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Yoga Lifestyle

​Why Prioritizing Stress Management NOW is Important

By Wellness, Yoga LifestyleNo Comments

As we enter a new era where adaptation and often sheer survival instincts are essential, how can we possibly make time for stress management? In an ideal world, we would have all tested and practiced various stress management techniques to find out what worked for us before self-isolation and social distancing was recommended or required, but that simply wasn’t the case for most of us. We’re now dealing with more stressors than ever before, from learning how to co-work in a little studio with our partner or figuring out the best home-based learning solutions for our children.

Stress management isn’t a luxury. It’s part of our inherent and very necessary survival skill sets as human beings. We have no choice but to adapt in many situations, including the one we’re in right now. There are countless avenues to alleviating stress and anxiety, and not all of them are healthy. If we don’t take a conscious effort to explore and identify healthy relief that works for us, we’re likely to reach for vices that provide temporary but dangerous and harmful results. Smoking, drinking, or spending hours bingeing on Netflix are all very common “stress relievers” that don’t do us any favors in the long run—or even in the short run.

Start Simple: Short, Easy and Accessible

You’ve probably heard that yoga and meditation are fantastic avenues to relieve stress and anxiety, and they are! However, many of us—particularly in western countries—have been conditioned to think there’s a “right way” or “best way” to practice both. For instance, maybe you’ve heard that a proper yoga session should be 90 minutes, and you can certainly find studies to back up just about any claim. Rest assured, 90 isn’t a magic number. The reality is that any time you can spend on the mat is beneficial.

I personally have a daily 30-minute yoga practice. Admittedly, this began before the COVID-19 issues, and I started practicing at home in November. It worked for me then, and it works for me now, because as a small business owner I simply don’t have the time to get ready to go to a studio, commuting 20 – 30 minutes each way. It would honestly be more stressful to watch the clock all day to see what else I have to squeeze in before I had to go.

I “graduated” from using free YouTube yoga classes to simply writing down key asanas I wanted to practice every day and creating my own new daily flow. Granted, I had the benefit of 600 hours of yoga teacher training to help me with this, but that isn’t a requirement either. If you’ve practiced yoga before, you can start experimenting with creating your own flows. There are countless flows online you can use and tweak.

Plus, know that 30 minutes also isn’t the magic number for everyone. It’s simply what works for me and my schedule. You can amplify that time by selecting background ambiance if that helps you deepen your practice. Ever the multi-tasker, I have taken to listening to 30 minutes of classical music as my yoga practice background. Classical music isn’t something I was able to indulge in on a daily basis before a home practice, so there’s the added benefit of imbuing that joy into my daily life, which you can add to your practice as well. I also burn incense in my little office-cum-studio and face my mat towards the window that overlooks my front yard. Any little thing you can do to enhance whatever length practice you have at home is beneficial. The important thing is to make this your time to get on the mat. And if you have kids with no other adult in the house to watch them during this time? It might be time to start exploring yoga videos to practice with children.

Making Time for Meditation

One of the pillars of meditation is concentrating on living in the present. It’s extremely difficult to do, so simply trying not to get flustered is a big part of the practice. My personal meditation practice usually follows my yoga practice or takes place first thing in the morning. I’ve tried out several types of meditation in my life, and I’ve found that candle meditation (staring at the base or tip of a flame in the dark) and mala beads work best for me.

It’s been said that you can practice meditation anywhere, and to an extent, that’s true. However, it can be difficult to really live in the present and focus solely on your breath if you’re trying to multi-task and meditate while you wash dishes. I adopted a ten-minute meditation because—at this point in my life—that’s what my body and mind can handle. Yours may be longer or shorter, in the dark like me (honestly, it’s my closet) or in the daylight.

Be kind to yourself. Be realistic. And remember that what your yoga teacher said was true—the toughest part usually is just getting to the mat (even when it’s in your living room).

​3 Restful Practices to Support Immunity

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Fatigue and stress wreck havoc on the immune system. Whenever I get sick, it’s usually because work and worry have depleted my emotional, mental, and physical reserves. Rest is essential to our well-being. Taking breaks, slowing down, and sleeping well allow the body to do what it does best, which is defend and repair itself. Without the energy it needs to function, our immune system simply can’t keep up.

Incorporating rest into our busy lives can be quite challenging, but doing so trains our bodies and minds to relax when the world around us is moving very fast. I’m a big fan of personal practices that restore my sense of self. Carving out time for reflection, designing my space, and being creative, even for brief periods of time, nourish me physically and spiritually. Here are a few ideas for replenishing throughout the day, and I hope they inspire others.

1. Mindful Meals

I worked in food service for several years, and due to the demands of my job, I often ate standing up, while working, and at erratic times. My health suffered, particularly my digestion. If we eat on the go our digestive system doesn’t have the energy it needs to process our food and absorb nutrients because our body is busy doing something else. Without proper nourishment from our food our immune system doesn’t have the fuel it needs to fight illness.

Preparing and enjoying wholesome food is a method of self-healing. Mindfulness is practicing full awareness in the present moment, without reaction or judgement. Sitting at a table, enjoying the taste of our food, noticing the colors on our plates, chewing slowly, and pausing in between bites is a mindful practice that supports the body’s life-giving functions. Start the day with a slow breakfast. Set the table, remove clutter and light a candle. Whatever foods you have available, prepare them with care. Eat slowly and patiently, and sit for a while after you’ve finished. Doing so signals your body to focus on processing nutrients into energy.

2. Observing Nature

Walking is wonderful exercise and can be quite meditative if practiced with full awareness. Due to the coronavirus threat, walking outside may not feel safe right now, especially if you live in a crowded place. If that’s the case, there are other ways to slow down and notice your surroundings.

Observing our environment focuses the mind on the present moment, rather than our thoughts, which often exist in the past or future. When the mind slows down the body can rest. Spend a few minutes by an open window, on your front stoop, or in your backyard. Walk barefoot through the grass or sit with your eyes closed to soak up the sun. Notice the various sights and sounds, whether it’s lawn mowers or children playing, traffic noise or bird songs. If you see something beautiful, take time to delight in that experience. Slow down your movements or sit still, and disregard thoughts that pull you from the present moment.

3. Evening Rituals

To me sleep is a sacred time of renewal in order to greet the new day ahead with fresh eyes and a vibrant spirit. It’s the body’s optimal time to repair. A quick internet search will yield numerous articles linking the blue light emitted from digital screens to poor sleep. News and other information absorbed prior to bed can be over-stimulating and agitating. Establish a cut-off for screen time. Make yourself a calming cup of tea or soothing golden milk, and sit for a few moments to enjoy it. If you have time, silently meditate in a comfortable position. While lying in bed place one hand on your belly and the other on your heart. Take long, full breaths, feeling your chest and abdomen rise and fall with each inhale and exhale. Meditation and mindful breathing activate our parasympathetic nervous system, the one responsible for rest and renewal.

Rest is a form of nourishment. It’s essential to our health and will benefit us in even small doses. Deep sleep and mindful moments replenish our energy reserves so we don’t run out of what the body needs to stay well. Times of relaxation and quiet awareness are opportunities to learn about ourselves and relate to our bodies, which can foster trust in their resiliency, wholeness, and innate capacity to heal.

 

​Two Vegan Indian Recipes from my Gujarati Mother in Law

By Healthy Recipes, Yoga LifestyleNo Comments

 

 

The first thing my in-laws asked my husband after he’d put them into near-cardiac arrest telling them that I was 1) American and 2) not of Indian descent was, “Is she vegetarian?” As Gujarati Jains, ahimsa (non-harm) is at the core of their faith, life—and diet.

Fortunately, this other kind of Indian is vegetarian (and vegan in the US). Vegetarianism flew in the face of my upbringing as a citizen of the Cherokee Nation where hunting is imbued into culture, but as we grow, increase our knowledge and expand our experiences, we are consistently re-aligning our values.

However, vegetarianism in authentic Indian households is worlds apart from what many of us westerners experience on a daily basis. Both my mother-in-law and my husband are phenomenal cooks. Here are two of my favorite vegetarian recipes including a savory and sweet option.

Both recipes are surprisingly simple, although for some the ingredients might seem unfamiliar, overwhelming, or difficult to get. If you’re lucky enough to live in an area with an Indian store, they will have everything you need (if not, ordering online is always an option). When it comes to spices, it’s always simplest and most affordable to trust Indian stores in my experience.

 

Spicy Moong Dahl

 


* Image shown is for yellow dahl but this recipe calls for black moong dahl

 

INGREDIENTS
1 cup split moong dahl (presara pappu)
3 Cups Water
1/4 tsp canola oil
1 tsp cumin seeds
2 green chilis
2 dry red chilis
1 tsp ginger, grated
10 curry leaves
big pinch asafetida (also known as ting)
to taste salt
1/2 lemon
1/4 tsp turmeric
1 onion

DIRECTIONS
1. Pre-soak dahl in water as long as possible (2 hours is ideal).
2. Cook dahl in water in pressure cooker until soft.
3. Heat oil in pot and add cumin seeds; cook until brown but do not burn.
4. Shred red chilis and add to pot (you can leave seeds or de-seed depending on how much spice you want).
5. Dice and add green chilis, curry leaves, ginger.
6. Add turmeric and diced onion, asafetida.
7. Stir and immediately add to dahl.
8. Check to be sure there is enough water in dahl throughout process. Dahl can be made either thick (like yogurt) or more watered down (like a soup). This depends on your preference. Water can always be added to taste.
9. Add salt to taste. This recipe is from my friend who is Gujarati Jain in Mumbai. I was told this recipe is meant to be a bit bland and they often add a good amount of salt.
10. Simmer for 10 minutes. Right before serving add squeezed lemon.

NOTES:

I’ve found that pressure cookers have different “personalities” and it’s best to just watch the dahl to see when it’s soft and to monitor water levels.

As noted in the directions, I’ve found most people like a good amount of salt added to this dahl, but that is up to taste and health.

It is best served with white rice.

 

 

HALWA/SHEERA INDIAN DESSERT

 

*This dessert dish is called different things in different parts of India, but it’s delicious and very easy to make.

 

INGREDIENTS
1 cup Semolina
1 Cup Sugar
1/2 Cup Ghee (or unsalted butter)
2 Cups Water
1/2 Cup Cashew halves/pieces
1/4 Cup Raisins
4 Pods Cardamom
4 Sticks Cloves
2 Sticks Cinnamon

DIRECTIONS
1. Melt the ghee or butter in a flat-bottomed pan and add the cardamom, cloves, and cinnamon. I’ve been able to find most ingredients at stores like Whole Foods/Trader Joes but you may have to go to an Indian grocer. I have substituted cardamom powder in lieu of pods and it has tasted fine.
2. Fry cashew nuts and raisins along with spices in the ghee/butter until light brown.
3. Add the semolina and stir until there are no dry spots in the semolina.
4. Add water and mix well.
5. Cover the pan and keep on low flame for 2 minutes or until the water is absorbed and semolina is cooked.
6. Add the sugar and stir well on low flame until bubbles start popping through semolina.
7. Cover pan and keep on low flame one more minute.
8. Serve while warm.

CONCLUSION
Many Indian foods and entire cuisines (depending on the community) are inherently vegetarian. Anthony Bourdain once said that Indian food was the one food where he didn’t have issues eating vegetarian. By adopting more vegetarian recipes and dishes into your diet, you can enjoy a more varied experience and the ayurvedic benefits that often come with it. For instance, turmeric is an excellent immunity booster and can be added to virtually any savory Indian dish. Most importantly, have fun, experiment, and play—cooking and food should be joyful.

 

 

 

 

 

How To Stay Centered During Stressful Times

By Wellness, Yoga LifestyleNo Comments

 

 

 

It can be easy to become uncentered due to things that occur in our daily lives. When we feel uncentered, we feel as though we’re being spread too thin in many different directions. Our minds can become crowded with thoughts and we can feel anxious or stressed in our bodies.

When left unchecked, prolonged stress can lead to diseases, lowered immunity, tiredness, fatigue, and burnout. Long term stress can also lead to depression, anxiety, and social or communication issues. Another important point to keep in mind is that how we react to stress determines how stressed we actually feel, as well as our outlook on life. For example, two people could be in the exact same stressful situation, but if one has learned to reframe that situation in a positive light—or learned how to react less to it—that person will have a completely different experience than the other.

Regular yoga, pranayama, and meditation practice can help us to combat stress and help us with how we respond to stressful situations. By quieting the mind and allowing ourselves to be more deeply aware of the present moment, we can start to become more mindful of our emotions, our thoughts, and how we react to stressful situations. It’s important to take time each day to sit in stillness for a few moments to rediscover the place of centeredness in ourselves. As we practice sitting with this place of centering, we often find that we can access our centeredness more easily in times of chaos or stress. By strengthening our connection to it, we can allow this space of being centered to guide us in every moment. Some other ways we can return to our centers are taking walks daily, being in nature, eating healthy, journaling, yoga, breathwork, or meditation

By practicing calming the mind and building awareness of ourselves and the world around us, we gain dominion over our thoughts and our emotions.

Here are a few simple practices you can do today to help you feel more grounded in times of stress.

 

5 Simple Centering Practices

 


1. Centering Breath Practice

The simplest way to center in any moment of our lives is through our breath. The best part of this practice is that is easy and we can do it anytime we begin to feel stressed. To practice this centering breath practice, find a pace of breathing that feels good to you. Then, as you inhale, say the words I’m breathing in either out loud or internally. As you exhale, say the words I’m breathing out either out loud or internally. Repeat this up to a minute or longer. If you find that your mind wanders away, just gently bring your awareness back to this centering breath practice.

 

2. Sitting Grounding Practice

Grounding and feeling rooted helps us get in touch with feelings of stability and support. To practice, begin in a comfortable seated pose, with eyes either closed or open. Begin to center your mind with your breath; breathing deeply. Bring awareness to your sit bones and your connection with the earth beneath you. Observe how firm and supportive it is as you connect to it. Take several breaths in and out as you feel this connection deepening and begin to feel support and stability.

 

3. Counting Breath Practice

Focusing on our breath and breath practices can be a powerful way in which we can turn away from fear and move towards peace. To do this practice, begin in a comfortable seated position. Start off easily with a slow three-count inhale in and a slow three-count exhale out. Then, take a deep breath in for a count of three and hold for a second. After the hold, exhale slowly for a count of three. You can do this for up to a minute, and even extend the count for up to five seconds (five seconds inhaling and five seconds exhaling out, slowly).


4. Standing Grounding Meditation

 

In times of stress, this simple grounding meditation can allow us to come back to the present moment. To practice, begin standing tall in Mountain (Tadasana) with your legs hip distance apart. Bring awareness to your feet rooting down into the Earth and feel supportive energy rising up from the Earth into your bodies. Engage your core and your leg muscles and feel this energy rising up all the way to the crown of your head. Bring your hands to prayer position at your chest, take several deep breaths, and take a quiet moment to express gratitude and respect to our home, Earth.

 

5. Calming Peace Prayer Practice

Compassion has a powerful effect on our minds and how we feel. Practicing compassion can take us from feelings of fear to feelings of love and understanding. To practice, begin in Easy pose or a comfortable seated position with your spine upright. Bring your hands to Namaste or Anjali mudra at your heart center. Allow your heart center to open and fill with love and light. Repeat the following peace prayer mantra, either out loud or internally. Imagine that you are directing this mantra to the entire world:

Lokah samastah sukhino bhavantu

 

This ancient Sanskrit mantra translates to, “may all beings everywhere be happy and free.” Repeat this up to ten times and feel your heart radiating with love and peace for all beings in the world.

 

 

 

7 Essential Oils for Stress Relief and Relaxation

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7 Essential Oils for Stress Relief and Relaxation


Stress is experienced by everyone; the very nature of our fast-paced lifestyles often triggers stress and anxiety which, understandably, can be challenging to cope with. That said, the use of essential oils is a very effective way to combat the overwhelming effects of stress in a natural way. Aromatherapy has been utilized since ancient times in order to encourage relaxation and tranquility in the midst of stress. There are various ways to use essential oils such as applying them directly to the skin, inhaling them from a bottle, diffusing them in water or adding them to your hygiene products. Essential oils have a variety of purposes such as boosting energy, relieving headaches, helping with focus, improving sleep quality, and decreasing stress. Feel free to diffuse the following oils while practicing yoga or meditating in order to increase the relaxing effects of your practice. The essential oils listed below provide a natural remedy for stress and can be used to promote calmness and peace.


1. Jatamansi Oil

This calming and anxiety-relieving oil essential oil will especially benefit those who suffer from overthinking and it also supports deep, high quality sleep. Jatamansi is extracted from the spikenard root and it has a rich history of medicinal use in Ayurvedic medicine. It provides antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects while also offering stress relieving properties. One way to use Jatamansi oil is by placing a few drops on the crown of your head at night to promote deep, restorative sleep. Otherwise, use it as a massage oil, add it to a bath or even a warm compress if a specific part of your body is tense.


2. Lavender Oil

This oil is the most commonly used essential oil for stress relief due to its relaxing effects on the mind and the body. Lavender oil is also a very effective way to deal with sleep-related problems as it serves as a sleep-aid while enhancing the quality of your sleep. Often used in aromatherapy, lavender oil has been shown to react the same way as anti-anxiety medications. This essential oil can be added to your bath or even added to an aromatherapy diffuser to promote a deep sense of relaxation and stress relief.


3. Chamomile Oil

Chamomile is an essential oil that relieves stress by reducing common symptoms of anxiety, promoting relaxation, reducing inflammation in the body, and regulating your mood. Chamomile extract is often used in tea to combat stress and improve sleep quality. It’s important to keep in mind that chamomile extract can be ingested but chamomile oil cannot. That said, chamomile essential oil can be used by adding it to an aromatherapy diffuser or to your favorite body lotion to help you feel at ease. Aside from its stress-relieving properties, chamomile also relieves pain, helps with anxiety and depression, aids digestion, and improves sleep quality.


4. Ylang-Ylang Oil

This fragrant essential oil derives from the flowers of Cananga Odorata Genuina which is a plant native to India but it can be found in other countries in Asia such as Malaysia, the Philippines, Indonesia, and also Australia. Ylang-ylang provides many benefits for the cardiovascular and immune system as well as lowers blood pressure and helps with depression. Additionally, this essential oil is known to relieve feelings of anxiety and stress due to its calming effects. Use this oil in your bath, diffuser or directly on your skin with a carrier oil such as jojoba oil. Bonus: this floral-scented oil can also be used as a natural perfume!


5. Valerian Oil

Valerian is an earthy essential oil that eases anxiety, stress and restlessness by promoting a sense of peace and tranquility. Its calming abilities might be attributed to its mild sedative effect on the body which also aids with sleep quality. The best way to utilize Valerian is by adding a few drops to an aromatherapy diffuser before bed and allowing its scent to guide you into a deep sleep.


6. Jasmine Oil

This sweet-scented oil has been used for hundreds of years in Asia to naturally treat depression, anxiety, and even sleep problems. Jasmine oil is an essential oil that is extracted from the white flowers of the jasmine plant and it is known for its sweet fragrance. Apart from its beautiful scent, jasmine oil is also used to effectively reduce anxiety and stress, exhaustion and depression. Jasmine oil will also boost your energy levels, improve your mood, and provide an overall sense of relaxation. Try adding this oil to an aromatherapy diffuser, a bath or applying directly to the skin.


7. Bergamot Oil

This cold-pressed essential oil has a sweet, floral scent and it has been used in Ayurvedic medicine for various purposes such as soothing irritated skin, ingested as a health tonic, and used as an antiseptic and analgesic. This essential oil is obtained from the peel of Citrus Bergamia, a fragrant citrus fruit. Bergamot oil can be added to a massage oil or body lotion, it can be added to an aromatherapy diffuser, and it can also applied directly to the skin. That being said, this oil is commonly used to effectivelyrelieve psychological stress and anxiety.

Common occurrences like arguments, traffic, financial struggles, deadlines, and responsibilities can all contribute to stress. Stress is experienced by everyone and when life gets overwhelming, it’s best to resort to a natural remedy for some relief. Aromatherapy is often used as a natural way to relieve feelings of stress without resorting to medication with inevitable side effects. Essential oils provide a sense of relaxation as well as better sleep quality which is needed after a long, stress-inducing day. Some essential oils are better than others at relieving stress such as Jatamansi, Lavender, Ylang-ylang, Jasmine, and others listed above. Be creative and embrace the various ways that these oils can be incorporated in your daily routine in order to keep you feeling calm, tranquil, and serene.






Stella Versteeg was exposed to yoga early in life from her father – traveling to India to practice yoga with her family. Living in ashrams and being surrounded by the beautiful and intricate Indian culture, from a young age, Stella was able appreciate and learn about the origin of yoga as well as meditation. Stella received her 200 HR yoga training from YogaRenew in 2018. She currently runs a blog, Ride Your Wave Yoga, which shares yoga tips, poses, nutrition, travel and mindfulness. Her goal is to spread honesty, love and awareness about a yogic lifestyle through her blog posts as well as create a supportive, inspired community. She aspires to share as much information as possible about the wonderful lifestyle that yoga has to offer and continuously evolve in her personal own practice.

The Power Of Gratitude

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Yoga teachers often speak about gratitude. So, what does this word really mean?

I’ll tell you what it means to me.

When I was younger and someone talked about being grateful for something that I perceived as not going right in my life or something as simple as the grass or sky, I was baffled; I couldn’t wrap my mind around it or align with this grateful feeling. I lamented about what I felt was lacking in my life, unaware that this was in fact the opposite of gratitude.

Lately, I’ve been feeling some frustration around the outward manifestation of my goals versus my effort and hard work. I feel ready for a next step or chapter that has yet to appear. When I focus on this feeling of lack that is what expands in my life; it’s a downward spiral … kind of like Debbie Downer. But if I get up close and personal with this frustration (really feel it) and then, when I’m ready, thank it for, or at least acknowledge, the motivation it is stirring within me to be proactive, I begin to shift my energy into a more open-minded state.

It is not an easy practice, this business of thanking the challenges and struggles. It’s one thing to say it, to recognize that challenges enable us to grow (especially after the fact, when you are looking back at them), but when you’re going through them it’s a different story. The first step is to sit or lie down and imagine breathing into this obstacle. When I do, I can feel my body resisting, my breath constricted, until I finally being to soften around the tight places and allow more space into my body/mind. With each breath I become a little lighter. I might say at the close of my meditation, “Thank you (universe or spirit) for bringing me deeper into my heart; thank you for supporting me as I (create more abundance in my life, for example).” It may sound corny but it’s worth a try.

A gratitude practice enables you to release resistance and therefore accept life as it is in this moment and that brings a sense of peace and wellbeing.

I have also learned, during my many years of practicing yoga, to notice the so-called small things and to recognize the beauty, magic, wisdom, etc. in them. Yoga teaches us how to slow down, to be more present; this has allowed me to notice and find joy in things like: a child playing, an exquisite creature (we tend to overlook birds, for example), a tree, a person smiling, the sky, the light of the moon. When you become more present in you life you naturally become more grateful; awe-struck by the majesty and wonder of the life all around you. You wonder how you lived in such a closed-off state beforehand, how you could have slept walk through so many years of your life. Presence and gratitude are one in the same.

Writing a Gratitude list can help to re-shift your focus from a feeling of lack to fulfillment. I use this exercise with my young students.

Here is my list today:

1. My mini-tiger friends. They double as an alarm clock: little paws in the face every morning. They have taught me about unconditional love.

2. Bare feet. As a yoga teacher, I get to be sans shoes and socks a lot. I love and crave the feeling of the ground or earth under my tootsies.

3. Time outdoors and in nature. It is truly healing for me.

4. My students. People who are receptive to what I have to share. I have had the pleasure of connecting with beautiful souls on this teaching path.

5. My fears. Since young, I have had a deep seated fear of speaking in front of others, of being seen and heard. Joseph Campbell wrote: “The cave you fear to enter holds the treasure you seek.”

6. Messups. I am fearful of making mistakes. When I mess up, I want to run for the hills and go into hiding forever. I am gaining perspective in this area.

What are some of the things you’re grateful for? Your list can be made up of words, phrases, musings, images; you can make it creative or simple. By the way, gratitude isn’t about putting a phoney smile on your face and pretending your happy when you’re not; it’s about exploring emotions and then doing your best to accept and make friends with them because that is the most powerful place from which to create and manifest your goals and dreams.




Nicole Alexander is a graduate of the 500 HR Yogaworks Teacher Training in NYC, and an Ayurveda Wellness Counselor. Nicole teaches a mindful/breath-based class, sharing her love for yoga in all its forms (physical, mental, spiritual), and the many ways this practice heals us.

On Effort And Ease In Your Yoga Practice

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In a yoga class I attended a few years ago, I recall the teacher inquiring after a challenging posture: “Were you burning a hole in the floor with your gaze?” I paused, feeling, for a moment, ashamed. Was I? I may have been. My gaze had felt focused, and there may have been blue blazes emanating from my eyeballs. I am vata-pitta (the air and fire elements) constitution, according to the ancient science of Ayurveda, and was feeling my pitta (fire) that day. So perhaps I was guilty as charged. It’s true that pitta dominant people can benefit from softening their gaze, and I believe it’s a good and honest question in terms of softening around the places we tend to harden (I often encourage my students to feel for the places in their bodies that would benefit from softening). I also believe that how teachers phrase cues and questions is important in terms of enabling students to find that place of balance we so often talk about.

One of the most well-known Yoga Sutras (or threads of wisdom) by Patanjali is about creating balance in the yoga poses (and in life) and translates to “Asana is a steady comfortable posture.” In each posture we can aim to feel steady or grounded, putting effort into it, and at the same time it’s important to feel a sense of ease, a sense of letting go so we don’t become too rigid. I talk about this concept often in my yoga classes since, in my mind, it is the heart of the practice and of life.

In the same class I mentioned above, the teacher interrogated after a balancing posture: “Do you feel you just nailed that pose?” The question was meant to point out the fact that nailing a pose might not be very “yogic.” I wanted to say, “Yes!” The truth is I was glad that I had since there are plenty of times that I don’t. In fact, I have spent most of my adult life trying to find solid ground, so when I occasionally “nail” a balancing pose it can feel grounding and also like an accomplishment. Consider this: Nailing the pose is also part of the dance. It is not always “better” to do less. It is not as we say in Ayurveda Counseling, a one-size fits all practice. Each person comes into the class with their own history, constitution, set of desires and needs, etc; sometimes those match up with teacher’s and sometimes they don’t, and this is an important point to remember when we teach yoga to a large group of students.

I come from a place of floundering, and I fall enough, on and off the mat, to learn and grow.

I have spent many years holding myself back due to fear and uncertainty, due to faulty early lessons that it is not proper or “lady like” to go for the things you want in life, that to be good at something is showing off and, essentially, that it is not safe or appropriate to be powerful and strong. For many years, due to these ingrained lessons, I have been out of touch with my fire, my power center and, subsequently, my ability to manifest the things I want and need in my life. My teacher, on the other hand, admitted to coming from a place of being a “Type A” personality, an “over-achiever” and someone who consistently “over-did.”

If you are someone who always “nails” poses and doesn’t allow yourself room to wobble then, yes, you would probably benefit from experiencing what it feels like wobble or fall, and you can risk being thrown off balance by trying something different like closing your eyes. In my own classes, I acknowledge students’ work whether they land the pose or fall out of it. In either case, whether students lean toward the “effort” or “ease” side of the road, questions can be phrased in a way that encourages students to create more balance for themselves. You can guide students to explore what a pose feels like, for example, “Notice a place in your body that feels tense and imagine breathing into that space” or “As you connect to your inner and outer strength in this posture can you feel the soothing Ujjayi breath?” These types of cues can be an effective way of diving into the body.

When teachers ask exploratory questions–such as “What does it feel like if you lengthen your stance?”–while recognizing that it may not be right for everyone, we are giving students space to feel the practice and make decisions based on their intuition. I remember practicing next to a woman once who was consistently losing her balance and she was visibly and extremely irritated by this, swearing under her breath. We don’t know what she came to her practice with that day; maybe she was taking care of someone who was ill or was ill herself, or going through a break-up; maybe she needed to swear under her breath in that moment; who is to say what is and isn’t “yogic?”

By giving permission to be inside the extremes (e.g., feeling your fire), we can, ironically, more easily move into that place of balance. Because it is by accepting where we are, not criticizing or beating ourselves up for doing something “wrong,” that we bring in the space needed for change. When we focus on what we perceive as the wrong thing, we tend to stay stuck in that very place we don’t want to be in.

I believe that it is essential for teachers to keep in mind that we are not here to control our students. As I’ve noted, each student is coming from a different place and that is a very personal thing. For me, excessive nit-picking during my formative years had the effect of stunting my creativity, my spontaneity and my “flow” (probably why I’m drawn to Vinyasa style of yoga), so when I am practicing yoga a ‘nit-picky’ type of banter is the last thing I need. When I make my way into a posture, an invitation to explore is what will enable me to blossom and more naturally find my center. Of course, as we cultivate inner strength and balance what someone else says or does will have less, if any, effect on us and that is also part of the practice.

Each teacher’s particular teaching style will inevitably stem from his or her own experiences, and that teacher will draw in the students who resonate with that style. That said, it’s important to remember and consider when teaching that your experiences are not necessarily your students’ experiences. A yoga teacher, I believe, is there to energetically hold the space for students, not to correct or control them. Consider this: when people receive input in an open, non-judgmental way they are more likely to listen and perhaps make changes they would benefit from. In The Wisdom of No Escape, Pema Chodron relays that “when you find yourself slumping that’s the motivation to sit up, not out of self-denigration but actually out of pride in everything that occurs to you, pride in the goodness or the fairness or the worstness of yourself–however you find yourself–some sort of sense of taking pride and using it to spur you on” (p. 11).




Nicole Alexander is a graduate of the 500 HR Yogaworks Teacher Training in NYC, and an Ayurveda Wellness Counselor. Nicole teaches a mindful/breath-based class, sharing her love for yoga in all its forms (physical, mental, spiritual), and the many ways this practice heals us.

Yoga Breath, Flexibility, and Balance.. On and Off the Mat

By Pranayama, Yoga LifestyleNo Comments



When I started going to Yoga classes, I thought it was only about flexibility.
I also thought you could be
good at
Yoga. Group meditation and breathing exercises were the part of class where I peaked through closed eyelids, sizing people up to see who my “competition” would be.

I’ve always been involved in athletics. Although I wouldn’t necessarily call
myself an athlete – the competitive nature of sports has carried over into my fitness regime. I’ve always wanted to be the strongest, fastest, or comparing the number of reps I get in before taking a rest break to the gal next to me. Through my yoga practice,
I’ve learned three important things that allows me to maximize workouts so that when that competitive edge creeps up on me, I know I can crush my goals! Through finding my breath, improving my flexibility, and gaining more balance I can bring enjoyment, ease,
and productive to all activities – whether it’s running, lifting weights, or going for a 90 minute Bikram session.

Breath

I remember playing soccer in highschool, making a sprint all the way down the
field when a play changes only to feel like I was going to blackout. I always held my breath during those really intense pushes and took this practice into my workout sessions. You can listen to your personal trainer or group instructor when they say “inhale
on the way down, exhale on the way up” – but actually making it a natural part of your workout routine takes practice. The lengthening and contracting of your muscles move in time with your breath.

In
Yoga, the movements are the same: inhale, upward dog, exhale, downward dog. When you find yourself on the mat at the beginning of practice, the first thing
you do is to clear your mind, and draw yourself into your practice by regulating your breathing. By keeping a regular breath; it focuses your mind, creates
discipline in your practice, and helps you crush your fitness goals at the same time.

Breath = Discipline.


Flexibility

Gaining flexibility
allows for a deeper range of motion, so you get more out of your practice, and exercise. It also gives you access to your muscles that you may have lost over time. Flexibility strengthens and protects your muscles so you are less apt to injure
yourself in daily life – for example during a game of tag with your children
or grandchildren – or jumping over that bigger puddle in the parking lot if you need to. If you
think about flexibility in terms of range of motion, it opens up a lot more possibilities during your workouts. Increased flexibility will allow you to jump higher and step further for a deeper lunge. It’ll also keep you from getting stiff a few days later
after an intense workout.


Balance

When you think of balance on the mat, you may think of the “I can stand on one
foot with my eyes closed for 30 seconds” kind of balance. Balance in yoga helps us to bring balance into our lifestyles. As you
go through your asanas, it forces you to use several muscle groups; moving from a stretch in Downward Facing Dog to tightening the core – to hopping in between the hands – to flexing the triceps to hover just above the mat in Chaturanga. In Tree Pose, you also
encounter the need for flexibility
and
strength to find the balance you need when you tuck your foot, lift the chest, move your hands to heart center and dare to close your eyes.

But balance
can be much more deeper than that. Balance can also give you the confidence to go through your day-to-day life and not think about your physical limitations. During a particular sweaty and difficult Bikram Yoga session, I always remember my instructor reminding
the class, “you practice Yoga so your body doesn’t keep you from living your life.”

You need
balance to hop over that puddle in the parking lot. You need balance to pick up something up with your toes while cradling your sleeping child in your arms. You need balance to bound up the stairs to the front porch to wrap your loved ones in your arms.

You need balance to crush those squats while crushing your New Year’s resolution
to get in shape. You also get balance when other things align like finding your breath, staying with your breath and perhaps pushing through that 13th mile in a marathon.

One could say that practicing Yoga is an essential part of a fitness routine.
The mat is a space to find the discipline you need to stick to your goals in life and crush them. It also gives you the headspace to prepare you for the journey off the mat.


My name is Emily. I started practicing Yoga during undergrad and, after find the meaning of Yoga, made it a part of my lifestyle and fitness routine. I lead classes at work and attend classes around town whenever I can. I completed my 200 hour Yoga Teacher Training with Yoga renew after the Yoga instructor at work moved on. I was given the opportunity to pursue one of my dreams and spread my passion for Yoga to others. I hope to continue using Yoga in the corporate world to bring balance and health to friends and colleagues.

How Yoga Saved Me From Narcissistic Abuse

By Yoga LifestyleNo Comments



How Yoga Saved Me From Narcissistic Abuse
And How It Can Help You With Anxiety/PTSD



Yoga has the power to empower and inspire people all over the world. For me, it helped save me from narcissistic abuse. When I was 14, an abuser came into my life. At that stage in life, I was a young teen. I was young and impressionable and felt like the world was against me. It was then that a 20 year old man came in like a knight in shining armor; he seemed to understand me and made me feel special.

I could write a book about the following 17 years and the hell I went through.

At a young age, he started to control and shape my very opinions. He wouldn’t allow me to make any decisions and if I tried, he’d become upset and made me feel worthless for it. As the years went on, he shaped every thought and opinion I had; including controlling relationships with my family and friends. He also kept me powerless by controlling my own money. He would guilt me into spending my money for his needs – even though he made MUCH more then I – until I didn’t have enough to make ends meet. Then he’d give me just enough to get by so that I financially relied on him. He had to know everything I did and everywhere I went. He also made it so that eventually he was all there was, all I had, and all I could trust. This man even shaped my opinion of God so that I no longer trusted in a loving higher power.

During this time in my life, I lived in a state of state of anxiety so high – wanting to please him and feel like I was enough. I struggled with agoraphobia, panic attacks, and PTSD, all the while he convinced me these things came because I was weak, not because he took away every ounce of strength I had. I survived on medications, social avoidance, and walked through life like a miserable and broken puppet on a string.

Friends, family, even therapists tried to make me see what was happening to no avail. I was brainwashed. I was held hostage in an emotional prison of his making that there was NO escape hatch from.


Many things happened at once to have finally given me the strength to break free but the one I must give the most credit to is YOGA.

I started doing Yoga through online videos. Then I made a friend at work that fueled my interest more. As I gained a sense of accomplishment through learning new physical positions – my confidence in myself began to grow. I became more involved in this gentle exercise and before I knew it, I’d began to find my own inner light. I found that for the first time in my life, I had an identity on my yoga mat that was my own. I had a self-esteem that was built from within and not dependent on this abuser’s opinion of my self-worth. I even began to rebuild my faith in a higher power.

Eventually I learned to bring what I gained on the yoga mat into my life, and I found the strength to break off my relationship with my abuser. We’d broken up many times over the years but it was always him doing the breaking up and me doing ANYTHING I could to get him back. How VERY empowering that I had the power now. He still stayed in my life as a friend, however I did my best to distance myself from him.

When I began the yoga teacher program, I didn’t tell him. I recognized his power to shape my opinion and I didn’t want to risk his influence. I wanted SO badly to prove I could do this on my own. That I could accomplish something without him. And I did!

It was shortly after I gained my yoga teacher certification that he left again. This time however, due to the inner strength I’d cultivated through my yoga practice and new found self worth nurtured from my time on my yoga mat, I was no longer dependent on him. When he disappeared from my life this time as a “punishment,” refered to as ghosting — I happily let him go and in my now open heart wished him well.

I still find insecurities and anxieties from the years of gaslighting from a narcissistic abuser — but I now know I have the space and ability to work through them and most importantly; to heal. What’s more, I have the ability to share them with you now.

How To Use Yoga To Work Through Anxiety & PTSD

Mental health struggles such as anxiety and PTSD rob us of our sense of safety and identity. By regular practice on our mats we can create a safe space to let go and just be. As cliche as “let go” and “just be” have become, they are truly the foundation I’ve built on for finding myself again.

A Meditation for Self Acceptance

Find a comfortable position on your mat in Easy pose or Savasana with your spine straight. Take some long and deep cleansing breathes in and out. Allow yourself to focus the sensation of the air going in and out of your lungs.

On your third inhale, hold the breath — and in pause between inhaling and exhaling allow yourself to fully release all false beliefs, fears, and insecurities you’re holding onto. As you exhale, feel all those negative energies leaving your body through your breath.

On your next inhale, feel how much lighter your energy feels. Repeat this, and continue using the pause on every third breath to release things that no longer serve your higher good. Do this for as long as you need. On your last exhale, smile knowing you are free from all things that are not true to your happiness.

It’s ok if this exercise makes you emotional. If you feel angry, sad, feel the need to cry, or scream – accept it and allow these emotions to be there. Acknowledge your feelings and let them go. This powerful practice allows your feelings to be validated, while reminding yourself that they do not need to be held onto.

Remind yourself that It’s OK to feel however you feel. Repeat to yourself the following mantra, “I am enough, just as I am.”

You may not always like who you are each day, but that’s OK! Accept yourself AS YOU ARE and know that where you are, is where you need to be on your journey to a better you.

Yoga Poses For Inner Strength

1. Warrior 1 & 2

Virabhadrasana or Warrior pose on the physical level teaches us to open ourselves up to the unknown. It also teaches us to improve our balance and to strengthen our foundation by building strength in our feet, hamstrings, glutes and core. These lessons are mirrored internally as we sink into the pose and allow the Warrior inside of us to come forth. This pose also helps us find the balance between yin and yang or strength and vulnerability. It also fuels us with an inner confidence we can lead our lives from.


2. Camel Pose

In Ustrasana or Camel pose, we allow ourselves to open up our chakra or energy centers to clear away blockages especially in the heart center and solar plexus. It is in these two chakras where we house our love and our personal power. In this pose, we are vulnerable but not unprotected. Camel pose reminds us that we can have an open and inviting heart, while still being able to function within our own power and set safe personal boundaries.



3. Tree pose

In Vrksasana or Tree pose we learn to be honest with ourselves to find our own personal balance required to hold ourselves upright in this challenging times in our lives. Tree pose gives us a chance to look within and accept our truth. It also encourages us to act from that place of truth we discover from within ourselves. When we can learn to honor ourselves in this way – no one can dishonor you.


Above all else, be patient and kind with yourself. Some days will be harder then others. Some days will be easier. You didn’t get to today by being weak or giving up, you got here because you are strong, and beautiful, and SO very worth all of your efforts.

Love and Light,
Corbi

I’m Corbi Hickman, a 33 year old psychiatric RN, mother to a beautiful 7 year old daughter, Reiki practitioner and recent graduate of the 200 HR YogaRenew Teacher Training program. I’ve recently started my own freelance Yoga and Reiki Business called White Phoenix Yoga and Reiki which you can find on Facebook and will be launching my own blog soon (stay tuned!) I’ve had so many ups and down in my life and am blessed with a family and an inner strength that has helped see me through it all to brighter days. My HOPE is to show others that they too can rise from the ashes of whatever they’ve been through and come out the better for it.

Namaste

Understanding Social Justice Through Selflessness

By Yoga Lifestyle, Yoga PhilosophyNo Comments



We learn a lot through the practice of meditation, mindfulness and yoga. We learn how to use our breath to support us through difficult moments. We learn how to set our drishti to keep us balanced on and off the mat. We learn how to set an intention and stick with it. But, one principle that I find we aren’t readily learning through the practice of yoga is seva. Seva being the Sanskrit term for selfless service. Now, I can argue all day that there really isn’t a such thing as a selfless service – if you feel good about what you’re doing, then it’s not selfless, because the reward is the good feeling. Or you may receive praise for your “selfless” act, and well, the second you receive praise there is an outcome for the individual who did a good and “selfless” thing. But, I digress. Let’s focus in on this concept of seva for what it actually means, a selfless act and let’s couple it with what’s necessary for social justice.

Social justice is about creating fair and equitable treatment for groups of people who experience unfair, inequitable and injust experiences due to social issues related to race, class, gender, religion, sexuality, etc. For most of us, the kneejerk selfless action is to donate money, donate time (i.e. volunteering), donate clothes, etc. – essentially, to donate and be giving – which is great. But, this does not create justice. This is charity. Justice starts with understanding what the inequities are, challenging our perceptions, notions and ideologies about those inequities, and moving forward to changing the dynamics of the system that continue to operate to create inequity or injustices. Justice is voting. Justice is creating policy. Justice is advocating for those who are voiceless or without the “power” to advocate for themselves. Justice is keeping your eyes and ears open, rather than turning a blind eye or deaf ear. This requires more than a donation or volunteering of time.

Selflessness must start with some focus on the self. In order for there to be growth or social change, each and every individual must be willing to drop what they think they know and begin to learn about and challenge the systems that privilege some and do not privilege others. As a starter to selflessness, we have to be willing to get a bit uncomfortable with ourselves and unlearn what we are holding onto about particular groups if we are hoping to see change for that group. In order to truly do good this society, selflessness requires deep self reflection and self-inquiry, an understanding of ourselves, before we can even attempt to give anything to someone else. Think about what you hear on an airplane: “put your oxygen mask on first, before you help your child or neighbor.” The truth in this statement isn’t about saving yourself first, the truth in this statement is, we aren’t any good to anybody else, if we don’t take care of ourselves first. Similarly, there is no good to be done with regards to social change or social justice if we haven’t done the necessary work to unlearn and challenge our perceptions, notions and ideologies about particular groups of people and what they need, rather than what we think they need.

So, consider doing things a bit differently, rather than assuming you know what’s needed or that your service is selfless. Social justice and social change requires people who are willing to say “I don’t have the answers, but I’m willing to learn and grow so I may be able to do better by others.”



Valin S. Jordan Ed.D. is an Assistant Professor of Diversity Education at University of Louisiana at Lafayette. Dr. Jordan’s work focuses on teacher identity and narrative as having particular implication for classroom practice. Dr. Jordan engages in contemplative pedagogy through the practice of yoga, she has founded an organization called, Yoga4SocialJustice. The organization is committed to mind and body connection through engagements of social justice and equity principles. More information can be found on Instagram @yoga4socialjustice or on the website https://www.yoga4socialjustice.org/