A Simple Way to Work With Anxiety - From a Yogic Perspective

ANXIETY - FROM A YOGIC PERSPECTIVE
A few weeks ago I noticed I felt anxious and I couldn't figure out the source of it. There was a steady, low-level urgency and discontent to my thoughts. My feet were cold. My stomach felt agitated. Have you ever felt this? 

In Ayurveda, the sister science of Yoga, this is an excess of Vata (air element); too much cold, movement and change. The really cool thing about Ayurveda is how simple it is. If i know the imbalance, that means I know how to restore balance.

At last if I catch it fast. In most cases, these imbalances build momentum. It can be hard to interrupt, as I'm sure you've experienced. It becomes easier to do things that create imbalance. Multitasking. Throwing off routines. This brings Vata further into excess and makes the anxiety worse. Before my yoga practice, I would not have been aware of any of this. 

HOW YOGA HELPS
Thanks to my practice I'm able to notice these things earlier on. I can notice how I feel before, during and after a thought or action. I can notice how throwing off my routines, trying to multitask and even eating cold foods all increase anxiety. 

I can also notice thoughts and actions that have the opposite effects. Eating warm, grounding foods. Doing one focused task at a time. Balancing my schedule with movement and rest. These things may seem unrelated, but they all have qualities of Kapha (earth element) and increase feelings of calmness, contentment and clarity when Vata is excessive. 

WHAT WE CAN DO
As the world becomes increasingly interconnected and online, most people have some level of Vata excess. So what can we do about it? Kapha increasing tasks are a great place to start. 

I find my Vata is best pacified by having a meditation cushion. A place in the world that I only ever go to when i want to meditate. Those two feet of cushion are sacred space. I’ve intentionally done this to create a pavlovian response, so as soon as I sit down, the anxiety, worry and doubt are much easier to notice. 

There is a lot of great research to show that having a set time and place that you are going to do something makes you far more likely to do it. For me, my meditation cushion is one of those places. It could move around to different rooms. I may get a different cushion someday, But I have that place, and it helps a lot. 

So i went to my zafu and sat. Restless, discontent, anxious, worried, doubtful, and, most importantly, curious. Curious about the source of these thoughts. Curious about the feelings associated with these thoughts. No distractions. No judgment. Noticing the thoughts and feelings and being fully with them. Not long after, the feelings passed through me. 

ONE POSE AT A TIME
I no longer felt urgent about every thing i could be doing and felt clear on the one thing to do next. I wrote out everything i was feeling and then the one next step after that was clear. Just like in a yoga class. Do one pose. Do my best. Then move on to the next post. Not overthinking it. Not trying to do 100 poses at once. Just being with each pose, even if it’s uncomfortable. Then letting it go, and moving on to the next. 

If anxiety is something that you’ve worked with, you don’t have to have a zafu cushion like me; it could be a blanket, a patch of grass, a tree to sit under. Find your own sacred space and make it your own. Use it to sit in quiet and stillness. To reflect. To recharge. To recenter. And when you get lost, confused, anxious and overwhelmed, like we all do, you have a place to go back to and get perspective. 

The Complete Guide To Yoga For Beginners (Part 2): How Often Should A Beginner Do Yoga?

How often should a beginner do yoga? You’ve found this practice, you’re ready to start. You see the value and the benefits, but how often do you need to practice to get the most out of it? And safely? Is it OK to do yoga every day? Do you need rest days from yoga? How much time should you spend doing yoga? I’ll address all of these questions in this post.

(This is Part 2 of a 5 part series.)

10 Frequently Asked Questions About Yoga For Beginners (Part 2): How Often Should A Beginner Do Yoga?

Before we address the amount of time you are considering practicing yoga, it’s important to look at what your body and mind are doing for the average 24 hours of the day.

Think about the shapes your body makes every day. We sit in cars, we sit at desks, we sit on couches. We slouch, we slump, we hunch, we stare down at our phones. All this stuff is repetitive stress on the body, and after just one day of this you may have racked up 6 to 7 hours of repetitive stress. By the time you get to bed you’re likely feeling pain or discomfort in your low back, neck, shoulders, upper back, hip flexors and/or hamstrings. Ouch!

If you’re fortunate enough to have a more active job and lifestyle, you are still spending 6 to 8 hours a night in bed, reducing mobility in your joints and your fascia (connective tissue)

Mentally, this wears on you. When your body becomes tense with chronic pain and discomfort, you become more irritable, agitated and restless. This can lead to exhaustion, burn out and conflicts at home. The cost of stress at work is estimated to be in the millions. This can lead to coping with food, tv or distractions, without addressing the underlying issue.
 

We Are Born to Stretch

What is the first thing you do when you wake up in the morning? Before you go to the bathroom. Before you drink water. Before you check your phone (ideally). You stretch.

If you watch animals, they do it too. What could be more natural? Imagine how tense you would feel if you woke up and *didn’t* stretch. Imagine how much more nerve racking every little stressor would be throughout the day.

If you’re like me, you’ve often gone days, weeks or months without even *knowing* you were holding tension in your back until someone touched it.

So, we stretch.

We wake up, reach our arms for a few seconds and we feel ready to get out of bed. This is a great start. But what about all those little tensions that have built up over the last 24 hours? What about the 8 hours of sitting yesterday? And the 8 hours of sleeping?

Try Practicing Yoga Every Day

To counter sitting, sleeping and developing text-neck every day, I highly recommend that you schedule some time for a mindful stretching practice (Yoga) every day. It is the most natural and fitting counterbalance to our modern lifestyle, and a huge reason of why Yoga has become so popular in recent years.

Is it OK to do yoga every day? The short answer is: absolutely. Is it recommended to do one repetitive practice the same way every day? The short answer is: only if you know how to prevent injury. My suggestion: begin with Gentle Yoga (as mentioned in the previous post) and include a variety of sequences so that over the course of a week you are moving your entire body; all major muscles, joints and connective tissue, as well as practicing mindfulness and breath awareness in ways that you can apply to your every day life.

Try practicing yoga every day. Try it for a week. Then a month. Then 3 months. Take a break as needed, then come back. Experience, as I did, just how quickly your body accumulates tension when you stop practicing, and just how quickly you can release that tension with regular practice.

How do you do it? What do you do during your daily practice? I’ll offer a free simple way to start at the end of this blog.

How Do You Maximize the Benefits of Yoga?

The short answer is: practice consistently. The benefits of yoga include mind-muscle connection, strength, flexibility, balance, mobility, clarity of mind, mental focus, nervous system regulation, injury reduction, improved digestion, improved sleep, increased happiness, improved interoception and proprioception, to name a few.

These positive qualities take time and consistency to develop, including repetitive *positive* stressors, like a consistent Yoga practice. In the same way negative effects are formed through repetitive *negative* stressors, like sitting for 8 hours.

Is It Safe to Practice Yoga Every Day?

Without a doubt, you can safely practice yoga every day. An experienced instructor will give you plenty of modifications and guidance to make sure you include variety and modifications in your practice so you are never over stressing any one area of the body. As we will learn later, stretching is largely a neurological process, less so than a muscular process. Having the daily repetition of regulating your nervous system will give you the benefits of yoga not only during your hour of practice, but all throughout the day as continue to live your life with the same mindfulness you develop in your practice.
 

How Do I Make Time For Yoga?

Despite knowing all of these benefits. Despite how much you want to practice yoga consistently. Despite knowing you will feel more flexible, strong, focused and balanced: There is that voice in the back of your head that says “I would love to, but i don’t have time.”

I know this voice well, and this is how I think about it, whenever it creeps up:

You have 24 hours a day (168 hours a week)
You likely sleep 8 hours a night (56 hrs a week)
You likely work 8 hours a day (45 hrs a week with commute)
That leaves 67 hours of free time.
If you dedicate just 7 of those hours a week to practicing yoga, you still have 60 hours to do whatever you’d like —- and feel incredible for all of it.

In short, if you commit 4% of your week (7 hours) to this thing called Yoga, you will feel incredible for everything you do the other 96% of your time (161 hours). Pretty awesome deal, wouldn’t you agree?
 

Do You Need Rest Days From Yoga?

In short, it depends on the style of Yoga you are practicing. For Gentle Yoga, you may not need a rest day, but you may want to also include more active practices in your schedule. For Ashtanga Yoga, one of the most vigorous styles of yoga, a weekly rest day is part of the prescribed practice.

In all aspects of yoga practice and lifestyle, we are seeking balance of opposites. With your own self inquiry and the guidance of an experienced teacher, you will know what is best for you. When considering rest, the yogic concepts you are addressing are “Stirha” and “Sukha.” When you look into this foundational aspect of practice, decisions of wether to exert more or less, when to be active and when to be passive, become much clearer.

The word Hatha Yoga translates to “Sun Moon” Yoga and is the foundation of most modern Yoga practices. Sun meaning active, engaged, vigorous, strengthening, structure, stability; this is synonymous to the Sanskrit word “Stirha”. Moon meaning passive, relaxed, yielding, lengthening, fluidity, ease; this is synonymous to the Sanskrit word “Sukha.”

One of the main teachings of the Yoga Sutra (300 B.C.E.) is “stirha sukha asanam,’ which suggests you find the middle ground between these opposite qualities in your asana (posture). Learning to embody structure when you need to. Learning to embody yielding when you need to.

As a beginner this may all sound foreign, and that is totally ok. Many modern classes may not address these aspects of practice, but as you practice regularly you will become more aware of the flow of energy (prana) in your body and be able to adapt and change when you feel you need more or less engagement in a posture and in all ares of your life.

How Much Time Should You Spend Doing Yoga?

In short, an hour a day would be best. But as little as 5 minutes, 3 times a week consistently would be far better than, say, a 90 minute class once every few weeks.

As I suggested above, an hour a day, 7 days a week is only 4% of your time in a given week. While that is true, and it sounds very doable just looking at the math, the reality is we are not machines, and our lives are full of twists and turns.

We’ve all had the experience of being optimistic and having good intentions about a new routine or habit or healthy lifestyle choice, only to find ourselves repeatedly quieting the phone notification we set to follow through with the intention.

One of the most valuable skills I’ve learned to cultivate in yoga practice is self awareness. For example, I can be self aware that I’m falling out of a balancing pose, and choose to practice the yogic principle of Ahimsa, non harming. Instead of judging or criticizing or comparing myself to others, I can be kind to myself and know that I’m doing my best. The same with my schedule and my practices. If I feel off, worried, overwhelmed, agitated and miss a day of practice, that is okay. It happens. It’s part of being human. The important thing is not that I rigidly adhere to a schedule, but that I am kind to myself and adjust as needed, knowing i am doing my best.

So aim for a goal that is challenging but doable. For you that may be 5 minutes, 3 days a week to start. Or one 60 minute class a week. Maybe your schedule is very full in this season of your life, and that’s okay. I have found that being aware of myself, my thoughts and my reactions to my circumstances — and choosing to practice self compassion, self forgiveness and understanding is itself a yoga practice. In those busy or highly emotional phases, any amount of movement can go a long way in helping to alleviate physical discomfort and emotional distress.

Ultimately, I find that I do best when I follow the guidance of my mentors and show up consistently even if i don’t always feel like it, i often feel incredible after practice. If you don’t have a yoga teacher or guide in your life right now, it can be incredible helpful, encouraging and supportive to find that. Until then, as your guide through this writing, I encourage you to aim for one hour a day of practice, and I make it as easy as possible with my weekly podcasts you can practice at home, and my Yoga Every Day series. There are also countless online classes and in person classes all over the world you can choose, but I was amazed at the benefits and transformation I experienced when I began practicing for one hour daily, and I think you’ll enjoy the benefits as well.

One Next Step

I’m all about making things simple and applicable with One Next Step you can take after reading this. So, in short, seek out a 60 minute Gentle Yoga practice to start, and you’ll like find a great introduction to the basics. With time you will build confidence with the essentials of alignment, breathing and mindfulness. The more consistently you practice the more benefits you will begin to see.

To make things even easier and laid out for you, you can sign up below for Start Your Yoga Practice to receive a full week of Gentle Yoga audio classes that you can follow along with from home, all you need is a yoga mat and a blanket for padding your knees in some of the poses. You can start here and repeat this 7 day series as many times as you like.

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The Complete Guide to Yoga For Beginners (Part 1) What is the Best Type of Yoga for Beginners?

Prepare for your first yoga class with this Complete Guide to Yoga for Beginners. 

 

Yoga Does Not Have To Be Intimidating

Long before I stepped foot in a yoga class, I started making healthy lifestyle choices and told my friend about it. I was eating whole foods. Drinking more water. Getting more sleep. I started meditating. My friend asked “So, are you a yogi?” Embarrassed that she said this strange word in public, I looked around to see if anyone else had heard her. No one looked at us funny so I assumed 1. “being a yogi” was a good thing and involved making healthy lifestyle choices, making positive environmental and social choices and 2. It had something to do with men in loincloths. All these years later, I can say I was definitely right about at least one of those things. 

My irrational fear of wearing a loincloth was soon superseded by a new, more rational fear; I would leave my comfort zone of lifting weights and enter that mysterious room at the gym where they do yoga sometimes. 

I got home and scoured the internet for anything i should know about starting a yoga practice. The internet in 2008 wasn’t what it is today. I found a couple random youtube clips of yoga and random blog, but i didn’t feel any clearer on what to do next, so I just showed up at the next class on the schedule. 

Well, I almost did. I avoided it for a few weeks.. made myself late.. figured i could just stretch at home.. The truth is I felt intimdated. Uncomfortable with doing something in public that I had no experience with. Insecure what other guys walking by the room who see me in there might think.

Eventually, I made it to class, and I realized that those judgments existed solely in my mind. The teacher, the students and the practice of yoga is completely non-judgmental. In fact, it’s all about practicing self compassion and self care. I didn’t know most of the yoga poses, or, really, what i was doing, but that was never the point. It was a space for me to practice self awareness, develop strength, flexibilty and balance in a judgment free, supportive environment. As a side effect, we might eventually do some physically impressive postures, but the real benefit is what happens inside. I overcame that first hurdle of stepping into the room, and I left the room feeling amazing. I hope this guide helps you overcome potential hurdles to starting your practice so you can have similar benefits.  

 

Why This Guide?

I know that having access to a “yoga for beginners guide,” or knowing where to start would have helped me feel more confident, be consistent and see  progress in my practice. I didn’t know any of the yoga etiquette, the basic postures, or how to fit yoga into my weekly routine. 

I wasn’t able to find that guidance back then, but i was able to get my practice started and after a few years make it a foundational part of my life before becoming a full time yoga teacher. I learned from going to hundreds of classes, reading dozens of books, practicing at home almost every day, completing over 2000 hours of teacher trainings and teaching over 3000 classes. 

I made this guide so you don’t have to go through all that training to begin your practice. You don’t have to make the mistakes I made. By following this simple guide you can get answers to the questions that it took me weeks, months and years to learn. 

Then, you can focus on the most important part of practicing; showing up to your practice, knowing you have the essentials down. Then, you can begin exploring all the depths of self awareness, flexibility, strength, balance and mental clarity that yoga has to offer. 

I like to keep things simple and easy to reference, so I’ve organized all of my experience into the 10 most common yoga questions I had as a beginner and that i have heard from beginners. I hope you find this helpful, inspiring and clarifying. 

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This is Part ONE of a FIVE part series. For part two click here

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10 FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS ABOUT YOGA FOR BEGINNERS (Part 1)


1. What is the best type of yoga for beginners?

For my first few years of practice, I didn’t know there were different styles of yoga. I thought it was all just “yoga.” I was surprised to go to a yoga studio and be asked “are you going to Hatha or Kundalini?” —- What? I have to choose? I just want to do some yoga.

It turns out there are many, many types or “styles” of yoga. There are at least 8 main types you’ll see at yoga studios and in online yoga classes. What are the 8 types of yoga? And which is best for beginners? 

I’ve given an overview of each style and rated it as 

1. BEST for beginners
2. GOOD for beginners
3. MORE EXPERIENCE RECOMMENDED for beginners

1. Hatha Yoga GOOD for Beginners

Hatha is a Sanskrit word, the origin language of Yoga. “Ha” and “Tha” translate to “Sun” and “Moon” - This style of yoga is about balancing opposite qualities of effort and ease, strength and flexibility. Expect to hold postures for several breaths, increase balance and focus your mind. Typically all levels, but some experience of basic postures, breathing and alignment helps. 

Hatha is sometimes taught in a set sequence, and sometimes in a heated room, most commonly in the “Bikram Yoga” style, named after it’s founder Bikram Chouderoy. I have met people who have only ever practiced Bikram and were surprised to find that the extreme heat (105 degrees), the choice of pose names and the harsh languaging used by the teachers (“lock the knee!” “throat choked,” “push!” “like I’m pulling you by your hair.”) is unique to Bikram and not found in other yoga classes.

Modern Hatha Yoga gets much of it’s alignment, posture names and principles from B.K.S. Iyengar who wrote “Light on Yoga” and created “Iyengar Yoga,” a form of Hatha Yoga that is very precise in it’s alignment and sequencing. The names and cues Iyengar used for poses are still widely accepted and used by most yoga teachers today. 

The primary source texts of Hatha Yoga are The Yoga Sutra (300 B.C.E.) and The Hatha Yoga Pradipika (1600 C.E.). As you can see, even within Hatha Yoga, there are many other styles and variations. In general, a class titled “Hatha Yoga” is GOOD for beginners

2. Gentle Yoga BEST for Beginners

A version of Hatha Yoga with modifications to be less strenuous, but still include strength, flexibility and balance. Typically less standing postures than Hatha Yoga, and fewer advanced postures. Great for beginners, people with injuries, and anytime you want something more restful and less strenuous. Suitable to all levels. Gentle Yoga is the BEST place for beginners to start. Why? It’s highly adaptable, the poses are simple, and the pacing is easy to keep up with. 

3. Yin Yoga GOOD for Beginners

The second slowest and the deepest stretching form of Yoga. Here you will hold postures 1 to 5 minutes. No standing postures. Little movement between postures. Focus is on increasing flexibility and releasing tension, little to no focus on increasing balance or strength. Equally challenging and rewarding as far as releasing physical tension and settling the mind. You may get halfway through class and realize that you have been exhausted and moving fast for weeks and relish in finally having the time to be still, as I have experienced in Yin Yoga. Some of the poses can be intense if you have limited flexibility, though you can always make modifications, and a good teacher will give you options. Gentle would be a better place to start, but if you have access to Yin class it is definitely a great place to start or include in your beginning practice. GOOD for beginners.

 

4. Restorative Yoga 2nd BEST for Beginners

What is the easiest yoga? As far as physical effort, that would have to be Restorative Yoga. The slowest form of Yoga, in a Restorative class you will hold postures for 5 to 25 minutes each. Often only practicing 2 to 5 postures during the entire class. This can be difficult if you are brand new to practice and feel a lot of physical tension or mental stress. Trying to be still for that long can be aggravating. On the other hand, having the space to be still for that long can feel incredibly relieving and relaxing. Many people fall asleep during Restorative Yoga and that’s ok, though not required. Expect to use lots of props. No focus on strength, flexibility or balance. Instead the focus is on activating the Parasympathetic Nervous System, or the “rest and digest” mode of the Central Nervous System. This is the opposite of the Sympathetic Nervous System, or the “fight or flight” mode. We are most often in some level of SNS mode throughout the day, and some people go long stretches without ever entering the PNS mode, so Restorative Yoga can be incredibly healing and, well, restorative. Restorative Yoga is SECOND BEST place for beginners to start. 

 

5. Vinyasa / Flow MORE EXPERIENCE RECOMMENDED 

A faster paced version of Hatha Yoga that is influenced by the primary sequence of Ashtanga Yoga. The word Flow and Vinyasa are often used interchangeably. Vinyasa means “to place in a way to direct prana (energy),” and can mean many different things, but is most commonly associated with the 3 pose sequence of moving from Chaturanga (low push up) to Upward Facing Dog to Downward Facing Dog. This sequence is challenging and, done safely, builds strength, flexibility and internal heat.  For the average beginner, this is very difficult to do safely and repetitively while maintaining a relaxed breath. For these reasons, I recommend building your skill in Hatha Yoga first before trying a Vinyasa class. In the Vinyasa class, whether the teacher says so or not, you can always skip the “Vinyasas” and hold Downdog or Childs Pose instead. 

Many beginners I meet have tension in their shoulders and upper back and would not benefit from doing dozens of pushups in a yoga class, so when I teach Vinyasa and Flow classes I often do not include many of these sequences, and instead focus on opening the chest and shoulder area while still making the practice vigorous and challenging. Still, despite not having the repetitive shoulder stress, I recommend building your overall strength, flexibility and balance first in Gentle Yoga, then Hatha Yoga before trying Vinyasa. By all means, you can jump right into Vinyasa, though, if you’re like me, it might leave you intimidated and drenched in sweat your first time. It’s important to note that there are many all-levels Vinyasa classes that are not as strenuous. 

 

6. Ashtanga / Power MORE EXPERIENCE RECOMMENDED 

Ashtanga is a specific lineage of yoga created by Krishnamacharya and Patahbi Jois in the early 1900’s. Ashtanga is a taught in set sequences, traditionally in a direct teacher-student relationship where the teacher gives you postures as you are ready for them. You practice 6 days a week and practice the same sequence of sun salutations, standing postures, seated postures and vigorous vinyasas. Ashtanga is the origin of modern Vinyasa yoga - which forgoes the set sequencing to include creative sequencing. Ashtanga is also the origin of modern Power yoga - which is a tern loosely used to mean more challenging, vigorous classes with emphasis on advanced postures, often in a heated room. Can beginners do power yoga? Yes, especially if you have a background in strong physical exercise. If you feel drawn to this style, a Hatha Flow, or Vinyasa class may be a better place to start to get an idea of the fundamentals first. 

7. Kundalini GOOD for beginners

Kundalini is a word for the latent potential within all people, said to reside at the base of the spine until stimulated through breath and movement to rise up to the crown of the head, creating a “Kundalini Awakening.” This can be an intense experience if you are brand new to yoga, though many modern Kundalini Yoga classes are sequenced in a way that is accessible to beginners. This style is great if you have any sort of stagnation in your life; emotionally, physically, mentally or spiritually. Kundalini is about overcoming your perceived limitations in “Kriyas” or “acts” that sometimes resemble meditation, pranayama (breathwork), Yoga Asana, Tai Chi and Qi Gong. These movements are often said to have specific benefits for such things as the liver, the kidneys, increasing prosperity in your life, and just about anything else you can think of. There are over 3500 documented kriyas in the 3HO lineage of Yogi Bhajan, and many more in less popular lineages. This style is quite distinct from other Yoga classes and definitely worth exploring to see if it resonates for you. Classes can vary to a wide degree - from doing a single arm movement for 31 minutes - to doing a vigorous fully body sequence. 

 

8. Yoga Nidra GOOD for beginners. 

Nidra means “Sleep” and this practice is not about taking a nap, but about accessing the deep, relaxed state of theta brainwaves without actually falling asleep. This is said to have many benefits for the central nervous system - to enter the parasympathetic nervous system mode where the body rests, digests and heals itself. This practice can be difficult for complete beginners because of how much time is spent laying still. Typically, Yoga Nidra includes 45 minutes of laying down and mentally scanning your awareness to all areas of the body. It is encouraged to stay awake, though it is okay if you do fall asleep. If you fear you will feel restless laying down for 45 minutes, that is possible, though you may be surprised at just how relaxing the process is for you. One way to work around this is to arrive early to class and get some movement in so you feel ready to lay still. 

Other Styles of Yoga

As you might imagine, there are far more styles than this, and there will likely continue to be new variations of yoga created every year (Doga, Goga, Naked Yoga, Symphonic Black Metal Yoga). That being said, Hatha is widely considered the foundation of yoga, and Gentle Hatha Yoga is a great place to start.  

This is all assuming you are looking for asana-based yoga. You may be surprised to learn that none of these are the most popular form of Yoga in India, it’s country of origin. In fact, the most popular form of Yoga in India is “Bhakti Yoga,” which has little do with postures at all, and involves “Bhakti” or “devotion” to ones spiritual beliefs, practices and teachers. Most often through chanting mantra and making offerings. This is not as popular in America, though you can find “Kirtan” chanting events in most major cities and it is a great way to get to experience Bhakti Yoga for yourself. The mantras are often simple and made easy to follow along with handouts. This is a much bigger topic but, in short, you do not need to follow any religious or spiritual belief to chant mantras as part of a Bhakti Yoga practice like a Kirtan. 

 

Your One Next Step

I’m all about making things simple and applicable with One Next Step you can take after reading this. So, in short, seek out a Gentle Yoga practice to start, and you’ll like find a great introduction to the basics. With time you will build confidence with the essentials of alignment, breathing and mindfulness. The more consistently you practice the more benefits you will begin to see. 

Not sure where to find a Gentle class? Sign up below to receive a full week of Gentle Yoga audio classes that you can follow along with from home, all you need is a yoga mat and a blanket for padding your knees in some of the poses. 

SIGN UP BELOW to get a your free “7 Days of Gentle Yoga for Beginners” download 

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Gentle Hatha Yoga for Everything - 1 Blanket [Quietmind Yoga Podcast S3E5]

A Well Rounded Practice

Sometimes you just want a full, well rounded practice with a little bit of everything. Maybe you don’t have any particular tensions but just want to have a solid practice of mindfulness, strength, flexibility and balance. That’s what today’s class is all about.

We’ll use a yoga blanket to soften the pressure on your knees when you’re in hand and knees on the mat. This is important and easy to overlook, but knee injuries are among the most common issues I see in people who have practiced for 10+ years. You can use any throw blanket you have on hand, or go to Amazon to order the blanket i recommend.

We’ll use beginner friendly yoga poses to develop strength, flexibility and balance in all ares of thebody: the hamstrings, quads, glutes, hips, core, lower back, shoulders, arms and neck.

 

Balance Expansion and Contraction

Energetically; we’ll balance expansion and contraction — moving from very open, expansive poses like Supta Badha Konasana (supine bound angle) — to contracting

Throughout your day, even sitting at a desk, or standing in line, you can apply this; If you feel you need an energy boost, you can embody more expansive postures like backbends and side bends. If you feel overextended or burnt out you can embody more contracted postures like forward folds and twists.

This time of year we can have a lot of enthusiasm about new intentions, so it’s important to temper that by knowing there will be expansion and there will be contraction. Just like your breath, your heartbeat and all things in nature. This practice helps us learn to embody both qualities when need needed.


Want Daily Yoga?

Join the Quietmind Yoga Membership at http://www.quietmind.yoga/membership to get:
 —- A new 60 minute yoga class every day
 —- A new 60 minute yoga workshop every month (topics include: mindful new year 2019, yoga for beginners, mindful communication and many more to come)
 —- Comments section to get direct support from me so your practice never has to get stagnant

Need Yoga Props?

Support Quietmind Yoga by purchasing your yoga supplies from these links. These are all products I use, love and highly recommend:

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Download 5 Steps To A Mindful New Year

Have you set your intentions for 2019? Download the FREE PDF: 5 Steps to A Mindful New Year at http://www.mindfulnewyear.com — Offer expires Jan 31,2019

Thanks for listening!
Jeremy Devens, E-RYT

What Does It Mean to “Follow Your Dharma?”

The idea to “follow your passion” that we have heard so much over the past 10 years has it’s roots in ancient India. The phrase “sat chit ananda” sparked the imagination of Joseph Campbell, a man most famous for his study of cultural mythology in the book “The Hero With a Thousand Faces.” He heard this phrase “sat chit ananda” when studying the Indian Upanishads. It means to follow your “truth” “consciousness” and “bliss.” He said “i don’t know for sure if I’m following truth or consciousness, but i can know for sure when I’m following my bliss.” His use of the phrase “follow your bliss” has since become embedded into personal development circles, most commonly as “follow your passion”

This is a great idea, and i agree with it, but a more grounded, practical application of this can be found in the Bhagavad Gita - Particularly this quote.

The Gita is all about an archer named Arjuna struggling to come to terms with following his bliss. He has had great success on his path, but now he has to make some difficult choices. This is where Krishna begins to teach about Dharma.

Dharma literally translates to 'duty', 'virtue', 'morality,’ and it refers to the power which upholds the universe and society..

But acting virtuously is not the same for everyone; different people have different obligations and duties. Dharma is universal but it is also particular and operates within concrete circumstances. Each person therefore has their own dharma known as sva-dharma. What is correct for you might not be for me.

The Gita suggests that to move even an inch in the direction of your own path is far more worthwhile than to move miles in the direction of someone else’s path.

Action out of alignment of dharma is called adharma and is said to lead to kinds of suffering, as you know if you’ve ever been sucked into the social media trap of comparing yourself to others and becoming self critical.

Action in alignment with dharma is considered a service to humanity and to the God of your understanding.

How do you know when you’re in alignment? I think it’s much like a yoga pose - you feel it clearly in your body. There is a resonance, a harmony, a natural flow of energy and little resistance. Even advanced, strong postures can take on a light, weightless quality. We can find this in yoga postures through practice, and I believe we can find it in our day to day actions as well, and if nothing else, that is one thing yoga is practice for.

I’ve created a full online course all about applying this concept of “Following your Dharma” called Mindful New Year. Begin applying this yourself with a FREE PDF: “5 Steps to a Mindful New Year” that you can download now until Jan 31st at www.MindfulNewYear.com

Clear Your Mind and Set Intentions for the New Year

The Beginning of a 6 Month Cycle

The Winter Solstice is the longest night of the year, ending a 6 month cycle that began at Summer Solstice. Now, feminine, yin, receptive and maternal qualties are at their greatest strength. Starting December 22nd, a new 6 month cycle begins. The light of the Sun increases until the longest day of the year, the Summer Solstice, repeating the cycle.  

It is only natural that milions of people think about their future and set new year resolutions at this time. Working in health and fitness for the past 15 years, I’ve seen gyms, yoga studios and wellness centers fill up each January. Unfortunately, most people’s resolutions fizzle out by February, and the studios returns to business as usual. Have you ever experienced this?

Is it because you’re doing something wrong? Do just need a better system? Goal setting, prioritization, vision boards and getting coached can all be incredible resources. From a yogic perspective, though, the reason resolutions fizzle out is not external, but internal.

“Make me an instrument of your peace.
Where there is hatred, let me sow love;
Where there is error, truth;
Where there is injury, pardon;
Where there is doubt, faith;
Where there is despair, hope;
Where there is darkness, light;
And where there is sadness, joy.
O Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek
To be consoled as to console;
To be understood as to understand;
To be loved as to love. 
For it is in giving that we receive;
It is in pardoning that we are pardoned;
It is in self-forgetting that we find;
And it is in dying to ourselves that we are born to eternal life.”

-St Francis of Assisi 

Intrinsic vs Extrinsic Motivation

When I think of intrinsic motivation, I think of this poem by St Francis of Assisi. If you’re like me, you probably read this and feel a sense of inner peace and contentment. To know that being loving, understanding and open to life is it’s own reward.

Go to any major news site or turn on a tv and you’ll see a very different message. A message that I personally have done a lot of work to root out and replace with more empowering beliefs. After practicing these concepts in earnest for a few years, I put pen to paper and wrote down what this poem might look like in action. Who would I be? Where would I go? What would I do?

18 months later I found that piece of paper and realized all of the things I had written had come to pass: move to Austin, build community, eat local, seasonal, organic food, find a mentor, be a mentor to at risk boys, find a beautiful new home and find new work I love. I was amazed to realize my life now reflected what I wrote down. This is not always the case, though.

Intrinsic vs Ego Motivation

How can you tell if something is intrinsically motivated and not just your ego?

I’ve written other lists. Lists of wants and goals in hope of repeating these results. Rather than allowing what wanted to come through me I was striving. I had a sense of discontent, urgency and not-enoughness — and the results of I got amplified these feelings.

Sometimes, the only way to really know is to try something and see what happens. Try taking actions from a place of discontent or urgency and see what your results are. Try making decisions when you’re more clear minded, such as after a yoga or meditation practice and compare the results. Ego motivations will likely feel more tense and have continued negative results. Intrinsic motivations will not necessarily mean easier, but meeting whatever does arise with an internal ease and openness.

A Practice to Clear Your Mind and Set Intentions for the New Year

Any sort of receptive practice is beneficial around the Winter Solstice: taking baths, long walks, having a lighter schedule, getting extra rest, restorative yoga, yoga nidra, yin yoga, langana pranayama (calming breathwork).

A great practice for all of this is Nadi Shodana (channel cleansing breath). This creates a clear state of mind to reflect, journal and set intentions for this time of year, or anytime you need perspective. Everyone’s process will be different, but if you feel inspired to write or take action after this practice, trust that inspiration. If you have any questions or want to share your experience, leave a comment below. 

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Nadi Shodana (Channel Cleansing Breath)

  1. Sit comfortably in a meditative posture

  2. Seal your right nostril with your right hand thumb

  3. Inhale through your left nostril

  4. Seal your left nostril with your right hand ring and little fingers

  5. Exhale through your right nostril 

  6. Inhale through your right nostril

  7. Seal your right nostril with your right hand thumb

  8. Exhale through your left nostril

  9. Repeat steps 3-8 for 3 minutes

  10. Stay seated and return to normal breathing for a few breaths

 

How to Bring Closure to The Year - From a Yogic Perspective

Samskaras

If you felt a little off this November, you’re not alone. The holiday season can stir up a lot emotionally, good or bad. The experiences we have with our friends and family during the holidays can leave impressions on us for many years. From a yogic perspective, these Impressions are called Samskaras; the mental impressions left by all thoughts, actions and intents that an individual has experienced. They can be thought of as psychological imprints. They are said to be the root of all impulses, and our innate dispositions.

Maybe a relative says something, and suddenly your body tenses up and you feel anger. Or maybe you just feel a general sense of sadness during the holidays. These feelings are not random. As my teacher Vanessa Stone would say, if it’s happening, it is essential for your personal evolution. 

If we’re not aware of these patterns, they can run our entire lives. 

“Fixing” Was Not Effective

Growing up, the holidays were challenging for me. I remember one year, around age 10, my relatives were so divided that the only reason we got together was to eat, open gifts and get out before it got too tense. 

At age 10, there wasn’t much I could do about all the conflict and tension, and I didn’t want to take sides. I felt awkward asking anyone for help, or bringing it up at school, so I didn’t. I just didn’t talk about it. Comparing my family to the stories I heard from other kids made me feel angry, sad and unhappy. This persisted, and over the next few years, the holidays felt increasingly tense and burdensome.

Despite my good intentions, all my attempts at avoiding, rebelling, peacemaking or in any way trying to “fix” the situation were not effective. I became increasingly withdrawn and less expressive.

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Becoming Aware is Growth

Then, I learned about meditation. I learned how to observe my reactive thoughts and behaviors, and not react. I learned to release my attachment to how I thought a family “should” be. I accepted that there was conflict and tension in my family, and that is okay. I made peace with this. 

So I found creative outlets, friends to share with, projects to immerse in. I didn’t have a picturesque family, but that didn’t mean I couldn’t find ways to be happy, expressive and connected to others. 

I still don’t handle the holidays perfectly, nor do I have it all figured out, but I’m not as reactive or hurt as I used to be, and I don’t blame others for how I feel (at least not as automatically!). It takes discipline to do this, but I have seen that it’s worth it. Having discipline in my thoughts and behaviors makes me more creative, more productive, more expressive, more aligned with what is essential to me. There are still samskaras, but now there is awareness too. I consider that spiritual growth. 

Looking back on this experience through the lens of my yoga training, I see that there were 3 principles at play. These are principles we can all apply as we reflect on the holiday season, and reflect on the year behind us.

Non Grasping

Non grasping - (In Sanskrit: “Aparigraha”) The virtue of non-possessiveness, non-grasping or non-greediness. Letting go of the tendency to fix, grasp, defend or try to figure it all out. Instead focusing on what is necessary or important. —- Is there a relationship or situation where you have been comparing yourself to others or to an ideal image of how you think things should be?

Contentment

Contentment - (In Sanskrit: “Santosha:) Generally considered to be both an attitude and a state of deep inner peace. Through practicing santosha, the yogi is freed from cravings and desires. When they are free from such influences, they are also free to pursue their own calling without fear or manipulation. —— Have you let extrinsic forces dictate your happiness? How could you shift to a more intrinsic locus of control to chose thoughts and actions that bring you more happiness? 

Discipine

Discipline - (In Sanskrit: “Tapas”) Often translates as 'austerity' or 'discipline'. Derived from the root verb 'tap' which means 'to burn.' Tapas is a sense of 'fiery discipline' or 'passion'. Free of grasping, from a place of contentment, discipline can be in service of your personal growth. —- What thoughts and behaviors have been the most empowering for you this year? How would you like to apply them going into next year? 

Embodiement

How can you put this into practice? Awareness is always the first step. Then, embodiment is how you integrate and apply what you’ve learned. This means yoga and meditation. Practice these qualities with the Quietmind Yoga Podcast in these upcoming episodes:

12/2 Non Grasping
12/9 Contentment
12/16 Tapas
12/23 Yoga Nidra
12/30 Live from the New Year Retreat

“We think that the point is to pass the test or overcome the problem, but the truth is that things don't really get solved. They come together and they fall apart. Then they come together again and fall apart again. It's just like that. The healing comes from letting there be room for all of this to happen: room for grief, for relief, for misery, for joy.” - Pema Chodron, When Things Fall Apart

How To Create A Morning Routine

One of my teachers once said “For someone who practices yoga, having difficulties and challenges is a wonderful thing.” He also said “if you don’t have some sort of practices, those challenges will really suck.”

He is my astrology teacher, and he was looking at my birth chart. There is a specific part of your chart, the 8th house, that signifies sudden change, transformation, loss and death. It also signifies yoga, meditation and esoteric practices. I have a lot going on in that part of my chart, but you don’t need to have all that to know that with anything in life, we get to have some influence in whether our challenges are opportunities or whether they just suck. For many of us, the easiest aspect of our lives to influence is our morning routine.  

I believe astrology reminds us that we all have latent energies within us that can manifest positively or negatively. In the times I have slipped from my practices, dropped my morning routine or forgotten to implement what I’ve learned from past mistakes, I have had the most challenges. In the times that I have consistent routines and self care, things tend to manifest more positively. Maybe you have noticed similar results? 

Out of Balance

Just this past month, I noticed myself start to have a Vata imbalance. In fact, I’ve heard from a lot of people who were also experiencing this, as it is common in the Fall season. Maybe you have to?

Symptoms of feeling anxious, scattered and overwhelmed. For me, this lead to digestive distress and eventually to a mild cold. Fortunately, I applied what I have learned over the past 7 years about Ayurveda and was able to nip it in the bud before it got worse.

Ayurveda teaches that disease has stages, and it starts on an energetic level with thoughts and feelings like anxiety, anger, fear and overwhelm. As this imbalance persists it manifests in physical symptoms, progressively getting worse and depleting your body.

What You Can Do

In my classes this Fall I am teaching a lot about building immunity to prevent this progression of disease. Classes have been focused on the Fall yoga keywords: warming, centering and grounding.

In general, anytime you start to feel out of balance, I suggest you make two lists: things you feel you want to stop doing, and things you feel you want to start doing. Usually you know exactly what you need to do, it just takes a moment of reflection to clarify it.

For me, one of my essential practices is having an ayurvedic morning routine. This is a great place to start if you’re not sure where to begin. My ayurveda teacher would say this is one of the best things you can do for your health; physically, mentally and emotionally:

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Create Your Morning Routine

Everything in your body works in some sort of rhythm. Your heartbeat. Your breathrate. Your sleep cycles. All the systems in your body. The more irregular your lifestyle is, the more deregulated all these systems can be. The more routine you can create, the more your body can optimally produce hormones, repair tissues, digest food, prevent disease, sleep soundly, and so on. My personal morning routine at the moment is:

  1. Shower (including brushing teeth, drinking water, etc)

  2. Journal (plan my day, prioritize tasks)

  3. Practice (yoga and meditation)

  4. Eat breakfast

Maybe you read a book, go for a run or something else. The important thing is that it is nourishing to you and starts your day feeling good, creative and energized, rather than reacting to external stimuli such as the phone or rushing to work. Having a morning routine will help you clarify what is most important to you, and remove the distractions, filler and phone checking that creeps in over time. With this solid foundation to start the day, you can help steer your life towards more positive and neutral expressions and less negative expressions. 

Nature knows this process. The trees choose to detach their leaves in the fall to create a mulch and bring more nutrients back to their roots. Rather than constantly trying to branch out and do more and get overextended, the trees move their resources to what is most essential. The Fall season can be an opportunity for us to do the same.

5 Ways to Avoid Colds, Flus and Disease in the Fall Season with Yoga, Meditation and Ayurveda

The Cost of Living Out of Alignment

Have you ever thought about how you can eat pretty much any diet you want, any time of the year? Or how, with heat and AC, you can create any climate you want, anywhere in the world? Or how with devices, coffee and sleeping pills, you can live on any schedule you want, any time of year?

Yet the transition into the fall season reminds us that it’s time to change. The leaves fall off the trees to bring more resources to their roots. The days become shorter. The weather gets colder.

If our ancestors evolved to live in alignment with nature, there must be some sort of cost to us living out of alignment with nature, right? What does Ayurveda, the sister science of Yoga, have to say about this?  

“Ayurveda is a complete system of living. It is an attitude or philosophy, but with tools and techniques that can bring people back to a connection with their environment, to the recognition that we live in a system of inter-dependent life cycles. Of course, the modern urban world is doing its best to ignore this by creating as many nature-defying inventions it can. But can we really conquer nature? Do we want to? Ayurveda certainly does not," - Dr. Bhaswati Bhattacharya, MD

How about Western medicine? I did some research and found something interesting: 74% of Americans are living with digestive distress. Everything from bloating, to gas, constipation, heartburn, indigestion to IBS. According to Western medicine, this is not that big of a deal. Most people ignore it, or take a pill and hope it goes away.

According to Ayurveda, though, this is a huge deal. Why? The key is in the Sanskrit word “agni.” This translates to your metabolism of everything from food to your experiences to the information you take in. In short, agni is your “digestive fire.”

3000+ years of Ayurvedic teachings say that your agni is one of the most important factors in your health. They even go so far to say all disease starts in the transition of the seasons, with digestive distress. 

Could our chronic digestive distress be a symptom of living out alignment with nature and not listening to our bodies? I reflected on my own experience, and what i’ve learned in studying Ayurveda, and here’s my take: 

Like Increases Like

The primary teaching of ayurveda is “like increases like” and “opposites brings balance.” What are we balancing? In short, the three Doshas. From earth, air, water, fire and ether we get the five elements. From the five elements s we get the three doshas. They are:

  • Vata is air and ether, the qualities of cold, movement and dry; the fall / early winter season.

  • Pitta is fire and water, the qualities of hot, oily and sharp, the summer season.

  • Kapha is earth and water, the qualities of cold, wet and stable; the late winter / spring season

When the seasons change, these doshas can be thrown off alignment and dampen your digestive fire, or agni... As I learned the hard way:

Growing up in MInnesota, my vata was off the charts. Long sub-zero winters meant cold limbs and digestive issues were a way of life. Because like increases like, I lived a very vata lifestyle. Lots of creative ideas. Lots of activity. Lots of dry, rough and cold foods. I loved vegan ice cream, smoothies, raw fruits and kale. For about a year I was even a raw vegan. My intentions were good. I was living the healthiest I knew how to, but i was getting sick every few months.

My digestive fire was being smothered, and by the Fall of 2010, I could no longer ignore my body.

At a raw “uncooking” class I prepared a five course meal of “gourmet raw vegan” food. This included sweet potatoes, kale, dates, cashews for days and, i wish i was kidding, 6 whole onions. All raw. We dehydrated most of these foods to mimic the way humans might have “baked” food in the sun hundreds of years ago... Hindsight is a great teacher. Had it been 100 years prior, it’s hard to imagine any of us surviving a Minnesota winter without fire.

By the time I ate my third raw onion I felt like I had eaten wet cement. “Uh-oh,” i thought, “I hope this isn’t permanent.”

Two days later, when i finally felt hunger again, I knew it was time to listen to my gut.  I could no longer ignore my digestive issues.

Opposites Bring Balance

I still didn’t know about Ayurveda, but I knew I needed a change to my diet. I knew I needed to live in a warmer environment. And I knew I needed to change my lifestyle.

Ayurveda teaches that “opposites bring balance.” For me in 2011, moving from Minnesota to Austin, Texas was about as opposite as I could get.

I did my yoga training and began to learn about Ayurveda. Instead of eating what seemed healthy, I learned to eat for my body type (Dosha) and the season.

This meant eating a lot of opposites of what I had gotten used to. Warm, oily and heavy foods instead of cold, dry and rough foods. Hatha and Vinyasa Yoga to engage my whole body and get out of my head. Time in the sun. Meditation to be still and grounded. In short; making changes when I felt digestive distress, instead of ignoring it.

“Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food” - Ayurvedic Proverb

This is always a work in progress. Each transition of the seasons is a test of what I’ve learned. A time to make adjustments, let go of any idea of having it all figured out, and listen to my gut all over again.

From growing up catching a cold almost every season of my life. To today, where I can stop most disease at the first cough, sneeze or itchy eye.

I am human. I still have days where I buy pints of ice cream and eat until my stomach hurts. I also have days where I wake up with congestion, drink a drying tea and find instant relief. 

The Benefits of Living in Alignment

The main thing I have no that i didn’t before is an understanding of health and wellness that I trust, and that I know works. 3000+ years of wisdom has stood the test of time for many people, including me. Since 2012 I have been applying the principles of Ayurveda, and here are my personal results:

  • I am happy. I dont get stuck in emotional ruts or get reactive to others like i used to.

  • I have a fulfilling, fun and enjoyable life and can find humor and connection in most situations

  • My limbs aren’t cold all the time anymore. People have even described me as “a furnace.”

  • My digestion is consistent. I rarely have the bloating and stomach pain I used to.

  • I don’t have the doubt, anxiety and stuck feelings I grew up with. I felt confident and grounded.

  • People used to describe me as “spacey.” Now people describe me as “steady in all situations.”

  • I can fully engage with my work, and I can fully let go and enjoy downtime, rest and nature.

  • I used to have major energy dips every day around noon, now I feel steady energy all day.

  • I generally feel a lot of vitality, energy and enthusiasm.

  • At 32 years old, I frequently meet people who think I’m in my early 20s.

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Here’s how you can apply the principles of Ayurveda for yourself to have a healthy, happy Fall season and avoid colds, flues and sickness often associated with the Autumn:

1. Have a Morning Routine (Dinacharya)

The word Dinacharya translates to “morning ritual” and it is a significant part of Ayurveda. A morning routine can be as simple as waking up at the same time each day, or drinking a glass of water in the morning. These suggestions help pacify vata in the Fall, and are suitable for all doshas.  

Fall Morning Routine:

  • Wake between 5 - 6am

  • Scrape tongue (the whiter the tongue, the more toxins in your system

  • Brush teeth

  • Drink 8-16oz clean, room temp water (I like the Berkey filter)

  • Abhyangha (full body self massage with sesame or almond oil)

  • Gentle yoga stretching followed by meditation

  • Shower and wash oil off

  • Light breakfast between 7-9am

Two practices that have become popular in recent years are dry brushing and oil pulling. These both can aggravate vata dosha. Dry brushing has the qualities of rough and dry which increase vata. Oil pulling can be good in moderation. Done in excess it will begin to deplete Ojas; a sort of vital essence from that body. I will explain more about Ojas in a future post.

*This is a general guideline for the vata imbalanced fall season. If your Dosha is kapha or pitta you may want variations of this, such as more vigorous yoga or different oils. For a personalized plan, schedule a private session with me here 

2. Eat Seasonal Foods and Include All Six Tastes

The 74% of Americans having digestive distress are most likely not eating all six tastes. The tastes are bitter, astringent, spicy, sweet, salty and sour. Ayurveda suggests your agni will be strongest if you eat them all at each day. In the Fall favor sweet, sour and salty tastes. These help ground and warm the body. Keep, but reduce spicy, bitter and astringent tastes which are drying and aggravate vata.

Fall Diet:

  • Chooses warm, grounding, wet foods

  • Favor sweet, sour and salty tastes

  • Choose cooked over raw vegetables

  • This is a great time for a Kitchari cleanse and other “one pot” meals like stews and soups.

Kitchari recipe: https://www.ayurveda.com/recipes/kitchari
Fall Ayurvedic foods: https://www.banyanbotanicals.com/info/ayurvedic-living/living-ayurveda/seasonal-guides/autumn-guide/

3. Practice Yoga to Ground, Warm and Center

Vata means “movement” and ”change,” and this is the main characteristic of the fall season. In your yoga practice, notice when there is too much movement and change. Balance this with grounding, warming and centereing asana.

Many animals have a hibernation period where they take time to rest and recharge. If you maintain a busy schedule all year, your yoga practice can be your place to rest and recharge. If practicing vigorous yoga, keep it steady and grounding instead of fast and dynamic.

Season two of the Quietmind Yoga podcast is a series of full length yoga classes specifically for the Fall season. You can roll out your mat and practice here: 

  

Yoga to Reduce in the Fall Season 

  • One legged postures / destabilizing balance postures

  • Big backbends that feel overstimulating

  • Lots of complex cues and postures that aggravate vat

  • Frequent movement

  • Big inversions

Yoga to Increase in the Fall Season

  • Twists and binds

  • Chair pose, eagle pose, Gomukhasana

  • Emphasis on pressing into the ground

  • Simple cues and simple postures

  • Mild inversions like vipariti karani: legs up the wall

  • Yin Yoga, Yoga Nidra and Restorative Yoga

  • Steady paced Hatha Yoga or Vinyasa Yoga

  • In general; warming, grounding and centering

4.  Meditate to Calm the Mind

Vata rules the emotion of fear. Anxiety, worry and doubt can all increase in the fall season. This can be hard to interrupt because like increase like. Sitting down may make the voices more audible and self perpetuating. To interrupt this pattern we can look to the vedas and the teachings of the gunas. Each of the three doshas has an essence, these make up the three gunas.

The default state of the body is tamasic; dense, heavy and slow. The essence of Kapha.
The default state of the mind is rajasic; quick and changing. The essence of Vata.
The goal of ayurveda, yoga and meditaiton to bring both to a state of sattva; pure, clear and bright. The essence of Pitta.

To balance a rajasic mind, practice Yoga that is grounding, warming and calming. To balance a tamasic body, practice yoga that is warming and activating. Yoga is the perfect practice to do both without aggravating the other. Then, sitting to meditate and observe thought patterns becomes much more doable.

I lead a full 60 minute gentle yoga class with guided meditation that guides you through this process. You can listen here:

5.  Keep Your Agni Strong

The closest translation we have of the word agni is “metabolism” but that’s not quite it. Agni is everything you take in; thoughts, experiences, ideas, meetings, activities. It’s all being digested in processed throughout the day. In our modern lives, with so much new stimulation and information being received every day, our agni is more important than ever.   

How to Strengthen Agni

  • Eat meals at regular times, but with the call of hunger.

  • Eat your largest meal at lunch

  • Avoid overeating. From a scale of 0 to 10, eat until you’re at a 5.

  • If your agni feels weak, drink the “agni appetizer” below.

Signs of Weak Agni

  • Fear, anxiety, anger, confusion, lethargy, or depression.

  • Low energy, weakness, or fatigue

  • Under or over-active appetite

  • Digestive distress: gas, bloating, constipation, nausea, hyperacidity, loose stools, a sense of heaviness, feeling tired or mentally foggy after meals.

  • Congestion in the sinuses, the lymph, or even the mind.

Signs of Healthy Agni

  • Normal appetite

  • Clean tongue

  • Proper (and regular) elimination

  • Good immunity

  • Sound sleep

  • Stable energy, strong vitality

  • Calm, clear mind

  • Happiness, optimism, and enthusiasm

  • Love of life

Agni Apetizzer
 
If you notice your digestive fire getting weak, or if you are going to eat before you feel the call of hunger, this can help stimulate digestion. Just combine with warm water and drink before eating:

Ingredients:
One 2” long piece of fresh ginger
½ of a fresh lime
½ tsp Himalayan salt

What’s your favorite way to stay healthy in the Fall season? 

Of course, you don’t need to do all of these things to be healthy and happy. If something stands out, maybe try implementing that this week. My Ayurveda teacher says “little little.” It’s better to make small changes that are sustainable than to try to change everything at once and crash.

As you go through the fall season, see what things work and resonate with you. Leave your questions, thoughts or feedback in the comments below. 

Get Aligned

Since 2016 I have offered 3-day “Seasonal Alignment” retreats. Sign up for the next one at http://www.quietmind.yoga/retreats.

References

74% of Americans are living with intestinal distress:
 
Ayurveda in America: How India’s Ancient Health Sciences Can Heal American Medicine

What is Yoga Nidra?

What is yoga nidra?

Yoga Nidra or “yogic sleep” is a deep relaxation practice similar to a body scan meditation. This is often practiced with a guide or audio recording leading the experience, but can be practiced alone. The intention of Yoga Nidra is not to fall asleep, but to remain conscious on the threshold of waking and sleeping. This creates awareness of deep held physical tensions as well as subconscious thought patterns. With this awareness one can begin to relax physical tensions and change unwanted thoughts and behaviors.

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What are the origins of Yoga Nidra?

The teachings of Yoga Nidra come from the Vedic “Upanishads,” around 1000 BCE, The Mandukya Upanishad describes four states of human consciousness: waking, dreaming, dreamless sleep and pure consciousness. When you experience dreamless sleep while awake, the mind becomes single pointed and undistracted. This is said to give access to the “causal body,” where all physical, mental and emotional behaviors arise and can be changed.

The origins of modern Yoga Nidra go back to the mid 20th century. In the 1940’s a guru named Swami Sivananda in Rishikesh, India began teaching yoga techniques, including Yoga Nidra, to a student named Swami Satyananda. Traditionally, this was how all yoga was taught, via an in depth apprenticeship-type relationship with a guru. This all changed in the 1960’s when teachers began spreading their teachings more openly and throughout the US. Satyananda was among the first wave of progressive teachers, founding the Bihar School of Yoga in 1964. This helped bring the teachings of Yoga, including Yoga Nidra, from being esoteric and hard to learn to being practical and easily applied. Today there are countless Yoga Nidra teachers throughout the world teaching variations of the practice, but all sharing the same intentions and goals of entering a deep state of relaxation.

What are the benefits of Yoga Nidra?

While research on Yoga Nidra is still relative new, countless studies have shown benefits of similar meditative practices. These include stress reduction and several markers of mental, physical and emotional health. The Indian Journal of Physiology and Pharmacology has found Yoga Nidra improves heart rate variability, blood pressure and hormone regulation. The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs has found that war veterans with severe PTSD report “reduced rage, anxiety, and emotional reactivity” after eight weeks of regular Yoga Nidra practice. The Veterans Hospital in Long Beach, CA, researchers lead Yoga Nidra twice a week for 10 weeks to women who were victims of rape and military sexual trauma. Their research “showed significant decreases in negative thoughts of self-blame and depression.”

What poses do you practice in Yoga Nidra?

There is only one posture in Yoga Nidra; Sivasana (pictured above). You lay down comfortably on the floor, using props if needed, such as a support under the knees, or a blanket to cover up with.

The origin of all yoga poses can be traced to the Sanskrit word “nyasa,” meaning “to place” or “to take the mind to a point.” In Vinyasa Yoga, for example, this is done with with several postures meant to purify the body and mind. In Yoga Nidra the practice of nyasa is done entirely with the mind, while the body remains still. The intention is to focus the mind by noticing sensation in one specific area of the body at a time. This sort of mental scanning is done for the entire body, head to toe. The intention is not to change anything about the body, but to simply notice any sensation that is present. If you do not notice any sensation, this fine, and you continue on.

Is Yoga Nidra the same thing as sleep?

No. The intention of Yoga Nidra is to stay awake, at the threshold of waking and deep sleep. If you do fall asleep during Yoga Nidra, that is okay, but as you continue to practice and reduce fatigue, you will be able to stay awake while also being deeply relaxed.

Can you fall asleep during Yoga Nidra?

I have at times, particularly when I am the most stressed or underslept. I find I am able to practice Yoga Nidra without falling asleep when I am getting adequate food, exercise and rest. In this way, it is a marker for my health. If i fall asleep during practice, I know to adjust my schedule before i reach the point of fatigue, burnout or illness.

One helpful technique for staying awake during Yoga Nidra is to lay, as usual, in savasana, but to bend one arm to 90 degrees. Having to keep your forearm vertical is often enough to keep you from falling asleep.

What's the difference between Yoga Nidra and guided meditation?

You could say Yoga Nidra is a specific form of guided meditation. The main distinction of Yoga Nidra is that it involves noticing sensations throughout the whole body, in a systematic way. The main distinction of guided meditation is that somebody is speaking to lead the experience and direct attention, while the object of attention may be different every time.

Are there studies to support the benefits of Yoga Nidra?

In addition to the aforementioned studies of the benefits of Yoga Nidra, there is still much to be explored. In the mid 20th century, neurologists began measuring neural oscillations or “brainwaves.” They eventually found five distinct modes of functioning, which may correlate to the four states of consciousness described in the Upanishads. Using modern EEG technology, different brainwaves can be recorded in different states:

Gamma (40-100 hz) : “Pure consciousness” state, focused, insightful
Beta (12-40 hz)): “Waking” state. Alert, working. Default mode for many people. 
Alpha (7-12 hz): “Waking” state. Relaxed, reflecting. Often reached during Yoga Asana.
Theta (4-8 hz): “Dreaming.” REM sleep. Free flow thinking. Creativity.
Delta (0.2-4 hz): “Dreamless sleep.” Healing processe

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When you are meditating and enter the slow brainwaves of deep sleep, the benefits of deep sleep may be experienced. These include: regulating blood sugar, regulating the immune system and regulating hormones, including growth hormone. 

Is Yoga Nidra really equal to a few hours of sleep? (Is there proof?)

In a typical 90 minute sleep cycle, the brain spends around 5-15 minutes in each of brainwaves. As we get older, the length of time spent in deep, dreamless sleep decreases, and health begins to diminish accordingly. The intention of Yoga Nidra is to spend the entire time in these slower brainwaves. So in terms of spending more time in the deep rest brainwaves, yes. One 10-30 minute Yoga Nidra session can be equivalent to 3 hours of sleep. This has not been thoroughly researched. 

Can you swap sleep for Yoga Nidra?

The short answer is I wouldn’t recommend it. I have heard of people trying to do it, but have never heard of anyone doing it sustainably, for a long period of time, with no ill side effects. I would absolutely recommend Yoga Nidra to supplement a healthy sleep routine, but never to replace it. The 90 minute sleep cycle experienced during a normal night’s sleep has been shown to be essential to optimal physical, mental and emotional health. Many studies have shown that the average American is not getting enough sleep for optimal function. In that case, adding a 45 minute session of Yoga Nidra at least once a week can help make up for that lost time.

Who should try yoga nidra? Is it for everyone?

The short answer is everyone, and yes. Yoga Nidra is one of the safest, most accessible forms of meditation. It doesn’t require any physical ability other than to be able to hear the guided instruction. The people least likely to enjoy the experience are those with acute anxiety, hypertension or stress that may benefit more from movement and exercise first. Even for them, once they have moved, I would recommend Yoga Nidra as a way to reduce episodes of acute stress and retrain their nervous system to be able to rest.

How did you discover the practice, and how long have you been teaching it?

I discovered guided meditations in 2005, using them as a way to reduce stress and fall asleep. I discovered Yoga Nidra from one of my first teachers, Everitt Allen, in 2012. I realized that my nervous system was frequently overtaxed and unable to stay awake for guided meditation. Yoga Nidra helped me retrain my nervous system and reduce my chronic fatigue symptoms to learn to stay awake while deeply relaxed. I have been teaching Yoga Nidra since 2012.

Why do you enjoy teaching yoga nidra?

Yoga Nidra is one of the most healing practices I have found. I am grateful to get to give back and offer that experience for others. It is so counter culture to take time to rest without distractions, yet it’s so essential to digesting the immense amount of input we experience day to day. This is a practice I wish I had found when i began struggling with depression and chronic fatigue, and Im grateful i found it before it got worse. It is an honor to get to help other people who are overworked, overstressed or struggling to find a practice that can potentially help them.

Further reading:

How to Decide What to Teach

How to Decide What to Teach

I am a planner.

When I had my first opportunity to teach I spent hours thinking about what to do and how to do it well. 

I looked at pages and pages of books and magazines and did hours and hours of practices. 

I designed muti-page spreadsheets with several columns. I included everything I could think to measure, plan, or prepare for in a class.

This worked sometimes. It felt reassuring to have a plan. I would often go into classes feeling confident and focused on what I was there to teach.

Other times I would be so overwhelmed with my ideas, it came out as a random jumble of postures and philosophy.

And then there times that the plan failed. I planned instead shoulder sequences and someone showed up with a torn rotator cuff. Now what?...

During this time I was also going to a lot of trainings and retreats. I got to have a lot of experience in powerful meditation, yoga and healing practices.

One weekend I had a powerful experience at a retreat. We did a simple, yet profound partner meditation. This transformed my relationship with that person. It revealed a tender part of me that I had not seen before. I burst into tears at one point. At another point I felt  connected to something greater than myself.

The next week, I reached a point  teaching a class where I wasn't sure what to do next. Anything I can think of felt off. So I paused.

I felt into the moment. The thing that felt most alive in me was what I just experienced the weekend before. So I decided instead of trying to follow a plan, I would just share my experience.

I felt into how my experience was emotional and intuitive. So I knew that I also needed to lead the practice with emotion and intuition. Less logic, less preparation, and no spreadsheet.

It was 6:30am. There were only three other people. I assumed two of them were partners, but I had no idea that there was much more to the story.

They were partners and married. In an on-again and off-again pattern. This morning they were off and almost didn't come to class. They had been fighting and there seemed to be no way that they could find to connect anymore.

The experience they had in their practice was almost the same as mine. Only of much more significance to them than I could have anticipated. She went so far as to
say it brought them back together.

I share this because I'm talking about planning for a class and I could not have planned that.

I believe I opened up a vulnerable part of myself in my meditation, so I was able to invite the class into that spot too. Like that saying "we can only take them as far as we've been."

These days I plan a whole lot less. I instead keep up my practices. I do them to nourish me first, and the fortunate side effect is I have a well to draw from when I show up to teach. Not because I planned it or figured something special out. Because I invite others to look where I've looked and ask them to see what they see. 

Planning is helpful and gives me a lot to draw from, especially in the beginning. Now I see that planning works best when I am willing to throw it out completely. 

Now I have no idea what I'm going to teach next. It depends on who I am in that moment and who is in front of me. What I can decide now is to come back to my practices. To  seek out experiences that teach my deeper truths, and I will have more to share. 

Now I know that my teachers, my practices and the people who show up to class are deciding what I teach just as much I am. 

Mentoring Circle Starts January 17th, 2016

The mentors in my life have been essential to my growth as a teacher and even more as a person. I have had incredible support and guidance from many amazing people and I wouldn't be who i am without their support.

So now I want to give back.

I am announcing a new in depth mentoring program that will begin in early January. This will bring together all that i've studied, practiced and taught over the past 10 years with my mentors and teachers. My intention is to share the immense wealth of healing and experience available from yoga, meditation, sound healing and shamanic practices. 

The mentoring circle is currently closed for enrollment.

If you'd like to be the first to know about the next round, send an email to jeremydevens@gmail.com


Everything can be a practice

One of the things that makes yoga so effective is the ritual of it. We set up a safe space to focus on the practice. It has a definite start and end. We don’t try to get anywhere, we just show up and do the practice. I have found this effective in other areas of life as well. In work, relationships, money, any goal. Setting a start and end time, an intention, and being mindful of the process. Step by step. One breath at a time. And then when you’re done you’re done. Close the space, and move on. Everything can be a practice. 

How I stopped burn out

I just finished attending a yoga class, then leading three. 9 hours of yoga, and I feel great.

It wasn’t always this way. When I began this schedule I was burnt out and unable to even know how to care for myself at the end of the day. Was I hungry? Tired? Did I need a bath? My energy was too diffused to even know what I needed. So much energy moves in a yoga class, it was a lot to process. Having all that energy from myself and others just swimming around my field was a disorienting place to be.

I began to fear this is what it was like to teach ‘too much’ and I would have to cut back and find other work. I feared I would no longer love doing what I loved to do. Voices of seasoned teachers echoed through my mind “I can’t teach 10 times a week anymore, it’s just too much.”

So I acknowledged the fear, the concern, the energy and asked the universe for support and guidance. I was willing to see another way. Then, just last week I began an amazing mentoring program. It is exactly what I have been calling into my life, and on day one my mentor said exactly what I needed to hear.

First of all, she said something I want to emphasize for anyone reading this on a similar path. This is even more important than the other part. She said the most important thing she takes away from trainings is the thing she already knew deep inside. In other words, I already knew all this. I was just being witnessed in my process and gently reminded of what I already know to be my deeper truth. That almost sounds like a let down, but it is much more empowering and all I could ever ask for in a teacher. Someone who points me back towards myself rather than towards them or something outside of myself.

So back to the topic of burn out.

I was getting burnt out because I am human. I was trying to hold more than a human body can hold.  Someone’s injury, marriage stress, work stress, everything that shows up in a yoga class. Along with all that goes into teaching an intelligent, intentional class. I could handle that for an hour a day, but teaching more has shown me my limits. I can only hold so much.

What I learned is that I don’t need to hold anything. All I need to carry is the 28 grams that escapes when I die. Instead of trying to grasp on to things that can’t be grasped, surrender. Surrender is actually the easy part. The hard part, as a normal human being with an ego, is to stay there. Surrendered. Undefended. Trusting. But that’s where all the true power lies.

In that state of surrender, the right words come through at the right time. The class reveals itself to everyone, including the teacher. There is an effortless flow. It feels right. When I close that space at the end of class, it feels complete. I can return to my life. Not so much recharged as much as healthy, whole and complete. Ready to be present to the next moment, then the next.

My teacher said if I could practice the yoga sutras teaching of surrender, everything else will fall into place. I may not be fully there yet, but I am at least willing to surrender to that possibility.

I’m especially curious to see what happens when I take this practice off the yoga mat, and into my life

How I followed my heart and found work I love

"You don’t have to have an interesting life, but you do have to have an interesting story.” - Libby Cox (/Douglas Brooks)

10 years ago, I was working overnights at a window factory in Minnesota. Everyone said it was the smart thing to do. Good pay, benefits, etc. I had my whole career ahead of me and they were the ‘safest’ company to work for. If I did well and stuck with it, I might even get to celebrate my retirement at a team meeting and see my picture on the break room TV.

The day I turned 18 was the day I got hired at the factory. It was also the day I walked down the street to check out the local GNC for the first time. I thought it might be convenient to have one so close to my new job, since, at the time, I was so into supplements. I loved the place. I felt like a kid in a candy store. I was so confident from just landing my ‘secure’ job I asked if GNC happened to be hiring. I was nervous, doubtful and sure the answer would be no. I just knew I had to ask. To be honest, I had no interest in windows, I had no interest in factories, and I certainly had no interest in window factories.

It turned out there were only 2 employees at this GNC, so my chances were slim. There was the manager and the sales guy, and the sales guy had just quit. The manager asked me a few questions and told me to come in on Monday. I followed my heart and said yes, and on Monday, I got the job.

The thing is, GNC was a 20 minute drive from home, and I didn’t even have a car yet. I had a definite carpool to the factory at night, but I would have to make my own way to GNC. Every day I had to ask for rides, for 3 long months while I saved up money to get my first car. I didn’t even have a cell phone then.

The universe was testing me. I had to definitely want this.

So I worked days at the job I loved, and drudged through nights at the job I had no interest in. This was peak season, so overtime became mandatory at the factory. Some weeks I worked 90+ hours at the two jobs. 

I was often exhausted and one night I nearly fell asleep sawing 2x4s. I wasn’t the only one. One morning, I was driving home when my manager walked in front of my car and pleaded, “please, kill me.” I didn’t feel like he was joking. Then, a wave of layoffs began.

This seemed like a good time to quit. I called my boss and said as much. It was the most frightening, liberating moment of my adult life at that point. I quit the “safe” job and kept the job I loved. It seemed foolish at the time; it was so much money. I didn’t know how I would make it work without that job, but I didn’t care. Immediately, I felt a 10 ton weight lifted off my shoulders and I felt a strange new combination of fear and excitement. I went with it. Over the next year I learned security, happiness, and contentment come from within, not from money or a job or a picture on a break room TV.

This story reminds me to trust myself and follow my heart. I knew one next step towards doing work I love; I never could have dreamed how much it would open up and how much I could love my life. It all started there, with one small step -- asking for what I wanted. Followed by another, and another.

Meditation Q&A

Q: Can I meditate while lying down or do I have to be sitting? Why do people sit cross legged while meditating. What is the best time to meditate? For how long when I start? What if I can’t get my mind to shut up? For years I’ve started & stopped practicing because I usually end up just thinking about stuff I need to do & it becomes a time I make lists. It’s also why I have insomnia but that’s a whole other ball field. Anyways I was going to google these & then I realized I know a guy who’s pretty smart about this stuff. And then when he was busy I thought I’d ask you.   - Carrie D.

Thanks for asking. I will do my best.. I’m not sure who this guy is you’re talking about but he must be the most wise, handsome, and interesting man you know. ;-P

Q: Can I meditate while lying down or do I have to be sitting?
I meditate lying down all the time. That’s how I started. I came across some guided meditations, listened to them after work, and they helped me sleep. I didn’t care if I was doing it right or if I was lying down when they said to sit up. I just knew it was relaxing and a healthier coping skill than the pot i used to smoke.

Now, if you can sit up, that has all sorts of benefits. Your body and mind are inseparable, so a focused, calm posture in your body cultivates those same qualities in your mind. At first, your body may be restless and need to move. Acknowledge it and let it go for now. You can use the Buddhist phrase “this too will pass.” as a reminder that everything changes.

Lying down is great too. . If you lie down to meditate but you fall asleep every time, you’re likely not getting enough sleep. This is a great barometer of your sleep quality, so if you end up taking a nap, a nap is exactly what you need. Most research says to keep naps short, though. 10 to 30 minutes, to avoid disrupting your circadian rhythms.

So, sitting up or lying down, which is better? The one you that you are willing to do!

Q: Why do people sit cross legged while meditating
This is “lotus pose.” Old texts say it “destroys all disease and awakens kundalini.” Most people can’t sit like that though, so sitting on a blanket is fine. The most important thing is you want your hips higher than your knees. This helps relax the hip flexors. The point of the pose is to get a lot of surface area on the ground. You want a firm, stable base for the spine to lengthen, stimulating all the nerves along the spine. Once you’re set into the pose, it becomes more difficult to tip over or slouch. Which is important when your entire finite being dissolves into oneness and merges with the infinite. :-)

Q: What is the best time to meditate?
The time that works for you! Starting out, any time is good. Consistency is even better. Morning is ideal. Everything in nature works in cycles, so the more routine you can make it, the easier it will be to sustain and notice benefits. One of my teachers would put a card on his pillow that says “meditate,” and he wouldn’t move it until he did his daily meditation. 

Q: For how long when I start?
Traditional texts say 2 and 1/2 hours of yoga and/or meditation before sunrise. And i’m just saying that so the next numbers sound a lot smaller and doable; start with 5 minutes. It'll seem like an eternity at first, (that’s how you know your mind needs it!) Work up to 15 minutes. Go higher if you want, but 15 minutes a day is plenty and will have profound benefits. There have been some fascinating studies that if you meditate 15 minutes a day for 6 weeks, you recode your DNA (!) for more positive expression of your genes. 

In short, turn off distractions, set a timer for 5 minutes, sit and focus on the meditation until the timer goes off.

Q: What if I can’t get my mind to shut up?
Keep breathing. Be patient. The mind is just trying to do what it does best; generate thoughts. How do you get a baby to stop crying? If you ignore her, it often just gets worse. If you give her all your attention, you begin to reinforce a habit of crying to get attention. There’s a fine line in the middle. You can be present and accepting of the crying child without trying to ‘fix’ her. Love her and see her. Be curious. If you sit with anything in that way, what happens? It changes. The mind is the same way.

The mind just wants a task. Put it to work. Give it a job. In meditation, the task is often ‘focus on the breath.’ or chanting a mantra. This helps the mind relax. It's doing something. 

Outside of meditation, put it to work on your tasks and to do lists. One. Thing. At. A. Time. And it’ll be much more focused and effective thanks to the work done in meditation.

Also, it sounds like your mind likes to make lists. That’s nice. Thoughtful even. It’s like a cat bringing you a dead bird. It thinks it’s doing something helpful, but you’re trying to focus! So use your mind’s gifts and make those lists. BEFORE you meditate.

If the list is already written out before you meditate, it’s off your mind. If it comes up in meditation, just remember you can write it down later after the timer goes off. 

Q: What about insomnia?
What I often do is practice a "digital sunset." All artificial lighting goes off when the sun goes down. Same with food. Consider eating only when the sun is out. Think about how our ancestors lived and evolved.

In short…
Meditation reconnects you to the infinite, loving source of all creation that we all came from and all return to. Our modern lives keep us out of touch with this inner truth, believing that love is somewhere outside of ourselves. This is why meditation is hard. We're turning the whole system we were born into inside out. 

Marketers and advertisers know this. They invest billions of dollars to study the mind. Their job is to  get their ideas into your head 24/7. Especially when life gets hard. Success for them is when you unconsciously associate them with being able solve your problems. 

The truth is it’s all made up. Some people in the past figured out some things and made some decisions and now this is the world we live in. We can choose to take part or not. 

We’re lead to believe that if we slow down for a second we might miss something. We might lose our spot in the race towards fame, success and happiness if we don’t know about the next gadget or celebrity. The truth is, if we slowed down, we would realize we don’t have to take part in any of that. We can wake up. 

All that noise is drowning out our deepest truth. Everything we are seeking outside of ourselves can only be found within ourselves. 

Life is the game of forgetting this.

Meditation is the practice of remembering this.

And you can practice anytime, anywhere. Sitting on a cushion with your eyes closed is just one practice. It gets most interesting when you bring into every day interactions. That's the real practice. And for that, no amount of teaching or preparation can prepare you. It's all about you being present. And being present is the greatest gift you can give yourself, and others. 

What I Took Back From India

My entire time in India, I was with other people. 

I went with a group of 10 westerners. For 7 days we stayed at an ashram, a spiritual community. Every morning we did yoga. Every day we piled into a 6 seat taxi to serve at the Bhatti Mines school. Every night we went to markets, schools and temples. And the whole trip, at every meal, we ate together.

Cut to America one week later.

I have my own room, my own car and the freedom to do anything I want. And I realized I have used that freedom to do things that isolate and separate. It struck me buying groceries. Walking through the store with a whole cart of food for one person. A whole week of meals that I was about to eat by myself. How did this happen?

I  used to believe I needed to isolate myself. The world felt invasive. I needed more time to process and integrate. India was good medicine for this. In India the smells, sights and sounds are everywhere, all the time. What helped the most was allowing time for solitude. Time to go within, reflect and come to realizations about what was happening. Every morning we practiced yoga, and, to me, it was the most essential part of the trip. If there is an opposite of isolation, it would be engagement and presence. Which is exactly what i mean when I say "practicing yoga."

Now, there is  another kind of yoga to practice. To find the engagement in presence in my relationships at home. To find connection, community and service. While still finding solitude, reflection and integration. This trip showed me that it is not only possible, but essential. 

I used to want to help people...

I used to want to help people.

Last year, at the Global Youth Peace Summit, something changed. 

My role was counselor to a cabin full of young men 14 to 19. Boys from all walks of life brought together to connect and support each other. It’s as much for the adults as it is for the youth. Everyone goes through major processes during the week. 

There was one youth in particular I felt driven to “help.” I could see great potential and possibility and I wanted the week to be amazing for him. The previous year, he came out to the group. I had chills when he talked, and I can still recall that moment like it was yesterday. This year, many of us wanted to see him open up more and know we loved him. We knew he was a gifted ballet dancer. One of his dances would be perfect to share with the morning Sacred Circle. He was shy and humble, though. I wanted to be the best counselor I could be, so I began trying to push him in the direction of what I saw in him. By midweek, I could see it wasn't working. He went from excited and happy to quiet and reserved. I was trying to help and it wasn't helping. 

So midway through the week I sat with my teacher Vanessa. I told her where I was at and how it didn’t seem to be working, no matter how much I wanted to help. She listened and reflected. I said I just wanted to help him grow and express himself. She heard me. She held space for my process. Then she asked the most obvious question I wasn’t asking. “Will he grow and express himself without me interfering?” 

Oh.

I thought of an Alan Watts talk I had heard many times. A story of a farm where a boy come in late to dinner. His parents ask “where have you been?” He says “i was outside helping the garden grow.” The next morning the family goes outside to find all the plants dead. They ask the boy what happened. The boy says “I just wanted to help. So I pulled up on every plant to make it grow taller.” 

It was so obvious in the story, it was less obvious when it was happening in my own life. I didn't have to try so hard. He didn't need me to help him, just like i didn't need her to help me. She just listened, held space and was curious. No agenda. “Will growth happen without my interfering?” Of course it would! My idea of potential and possibility was getting in the way of letting him be him. Or even letting me be me. 

The next day I stopped trying to help him. There was no agenda. I relaxed. I could be myself again. He could be himself. At the end of the day when we checked in, he shared that he had had “one of the best days of my life.”

The next day, he danced.


I am willing to lean into my edge

"My intention for the week is to lean into my edge." I shared this with my men's group. The intention is to notice where I feel most alive, especially if there is fear, and go that way. I've noticed most of my growth and insights happen when i'm willing to lean into my edge. 

So the next day, when my mentor asked me to sub four of her classes, I knew my answer would be “yes.” Even though i felt a contraction in my chest and a sinking in my gut. This was exactly what i’d invited in. Foggy, half baked fears and doubts started to cloud my mind. It seemed my nervous system would do anything to avoid the uncertain or unfamiliar. To avoid the potential of new pain, I was recreating old ones. Not fighting. Not flighting. But freezing. 

All this happened in about a minute, and I said “yes” anyway. Immediately, my body began to feel different. The contraction released and my chest felt light and spacious. My stomach felt warmer, like a fire had been lit, thawing out my frozen “yes” to life. I felt like I was waking up. 

The fears and doubts were still there, and still valid. There are challenges involved, and I would like to serve others to the best of my ability. I listened to the voice with compassion and care. Can I replace my mentor and do exactly what she would do? Of course not. Can i please everyone? Of course not. Can i know what the outcome of all this will be? No. 

What I can know is this: i am not body and i am not my mind. I am the awareness that sees all this happening. My body and mind exist to express that energy.  My True Self. Beneath the masks. Beyond fear. Beyond contraction. From that awareness, I know that I don't need validation. I don't need anything I don't already have. When asked to serve, everything I need will be there, at the right time, in the right place. I might fall on my face. It might not work. Though I trust it will be exactly what it needs to be. Because it is much more painful to repress myself than it is to express myself. And all i need to do is be willing to show up. Willing to lean into my edge. Willing to say “yes.”