A Clean Slate – The Breath

We’re kicking off the new year with a clean slate, fresh starts and while not necessarily forgetting our past, moving past our past! And what better to pair with clean slates and fresh starts than The Breath, which isn’t just where our yoga practice begins, but where our very lives begin- 2020 fresh starts powered by your breath!

Gratitude

Happy thanks giving, yogis and yoginis! No typo there, while we celebrate Thanksgiving later this month, why save all that thanks for the fourth Thursday of November??? The opportunity to approach every day with gratitude, to be thankful for everything we are granted while not take anything for granted, is well within our reach. A simple breath, food on the table, a table, our connection with family and community, these make up our thanks giving feast. And rather than falling into a food coma by mid-afternoon, we find ourselves more aware, more awake and more alive. So dig in, friends, happy thanks giving!

Reflection and Ardha Chandrasana

 

Welcome October and with it a new theme and pose for the month – Reflection and Ardha Chandrasana. Between self-reflection, reflecting (not dwelling) on our past actions and experiences, the change of season or anything that merits further contemplation, reflection is a rich, rich theme that is worthy of, well, reflection. Ardha Chandrasana (half-moon pose)is a fabulous balancing posture, that invites in both strengthening and deep opening through the entirety of the leg, hip, upper torso, chest and shoulders. Perhaps it’s in half-moon that we can appreciate our journey toward wholeness and, upon further reflection, see that we’re already there – the half-moon is more than enough to light up the night sky. Namaste! “The moon was so beautiful that the ocean held up a mirror” @anidifranco
Big thanks and gratitude to Melissa for an amazing board this month!

Inversions ~ Clarity

This month it’s all about INVERSIONS* at Yoga Life. Whether that be physically turning ourselves upside down or looking at the world through a different lens, this change in perspective liberates us from conditioned thoughts and habit. We see and in turn experience life with a freshness, a newness, a sense of CLARITY.

So embrace turning things on their head, bask in the less familiar and make time to play – in your yoga practice and life practice – and see, really see, what comes of it!

*Do not fear, we can all do inversions! Remember, an inversion is any posture that gets your head lower than your heart – downdog and half-downdog, forward bends, legs up the wall with a slightly elevated seat, as well as all the classic inversions – headstand, handstand, forearm stand and all the “prep” options!

Expansion ~ Wheel Pose

Like love, yoga expands from the inside out, and like yoga, we do the same. We are not here to be small. We exist in an ever expanding universe and are meant to expand with it. We are meant to expand our horizons, our consciousness, our minds, our hearts and in doing so, we reach our fullest potential. Expansion is the act of boldly moving from our comfort zones and what we know to our discomfort zones, the unknown. This type of growth requires openness – to new ideas and experiences, to setbacks and to letting go.

“We are not here to be small.”

This month we celebrate expansion at Yoga Life, we celebrate moving from the inside out, to waking up each day with the mantra “to be better” and to grow – emotionally, intellectually, spiritually, in our capacity to love and to feel. For asana (poses) we celebrate expansion with bridge and wheel. Bridges enable us to safely cross through potential hazards, wheels as perfect circles represent the infinite, the possibilities, they go on and on. Both are backbends and backbends are heart openers–may you grow forward, boldly, with open hearts and open minds!

An Expansion Plan
We’ve always found yoga to be a balance between making things happen and letting them happen. Expansion and growth can be very much the same. Here are some thoughts for starting your journey and walking, jogging, running and skipping along the path, or off of it:

Intention – It all begins with intention. It is the force that binds us to act, a proclamation we make or a specific goal we set. Intention is a conscious statement to get started and to stick with it. And please don’t think this needs to be super profound, in fact, make it tangible and keep it simple – I will be better, I will be present…

Consistency – The Sanskrit word Abhyasa means a constant and determined practice. It’s sticking with something, working through setbacks and more than anything, being consistent. Some things come easy (and some are lost easily) but the things we most cherish often come through hard and consistent work. Whatever or however you’re looking to grow, make sure you show up and do so regularly.

Openness – Growth is an act of openness. Exploring new ideas and experiences, seeing things from another perspective. Expansion really does represent moving from the known to the unknown and if we shut ourselves off to what we don’t know, we limit.

Letting Go – How often do we try, try and try to make something happen – we set our intention, we consistently take action – yet the results just don’t seem to come. We need to let go. Letting go can be done on so many levels:
– Vairagya is a Sanskrit word for letting go of attachment to the end result. Celebrate the process and stay consistent you may already be getting exactly what you need!
– Let go of timelines – there are hard deadlines and there are self-imposed deadlines, often times we make those self-imposed deadlines unrealistic. By all means, set goals and monitor your growth, but don’t throw away all your efforts if you haven’t quite reached them in the timeline you expected.
– Take a step back – sometimes you do need to take a step back, a hiatus. Simple example, how many times have you tried to remember that name or that solution to a problem and you think and you think and you think and it just doesn’t come to you. Then you hop in the shower or go for a walk get your mind off of it and like “poof” like magic it comes to you. Warning: the challenge here is starting up again so be mindful of when stepping back has become stepping away

Fail Gracefully and Spectacularly – With the exception of test results from our doctor, no one likes to hear something came back negative. As we strive to expand, there will be setbacks along the way. At the risk of sounding super cheesy, there is a lesson in every failure, an opportunity to grow. We cannot control our situations, we cannot control how the world responds to us, the one thing we can control is our response to these failures and it starts with how we handle failure itself – be angry, be determined, be crushed but also be graceful, be vigilant, be good enough, get back up, try again.

Dream – Last and most, dream big. With all of our growth and potential, there are limits, for example, limits to what we can do physically or even scholastically, but your imagination is limitless. Give yourself the gift of using your imagination to its fullest – through our imagination we expand our horizons and our perspectives. We open ourselves up for growth and expansion.

May you be filled with loving kindness, May you be well,
May you be open and graceful,
May you expand to your most majestic Self.

Riffing on a Buddhist meditation shared by Jack Kornfield in A Path with Heart. Feel free to meditate on these words, repeating them silently to yourself, substituting in the word “I” for “you”

Virabhadrasana I, II, and III ~ Warrior I, II, and III

This month we celebrate strength and presence through the warrior poses. These standing poses require a strong foundation, matched by equally strong focus and awareness. As you practice on and off the mat, we encourage you to consider, reflect and even challenge your sense of what strength is…and what it is not. Just as yoga is the blend of mind, body and spirit, we can demonstrate strength on all of those levels. In our practice on the mat we demonstrate strength, both through holding poses and coming out of them “early” to restore. In our life practice we demonstrate strength, both by making things happen and by letting them happen. We are all warrriors, we all have more strength than we can imagine and we all have our own wars to wage – but ultimately being a warrior isn’t about making war, it’s about striving for, attaining and preserving peace. Go forward valiantly and brilliantly, dear friends!

Tadasana ~ Mountain Pose

Tada means mountain in Sanskrit. The most “basic” yoga standing pose, Tadasana is the foundation for all other postures. It enables us to find deep focus and concentration. Mountains are no small things. In this pose we stand tall and can explore our vastness and grandness with a deep sense of humility.

Steps
1. Stand with your big toes touching and heels slightly apart. Alternatively, stand with your feet hips distance apart with your feet parallel to one another.
2. Lift your toes, feel the entire ball mound of your foot rooting down and spiraling the mat outward while the heels hug toward each other. You inner and outer arches will draw up. Relax your toes to the earth, spreading them wide to provide a solid base.
3. Root to rise – Working up from your feet, feel the energy and activity work up your legs, lift through your kneecaps, which are faced over your toes, and activate through your quadriceps and hamstrings. Find a balance between internal rotation (adduction) and external rotation (abduction) in your thighs.
4. Moving through the middle body, lengthen your torso through front back and sides. Draw your navel in and chest forward.
5. Arms release along your sides, encouraging the shoulders to draw down. Optionally, rotate your biceps and palms forward or keep them turned to your side body.
6. Let your neck be an extension of your already lengthening spine, it is part of your spine after all, and let the lengthening continue right up through the top crown of your head.
7. Inhale fully, exhale fully, focus.

Mindful Reminders
• Try not to fall back onto your heels or too far forward onto the balls of your feet. Similarly, find balance between inner foot, outer foot and left and right feet. This encourages structural stability and benefits everything above the feet – a house benefits when built on a strong and balanced foundation – same for your body.
• Feel the lift through your front body and ribs countered by a lift through your back body to avoid a “boinking” forward of the ribs or swayback.
• Gaze as if you are looking out over the horizon. Your chin is balanced in space to avoid a tucking of it in toward the heart, nor does it rise too far up causing a contraction through the neck.
• Mountains are living things, they are not dead – there is tons of activity on a mountain – flora, fauna, snowcaps collecting and melting and so on. Breathe life into your mountain – allow yourself to sway from left to right and forward and back, eventually finding your center. When you do settle in, let this be an experience of dynamic stillness.

Balance: Life with Two Feet on the Ground

Try this – Stand in place with your feet hips’ distance apart and parallel. Close your eyes. Tune in. You may immediately find that you start to sway, left, right, forward, back. Breathe. Observe. Focus. Breathe some more. As you continue to inhale and exhale you may find the movement diminishes, your body finds its rhythm with the movement of the earth and whether it’s breath by breath or all at once you find your center. Steady. Balanced.

It’s amazing that the simple act of closing one’s eyes can throw us completely out of balance. And its equally amazing that with time and focus the body will find it’s way back into equilibrium, a balanced state. Life is the same way, isn’t it? You head out into the world with eyes wide open, set goals, draw up elaborate plans, try to anticipate all of the obstacles that may present themselves – but life being life you are hit with the unexpected and your world is thrown out of balance. Perhaps at these times it’s best to listen to your body wisdom – Breathe. Observe. Focus. Breath some more. As you continue to inhale and exhale you may find the movement diminishes, you find your rhythm with the movement of the earth and whether it’s breath by breath or all at once you find your center. Steady. Balanced.

When we come face to face with the unknown and unanticipated it is only natural that they disrupt our balance. But every time we are blindsided there is an inner sight (insight?) that enables us to steady ourselves, to overcome, to come back to a balanced state. Our toolset consists of breath, focus and will. It’s bolstered by love, patience, faith, hope, persistence, resilience, contentment and gratitude. It’s with these tools, that even when we get hit the hardest, knocked right onto our seats – Breathe. Observe. Focus. – we’re able to get back up, dust ourselves off and place ourselves exactly where we need to be – standing steady on our own two feet.

Compassion in Action

“The purpose of human life is to serve, and to show compassion and the will to help others.” – Albert Schweitzer

More than sympathy/”I feel for you” or empathy/”I understand what you’re going through,” compassion embodies both and combines them with a deep rooted desire to alleviate another’s suffering.
“No act of kindness, no matter how small, is ever wasted.” – Aesop
So why don’t we act on our compassion? Rather than the term “Too Little, Too Late” which implies that had we just done more sooner we would have made a difference, we all too often fall into the trap of “Too Little, Too Early.” When we judge our actions before we take them, don’t believe they are big or grand enough, that we’re going to be doing “too little, too early” we can talk ourselves out of doing anything at all. In our go big or go home society it’s time to wake up to the fact that there is no action that is too small other than non-action, that big is simply made up of a whole lot of littles.

“If you want others to be happy, practice compassion. If you want to be happy, practice compassion.” – Dalai Lama XIV

When our desire to alleviate suffering is strong enough, when we recognize that no action is too small, we ACT. Through acts of selfless service we connect with others, and in doing so, are reunited with our own true nature, our own true Self.
“One love, one heart, one destiny.” – Bob Marley

Aprils Fool

With March coming in like a lion and going out like a lion, we’ve sometimes had to dig deep to keep that attitude of gratitude going. Through it all, we keep coming back to being grateful for the simple things – food on our plates, a roof over our heads, a jacket to keep us warm, family, friends, community. Funny how we consider these things essentials when they are luxuries for so many – it’s not a stretch to say that we are truly blessed. There’s no denying that there are very big and very real problems that come our way and deserve our attention. As for the small stuff we let consume us– the next time Mother Nature plays one of her tricks or life throws you a curve, perhaps you take a deep breath and laugh it off. And in doing so you transform yourself and your situation– no longer playing the role of the (April) fool, you’re in on the joke rather than the butt of it.

In this life whoever loses his roof Receives the stars in return.
– Tom Ze, Brazilian Musician