra and meditation for support.  Many of us have either stopped looking on social media or have blocked posts from one or both sides.  If you have not noticed, ignoring the unease does not make it go away.  We will all have strong feelings, and many times find ourselves in opposition with those around us.  We cannot change this fact.

My religion teaches me that whenever there is distress which one cannot remove, one must fast and pray.
— Gandhi

I come from a line of very spiritual people.  My grandfather was a Baptist Missionary in Africa and Pastor in Maine.  When I read this quote from Gandhi, I was struck by the similarity between their approaches.  I honestly think it would have shocked my grandfather too!  When my grandfather was in distress, he would skip meals, go to his study.  He would spend the time in prayer, reading spiritual books and studying the Bible.  We lived with my grandparents when I was at the impressionable age of 13, and at the time he faced the fact that Parkinson's Disease was robbing him of physical strength and abilities.  He responded by taking frequent time in deep reflection.  The message was clear, "Grandpa is having a hard time with xxx so he is fasting today".  He had a very strong will, and I rarely saw the softer side of him.  The fact that I can look back as an adult and realize the strikingly similar approaches makes me smile.  The more we are different, the more we are the same.

This post is not another political post that is attempting to tell you what to believe.  Notice what makes you feel grounded and brings you peace, and make regular time for those practices.  Get very clear so that you can respond with integrity rather than have an automatic reaction.  I know that I usually end up regretting those darn automatic reactions!     

We must always find a way to back to the calm within the storm.  When we experience the calm, we can be of better service to our core beliefs.  We can come from our true nature rather than a place of fear or anger.  We can better serve the things that really matter to us!    

In addition to my regular yoga and meditation practice, I have found Metta or Loving Kindness Meditation to be extremely helpful.  Here is a short example to get you started, but you can use any words or well wishes that suit you.  You can practice this seated or even silently send these well wishes to everyone you pass during your day and notice how you feel.  I wish you happiness, health, peace and freedom from suffering.  Namaste.

 

 

Seeking Harmony

I have officially experienced the post election blues.  It has much more to do with the disconnect that I see and feel from humanity than who won and who lost.  After a lifetime of avoiding expressing and feeling my own emotions, I have to say that sometimes this feeling stuff really sucks.  I am feeling my own sadness and the heaviness of the emotions in those around me.  Last evening I sat with myself, and I cried deeply.  The division I see in our nation is so profound.  This division impacts people of other races, religious beliefs, the LGBTQ community and their families. 

 Sometimes, you really have to feel something before you can move past it.  Luckily, my amazing friends at Create Karma and I have been sharing a path of healing and acceptance during the past year.  They have taught me to open my heart, and hopefully I have led them through some healing as well.  I love them deeply.  I have felt my feelings,  and I am ready to move forward and take action as a leader for the wellness of our community and our nation.   

 This week I taught yoga classes encouraging my students to find a place of refuge in their own breath.  I struggled to take my own advice, so I made a cup of my favorite tea, and found inspiration through reading.  This gem of a quote had the greatest impact, so this is where I start moving forward. 

Happiness is when what you think, what you say, and what you do are in harmony.
— Mahatma Gandhi

Now I choose to practice finding this harmony, happiness and balance through the Yamas and Niyamas (10 principles of living) of yoga.  If you have felt the feelings that you need to feel and are ready to move take positive action moving forward, here are the steps that I plan to take. 

  1. Ahimsa: compassion for all living things - I turn to a quote from Charlotte Bell.  "My favorite description of ahimsa is of a dynamic peacefulness prepared to meet all needs with loving openness."  I feel compassion for all beings who are being hurt or oppressed.  This extends to my vegan diet.  I am not apologetic, but maybe in order to be more balanced, I need to find actions that express loving openness rather than dwelling on sad or painful things.

  2. Satya: commitment to the truth - Sometimes I have tended to hide my beliefs when they don't parallel those who I am around.  It may feel easier for me that way, but it is a form of deceit.  So to all those hospital employees who may be reading this, I voted for Clinton this year.  There, I said it.  I don't agree with her entire platform, but my personal beliefs are closer in line with hers than with Trump.  Truthfulness - check.

  3. Asteya: non-stealing - It may seem easy to think, I don't steal.  Can we look a little deeper?  The times that I choose to remain silent and don't stand up when #1 is being violated, I am stealing support from those who may desperately need it.  Am I focusing on the news too much and stealing my attention from work that will be for a greater good?  

  4. Brahmacharya: non-excess - To me, this really has to do with how you use your energy.  I choose to spend my energy in a constructive manner by avoiding too much time dwelling on things I cannot change, yet knowing when to use my voice.  I will practice experiencing the difference.

  5. Aparigraha: non-grasping - I will practice giving things to others as a sign of compassion.    This may be expressed in a note or through baking.  It will definitely be expressed through my financial and active work with Create Karma during this year's Extraordinary Give on November 18!

  6. Saucha: purity - I will choose to keep my mind pure by increasing the time I spend in meditation and physical yoga practice.  This can also be practiced through prayer and/or the study of religious text.  I will take meditation breaks instead of coffee breaks.  I will wear a mala as a sign of this commitment.

  7. Santosha: contentment - I will continue to offer teachings of love, healing and balance.  I understand that others will choose to express their voice in a different way.  We are a free world and they are free to do as they wish.  I am content with the fact that it is not my job to fix anything for others. Everyone has their own path.

  8.  Tapas: right effort - Now is the time to not only seek knowledge and beginning to apply what I have learned.  Break old habits and find a way to make our lives and this world a better place.  Keep zeal and enthusiasm for the things that I really believe in and place my attention there.

  9. Svadhyaya: self study - I have had tremendous success in self study by becoming aware of my habitual patterns and beliefs.  Sometimes that little voice in your head isn't our own voice or even the right thing to listen to (it may just be a little bad habit that you've picked up along the way).  Sometimes my old habits seem like old friends, but they are not.  It is important to find your true nature so that you can begin to break these old habits.  This aspect of the path has given me the gift of the biggest heart opening, and I can't wait to see what else is in store!  Study of religious text would also apply to this category.

  10. Ishvara Pranidhana: dedication to the highest (God) - Yoga does not tell us how to define God.  That is very personal.  Anyone with strong religious convictions should cling to them.  Otherwise, how do you connect with the divine?  You could connect with this through time in nature or by looking for the highest expression of goodness in every situation.  

The funny thing is that just taking the time to write these words and dwell on these steps has me feeling better about everything.  Now is the time to put my yoga practice into action.  I call for you to join me in taking all or some of these steps.  We can make our world a better place.  

Path to a Personal Yoga Practice

I have a confession to make, despite 17 years of faithful yoga practice/study, and 4.5 years of teaching yoga, finding regular time for my personal practice was still a challenge.  I have tried practicing on my own with limited success, via class streaming on  YogaGlo and was quite judgemental with myself when I failed to meet the goals that I set for myself. 

I started participating in Instagram Yoga Challenges, and saw both regularity of practice and physical achievement in poses that I usually stay away from.  The chance to be listed as a winner seemed to ignite the fire to get up early enough to practice every day.  There was one problem with this.  The gains were physical, but the soul had left my practice.  I am reminded of a verse from the Bible that I had memorized as a child. 

 For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?  - Mark 8:36 KJV

It didn't really matter if I could stand on my hands or do a big backbend if the spirit and the true feeling of what brought me to yoga was gone.  The pose is not the goal of yoga!  I was practicing daily, but for the wrong reasons.

Setting out to find the soul of my yoga practice involved establishing a regular routine, finding discipline, and being honest about my intentions.  I no longer have to look good for my morning practice.  I am enjoying the liberty of establishing a routine that works for me.  The first step was loss of the daily instagram post, which gave me the freedom to come to that mat just as I was in the moment (it also saves the time of getting changed).  I usually get out of bed, feed my pets, drink warm lime water, and practice in my pajamas.  This has given me the freedom to take more time for the practice itself and find balance every day.   

My second step was the loss of my yoga class streaming.  I'm not saying that this step is for everyone, but I needed to find balance by loss of external focus.  I spent less time choosing the day's practice, and more time in actual practice.  I am able to customize my practice based on my daily schedule.  I lost the external focus, and regained a little more soul in my yoga practice.  Putting the soul back in my yoga has influenced the way I feel off the mat, my interactions with my family & friends, and brought authentic inspiration to the way I teach.  Sound good?  Here are a few steps to get you started...

  1. Timing - set a regular time & routine every day.  Hold yourself accountable, but allow for variation depending on what else is going on in your life.  Your practice should be a haven, not an obligation.  A goal of early morning practice 5-7 days a week works for me.  
  2. Breath (pranayama) -  If you are practicing early in the morning, it is a good idea to do a type of breathwork that will give you energy.  I've been working with Kapalabhati or Skull Shining Breath.  Here are some instructions if you're new to the practice.     
  3. Meditation - This may feel more natural either here or after your asana (pose) practice.  Feel free to experiment to find out what works for you.  I prefer to do a round or two on my mala beads, then sit in stillness for the rest of my meditation, but there are several ways to learn how to meditate.  Subscribe to my blog, and you won't miss the guided meditation I've been working on!
  4. Yoga Poses (asana) - I find that an established routine with opportunity for variety works well for me. Established students or teachers can develop a practice of their own.  I suggest new students establish a practice with a local teacher (see my schedule for information on group or private instruction).  If you're interested in online offerings, comment on this blog and let me know what you're looking for.  I love to meet the needs of my online community!
  5. Savasana - include some time in rest before taking on the rest of your day!
  6. Reading/Study - You may choose to read a religious text, or study some yoga text.  The choice is yours.  Meditations from the Mat is a good choice, and an easy read.  It includes 365 brief one page reflections, that I have used as an intro to several of my yoga classes.  Some of my other favorites iinclude Light on Life,  Eastern Body Western Mind, Yoga Sutras and A Spiritual Rennegade's guide to the Good Life.   Check out the Facebook Yoga Book Club that a friend & I started if you want somewhere to discuss yoga texts & find inspiration.

Just yesterday, I had a discussion with a friend who is nearing the end of teacher training.  She had recently come to the conclusion that yoga was much more than where you put your hand, foot or tailbone - YES!!!  Your yoga practice can be about turning inward, how your practice makes you feel, finding balance. You can choose to take your practice into every part of your day.  You may or may not be able to hold fancy poses or teach large groups, but please find and keep the heart and soul of your practice.  The true power of our yoga practice lies within.

 

Namaste - Beth

Spring Cleaning for Mental Clutter

Society values multi tasking and efficiency.  These skills are considered necessary for companies to thrive in today's competitive marketplace.  We now talk on the phone or listen to a book while going about our daily tasks.  Always on the go, time is a commodity.  The more we can accomplish in a shorter amount of time, the better ... or is it?   There is certainly a time and place for these efforts, but sometimes it can be a bit too much.  We may find ourselves with a bit of mental clutter.  Here are my 3 simple steps to begin mentally decluttering.  

  1. Slow Down - It is important to schedule some time to slow down, quiet your mind, and restore.  For a healthy way to slow down, I prefer yoga and meditation.  Other helpful practices include walking in nature, playing music, praying, journaling, or reading spiritual books.  It is important to schedule this time, and make it a priority.  If you regularly take the time to slow down, you will be able to access the skill when it is necessary in steps 2 & 3.   

  2. Listen - Dictionary.com defines listen as  "to give attention with the ear; attend closely for the purpose of hearing".  We must first practice listening to ourselves before we can ever truly listen to others.  Begin to become more sensitive to your gut instincts and physical cues that your body uses to communicate with you (tight shoulders, breath changes, etc).  Ask yourself what story is behind a particular feeling or instinct.  Use your practice of slowing down from step 1 to become a better listener.  We must be able to refine the art of internal listening if we ever want to be able to truly listen to others.

  3. Trust - It is impossible to slow down and listen without the element of trust.  Stop any urges to judge what your are hearing, how well your meditation is going, what you should be doing instead.  If you are practicing listening to yourself, give yourself permission to trust your instincts.  If you are practicing listening to others, fight the urge to solve their problems or judge what they are saying.  Less judgement and more trust will help free you from unnecessary mental clutter.

These are skills that I am beginning to refine after 16 years of yoga practice.  When I am able to get it right, I can feel a physical sense of lightness in my body and focus in my mind.  Notice the physical feelings that you have when you are actively listening to yourself.  Take that practice, and use it when you are interacting with others.  The ability to clear out enough mental clutter to slow down, truly listen, and trust ourselves and others is a highly rewarding practice that is well worth the effort.

 

Namaste - Beth

 

 

 

 

The Beauty of Now

How often do we judge our limitations (or abilities) based on past experience?  How much time do we spend on plans or worries about the future?  Below, I'm sharing a quote really hit home for me.  One of the most importance aspects of our yoga & meditation practice is to bring ourselves out of the stories that we have created about the past and future.  Learning to enjoy the present moment can change our current lives for the better, and make space for a more promising future.

Your body exists in the past and your mind exists in the future. In yoga, they come together in the present.
— BKS Iyengar

In my teens and early 20's I used to get to the now by running.  Putting one foot in front of the other allowed me to find space between my thoughts.  A little later I found the same feeling in a sweaty vinyasa class, then in the stillness of an alignment based hatha class, and finally in meditation.  Finding the present moment started out during and at the end of my runs.  It always took at least 2 miles to get into that good space in my head, I was no longer in the past or the future, I was simply putting one foot in front of the other.  As a sweaty post run mess laying on the floor, I found space between my thoughts.  This may have been my first taste of savasana (the resting pose at the end of a yoga class).

Take the time to notice and experience the beauty of now in your yoga (or meditation) practice.  On and off the mat, releasing expectations based on past performance or idealistic future goals can rob you of simple joys.  Maybe your ______ isn't perfect (home, job, pose, body), but is there really any such thing?  Can you make a promise to stop labeling things?  Is it possible to dwell on the good things that you'd like to celebrate rather than the things that used to be, or the things that you wish were different?  

Maybe you can even expand that idea to those around you.  You can start by finding common ground with those you interact with on a daily basis.  Take a moment to smile at a stranger, make small talk with the barista at the coffee shop, leave a special (anonymous) treat for a coworker who needs a mood boost.  Just imagine how wonderful it would be if you could see the beauty in everyone that you meet.  Wouldn't your attitude shape your entire world?

Your body exists in the past, your mind exists in the future, but isn't the now wide open to possibilities?  Expand rather than contract, smile rather than worry, seek a balance between comfort and effort.  Find the beauty of now, and the next now, and the next now... the now really can be wonderful!

Namaste - Beth

 

 

Being vs Becoming

So many of set goals, put steps in place to reach our goals, and then allow ourselves to be distracted and move off course.  Regardless of the type of goals you have set (spiritual, career/ education, health/weight loss, completing a task, finishing a project, mastering a pose,) they all require zealous effort, in each and every moment, as each of a series of transformations take place.   

Being is not static, but like the heating water... it is a moment in present time, in a certain state or condition, and from which, if we continue to add the flame of zealous practice, like a Bunsen burner under a retort, suddenly another state will emerge, as if by magical transformation. We perceive only the sequence of these transformations in time, which is why we are caught in the illusion of becoming, instead of just being, and then being again, and being again, separately but transformatively, ad infinitum, like the stills of an old silent film, until the story reaches its conclusion and, hopefully, its happy ending.
— Light on Life by BKS Iyengar

In a recent blog and video for business owners, my friend Mike spoke about the results of taking 31 days of purposeful action.  Much like Iyengar, he speaks about the results he received when he spent 31 days making consistent efforts to reach his goals.  At the end of the month, the several small transformations, a result of steady effort, lead to a big result.

I'm approaching another birthday, and the whole world seems to be reminding me to start being, and stop worrying about becoming.  With that in mind,  I will rededicate myself to my practice with zeal and enthusiasm.   Here are the daily steps that I plan to take during February 2016 and beyond.

  1. Being a daily meditator (this has been a life changer for me)
  2. Being a person who practices self care (increased daily water, walking, healthy choices)
  3. Being a yogi who spends time in asana (poses), reading yoga texts, or writing daily

By being a person who practices these steps daily, little transformations may feel like something big by the end of the month.  The zeal and momentum must continue to make a transformation rather than temporary changes.  

What goals  have you been meaning to reach?  What do you need to start being?  Transformation takes steady zeal and effort, but it is well worth the time invested.  Stop becoming and start being, and being again, and being again...

Namaste - Beth

Yoga and Facing Challenges

4 years ago I was a brand new yoga teacher.  CC was my most loyal student at our local studio(not her real name).  She was attentive, dedicated, and sweet.  One day, when I cued "crow pose" (an arm balance), she seemed uncharacteristically negative about the pose.  That day I promised her that we would keep trying and "one day we will get you in that pose".  I didn't have enough experience to make such a promise, and I didn't even know my own limitations at the time.  She seemed satisfied with my response, and we moved on.  Every time I cued crow over the next 4 years, CC would attempt the pose, fall, smile, and move on with her practice without missing a beat.  During a recent large class, and CC had her normal place in the back row.  I cued crow, offering a few modifications, and began to assist the newer students.  I heard a sound from the back row, and looked back to find CC grinning.  She mouthed "I did it".  How very cool to see her accomplish her goal.  Just like any other week, she quickly returned to her practice.

Anyone who has been practicing yoga long enough has had some of these experiences.  One of the things that I love about yoga, is it's lessons that apply to daily life.  I find it so inspirational to be able to watch students working on their practices, accomplishing goals, and doing so with love and grace.  How often are we reluctant to start something for fear of failure?  How often do we have a bad attitude when things don't go our way?  Here are a few ways to face your daily life like you do your yoga practice.

  1. Try things that scare you, or seem just out of reach.  You can do more than you know. 
  2. Face the task with a sense of humor.  Nobody is perfect at everything, so don't expect yourself to be perfect either.
  3. If you fail, move on graciously.  There's always next time.
  4. Keep with it.  Dedication is the key to reaching your goals.
  5. Believe in yourself.  Starting something with the idea that you can't do it is like praying for something that you don't want to happen.
  6. Encourage others.  There is strength in numbers, so seek out other people with the same interests and/or goals. 
Second ever successful Firefly Pose

Second ever successful Firefly Pose

Just yesterday I had my own accomplishment of the seemingly impossible task, the ellusive Firefly Pose.  This had seemed impossible for years, and I deemed it because of my "tight hamstrings".  Well, something snapped when I saw CC reach her goal.  I tried Firefly with a fresh attitude.  I saw possibilities rather than limitations, and you know what?  My Firefly got off the ground.  What is your Firefly?  What are you ready to tackle on or off the mat?

 

Namaste - Beth

New Year Mindfulness

As we leave 2015 behind and enter 2016, many people will be creating New Year's Resolutions, things they intend to accomplish within the next year.  I am not against setting intentionsor starting new projects, but I'm not writing another blog about resolutions either.

So much of our time is spent dwelling in the past, or worrying about/planning for the future.  Why not take some time to be mindful, and just "be here now"?  Unsure how to even start living in the present moment?  Here are a few ideas to get you started.  

  1. Put your phone/ipad/laptop down!  How can you be in the present moment if you are busy becoming of one mind with an electronic device?
  2. Find a quiet space and close your eyes.  Listen to the sound of your breath, try to feel the thumping of your beating heart.  
  3. Try some yogic breath work (pranayama).  My students are exposed to this during each and every class and their current favorite  for stress relief is alternate nostril breath.  I'm including a video link to the right.
  4. Take a walk in nature.  Smell the smells outside, listen to the sound of the wind blowing or the stream moving.  Feel the fresh air on your face.  
  5. Quietly enjoy a cup of hot tea.  Don't do anything but experience the smells, taste, and temperature of the tea.
  6. Warm up with a quiet, hot bath or spend some time in front of a cozy fire.
  7. Join a meditation group. 

Now I will head out to gather food to mindfully prepare dinner.  How can you fit a little more mindfulness into your life?  How can you "be here now"?

Namaste - Beth

 

 

 

 

 

Attentive Practices to Beat Stress

 

A moment of truth as I deal with my own stress.  After writing this entire post on dealing with holiday stress, I accidentally deleted it without saving, and had to start over.  Now I'll be taking some of my own advice, taking a deep breath, and enjoying a cup of hot tea while I rewrite this blog post in an attentive manner.

When our busy holiday schedules get the best of us, sometimes we miss out on all the great little moments.  Much like our yoga practice, there is no such thing as a perfect holiday, although that is often our goal.  Mindful practices can help reduce stress levels and allow us to enjoy our experiences more fully.

I'll list several practices to try.  Find the ones that appeal to you, and put them into practice when you're letting life's stressors get in your way.  Your nervous system will thank you.

Breathe

  1. The yogic practice of attentive breathing is a proven method to calm the nervous system.  Begin by noticing the length of your inhale, then try to extend your exhale to twice the length of the inhale.  Over time, if the length of your inhale naturally lengthens as you calm down, you can respond by lengthening your exhale even more.  
  2. Aromatherapy is a great way to relax.  Essential oils like lavender can be used in body products, diffused into the air, or added to hot baths.  I have been known to put a drop on a surgical mask when I'm working in a stressful surgical case during my day job in cardiology.

Move

  1. Take a long walk, preferably outdoors.  Put your phone away, and really stay in the moment.  Practice hearing the rhythm of your footsteps and breath, noticing the sights, sounds and smells around you, and put your to do list away.  Take the time to be mindful as you walk.
  2. Yoga is an obvious choice as a way to move mindfully.  You may be able to take a full class at your favorite studo.  If not, consider a home practice.  That may mean a few of your favorite poses, or sun salutations on your own, or you can search You Tube for a free class that meets your needs.
  3. Tai Chi and Chi Gong are great gentle ways to learn mindful movement.  I advise seeking out an instructor or class if this practice interests you.

Stillness

  1. Meditation is a great way to focus inward and reduce stress.  Medical studies have shown changes in the brain structure of meditators with as little as 20 minutes of daily practice.  Some of my favorite people are regular meditators!  Tara Brach has many great meditations that are available for free online, and it's a great place to start.

  2. Mantra is another way to find attentive stillness.  You may choose a phrase that means something to you or try a more traditional mantra.  I'm a fan of Om Mani Padme Hum, in the Tabetan Buddhist tradition.  So Hum (I am) is another common mantra.  Simply think or say so with the inhale, and hum with the exhale. 

  3. Restorative yoga is a great way to relax.  Classes are available in studios and online.  Legs up the Wall is a great restorative pose that can be practiced in just a few minutes.  It is practiced by quite literally laying with your legs resting up against a wall as shown here.

Taste

  1. Enjoy a nice glass of tea.  This has been a favorite method of stress relief my entire life.  While in Nepal, tea was regularly offered when we entered people's homes.  I love this tradition!  Don't multitask or pay bills while enjoying your tea, although a nice conversation with a friend or family member is encouraged.

  2. My 95+ year old grandmother and 13 year old son agree that a very small piece of dark chocolate is something to be savored and enjoyed.  Rather than diving into your child's halloween stash of candy, try allowing yourself to take a moment to really experience a small amount of your favorite treat.  No guilt allowed.

If you already practice mindfulness, be sure to keep it up during the holiday season.  If you don't, or if you're looking for something new, try a few of the practices on this list.  Notice how you feel, and enjoy a stress free life during the holidays and into the New Year.

 

Namaste - Beth

 

 

Lessons from Nepal #1 - Open Heart

My husband and I were walking along the lake in Pokhara, Nepal enjoying the views of nature, shops, and people that we saw along the way.  An elderly Nepali man was sitting near the path splitting wood with a handheld tool.  As our path crossed the area where he was working, I became fascinated and paused to see what he was doing.  "Eyes broken",  he questioned as he stopped working.  I was processing his intent and did not respond in words or expression.  A louder and angrier "eyes broken" met my silence.  You could feel the hostile energy as his eyes met mine.  We quickly continued along the path, and I was filled with fear.  At a week into our trip, this was our first day without our guide, and I longed for the ease that came with his guidance and friendship.  We were truly in another world.

Later in the streets near our hotel, we passed an elderly Nepali woman.  Her gray hair was pinned back, she was carrying a bright pink umbrella to shield herself from the afternoon sun, and was wearing a beautiful pink sari.  There was a beauty and grace about her, and I admit that I stared a bit too long.  My eyes met hers and I gave her my warmest smile.  She greeted us with a "namaste", and we returned the greeting.  After we passed, her friendly voice commented, "always smiling, never talking".  Her words stuck with me as we continued on our way.

"Your task is not to seek for love, but merely to seek and find all the barriers within yourself that you have built against it." - Rumi

We all hold some sort of barriers.  I believe that every interaction can be a lesson.  Both of these encounters point to some of my personal barriers.  Caution and reserve are my protective bubble, and they are driven by fear and shyness.  They are a barrier to experiencing love and friendship.  They can close relationships before they even start.  Would the man have responded differently if I had said, namaste, may I watch you work?  Maybe, and maybe not, but his words can be a lesson and a gift. 

I found most of the people in Nepal to be open, loving, kind and giving.  I have new friendships that I will treasure forever.  It is also glaringly obvious that as a personal practice, I must begin to enbrace these qualities.  My meditation, my yoga practice, and my daily life will focus on breaking down barriers and finding an open heart.  Very often, what you give is what you get.  Give what you seek, and it will return to you.

  "Thousands of candles can be lit from a single candle, 
and the life of the candle will not be shortened. 
Happiness never decreases by being shared." - Buddha

Happiness and love are contageous.  Take a few moments to ponder each of your interactions (even the negative ones).  They are a gift, and contain lessons that will help you find what you seek.  Each day, share a little more and watch the beauty that unfolds.

Namaste - Beth 






Yogo Mat Review #2 (after the trip)

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The Yogo Ultralight Mat couldn't have been more perfect for my trip to Nepal.  It took me from my hotel balcony, to a rooftop class (that I ended up teaching), to a mountaintop at sunrise.  When you set out on this type of adventure, compact portability is a must.  I was not willing to compromise my daily yoga practice.  I was relieved to find the Yogo Ultralight Mat.  It has more features than I thought possible.  Here I'll list the things that I loved about the mat.

  1. It fits neatly inside my bag, or clips conveniently to the outside of my backpack.   
  2. The practice space is always clean because it folds in on itself.
  3. It is sticky, I don't slide on it, and it does not slide on the floor.
  4. It is very lightweight.
  5. It washes easily in the shower, and can drip dry by hanging from it's own straps.

The list of cons is short, but worth mentioning.

  1. It's slightly smaller than the average mat.  If you are a small yogi, you'll appreciate it, as this cuts down on weight and makes a compact fold.  The Ultra is available for those who require more space.
  2. It is thin and doesn't offer much cushion (duh, it's a travel mat).  I did find myself placing my clean yogo mat on top of a studio mat that didn't appear sanitary.  Score - clean and cushioned!

Honestly, I'm looking for more ways to use this mat.  It would make a great Christmas Gift for the yogi on your list.  Here's a link to the company's website (or order it on amazon.com if you've got amazon prime).  It'd be great during a picnic, hike or run.  It can easily attach to several places on my bicycle, backpack, gym bag, suitcase, below a child's stroller, or in a desk.  Many happy hours of practice await me and my Yogo Ultralight Mat.  Happy practicing!

Namaste - Beth     

Washes easily in the shower and hangs to dry from it's own built in straps.

Washes easily in the shower and hangs to dry from it's own built in straps.

Even attaches to my bicycle!

Even attaches to my bicycle!

Shake up your Yoga Routine

Ever feel like your yoga routine has become a little too predictable?  Working with a new teacher, in a new space, or with a new group can really help.  I just returned from the Sukhava Bodhe Yoga & Music Festival in Illinois, where I tried many things that are not in my daily practice.  I left feeling strong, relaxed, and inspired.  Here are a few of my favorite finds from my trip.

  1. Thai Massage - Although this wasn't my first Thai Massage Workshop, it was the very best way to start our day.  My friend, Katie and I learned how to incorporate massage, posture assists, and sitting (yes, sitting on people) as a way to reduce muscular tension.  Our concentration was upper back, but the leg sitting was fantastic.  Bonus for my husband and a few lucky coworkers, I need to practice if I'm going to maintain these new skills.
  2. Acro Yoga - This was done in groups of 3, we rotated through being the flyer, the base, and the spotter.  We met a new friend from the Northwest, and quickly found out that we needed to trust each other and be there for one another.  We rotated through 3 poses, and we all really enjoyed the experience.  If you're looking for a yoga experience that includes strength, fun, and relationships, this is a great practice to try.  
  3. SUP Yoga - Although I've done some paddling on my own and have an Ocean Yoga Board for indoor use, this was my first Standup Paddleboard Yoga Class.  My entire experience was without a doubt challenged by the man that was next to me.  It takes a whole new level of concentration to balance on an unstable surface knowing that someone 1 foot from you is about to fall into the water (again and again), and you're attached to a rope & can't escape him.  On a positive note, the experience made me keenly aware of the importance of my focal point (drishti), and that is something I'll be teaching in classes this week.        
  4. Hip Flow - Since I've been teaching and taking a lot of alignment oriented Hatha classes with long holds, this was very different for me.  At this point in the day, we were on class number 5, and this class was a great way to end the day.
  5. Restorative Yoga - OK, this one wasn't at the festival, but as someone who had avoided restorative yoga, this has become a new recent addition to my practice.  It's a great way to start a weekend, reduce stress, and relieve tension.  Why not shake things up by slowing down?
  6. Yoga Rope Wall - This amazing tool can help you find core strength, new ways to access the same poses, practice alignment, and decompress the spine (with supported inversions).  Check out my class schedule to try it out.

While I don't suggest that you abandon your favorite class, studio, or teacher, I do suggest shaking up your routine every now and then.  Maybe you're lucky enough to hit a festival like I did.  If not, I'd encourage you to put something new into your yoga practice on a regular basis.  

Namaste - Beth

Yoga for Your Health

Even just entering my yoga practice space has calming effects.   I have observed that when I sit down in the yoga studio, my natural respiratory rate drops from 12 breaths/minute down to about 6.  This is before I even start any asana (poses) or pranayama (breathwork).

Physicians are recomending yoga for their patients, and a broader range of people seem to have found a regular practice.  Yoga is offered everywhere, from college campuses to retirement villages.  With great classes like chair yoga, yoga for athletes, and yoga for men, there is something for everyone.  Do these people keep returning to the mat because of benefits like the ones I've observed?

I found a few small studies that highlight the benefits of yoga practice.  For the purpose of this article, when I refer to yoga I'm including asana (poses), pranayama (breathwork) and chanting. 

  1. This study was a small one performed in Italy in 2001.  The physicians observed the subjects respiratory rates, pulses, and baroreflex sensitivity (ability of the nervous and cardiovascular systems to regulate blood pressure).  They observed rosary prayer and mantras during natural and metronome controlled breathing.  Using prayer and mantras, the subjects respiratory rates slowed down to 6 per minute, they had more heart rate variability and better variability of blood pressure.  Hmm, those numbers sound familiar to what I've experienced.  Cool!
  2. This paper from 2010 describes a small study of the effects of yoga on people in a traumatic situation.  The study was performed on flood victims over a 6 week period.  The yoga included 10 minute warm up, 20 min asana (poses), 25 min pranayama (yogic breathing) and 5 minutes guided relaxation.  The yoga group showed a decrease in sadness, while the non yoga group showed an increase in anxiety. 
  3. I also reviewed this paper, a comparison study written by 2 nurses.  It concludes, "The studies comparing the effects of yoga and exercise seem to indicate that, in both healthy and diseased populations, yoga may be as effective as or better than exercise at improving a variety of health-related outcome measures."

 If better stress response and better health sound like something you might be interested in, head to your local yoga studio as soon as possible.  There is a class for everyone, and it's never too late (or early) to start!

Beth  

Follow me on Instagram using the name yoga.m8

You can find me at The Yoga Place in Ephrata and West End Yoga.

      

 

Challenge day 4

Day 4 is L handstand against the wall. Sometimes this can feel even harder than kicking up to a wall. 

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Start out on your hands and knees with your feet against a wall. Push up to a shortened downdog, heels on the wall. Stay here or walk your feet up the wall and straighten your legs. Your hips will stack over your shoulders and wrists. Keep your core strong. It is normal to feel like your hips are beyond your hands when they aren't. 

Practice Monotasking

Much of our culture celebrates multitasking.  In today's world, you can drive a car while listening to a book or talking on the phone to someone far away.  On the computer, I often have several tabs open, a sign of my frantic mind.  I may be (during the exact same session) searching for a heart opening mantra, shopping for last minute Christmas gifts,  and writiing a blog, while my washing machine does my laundry and my dishwasher does the dishes.  This probably sounds familiar to quite a few of us.  

That is why our practice is so important.  Plan some time to monotask every day.  Monotasking, or beinging attentive in the current moment can relieve stress, which is great for your nervous system.  You may even consider keeping a short journal about your experiences.  Please leave your devices behind - it will be OK!  Whatever you do, make it a REGULAR practice.  Here are a few ideas to get you started.

  1. Take a walk or jog outdoors.  Notice the weather, the smells, the sights, and your feelings.
  2. Start a meditation practice.  It is highly beneficial.  My 12 year old son started by practicing 10 minute guided meditations on YouTube, but really all you need is a seat and your breath.  Here is a brief video (less than 2 minutes) to get you started.   
  3. More Yoga.  Even a 5-10 minute practice can change your mood.  I enjoy backbends and inversions for energy, balancing poses for focus, and seated poses for their calming nature.
  4. Prayer or chanting a mantra.  If you have a practice of prayer that benefits you, keep it up.  If you are interested in exploring chanting a mantra, it can be a very healing practice.
  5. Read something that makes you feel uplifted.  This may be a spiritual book, such as the Bible or the Bhagavad Gita, poetry, or philosophy.     
  6. Write something.  This blog has been a practice of heart opening for me.  You can write something for others to read, or you may choose to keep a private journal.  
  7. Play or listen to music.  I know many people who find that music plays a huge part in their lives, and impacts their personal well being.  If you are one of these people, stop and enjoy the music!

After you finish your practice, notice how you feel.  Allow yourself to take the time to have this feeling every day.  It is always available to you, and you won't regret taking the time to improve your mindset.  Whatever practice you choose, keep it up!

Namaste - Beth