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Ma~Maste

/ MAH – məs – tay /

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Happiness vs. Joy

There is a difference between temporary happiness and long-lasting joy.

Happiness. We all want it. Most of us deserve it. Happiness is inarguably a desirable state of emotional well being. However, there is one little problem. The emotion of happiness is fueled by external sources and is therefore, by nature, temporary. In other words, you find happiness when you look to things outside of yourself to make you feel better. These things tend to stimulate the senses and are typically pretty easy to access. And although they make you feel good for a little bit, they don’t last forever. As soon as something bad happens, the happiness disappears. The external search for that feeling begins again, and the cycle continues. This constant search for happiness can be likened to journeying down the rabbit hole of “chasing that first high” but falling harder and harder each time. In the words of Sheryl Crow, “If it makes you happy it can’t be that bad. If it makes you happy then why the hell are you so sad?” Get the point? Happiness is lovely, but it is fleeting.

Joy, on the other hand, is an experience of the spirit. It is a state of being that comes from deep within. When you know yourself, love yourself, and are at peace with your truth, you find joy. When something bad happens, joy remains because it is inside you. It IS you. It is unshakeable, undeniable, and magical. There is no rabbit hole; joy is a constant presence.

The ease of finding happiness seems good at first glance, but quick and convenient is not the answer when it comes to living a joyful, fulfilled life. The real payoff comes from the hours, days, months, and many times YEARS of putting in the hard work. Seeking gratitude, maintaining a positive mindset, taking care of your body, saving space for your mind, limiting distractions, and living in the present moment are all just examples of this work. And when you are willing to dig deep within yourself, joy shines through even when times are hard and the going gets tough. It’s not easy, but it is worth it.

“Nothing that’s worthwhile is ever easy. Remember that.”

-Nicholas Sparks

See You in Savasana

Savasana: “corpse pose,” a reclined posture in yoga (usually at the end of a class) focused on complete relaxation of the body and mind

Have you ever been in yoga class and found yourself tempted to skip out on savasana? Perhaps the thought of lying in stillness for a few minutes seems like a complete waste of time. Or maybe the challenge of fully relaxing the body and mind is just too overwhelming. If so, you are not alone. Contrary to how easy it looks, savasana is commonly considered one of the most difficult of the yoga postures. While many students feel fine bending, twisting, and balancing their way through a practice, this final relaxation pose is a whole different ball game. It can feel foreign, uncomfortable, and at times just downright excruciating.

Especially in the Western world, we tend to view yoga as an exercise routine. And while it is indeed a great movement practice for the physical body, the fact is that asana (the practice of the poses themselves) was actually created to prepare the body and mind for stillness…the main emphasis of yoga then being on meditation. And this is where the importance of savasana comes in. By consistently practicing savasana, you can learn to let go of the constant need for “doing” and embrace the art of “being.” And the good news is that, as with anything else, practice makes progress. The benefits that come along with this progress are numerous and just may make you rethink missing out next time.

Savasana:

  1. Allows for integration of your asana practice
  2. Settles the mind
  3. Relaxes the body
  4. Reduces blood pressure
  5. Balances out the central nervous system by stimulating the parasympathetic nervous system “rest and digest” response and calming the sympathetic nervous system “fight, flight, or freeze” response
  6. Relieves stress and anxiety
  7. Improves concentration and memory
  8. Increases energy and productivity
  9. Provides a much needed break from the business of day-to-day life
  10. Lets you be with the breath and practice detachment from thought

When the Mess Becomes the Message

A few times a month I have the great pleasure of volunteer teaching at a local hospital that provides care and recovery from substance abuse/addiction, as well as various mental health disorders. I work primarily in the detox unit, and as you can imagine I see a lot of interesting and often unpredictable behavior. I never know what I’m walking into on any given day, and it’s always a “go with the flow” type situation. Sometimes I leave the hospital with a heavy heart, fighting back tears until I can make it back to the car (empath here). Other times I leave with a feeling of joy and lightness, knowing that my time there really did make a difference in even one person’s life. Regardless, I always leave feeling humbled, and this opportunity has been such an absolute blessing to me.

It’s funny because although I’m the yoga teacher, I feel like I’m the one who is really being taught the lesson. I’ve learned that we all struggle in our own ways but that we are all human and are deserving of love and respect. I’ve learned that ultimately we all want to be healthy, happy, and accepted. I’ve learned that we all need connection. I’ve learned that we all have a strong desire to be seen and heard. And I’ve learned that most of us are doing the best we can with the tools we have been given.

As someone who has seen the effects of addiction and severe mental illness firsthand, I have always had a soft heart for this community and a strong desire to help in some capacity. For the longest time, I didn’t know where to begin; I couldn’t understand how someone like me could possibly make a difference. But now the pieces have come together (as they always do), and I am able to use something that changed my life so deeply (yoga!) to impact other lives, helping to create connection and empowerment in this often under-served community. To me, there is no greater honor and nothing more fulfilling than knowing I am sharing the lessons I’ve learned along my own journey in hopes of helping others find transformation along theirs.

“Successful people repurpose the messes of their lives in ways that other people don’t.” -Ed Mylett

Don’t get me wrong, I’ve had my own share of messes. For me, it wasn’t addiction. But it was depression. It was unhealthy relationships with others. It was negative thought patterns and self sabotage. It was a broken spirit and a faltering faith in God. Yoga was instrumental in helping me heal these things in my life, and I can now appreciate all the mountains I had to climb to get to the other side. I see clearly that it is my life’s work to turn my personal messes into my message to others. On the surface, my message is yoga, but deep down it is about understanding, healing, and love.

You see, when you allow your mess to become your message you know you have found your purpose. The pain of the mess turns into the joy of a higher calling, of living your truth, and of making a difference. Your tests become your testimony to others. And that to me is what life is all about.

7 Ways to Better Days

Since the month of August (a.k.a. National Wellness Month) has come to an end, I’ve been thinking a lot about self-care and what that looks like in my own life. Typically I do a fairly decent job staying on top of the practices that fill me up and keep me sane, but with the recent transition from summer to school year I’ve realized just how quick and easy it is to lose focus and let it all slide a bit. For me, August became more a month of chaos and stress than anything else. Getting back into a daily wellness routine has never felt better, and these 7 simple practices help me stay more grounded, joyful, and at peace.

7 Ways To Better Days

1. Start with gratitude.

Wake up in the morning and say “thank you”…every. single day. That simple. If you want to get a little more serious, think of 5 very specific things for which you are thankful. Write them down in a gratitude journal. Speak them out loud if you need to. This process flips the script from focusing on the negative to focusing on the positive and actually affects the brain for the better. When it comes to gratitude, some days are harder than others, but the more you practice the easier it becomes. Even…especially…in the times you have to search far and wide, take time to identify your blessings. No matter what turmoil you find yourself in, there is always something, no matter how small, for which to be grateful.

2. Breathe intentionally.

Of course as long as you are living, you are constantly breathing. But most of the time this happens on autopilot. Take time every day to breathe intentionally. Inhale deeply through the nose all the way down into the belly. Then slowly and completely empty out, exhaling through the nose or mouth. Not only does conscious breathing help you stay present, but it also helps you balance out your central nervous system. You will spend less time in that primal “fight or flight” response mode and more time in “rest and digest,” therefore becoming more capable of making thoughtful choices and demonstrating higher level responses to stress.

3. Be still.

If you are like most people, you are constantly on the go, from the time your feet hit the floor in the morning to the time your head hits the pillow at night. You feel overwhelmed by your to-do list and bombarded by the constant influx of information coming at you every single day. Finding a few minutes of quiet stillness each day can give you much needed relief. It allows you to check in with yourself…mind, body, and spirit…giving you the chance to listen to your thoughts and feelings and to practice observing them without judgement or expectation. It is a wonderful opportunity to set aside the “doing” for just a moment and to thoroughly embrace the “being.” Set a reminder if you need to, but enjoy this state of stillness daily. Savor the space and freedom you find there.

4. Consume wisely.

Your diet is not just what you eat and drink. It is everything you take into your body (physically, mentally, and emotionally), including the TV you watch, the music you listen to, the books you read, the people you hang around, the words you tell yourself, and so on and so forth. Yes, you know you should eat well and drink lots of water. But being mindful of EVERYTHING you consume, day in and day out, can have an enormous positive impact on your overall wellbeing. Be careful to consume only the things that serve you and fill you up. As the old saying goes, “You can’t pour from an empty cup.”

5. Move.

I used to think that in order to “exercise” I had to go out and pound the pavement…the more miles the better. Well let me tell you, I’ve run a lot of miles in my life and hated just about every single one of them. And guess what? That’s ok! While consistent cardio activity is important for a healthy heart, understand that movement comes in a lot of different forms. Figure out what you love and what keeps you interested. For me, that’s most often long walks and yoga. I try to sprinkle in light weight training and forms of cardio that I find more exciting (I love a trampoline class!) here and there. Make time for it, especially if you have a sedentary job. A body that moves a lot is much healthier, and the effect on the mind is incredible.

6. Stay inspired.

Avoid burnout by doing activities that keep you inspired and that get your creative juices flowing. I personally love prayer, meditation, cooking, blogging, journaling, manifesting, listening to podcasts and music, and spending lots of time outdoors. Decide what lights your spirit up, and dedicate a little time each day to doing just that. If you are strapped for time, even just a couple minutes goes a long way.

7. Begin again.

Remember that you are human and are therefore, by default, not perfect. So first off, let that knowledge remove any pressure you feel, and give yourself grace when you fall off track. Understand that you have an amazing opportunity in each and every moment to choose to begin again. Learn to recognize when it’s time to make that choice, and be gentle with yourself. We are all works in progess.

The Brain on Meditation

Meditate: “to engage in mental exercise for the purpose of reaching a heightened level of spiritual awareness.” (Merriam-Webster)

Meditation is on the rise in America, and when you look at the benefits it is easy to see why. With all kinds of positive side effects, from enhanced immunity and improved mood to decreased stress, depression, and pain, this sort of “strength training” for the mind seems too good to be true. Yet the proof is right there in the science.

And the science in itself is fascinating. For a very rough overview, it is helpful to understand two specific parts of the brain, the prefrontal cortex and the amygdala. The prefrontal cortex is the area of the brain that deals with higher level thinking, such as awareness, concentration, decision making, and more rational problem-solving processes. On the other hand, the amygdala, a.k.a. the “fight or flight” response center, is fear-based, emotionally unstable, and extremely reactive. With meditation, we can actually begin to thicken and strengthen the prefrontal cortex while simultaneously shrinking the amygdala, resulting in more thoughtful and balanced responses to stress outweighing perhaps more primal and fearful responses.

The mind is just naturally wired to be constantly active and alert to danger. But through consistent practice and this restructuring of the brain, we can begin to tap into more and more of these physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual benefits. Like anything else, consistency is key, and practice makes progress. But there’s no better time to start than now.

Looking Out For Number 1

The human heart is a fascinating mechanism. Each day, it beats roughly 100,000 times and pumps somewhere around 2,000 gallons of blood throughout the body. This blood has the very important task of delivering oxygen and nutrients to the cells, as well as removing metabolic waste. The circulatory system is so efficient that it only takes about one minute for the blood to make its round trip from, and then back to, the heart. And it’s a good thing it is so good at its job because the job is never-ending.

Perhaps the most intriguing part though? As incredible as it is that the heart continuously takes care of everybody else, it makes sure to take care of itself first. Let’s break that down. In rudimentary terms, the right side of the heart sends old blood to the lungs, where the blood is oxygenated. The lungs then send this “new” blood to the left side of the heart, which then pumps it into the aorta, where it prepares to make its journey through the rest of the body. And HERE is where the magic happens. Coronary arteries branch off of the aorta and lead to the heart itself, allowing this amazing muscle to receive fresh, glorious blood before anyone else. In other words, the heart is always looking out for number one when it comes to its own health and wellbeing. And for good reason.

What would happen if the heart did not take care of itself before taking care of everyone else? It’s the same reason the airline stewardess instructs you to first put on your own mask before attempting to help others. And it boils down to the number one life lesson I’ve learned to date: You cannot take care of others without first taking care of yourself. You’ve heard it before…you can’t pour from an empty cup. You can try as hard as you want, but it’s not feasible, and it’s certainly not sustainable. Eventually, you will wipe out energetically, putting yourself in danger of physical, mental, and emotional turmoil.

There’s a lot of pressure on the heart to perform well. And like the heart, you may have a lot of people who depend on you to be your best. By taking time to find out what it is that fills your soul and then taking the steps to ensure that happens, you will set yourself up for much greater success, and you will be able to pour into others from the overflow you will experience in your own life. Taking care of yourself is not selfish; it is necessary. We are called to serve and to love, and it begins right at home. It begins with number one.

5 Tips for Dealing with Change

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“Now it’s like this.”

I was at Wanderlust Festival here in Nashville a few years ago, where renowned yoga teacher and all-around inspirational badass Chelsey Korus was leading the group yoga portion. “Now it’s like this,” she kept saying over and over, weaving this beautiful mantra throughout the hour long practice, encouraging us to understand and embrace that the only real constant in life is change. Now, it’s like this…in a moment, it will be like something else. Of course I already knew this, but now to have the permission I needed to let it be what it is? Game changer. I’ve literally thought about this mantra just about every day since first hearing it, and the older I get the more I realize that perhaps truer words have never been spoken.

Here’s the deal. Impermanence is inescapable. It just is. Here in Tennessee, all you have to do is simply look outside and observe the changing seasons. It’s currently springtime, one of my favorites. I’m reminded that the old dies off and that new growth is just around the corner. That time makes this transformation inevitable. That change is inevitable. And just like in nature, your life is constantly shifting and moving, keeping you on your toes and teaching you extraordinary lessons…should you choose to pay attention.

For instance, you might find yourself in a place of warm, fuzzy comfort, only to be hit upside the head and have your entire world rocked by change. No matter what you do or say, you can’t stop this change from happening.  How do you react? Do you resist? Do you hide? It’s like that moment in yoga class when you fiiinally make it through all the standing postures and get down to the floor with one thing on your mind…Savasana…but then your loving teacher (me!) leads you into 10 minutes of really freaking hard core work. You know what I’m talking about! Can you change the story in your head? “Um ok, so Savasana isn’t happening YET. I’m going to rock this core work and show it who’s boss. I am fierce.  I am willing.  I am capable.  I embrace this moment because now it’s like this. Soon, it won’t be like this. Then, it will be like something else. But now, it’s like this.”

On the contrary, you may find yourself in a time of extreme discomfort, yearning for change to happen and to happen fast. How do you react? Do you resist? Do you hide? Once again, it’s the same in yoga, where we move from one pose to another. You may find yourself stuck in Chair Pose for far longer than you wish. Body trembling, sweat dripping down the face, internally cursing your teacher (again, me!) and swearing to yourself that if she tells you to “sit an inch lower” one more time, you’re out and that’s that. Can you change the story to look a little like this…”Yeah, this really sucks. But I’m here. Now it’s like this. I’m alive. I’m growing stronger. I’m connected to my breath. I’m connected to my body. I’m aware of my thoughts, but I am not my thoughts. And in a moment, it will be like something else. I embrace this Chair Pose because now it’s like this.”

When you resist change rather than trusting the process, you are setting yourself up to miss out. All of it…the good, the bad, and everything in between…is there to teach you and to help you grow into a bigger, better version of the amazing soul that you already are. It’s not easy, but guess what…it is what it is. It IS. And here are 5 tips to help you move a little more gracefully through these times:

  • BREATHE. Take a beat. Breathe in deeply and know that you’re breathing in. Breathe out deeply and know that you’re breathing out. Repeat for a few rounds of breath.
  • REPEAT CHELSEY’S MANTRA…”NOW IT’S LIKE THIS.” Remember that change is the only constant and that it won’t be like this forever.
  • BE GRATEFUL. Find even the tiniest sense of gratitude for this shift. Even if you don’t fully understand it yet, be thankful for what’s yet to come.
  • WRITE IT DOWN. Frustrated? Write it down. Angry? Write it down. Completely at a loss? Write it down. Get it all out. Then crumple up the paper and throw it away. Get it out of your system then move on in faith that you are exactly where you are meant to be.
  • TRUST GOD AND TRUST THE PROCESS AND ITS TIMING. There are much bigger forces at work. Enough said.

Short and Sweet Sick Day Flow

Cold or flu got you down?  Here is a short and sweet little sick day flow for those times that you are unable to carry on normal physical activity levels but are still in need of some movement in the body.  This sequence is easy on the sinuses, and it gently incorporates all kinds of movement through the spine.  As always, listen to your body, and give yourself permission to rest whenever rest is due.

1. Neck Stretch.  Sit in Sukhasana, or a simple cross legged seat.  Slowly and gently, roll the head in circles to one direction, repeatedly.  Take it slowly, noticing where you are tight and consciously trying to release that tension.  Reverse the direction.

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2. Seated Cat/Cow.  With hands on knees, take a big breath in and pull the heart through the shoulders, extending the spine and dropping the head back to open up the throat.  As you exhale, round through the spine, tucking the chin into the chest.  Repeat for several breath cycles.

3. Seated Side Stretch.  Still sitting in Sukhasana (or any comfortable seat that may work better for you), place your left hand on the mat by your left hip and reach your right arm up and over to the left.  Maximize the stretch in the right side body by keeping the right arm plugged into the right ear so as not to close off the front body, and also by staying grounded through the right sit bone.  Repeat on the other side.

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4. Seated Heart Opener.  Sitting in Sukhasana, clasp your hands together behind your back and gently pull them out and away from the lower back.  Take your gaze upward if it’s comfortable for the neck.  Hold for several breaths.

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5. Sphinx Pose.  Lying all the way down on your belly, stretch the legs out behind you and start to come up onto the forearms, stacking the shoulders directly over the elbows and bringing the forearms parallel to each other.  Inhale the torso up off the mat, keeping wrinkles out of the back of the neck so that the neck stays in line with the rest of the spine.  Treat this as a passive pose, or make it a little more active by pressing firmly through the fingertips to pull the heart forward even more.  Hold for several breaths.

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6.  Supported Child’s Pose.  From hands and knees, shift the hips back toward the heels, keeping the knees together or taking them mat-width apart (yogi’s choice).  Let the torso drape down over the thighs and rest the forehead on a block at its highest position.  Rest the arms back by sides or clasp hands around the block.  Stay here for several breaths.

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7. Supine Spinal Twist.  Lie all the way down on your back.  Hug the knees into the chest, then allow the arms to come out to the sides of the body in a T shape.  Take a big breath in here, and as you exhale, allow the knees to gently fall down to the left side of your body, taking the gaze over the right fingertips if comfortable for the neck.  Hold for several breaths, and then repeat on the other side.

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8. Legs up the Wall.  Bring your seat as close to the wall as possible, and then begin to lie on your back, sending your legs straight up the wall.  Simple as that.  Stay here for as long as you like.

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‘Tis the Season to Be

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“In a world full of doing, doing, doing, it’s important to take a moment to just breathe, to just be.”  -Unknown

Oh, the holidays.  Chilly nights, twinkling lights, peppermint delights, and Santa Claus sight…ings.  What’s not to love!  Friends and family come together to feast, give, and enjoy one another’s company.  For many, it truly is a magical time filled with love and laughter.

But with the constant hustle and bustle that comes with the holiday season, we are prone to getting overwhelmed, frustrated, and downright depleted.  There are presents to buy and wrap, work projects to finish up, holiday parties and school programs to attend, travel plans to make and take…the to-do list is never-ending.  I won’t tell you to “slow down,” as this may sound to you utterly preposterous.  And I would tend to agree.  However, there are many things we can do to enjoy the season without becoming victim to it.  If we can keep these tips in mind, we can start to shift our mindset from “doing” to “being” and can therefore experience all the beauty that the holidays have to offer.

  1. Remember the true reason for the season.  The presents and parties and goings-on can become a major distraction to this.  Remind yourself that these little celebrations are all in the name of a tiny baby born in a manger in Bethlehem…Jesus, sent to save the souls of man.  This is the greatest gift of all.
  2. Practice gratitude.  When you wake up in the morning, smile.  Take five deep breath cycles, mentally naming one thing you are grateful for with each exhale.  Carry the appreciation you create through this exercise with you throughout your day, maybe giving the exercise a try before bed as well!
  3. Befriend your body.  Give it lots of water, healthy food, sleep, and exercise.  BREATHE.  Your body will repay you in the kindest way, I promise.  Tune in and pay attention when your body tells you it needs rest.  If you can learn to really listen, your body will always tell you what it needs and what it doesn’t.
  4. Learn to say ‘No.”  Please believe me when I say, it is ok if you do not RSVP ‘yes’ to all those invitations.  Sometimes we need to prioritize our schedules so that we can create more time for doing, well, nothing.  Check in with your body and ask yourself, “Which of these do I really want to do and which can I live without?”  And then follow through!
  5. Cultivate mindfulness.  Be present in every moment, noticing how you feel, without placing any judgments or expectations on yourself or on the outcome of the situation.  Note that this is not synonymous with enjoying every moment, because let’s face it…do we really enjoy those shopping mall crowds or when that strand of lights goes kaput?  No.  However, we can still practice awareness and appreciation during these times, and it you look hard enough you may just find a little glimmer of light when it seems as though there is nothing but darkness.  Namaste.

 

 

 

 

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