Routine & Chaos

Routine & Chaos

Lately, I've been thinking a lot about the difference between mindless habits, healthy repetition, ritual, chaos and addictions. What parts of my life feel mindless? Do I prefer routine or irregularity? And why? Where does boredom come from?

Yoga teaches that we all have various addictions and attachments (check back to the kleshas blog for more info) that can cause suffering. We ALL deal with addictions all the time. But there's definitely still value to repetition and routine. Where and how do we draw the line between the two?

Obviously the answer is different for everyone. Even day to day, our need for the security of routine or the creativity of chaos differs.

It's our job as spiritual beings to determine: is our "need" for stability or messiness legitimate or are we simply clinging to our comfort zones?

I recently listened to a beautiful podcast on embracing chaos with Tim Harford (Hidden Brain by NPR). Tim gave some amazing examples of how those unexpected 'problems' that arise in our lives are often the push we need to get out of a mindless rut. Though we're often challenged by the unexpected, embracing it offers us the opportunity to find a new way, explore our creativity and stretch our problem-solving capabilities.

When everything is perfect and tidy, we’re on autopilot.
— Tim Harford

I find it easier to stay creative when I allow flexibility into my schedule. Over the past few years, I've become more comfortable with flux than I am with routine. As an entrepreneur, my schedule is mine to control however I want. So I often enjoy how it differs day to day or week to week. But I experienced the opposite end of the spectrum first. I worked 9-5 and essentially did the same tasks and had the same predictable schedule every week. I had to work very hard, mentally, to stay present, to find value and interest within the monotony, but it was an important part of my journey.

What type of energy creates the most balance for you? How can you learn to find the value in routine AND chaos? What types of things make you feel restless or uncomfortable?

A few months ago, I took a private lesson with one of my good friends and teachers, Lianna. I was in the midst of the worst of my dysautonomia, struggling with my body that felt completely out of control. She reminded me to question the perceived value of control. We often think we have control when things are going well, but we do not. And if the opposite of control is freedom, does repetition and control create more bondage? It all depends on your perception.

See what is new in the steady and continuous.
— Rumi

Rumi reminds us that there is value within repetition. (Patanjali reminds us of this as well in Sutra 1.13) But the real value in the 'steady and continuous' comes from discovering something new each time. We can learn how to do the same thing or move the same way 1,000 times, but never experience the exact same thing. By truly remaining present, feeling and embracing the nuances of repetition, we actually can become more comfortable with change as well because we start to see change in everything.

Our lives and our bodies are never static. We are always moving and changing. So even when things feel steady, in control, safe, monotonous...they're not. When we experience boredom, our perception has become dull.

We stay sharp by developing SELF-control. Having patience through repetition and grace through change comes from paying attention to everything in between. Be mindful for the moments that cause you to feel safe, bored, flexible or free. Feel your way into appreciating what's really behind each moment. One at a time.



SO HUM Meditation

Please enjoy and practice this SO HUM meditation at your leisure! The words 'so hum' are a sacred Sanskrit mantra that mean, 'I am that,' or 'I am myself.' The words themselves are extremely grounding and you'll find the rhythm of this meditation soothing and healing.

Click the photo below to take a closer look or download and print the file to keep on hand. SO HUM is useful to incorporate into your day or during times of stress, so practice it and remember it for next time!

Click to download and print.

Click to download and print.

10 Weeks + 10 Keys to Live Wholeheartedly

10 Keys to Live Wholeheartedly

This time of year can feel all at once lovely and overwhelming. We find ourselves busy with daily life, wrapped up in a myriad of holiday activities, perhaps preparing to spend time with challenging family members, or missing loved ones. When we have such a wide variety of feelings and thoughts moving around us or through us, compiled with our regular tasks, staying grounded and calm becomes a little more challenging.

I've found that having an intention or sticking to some type of calming practice can help to reframe our sense of busy-ness and scheduling. It feels natural to draw toward the practices and self-care that will allow you to function at your best and begin to notice the ways in which we're really spending our time. Even if you're already feeling calm and enjoying this time of year, these 10 Keys to Live Wholeheartedly are meant to be little reminders to keep you focused on what's most important.

How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives. What we do with this hour, and that one, is what we are doing. A schedule defends from chaos and whim. It is a net for catching days. It is a scaffolding on which a worker can stand and labor with both hands at sections of time. A schedule is a mock-up of reason and order—willed, faked, and so brought into being; it is a peace and a haven set into the wreck of time; it is a lifeboat on which you find yourself, decades later, still living. Each day is the same, so you remember the series afterward as a blurred and powerful pattern.
— Annie Dillard

Beginning on Tuesday November 7th, watch here for the first mindful suggestion. A blog post will publish each Tuesday for 10 weeks to carry us all the way through the holidays and the New Year to January 9th.

Think of these 10 weeks at a time to consider your true priorities and reflect upon your blessings. This is the perfect time of year to begin to take stock of where you are putting your time and energy and to set an intention to live wholeheartedly.

Why attend a yoga retreat?

Why attend a yoga retreat?

Nowadays, yoga retreats are truly a dime a dozen. In every beautiful corner of the world, for every stage of life and every style of movement, yoga retreats are as diverse as we are. If there's anywhere in the world you want to travel, you can almost surely find a yoga retreat there. Yet retreats themselves are certainly not a new fad. Many cultures and spiritual traditions have valued seasonal retreats for hundreds of years as a way to cultivate a deeper sense of devotion.

What is it about taking a full day (or multiple days) toward a specific focus that can be so transformational?

Read More

What is metta?

The word "metta" translates to "goodwill," "non-violence" or "loving kindness." Metta is the practice of ahimsa, or non-harming, which is one of the 5 yamas or restraint practices of yoga philosophy.

Metta meditation is a way of directing this loving kindness energy towards other people. There are many different ways to practice metta, but it is meant to cultivate a feeling of universal well-wishing toward ALL beings. It is a very powerful way to overcome feelings of anger, fear, greed, insecurities and jealousy when directed toward those who challenge us.

Practicing metta mediation is an effective way to create a deeper connection to our own sense of self-love and balance the ever-in-flux heart chakra energy center. See below for recommendations to get you started. As with any meditation, always feel free to add, edit or extract to practice in a way that feels genuine and supportive for you. When you find something that works, stick with it.

As always, find a comfortable position with the spine extended. Close down the eyes and slow your breath before beginning. Whether you choose to read the words below or listen to the audio version, allow this meditation to be creative in a way that makes sense for you.

1) Begin with yourself. In your own words, wish yourself happiness, good will, love and good health. Wish yourself freedom from anger, greed, negativity and stress. Wish yourself joy, compassion, kindness and gratefulness. Wish yourself a future of wisdom, patience and kindness.

2) Now, take a moment to allow space for those well-wishes to sink in. Notice why loving kindness needs to begin with yourself FIRST.

3) Next, begin to send similar well-wishes to your family and close friends. (You may choose to think of each person individually, or just focus on all of them at once) Send them all love and happiness, freedom from anger and stress, fulfillment, joy, wisdom and strength.

4) As you move through your love toward each person, notice any struggle or resistance that comes up for you to send those wishes. If so, recognize them and return to Step 1, practicing loving kindness again toward yourself.

May I be happy, May I be free, May I be well, May I be healthy and strong, May I live happily, peacefully and joyfully.

5) Once you feel that you can sincerely send loving kindness to your close friends and family, practice again toward acquaintances such as neighbors, coworkers, or people you just know in passing. Continue to notice what comes up and return to more loving patterns for yourself where you find resistance.

6) Keep expanding your attention and love outwards. To the area you live in, to your state or country, and eventually, to the entire world. All of the people, animals and creatures within it. Repeat the loving kindness thoughts to yourself at the first sign of any judgement or negativity.

Metta meditation increases positivity, compassion, connection and self-love. I hope you'll give it a shot and notice how it can begin to edit your thoughts and attitudes.

Chakras 101

What's a chakra?

The word "chakra" is Sanskrit for "wheel." Chakras are simply main hubs or energy centers within the body based on the way that energy moves and flows up and down along the spine. In Western science, we recognize the chakra centers at the axis of the 7 main centers of nerve ganglia that run up and down the length of the spine. Many Western psychologists also use the chakra system to map the development of the human personality.

The 7 main chakras stack from the tailbone up to the crown of the head and the science originated in India between 1500 and 500 BC.

How many chakras are there?

There are seven main chakras within the body that are regularly incorporated into yoga philosophy. But including minor energy centers such as at the center of the palms or the roof of the mouth, there are about 114 total chakras. They all exist within the subtle body (deep within muscle and bone, not visible to the naked eye), overlaying the physical body.

Your lower two chakras deal with external reality (how secure and stable your life is), the middle three deal with your internal reality and how you relate to others, and the upper chakras are our source of spiritual connection.

How do the chakras effect me?

Just like muscles and organs in the body, the chakras take on whatever types of chronic stress, emotions or signals they are regularly sent. Weakness in one chakra center will manifest in physical ailments or disease, and may effect the chakra centers above and below it.

How do the chakras relate to yoga practice?

Yoga science is closely related to Traditional Chinese Medicine in the personalized and holistic approach toward healing. Whether you know it or not, every yoga asana you take is manipulating the chakras. (This is why sometimes certain seemingly random or unexplained emotions can come up in certain postures.) Part of the reason yoga asana exists is to balance and support the chakra system, which in turn balances and supports our emotional, mental and physical bodies as well.

The chakras are used by various healing arts to support the physical body just as the physical body supports the chakras. For instance, a sore lower back will inevitably effect the sacral chakra center, just as a compromised chakra can cause a sore lower back. The chakras are often referred to as 'The 7 Healing Chakras' because they offer us powerful information for our healing.

How can I learn more?

Sign up for The Chakra Project! A 7 week virtual journey into the subtle body. For $50, you receive 3 weekly emails for 7 weeks (start anytime), lifetime access to ebooks, videos, meditations and private Facebook community.

In the meantime, feel free to download and print these chakra balancing affirmations below. Each of these phrases support the energetic qualities of the chakra the represent. Notice the ones that resonate with you most and read or repeat them out loud daily.

Enjoy! Hope to see you within The Chakra Project!

Click to download

Click to download

Why is meditation so hard?

Have you ever sat down to meditate or unwind and find that you suddenly have one thousand important thoughts? Or maybe you're just trying to fall asleep and your mind is stuck in a continual playback loop of your entire day or your to-do list for the days to come. It's easy to allow the mind to run away on all sorts of unhelpful tangents and it becomes especially noticeable right when you're trying to control it.

I recently received this meditation blog post suggestion from my friend, Sarah Speer Kaminski. (Sarah is an amazing wellness coach, business mentor and mama. You can find TONS of inspiration from her here!)

Sarah said: "I need meditation help! It is so hard for me to turn my mind down."

"Turning the mind down" is such a common struggle. I hear you and I hear it all the time from those who are new to the practice as well as long-time practitioners. So Sarah, you're most certainly not alone! I'd like to share some of my favorite tips and common obstacles that trip people up about their meditation practice. Let's start with a definition!

What exactly is meditation?

One of the main things I like to share about starting a meditation practice, is the widely accepted definition vs the actual definition of meditation. There are lots of different types and styles of meditation, but in our culture, there is this idea that meditation is a practice that we turn to in order to magically calm down, relax and 'empty' the mind. We're told to practice it when we feel stressed so that we can chill out and get centered, right?

Meditation is not actually what we're practicing when we're trying to calm the thoughts and slow down the mind. What most of us are actually practicing is dharana, which is the noble pursuit of concentration TOWARDS meditation. Dharana simply means that we're focusing the mind toward one goal, object or idea. This process of controlling the thoughts, slowing down the mind and centering is not meditation, but dharana.

Dhyana is true meditation. Meditation is a continuous, uninterrupted flow of consciousness and awareness. Dhyana exists only in the present moment. Awareness of any separation between your mind and the object of your meditation practice is not meditation, but concentration.

"People frequently confuse dharana with dhyana. In concentration, there is a subject and an object. You, the subject, are concentrating on a candle, or an image, or the tip of your nose. These are objects of concentration. In meditation, the object disappears. The subject disappears. All becomes one. Rather than focusing on a mantra, you and the mantra become one. In meditation, all borders, boundaries, and separation between ourselves and the universe begin to disappear." - Source

That said, dharana is still great and many of us just want to reach a useful stage of concentration with less interruption. Concentrating and teaching the mind to behave is so useful and grounding, even if we only ever achieve seconds of dhyana. I like to refer to dharana as mindfulness. As we concentrate and notice our thoughts, we're beginning to become mindful about what they are and what we're thinking about.

Great news: 'emptying your mind' is not possible and that's not the goal of concentration or mindfulness meditation.

Our brain is meant to think and have thoughts. Without thoughts, concentration would not be possible. One of the most helpful tips I share for practicing toward meditation is to visualize each passing thought as if it were a cloud in the sky. So we're just briefly noticing each one, one at a time, we're not trying to control them in any way and we just allow them to pass by and move on. Through this persistent process, we start to find that sense of peace: mindfulness.

If your mindfulness practice feels stressful or creates anxiety, do something else instead.

Practicing dharana during times of anxiety is not usually useful. Concentration amplifies our thoughts, mood and energy. So trying to meditate on stress usually just creates more stress because we're then hyper-aware of all of our different varieties of stress! If you have a ton on your mind and are looking to wind down, it's usually helpful to move your body, write a brain-dump journal entry, maybe do something creative such as coloring and then check back in with some mindfulness if you want.

"But I still have so many thoughts!"

One of my students felt continual frustration with her meditation practice because she was hoping her mind would just become empty. But it doesn't happen after 3 tries. I think a lot of times when you're new to meditation, it just feels like you have so many thoughts because you're noticing each one for the very first time.

I like to remind myself and my students that each and every time you're able to notice your mind straying or you notice a thought coming in, you are succeeding and being mindful. It certainly takes practice to harness the type of awareness that will result in a calm state of mind, but it's also certainly worth it. Many of us spend far too much time dwelling on the past or worrying about the future. Learning how to focus your thoughts and experience the self-control of mindfulness will leave you feeling refreshed and centered.

The Power of the Pause

A few months ago, as I began to refine my business and life goals, I was glad to have realized that I didn't need to figure it all out on my own. Through yoga, my relationship with God and life experience navigating various disasters, it's taken me a long time to come to terms with that. Seeking help or guidance from friends and mentors is my new favorite way to grow personally and professionally, so when I found myself uncertain of my next steps, I was excited to call up my friend, Amy Camp.

Amy, of Cycle Forward, offers coaching sessions held outside on various Pittsburgh trails. She coaches clients around professional growth and fulfillment, confidence, and whatever else will help them to move forward and make change. With her calming energy, mindfulness and appreciation of conducting business outdoors, she's a natural fit for yoga-related consulting and coaching.

Amy has helped me so much in the past few months, so I've invited her to share a bit about her coaching here on the blog. Below is a guest blog post that offers a small glimpse of the experiential and natural way that Amy coaches. Enjoy!

A Space for Stillness in Being Outside

With clients, I’ve discovered caterpillar nests, listened for woodpeckers, been awe-struck by hawks, and amused by passing dogs. All of this has been along city trails. While these trails have been great, I hope to go deeper into nature with my clients as I build the business. I plan to offer more nature-based coaching and workshops: snowshoeing treks, mindful bike rides, and wilderness weekends, to name a few.

I have witnessed the magnificence of walking alongside someone as they dream their big dreams. It seems every few days I see a new article that supports the notion that time spent outside is good for us – articles on how walking in nature changes the brainthe calming effects of trees and purposeless walking. This from the article on purposeless walking: “Your senses are sharpened…I’m far more likely to find a solution by going for a walk than sitting at my desk and ‘thinking’.”

But as much as I am in movement with my clients, there is power in the pause.

I was walking with a client recently and having a session that was, well, average. There was a moment in which we had digressed and the discussion no longer felt in service of my client. This had manifested itself physically. She had become rigid and tight and small in her voice and posture. And then I stopped walking. She stopped. We stood and watched a flock of Canada Geese. And we breathed. Some would say we did nothing. We refocused and, slowly, we resumed walking. We went on to have a dynamic and powerful discussion that got to the heart of why we’re working together in the first place. It was the best part of my day, hands down. Hopefully she would say the same.

But here’s the thing…this isn’t the first time that my coaching sessions have had their most powerful, most awesome moments borne out of stillness. While Cycle Forward’s premise is that nature takes us outside of ourselves and that there’s power in moving forward with clients (one step, one pedal stroke, one glide at a time), there is power in the pause.

Any time that a session needs refocusing or a client feels emotional, anxious or distracted, we stop and breathe. We look at the river. We smell fresh mint. We pick a mulberry. We slow the heck down and get centered and create a space for stillness and experiencing the present moment.

Here’s to more nature-based coaching throughout 2016 and to any time that you might find to slow down and surround yourself with nature!

Learn more about Cycle Forward coaching services here.

Raja Yoga

This weekend, we're meeting up for week two of our exploration of the 5 Types of Yoga. I'm excited to share some meditation techniques and practice how to develop mindfulness during a guided wooded hike together. We're diving into Raja Yoga this week, so here's a sneak peek!

Raja Yoga, sometimes called "yoga of the mind," actually means "royal yoga" or "the royal path."

Many think of raja as just being meditation. It does emphasize the benefits of meditation for spiritual self-realization, but raja is actually all inclusive of Patanjali's 8 Limbed Yoga Path, or Ashtanga Yoga.

Ashtanga yoga is a system of yoga recorded by the sage Vamana Rishi in the Yoga Korunta (‘book about yoga’). It’s an ancient manuscript said to contain lists of many different groupings of asanas, as well as specific teachings on vinyasa (asana movement with special care), drishti (gazing technique), bandhas (energy locks), mudras (hand positions), and philosophy. So all of these things make up "the royal path" of raja yoga.

Patanjali's 8 Limbed Path makes up what we strive to practice through the vehicle of yoga. Each 'limb' has many parts and practices, but it is the system as a whole that offers the deepest yoga practice and creates the best version of ourselves.

B.K.S. Iyengar says that yoga philosophy is what separates yoga from being simple acrobatics. It's so useful and applicable for our relationships, thought patterns and interactions. Studying yoga philosophy helps us to break our patterns that hold us hostage (samskaras.)

We'll be studying all 8 limbs this Saturday during the hike as well as how to incorporate them into your practice. Here's all the details, I hope you can join us!

Raja Yoga Hike Pleasant Valley Park • Saturday, August 6th at 10:00am

(*Rain location, Wholehearter Yoga) • Purchase your pass here for $20