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:


How To Create A 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.”