Reinvention & Hibernation

Why I Am Taking A Break From Teaching

Early the other morning here at the farm in Stoystown, I met a lovely woman named Dawn who was walking her dog nearby. We chatted for a few moments and shared our stories, learning that we are both living in someone else’s cozy basement trying to figure our lives out. “The world is our oyster!” she said. “It’s a great place to be!” I agreed.

But some days I feel lost in a sea of possibilities. I have a long term vision lately for where I want to end up, but I really don’t know what I’m doing right now. What am I really here for? How will my choices today effect my future? How long must I wait before I am presented with the ideas, opportunities or connections I’m seeking?

With so many recent big changes in my life, I am feeling an equally big need to dial it back, draw inward and slow things down. Especially as we enter into winter, it’s naturally a time for me to share less, digest more. I usually take a break from teaching group yoga classes as well as evening classes, so that I can be tucked in with a good book by dark. Living so far out from my usual studios in Greensburg and Irwin, not having a place to teach private sessions, and the impending weather in the mountains of the Laurel Highlands are all great reasons for me to take a breather.

Winter can provide all of us with a much-needed opportunity to draw in yin energy, if we allow it.

When I find myself feeling lost or confused, it usually means that in some part of my life, there is an incongruity or a resistance. When I’m disconnected from my purpose (dharma), it’s always due to a lack of connection with my spirit. I realized that I had been fighting and resisting this obvious opportunity to rest because I was placing my self-worth in my work.

I am now happily taking a break from teaching yoga so that I can devote more of myself more wholeheartedly to my practice. I have already started a sadhana practice and have been including lots of extra meditation as well as fasting into my practice so that I can LISTEN. I will use this time to develop clarity within my own heart and mind. When I am ready to teach yoga again, the endless possibilities will still be there for me, but I will be reinvented.

Mary Oliver says that, “One must reinvent oneself, then reimagine the world.” May we never outgrow the desire to reinvent.

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.

 

 

Tick Medicine

Tick Medicine

Are you willing to entertain the thought that tick bites aren't all bad? I would like to contribute some positivity to the conversation about ticks and stop all the fear mongering.

For some people, ticks are now almost synonymous with woods, nature, and the great outdoors. Have we forgotten that there are methods of prevention? I’ve read recent articles suggesting to “simply stay away from the woods.” How sad to encourage such fear!

We are not an indoor species and avoiding nature is not a solution.

We can take precautions without completely avoiding.  Dress wisely, use essential oils or other repellent, and check afterwards. Make a choice to enjoy the outdoors without anxiety and accept each experience as a way to learn something about yourself.

Whether we encounter an obstacle, an opportunity, or a tick bite, we have a choice: stay the same or learn something.

Sometimes the learning is heavy, and difficult to walk through. When our life or our body is out of balance in any direction, yoga and other philosophies suggest that the pendulum will eventually swing to that exact same opposite extreme in an effort to create balance. So a common example would be if your schedule is totally out of control and you are in a constant state of overdrive and stress and busyness, eventually, the universe will offer you an opportunity to heal. It might be a car accident, a job loss, or an illness, that gives your body a chance to shut things down for long enough to recoup and the lesson would be to (hopefully) reevaluate your priorities and slow down. Take it or leave it, and possibly re-learn the same lessons over and over again.

Learning lessons through the vehicle of the physical body is uncomfortable. But in order to actually grow, we must be brave enough to observe with objectivity. At the time, you may see the experience as negative, but had you avoided it in some way, you would not be who you are today. We will not grow on our spiritual path if we avoid life's lessons or live from a place of fear. Faith and fear are antonyms.

So what can we learn from receiving a tick bite? Lots of things, actually.

SpiritAnimals.com says, “The tick symbolizes the danger of inflating fears way out of proportion compared to risk. Like a tick, fear is also a parasite in a human life which sucks the entire life out and makes one feel empty.”

Ironic, right? Whether you end up sick or not, the very tick bite you fear so much offers a wake-up call.

Living from a place of fear affects every...single...aspect of our life.

Fear affects how deeply you allow yourself to feel. If you are afraid to feel fear itself, the act of avoiding that which scares you draws you further away from any sort of healing that might occur. Living from a place of faith doesn’t mean taking unnecessary risks; it just means choosing to fully live your life and embrace all that comes.

We must all learn how to not only accept what comes, but to be curious about it's usefulness for our spiritual journey. When we recognize every single occurrence as though it's happening FOR our spiritual development (rather than something bad happening TO us), we eventually develop profound appreciation for even things such as tick bites.

Is this an attitude you are willing to commit to? Can you help to spread THIS type of message instead of more negativity and fear? What challenges are you experiencing that might actually be your medicine? Share your thoughts with me.

How to use nature to combat stress

nature vs. stress : wholehearter

I feel like I blog a lot about stress, stress reduction and stress management. My intention is not to focus on the negative, but to simply call attention to the types of dysfunction that we can alter. Iyengar touches on why spiritual philosophies often tend to harp on the negative (grasping desires, weaknesses, faults, and imbalances). They are trying to find, examine, and eradicate the things that cause us suffering. It's so that we can understand what can go wrong, and why, and how to stop it.

Your body sends healthy or "good" stress signals when you are hungry, when you stub your big toe or when something is amiss in your body. For many people though, we also experience stress when we are in a conversation, waiting for something, or managing our to-do lists.

Stress is meant to be an informative red flag, but for many of us, it tends to be a constant subconscious state of arousal.

I like to think about the way that animals within nature live their lives. We can learn a lot from studying and observing the natural world around us. Here are a few lessons we might take from nature:

1) Animals do not exert any excess effort for survival. If an animal can function at 75% effort, they will not push any extra. As humans, we tend to over-exert and cause extra stress because we like to show off, people-please, or strive for perfection. Ultimately, this ego-driven lifestyle only causes us suffering.

2) Animals do not worry about the future. The gift of our developed mind has plagued us with habits of worrying, anticipating, excitement, and looking ahead. Although we do need to plan for the future, animals live moment to moment in the present, addressing one thing at a time.

3) Animals automatically shut off their stress signals. Observe the way that animals move and exist in their natural environment. When not in immediate danger, animals simply do not remain stressed. Our fight or flight response is meant to be useful, not habitual.

In addition to the lessons we can learn from animals, simply being within nature is therapeutic for many reasons. I was recently reading some of the diaries of Anne Frank and I loved that one of her favorite ways to de-stress was to spend time in nature.

“The best remedy for those who are afraid, lonely or unhappy is to go outside, somewhere where they can be quite alone with the heavens, nature and God. Because only then does one feel that all is as it should be and that God wishes to see people happy, amidst the simple beauty of nature. As long as this exists, and it certainly always will, I know that then there will always be comfort for every sorrow, whatever the circumstances may be. And I firmly believe that nature brings solace in all troubles.” ― Anne FrankThe Diary of a Young Girl

Sometimes, reading simple reflections like this really helps me to put my stress in perspective, so that's why I'm sharing it. If Anne Frank can cultivate peace through the beauty of nature, then it can certainly be of help to me.

Have you tried seeking out a quiet spot in nature to clear your head? It doesn't have to be a completely private and silent spot to have an effect, but you can observe any small microcosm. Whether it's sitting inside, looking at your backyard, heading to a park to sit in the woods or practicing yoga outside, natural beauty has a way of showing us it's intricate perfection and making us and our troubles feel smaller by comparison. And spring is a perfect time to try it! :)

Check out my events page for upcoming outdoor hikes and yoga practices!

Balancing Effort & Ease

Balancing Effort & Ease: Wholehearter Yoga

Over the years, my physical yoga practice has developed a much deeper sense of ease. This is not to say that all of the postures I practice are "easy," but that each one is most valuable if it is steady and filled with ease. It has taken me many years to appreciate this ease and create more balance within my life and asana (posture) practice. I've come to understand that yoga asana is a way to help us peel back the layers and fully experience what's going on inside.

 

 


I was surprised to learn that Patanjali describes asana only once in the ancient yoga sutras. He doesn't talk about alignment, loose hamstrings, or achieving headstand. Sutra 2.46 simply says, "Sthira Sukham Asanam."

sthira = strong; steady; stable; effort; motionless
sukham = comfortable; ease-filled; happy; light; relaxed
āsanam = asana; posture; physical practice

To put it simply: yoga asana is a balance between effort and ease. The yoga postures teach us how to make wise choices that will help us to move toward homeostasis. We will often find that balance requires us to move toward the opposite of our usual habits and comfort zones. For many of us, this means learning how to YIELD.

When an asana is done correctly, the body movements are smooth, there is lightness in the body, and freedom in the mind....Performance of the asana should be nourishing and illuminative.
— B.K.S. Iyengar.

When I began yoga practice, I liked to move quickly from one posture to the next because my comfort with exerting effort outweighed my comfort to surrender. If I was in a long-held posture, I would often (subconsciously) compensate my boredom or discomfort by trying harder, unnecessarily and to my detriment. Though I didn't think it at the time, my breath was effortful and strained, my mind always reaching ahead toward the next movement, and my body was often left feeling depleted.

My patterns in life were to push and achieve all things better, faster, more efficiently (macrocosm)....so all of these patterns were present in my asana (microcosm) as well.

It's difficult to admit this to myself, even now. But I practiced with excess effort for SO long that it understandably took me a long time to even realize it. Samskara (ingrained habits) are often subconscious and they run deep throughout every layer of our being. This realization was a huge part of my journey and it's why I'm SO big on teaching and practicing self-care now.

So the question for many of us becomes: how can we incorporate more ease (sukham) into our practice? Both on and off the mat, we're often used to pushing toward success, multitasking, or perfecting. Let's move toward making minute adjustments, refining, and quieting from the inside out. Finding sukham takes LESS effort, but more awareness...so let's pay attention today.

What is Yoga?

What is Yoga?

Whether you've taken a yoga class before or not, you might still find yourself asking at some point: what exactly IS yoga? To answer that big question, we turn to the big, old, yoga texts.

The yoga sutras are one of the main ancient yoga philosophy texts. They provide a wide variety of practical knowledge and suggestions for healing the mind, body and spirit. There is so much to be gained by reading the sutras and they provide a firm foundation for any yoga practice. Without an understanding of the reasons behind yoga, it's easy to fall into a mindless practice.

Today we'll be breaking down and reflecting on just one sutra, Sutra 1.2, which describes exactly what yoga is:

“Yoga is the reflection of the fluctuations of consciousness.”

Swami Satchitanada’s translation says: “Yoga is the restraint of the modifications of the mind-stuff.”

So when we think about 'yoga,' we might think of the western ideal of a traditional yoga asana (posture) class. But nothing is mentioned here about the body, stretching or yoga asana. (In fact, asana is only actually mentioned ONCE in the entire book of the sutras!)  Sutra 1.2 is suggesting that yoga exists within the mind; from there, we have 5 types of yoga to offer us various ways to achieve restraint of the mind. Asana is just one of those paths.

Another thing to take note of about this definition is that we're not trying to 'empty the mind' completely. Rather than trying to force out thoughts, yoga asks us to begin by simply noticing how the mind fluctuates. We can then begin to notice that many of our thoughts are repetitive, negative, past, or future-oriented. You might even find that certain yoga postures result in certain types or qualities of thought. Once we notice the patterns of our consciousness, only then can we begin to develop some restraint.

"The mind is a busy thing. It is always moving. Even when we sleep, the mind is fluctuating, making up little stories, tossing flashes of color and light around, reenacting or inventing conversations and scenes that feel like reality while we’re experiencing them. Only when we wake up do we realize our dreams were “just dreams,” no matter how real they felt. We’ve all heard of lucid dreaming, right? Some people learn to recognize that they are dreaming while it’s happening, and that changes the dream. Similarly, we become lucid in our waking life when we learn to tell the difference between what is real and what is just mental noise." - MissDirt.net

To practice restraint is an active process. There is much intention behind the practice and it's most useful when we can incorporate it into our daily life. It would behoove us all to slow down, and allow enough time for stillness to listen to our thoughts. The quality of our day-to-day thoughts can often be surprising, but this process is what makes yoga so incredibly life-changing.

Our perception of reality is a direct result of the quality of our thoughts.

And it takes time to change thoughts. Many eager students, (myself included) hope to pop right into a deep state of blissful meditation without having dedicated the time and practice needed to notice and alter thoughts. Noticing 'the fluctuations' has to come before the refining process...so begin there. Begin with just a few breaths of attention. A few moments dedicated to non-judgemental acknowledgement of your thoughts. Practice easing your way into a sense of patience throughout those fluctuations. Before you know it, you're practicing yoga and mindfulness meditation. :)

 

Be well!

 

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.

9 Obstacles of Daily Yoga Practice

9 Obstacles of Daily Yoga Practice

As we begin or progress in a yoga practice, we will encounter many various obstacles. How to fit yoga into our busy schedules? Where exactly should I practice? What do I do on my own to develop an at home practice? And even after all of those questions are answered, we are still somehow often prevented from practicing daily. But repetitive daily practice (abhyasa) is how we begin to move into deeper layers of healing.

Patanjali's Yoga Sutra 1.14 says: "When practice is done for a long time, without a break, and with sincere devotion, then the practice becomes a firmly rooted, stable and solid foundation."

Patanjali does not clarify what it means to practice for 'a long time.' We can make our own assumptions, but I would humbly assume that 'a long time' isn't measured simply by counting the years. This type of daily practice is living yoga.

For may of us, when we first fall in love with yoga, regular practice comes easy. We're so curious about discovering new postures or uncovering new ways of behaving. But when the 'honeymoon' stage of enthusiasm with yoga wears off, we may find ourselves back at the beginning with more roadblocks than reasons to keep going. If we allow those challenges to weigh on us, the negativity becomes it's own practice.

Abhyasa requires that we're aware of what our most common roadblocks and excuses are.

Thankfully, Patanjali has addressed this, too. We find the answer in Sutra 1.30: "Disease, dullness, doubt, carelessness, laziness, sensuality, false perception, failure to reach firm ground and slipping from the ground gained- these distractions of the mind-stuff are the obstacles." So all of our excuses fall into one of these 9 categories:

  1. Vyadhi : disease, illness, sickness
  2. Styana : inefficiency, dullness
  3. Samsaya : indecision, doubt
  4. Pramada : carelessness, negligence
  5. Alasaya : sloth, laziness
  6. Avirati : sensuality, craving
  7. Bhranti darsana : false views, misconceptions
  8. Alabdhabhumikatva : failing to attain stages of practice
  9. Anavasthitatvani : inability to maintain, instability

A recent question in a Facebook group for yoga teachers really got me thinking. The question was, "Why do we [as yoga teachers] often struggle so much to keep a daily practice?" Originally, I thought that part of the answer was false views (putting students before self or misunderstanding our role), but now I feel that for a lot of us, myself included, it's often dullness.

Practicing 'for a long time' needs to be approached with the same care as a longterm relationship. Do you remember your very first date? Those feelings of uncertainty, excitement, and anticipation? THAT is what we need to keep practicing. If you lose the spark or stop 'dating' and trying new things, boredom creeps in and we lose the gift of 'the beginners mind' and curiosity.

Abhyasa is a journey, but our devotion and dedication is worth it. It's not about being perfect or never missing a day, it's about simply being aware and cherishing the gift of yoga. Take the time to remember the very beginnings of your yoga practice (or a relationship). Find ways to keep discovering new things. Explore all 5 types of yoga regularly. Try a new style of yoga that you've never heard of and just see how it feels. And most importantly: keep all 9 of Patanjali's obstacles in mind to remain vigilant as you practice.

Be well!

 

10 of 10 Keys to Live Wholeheartedly

It's week 10 out of 10 in this blog series on a few ways to Live Wholeheartedly. I hope that this series has helped you to stay grounded throughout the holiday season. If you've missed any of the past several weeks, catch up here!


speak love

Today's final suggestion to culminate these past 10 weeks is to SPEAK LOVE. When you think about 'speaking love,' what exactly does that mean to you? How can you practice communicating from a place of love? Or you might also be asking: what do speech habits have to do with yoga practice?

All of our patterns and our relationship to our self is our yoga practice. So in order to create healthy patterns of speech and communication, we have to heal our relationship with the self first and control negative thoughts.

In order to speak love, we must practice high vibration thoughts and speech.

If you're unfamiliar with the concept of high/low vibration, I'll give you the Reader's Digest version: Our bodies and minds are made up of cells, organs, tissues, systems, electrical impulses and fascia that all vibrate, pulse and fire at various frequencies. Thoughts and words also have specific frequencies that are either high (healing, supportive, useful, things you want MORE of) or low (harmful, draining, tiring, things you want to release).

The concept of vibration may seem abstract at first, but in fact it is very simple. Since you cannot separate the mind from the body, learning how to think and eventually speak 'love' (the ultimate high vibration), your body and mind are better able to function. Your brain is dramatically affected by the types of words, images and thoughts it is exposed to on a daily basis. Changing the way you speak will allow you to begin to feel physically better, think more clearly and attract like high vibration energy.

Learning how to speak mindfully is a yoga practice in and of itself.

If you'd like to begin this speech practice, you'll need to begin by catching yourself in the act of negativity. Do you find yourself feeling angry or impatient in certain situations? Do you tend to belittle yourself for making mistakes or worry about the future? Are you complaining on social media or gossiping via texts? There are many ways in which we communicate and we must bring them all into the light in order to experience the amazing benefits of speaking love.

Here are a few tips for holding yourself accountable within your speech:

1). Keep a journal handy! It's helpful to begin to notice what types of people, experiences or events trigger mental negativity. Try to observe what they are and take note for more awareness next time.

2). Practice breathing during challenges conversations. When your breathing becomes rapid or shallow, your brain is receiving less oxygen and you are much less likely to be able to speak wisely. Take a few big breaths in and out through the nose

3). Before speaking, practice rephrasing your thoughts to include high vibration words. You can still express a full range of honest emotions without speaking negatively. For example: "I want less stress in 2018" becomes "I want more peace in 2018." Or, "I will release my fears" becomes "I will embrace bravery." Or lastly, "I hate waking up early" could become, "I love sleeping in when I can."

4). Check your most recently used emoticons. Many of us communicate regularly via text. What types of emotions are you expressing?

5). Take your time. In a conversation, allow time to mindfully gather your thoughts before responding. Consider how you can support and love yourself as well as the other person or people you are speaking to.

Speaking from a place of love is a challenge. But it's a way to draw in the supportive energy of love for yourself and everyone you communicate with. You cannot speak from a place of love without being mindful. You cannot speak from a place of love if you allow yourself to be consumed by hate or fear. Challenge yourself to practice raising the vibration of your self-talk, your communication with others, and texting or posting on social media.

Every word you put out into the world has an impact. Choose wisely.


Here's a cool TED talk with Joanna McEwen about how and why raising your vibration increases serendipity. (Also, Joanna has a beautiful accent, so I could listen to her talk all day long)

9 of 10 Keys to Live Wholeheartedly

Care for Yourself

If you've been following me for a while, you'll know that I'm a big advocate for self-care. (I even did a whole retreat on it this past fall!) I've been burnt out before and I hope to prevent it for myself and others. It's a hopeless, often preventable feeling.

Caring for yourself can look like many different things, but it's not always the pampering many of us think of. Though it can be relaxing, caring for yourself also means making hard decisions, saying 'no,' and creating real boundaries. But so much of the time, we're stuck in this place of expectations v.s. reality and social norms.

It is normal to be burnt out. It is normal to work non-stop and still try to do it all at home. It is normal to put yourself at the bottom of your list and neglect your basic needs 'for the greater good.' But that doesn't mean you don't have a choice. Can we stop pretending like this is all okay? Can we stop 'working for the weekend' and running a mile a minute for the sake of  productivity?

Let's stop pretending that multitasking is an admirable skill or that self-care is selfish.

We don't have to keep behaving this way. Yoga asks us of all of our habits: 'is this useful?' If not, there is no excuse to continue them for one more minute. We have a responsibility to ourselves and to the people around us to create balance in all ways. To live as an example and to live mindfully.

Last March, I wrote a blog post on the concept of Yin v.s. Yang self-care. I was first introduced to the idea of yin and yang self-care when I read the book, "Elemental Yin Yang Yoga, by Erin Aquin." I realized that my self-care tended to lean wildly in one direction or the other, but I wasn't balancing the active and passive energy of the two.

I know that it can be hard to take breaks, shut down or step away from your usual responsibilities. But in caring for yourself, you are truly better able to function and care for those around you. If you're challenged by the idea of self-care or what to do, it can be helpful to have a go-to list on ways to care for yourself.

When brainstorming your own activities, you must first be comfortable with what self-care is. Notice what comes up for you when you hear that term or consider ways to care for yourself. Erin Aquin offers some valuable tips here:

  1. If it doesn’t fuel you or nourish you, it isn’t self-care.
  2. Self-care means you do it for yourself. While asking for help or support is great, self-care should be empowering and something you can do for yourself with as little reliance anywhere else as possible.
  3. Self-care is something you look forward to. If you don’t enjoy/get a deep benefit, it won’t fuel or nourish you.
  4. Self-care results in health and vitality. Self-care doesn’t mean going out and eating a 3-layer cake or getting bombed. Never use “self-care” to justify bad habits or behaviour that hurts you or anyone else.
  5. Self-care is necessary to your well-being, take it seriously.
  6. Did you catch that last one? Self-care is necessary to your well-being, take it seriously. 

If you need more help developing or creating a self-care routine, contact me or create the time to map it out for yourself. Pop over to my other post on self-care here, to download a printable Self-Care Checklist. It's a great visual to hang on your fridge or put in a notebook as a reminder for yourself to stay on track.

Tis' the season to create amazing new intentions for the year!