Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Don't Let Fear Make You Back Away From What You Want

Fear causes so many people to back away from what they want. They are comfortable where they are and an uncertain future causes doubt and fear.

You would like to apply for a new job but you might be afraid you'll get turned down.
You might want to ask someone on a date but fear their rejection.
Perhaps, you want to move to a new city or apartment but you're afraid things won't work out.

Whatever it is in your life that you want, we won't let fear stop us from getting it.

The reason fear causes us to not take steps forward is because we're conditioned in our comfortable environment. Our mind fears letting go of what we have to move forward.

How Can We Step Forward Despite Fear?

The first step for us to attain the future we want is to fantasize it. While we fantasize we might encounter fear or thoughts that don't think we can make it happen. When these arise we must fantasize ourselves overcoming these thoughts. Imagine yourself confronted with your fear and see yourself doing it anyway. Your subconscious mind cannot distinguish between imagination and reality so imagine and it becomes reality.

Monday, December 23, 2013

Creating the Future

We often complain that the circumstances in our life aren't up to par with how we want our life to be.

"I wish I was making more money at my job. I want to have more free time to finish that project I started. I wish I could do my hobbies more. I want to find a partner who can support me and inspire me."

But do we really know where we'd like to be instead?

It's easy for us to notice the part of our lives that seems to be lagging behind. It might even feel like it's dragging us down. People do this all the time. We complain about it and keep drawing attention to it. But not many of us know how to change it.

Every time we think these thoughts about what we don't have, how what we have isn't enough or how what we have doesn't work, we deepen the ruts of these thoughts in our minds. Thoughts flow like water digging deeper river beds. But like water, thoughts can also create new paths of travel.

Articulate Exactly What You Want

In order to redirect our thinking out of our old thought ruts, we must focus on what we do want instead. Fantasize about how you'd like your life to be. Imagine. Imagine. Imagine. Design a fun life.

Some questions to ask yourself:
How do you want to wake up in the morning?
Who do you want to be working with?
How does your lifestyle feel?
What do you do during your ideal day?

First imagine the future in your mind. As you're ready, begin committing these thoughts to paper. As you write them down, return to them frequently and edit them.

You're life is always changing and your ideal might very well change. Don't be afraid to edit. Keep it fresh and present. Allow yourself to evolve into your future. Remember that the first step to creating the future you want, is to design it. You have to know exactly what you want. Let's create our future.

Friday, December 20, 2013

The First Step to A Better Self Image

 "Oh, that's too good for me. I can't do that. Maybe in a few years I could earn enough money to do that."

Sometimes our mind gets clouded in these kinds of dulling thoughts. I say dulling because when these thoughts cross our minds, whether we're aware of them or not, our being gets dragged down. We don't feel as uplifted, as happy. We don't feel like things are possible.

Our internal image of ourselves always matches our exterior. If we are working a job that doesn't recognize our work or doesn't compensate us how we'd like, this is a reflection on our own self image. Our image reflects the environment we live in. If we have a positive self image, our exterior life will reflect that and vice versa for a negative self image.

How to Improve Your Self Image

The first step to a better self image is to fantasize. Imagine the life you want. Imagine. Imagine. Imagine. Encourage others to imagine. Write a list of the things you want. Write a story about it. Write out what you want explicitly on paper and don't critique it. Just imagine the impossible. Imagine. Imagine. Imagine.

As you begin to exercise the imagination, you're self image will improve because your mind is beginning to see more possibilities and connections. You're outer world will begin o match your inner world.

What are some things you imagine?

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Feeling Blue? Write Your Backstory

If life doesn't seem to be going the way you want and you're feeling down, open up your computer or take out a pen and do this writing exercise.

Write out the important points in your life that have made you who you are. Tell the story as if you are writing a book about your life.

As you write, imagine all the things you've accomplished and hardships overcome.

When you get to the present moment, start writing out a future.
What do you imagine happening down the line? What adventures do you want to have?

Friday, December 13, 2013

Feel Angry? Try Yoga

One of the many benefits of yoga is a calm mind. We see this almost instantly after taking a few poses and breathing through the sensations and with continuous practice the calm mind begins to unveil itself in other parts of our lives.

Anger is a tough emotion to deal with. Some people were taught anger is bad and so when it shows up, they repress it resulting in an unsuspecting explosion later. Others act out on their anger, yelling and screaming or being violent in a fit of rage, all which can damage relationships or even send you to the jailhouse.

If you have some anger you want to work through, roll out your yoga mat and try these suggestions.

Sun Salutations
This heat building sequence will get you sweating and using your whole body. This can be great to burn off anger and allow yourself to calmly deal with the situation at hand from a perspective of awareness.

If you're new to sun salutations, start standing with your feet under your hips. Inhale as you raise your arms up above your head. Exhale bend forward hinging at the hips, hands to the ground. Inhale lengthen your spine. Exhale hands to the mat, step back into upper pushup position, lower down with elbows against your ribs. Inhale, press down into your hands lift your torso up and look up toward the ceiling, keep your butt low and feel your feet pressing into the ground keeping your legs straight. This is called upward facing dog. Exhale, lift your hips up with the strength in your abdominals and come onto the flats of your feet for downward facing dog. Take a few breaths here. On an exhale step up to the top of your mat. Inhale lengthen your spine and exhale bend forward. On an inhale lift back up to standing with a straight spine and exhale back to standing. Then repeat a few times.

Child's Pose
Sometimes we need to just sit with our feelings and let them wash over us until they can pass. A great way to relax and breath is by doing child's pose. Kneel on the ground and sit on your heels. Allow your chest to rest onto your thighs and put your hands out in front of you. Rest your head on the ground if it reaches. Put your attention on your breath and relax. Feel your anger and examine it. Breathe.

Uttanasana - Forward Bend
When we get angry, our bodies tense up. Try a standing forward bend to allow the energy to flow out of you and into the ground. With you feet grounded strongly into the earth, inhale reach your arms up to the sky and exhale hinge at the hips to release down into the earth. Feel the energy of anger rise up the back of your legs as you inhale and wash over and out of you as you exhale and sink deeper.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Travel Yoga: Yoga for Planes, Trains and Automobiles

This week one of my close loved ones developed a blood clot during a recent plane trip to Europe. He was feeling pain in his calf and a shortness of breath for a few weeks after his flight home. Fortunately, he visited the doctor and was diagnosed with a blood clot before anything serious happened. However, despite the mild symptoms there was a very scary turn of events - part of the blood clot had broken off and traveled into his lung developing a pulmonary embolism. He is now on blood thinners and back to normal life.

For those of you traveling for extended periods of time this holiday season be extra aware of how long you're sitting. Being on a plane for an extended period of time can be very uncomfortable for our bodies and possibly even dangerous. The World Health Organization warns us that sitting on a plane for more than four hours doubles your risk of developing a blood clot. Because of this hazard, you need to move around the cabin frequently to get your blood flowing as well as stay hydrated.

The following yoga poses are designed to get you moving and can be performed while traveling on a plane, train or automobile or in your office chair for that matter.

Seated Pigeon 
Plant your butt firmly in your seat and your feet firmly on the ground so your legs make a 90 degree angle. Lift up your right foot and place your right foot, ankle or lower calf onto your left knee or thigh - where you find it to be comfortable. Place your left hand on your ankle to stabilize it and place your right hand or forearm on your right knee. Inhale, puff your chest up and lengthen your spine. Exhale, lean forward. Inhale, lengthen. Exhale, release into the sensation. You will likely feel sensation in your right hip. Breath into it and feel. Take as long as you'd like in this pose. After the initial shock of sensation, it starts to feel very good. Once you're done come back up to seated and repeat on the opposite side.

Eagle Arms 
If you don't have your travel pillow for your next trip, this stretch will help relieve tension in your shoulders and neck. Wrap your right arm underneath your left so the left elbow rests in the right arm's elbow crease. Then work to touch your palms together. Your arms will be wrapped around one another. Inhale, lift your arms up and you'll feel sensation in your upper back and shoulders. Exhale, lower your arms down toward your stomach while still entwined and feel the sensation in the upper backbody. Hold where you feel the stretch and breath. When you're ready unwrap your arms and repeat on the other side.

Modified Seated-Triangle Twist
Place your left elbow on your left thigh and grab your right knee with your left hand. Inhale, and lengthen your spine and reach the crown of your head towards the front of the room. Exhale all your breath out as you sweep your right arm up towards the ceiling. Spiral your chest open to twist and gaze up towards your right hand. Take three deep breaths here. On your inhales lengthen and on your exhales allow the body to twist a little deeper. On the final breath exhale your right elbow to your right thigh and grab your left knee. Repeat on the other side. If the person in front of you has reclined their seat and you can't fit, do a seated twist without leaning forward.

Core Strengthening
It never hurts to strengthen our core, so let's do it while we're on the plane. With your body in an upright position, inhale, lengthen your spine and lift your arms up above your head. Draw your naval into your spine and breath. Release tension in your shoulder muscles as your reach up to the roof. Engage your legs and core. Feel your feet connected to the ground. Keep your chin slightly tucked in towards your chest. After a few deep breaths, exhale and release. Repeat a few times until you feel a healthy burn in your stomach muscles.

Forward Bend with Calf Stretch
From a regular seated position, inhale lengthen your spine then exhale fold out over your thighs. Feel a gentle stretch in your lower back and feel your hips release. Move your weight out of your toes and into the heels of your feet. Grab the toes of your feet or shoe and guide them towards your knees for a gentle stretch in your calf muscles. Enjoy a few rounds of deep inhales and exhales.

Stay Healthy and Breathe
Moving and stretching during a long flight will drastically reduce your risk of a blood clot. It gets your blood flowing through your body and prevents stagnation of the blood. Next time you're on a plane, get moving. Do some yoga!
 

My Weight Lifting Plan

As my yoga teacher training draws to a close, I'm going to spend four weeks weight lifting.
I began on 12/11 and will finish on 1/7/2014.

My program includes four different workouts that I will do every week for a total of four visits to the gym. My workout plan is inspired by Men's Health.

Day 1: Chest and Biceps
Four Sets of each, 10 reps per set
  • pec deck
  • 15-degree-incline dumbbell press
  • barbell bench press
  • dip
  • barbell curl
  • dumbbell curl
Day 2: Quadriceps and Calves
Four sets, 10-15 reps each
  • Leg extension
  • Parallel squat
  • Three long sets of walking lunges
  • Standing calf raise
  • Seated calf raise.
Day 3: Back and Triceps
10 reps per set
  • Lat pulldown (three sets)
  • Neutral-grip one-arm row (four sets)
  • Wide-grip seated row (three sets)
  • Lying triceps extension (three sets)
  • Triceps pushdown (four sets)
  • V-bar triceps pushdown (three sets)
Day 4: Shoulders and Hamstrings
10 reps per set
  • Dumbbell shrug (four sets)
  • Barbell shrug (two sets)
  • Dumbbell seated military press (four sets)
  • Lateral raise (three sets)
  • Front raise (three sets)
  • Reverse fly (three sets)
  • Lying hamstring curl (three sets)
  • One-leg hamstring curl (three sets)
  • Straight-leg deadlift (four sets)

Thursday, December 5, 2013

November Gratitude List 2013

Let's cheers to this.

As I write up my November gratitude list, I'd like to reflect on the past year as a whole since the year is now drawing to a close. This has been the best year of my life. I've held a steady job and made the most income ever. I did freelance writing work, catering and event work for NYC's fashion week. I lived on my own in Harlem for the first half of the year and for the second half I've lived in Bushwick. I've had an awesome girlfriend for 3/4 of the year. I was able to see my family a few times and keep our connection strong. I played drums for two rock bands, gigged around New York City and even sang lead vocals on a few tracks. I worked with Greg Sims on my life coals. Come mid December, I will have earned my yoga teacher certification and be on track to starting a new career. 2013 has been an awesome year.

Below are the things I was particularly grateful for in November.
  1. I am grateful that I keep learning and growing.
  2. I am grateful that I learned about the chakras and that my throat chakra needs cleansing.
  3. I am grateful that I am almost done with work today.
  4. I am grateful that I have a loving father, mother, and brother.
  5. I am grateful that my dad went to the gym today.
  6. I am grateful that my parents might get a house in Florida.
  7. I am grateful that I am seeing some comedy tonight.
  8. I am grateful that I communicate with my brother during work.
  9. I am grateful that I had a vacation to Florida and saw where my girlfriend is from.
  10. I am grateful that I still have vacation time till the rest of the year.
  11. I am grateful that I have a plan moving forward to gain employment through yoga and Thai massage
  12. I am grateful that my girl loves to see me
  13. I am grateful that I had a few requests for yoga at work today
  14. I am grateful that my website is doing quite well on reddit.com
  15. I am grateful that I took several little actions today
  16. I am grateful I called two chiropractors' offices
  17. I am grateful I called up Brandon for a jam on Monday
  18. I am grateful that my grandmother lived a long life.
  19. I am grateful that I will be on vacation for three days next week
  20. I am grateful that I am living a full life in New York City
  21. I am grateful that there are only 15 minutes left on the work clock
  22. I am grateful that I can pay the Music Building rent
  23. I am grateful that today is Friday and the work week has almost ended
  24. I am grateful that I am going on vacation tomorrow
  25. I am grateful that I had fun with my band last night at Desmond's Tavern
  26. I am grateful that Rene is speaking up although he will likely leave the group
  27. I'm grateful that I talked to my girlfriend and patched things up
  28. I am grateful that I had the opportunity to talk to Claire about the corporate yoga and learned that there is a fine line between persistence and pushing too hard
  29. I am grateful that tonight I have nothing particular to do
  30. I am grateful that I requested a book on selling
  31. I am grateful that I will be leaving In Demand soon
  32. I am grateful that I found a small bag of fun stuff in the park
  33. I am grateful that I had a pay day today
  34. I am grateful that I went through my super objectives
  35. I am grateful that I have tonight to work on myself and enjoy a nice night off
  36. I'm grateful that Nick enjoyed his mini vacation to RI
  37. I am grateful that I was able to collect food while at work for free
  38. I am grateful that I am leaving early this evening
  39. I am grateful that I will have an evening to do me
  40. I am grateful that  I will be able to relax
  41. I am grateful that I am healing and learned that my throat chakra needs love.
  42. I am grateful that I am up for my review at work
  43. I am grateful that my love for the universe and its mysteries has been reawakened
  44. I am grateful that I have gotten in touch with my Higher Power
  45. I am grateful that i am doing well in New York City
  46. I am grateful that I am listening to myself
  47. I am grateful that I reconnected with Rene after he went on vacation
  48. I am grateful that last night I got my gratitude list typed up and online
  49. I am grateful that today I assist a yoga class
  50. I am grateful that tomorrow I get back to yoga TT class with Ella
  51. I'm grateful that I am learning my inner truth
  52. I am grateful that last night I practiced yoga, meditated, and played drums to Dark Side of the Moon
  53. I'm grateful that Nick is planning to come back to RI for thanksgiving
  54. I'm grateful that Thanksgiving is in two weeks
  55. I'm grateful that I relaxed in Washington Square park during my lunch
  56. I'm grateful that I am free
  57. I am grateful that I walked around Greenwich village at lunch, bought some figs and watched Styx the drunken puppet dance in Washington Square Park
  58. I am grateful that I am done with work for the week and won't be sitting in a chair for a few days
  59. Thank you for helping me see my true self and ask questions so I can better understand where I stand and how I feel
  60. Thank you for helping me start my computer and get it fresh and new
  61. Thank you for the delicious figs
  62. Thank you for my delicious peppermint tea
  63. Thank you for transferring my funds to my bank account
  64. Thank you for the high gains on the stock I sold last week
  65. Thank you for my health
  66. Thank you for my creativity
  67. I am grateful for my girlfriend because she's willing to help me work through my anger
  68. I am grateful that I can look at my anger
  69. I am grateful that I have a paying job
  70. I am grateful that I am going home to RI for Thanksgiving
  71. I am grateful that I try my best
  72. I am grateful that I can feel my feelings
  73. I am grateful that I can take mindful breaths
  74. I am grateful that I made a delicious fried rice stir fry
  75. I am grateful that the work day is almost over
  76. I am grateful that I will go home and stay in a bow on my knees for at least 10 mins
  77. I am grateful that I am not going to music tonight
  78. I am grateful that I have a job that pays me reliably and generously
  79. I am grateful that I can enjoy time off tonight after work
  80. I am grateful that I have a mother & father with whom I can talk to regularly
  81. I am grateful that my journey as a yoga teacher is about to begin
  82. I am grateful that I will offer corporate yoga
  83. I am grateful that I will gain skills in Thai Massage
  84. I am grateful that I have opportunities to make money and I am independent
  85. I am grateful that I have a positive reputation
  86. I am grateful I have breaths to breathe
  87. I am grateful for my mind's adaptability
  88. I am grateful for every moment of peace I've found
  89. I am grateful that I can read and enjoy reading
  90. I am grateful that so much information is available to me all the time
  91. I am grateful that I have a job that is taking me places
  92. I am grateful that I can adapt to life and am content with where I am
  93. I feel grateful that I can change and progress
  94. I feel grateful that I have courage
  95. I am grateful I am where I am
  96. I am so grateful that I don't care if things change because I'm happy with what I have
  97. I am grateful that I am inundated with information and live an amazing life
  98. I am grateful that yoga is a part of my life
  99. I am grateful that I can listen to other people
  100. I am grateful that i can give back to others
  101. I feel grateful that I know about Bitcoin
  102. I feel grateful that I make money with investments
  103. I feel grateful that I have freedom to travel and explore
  104. I feel grateful that I am on an inward journey
  105. I feel grateful that I progress each day
  106. I feel grateful that my mom and dad are healthy and strong and having fun
  107. I feel grateful for Thursday.
  108. I feel grateful I have Saturday off.
  109. I am grateful that i have a job that gives me freedom
  110. I am grateful that I will visit and spend time with my family next week
  111. I feel grateful for the relationship with my girlfriend
  112. I feel grateful that I assisted Katie's class last night
  113. I feel grateful that I am on track to create a dynamic future
  114. I feel grateful that I am moving forward into the unknown
  115. I feel grateful that the weekend is almost here
  116. I feel grateful that I've been feeling more grateful all week!
  117. I feel grateful that I will be visiting home the Thanksgiving weekend
  118. I feel grateful for my mom, dad, brother and aunt
  119. I feel grateful that I have steady work and income
  120. I feel grateful that I am alive and healthy
  121. I feel grateful that I'm learning to teach yoga
  122. I feel grateful that I can explore the internet at work
  123. I feel grateful I have a half weekend
  124. I feel grateful that I will write the 8 Limbs of Yoga Paper
  125. I feel grateful that I have a loving girlfriend
  126. I feel grateful that I am involved in spiritual pursuits because that makes me happy
  127. I am grateful that I am looking very fit and have taught abdominals
  128. I feel grateful that I will see my family for the Thanksgiving weekend
  129. I am grateful that my mom is buying delicious pies for our dinner
  130. I feel grateful that Electric Thought (I love you!) is doing the best it has ever done
  131. I feel grateful that yoga class this morning was excellent
  132. I feel grateful that I'm capable of giving my own unique darma talk
  133. I feel grateful that I am changing my thinking patterns to positive ones that suit me
  134. I feel grateful that I am living a happy life
  135. I feel grateful that I am living my life happily
  136. I feel grateful that I can relax tonight
  137. I am grateful that I wrote an excellent paper for my yoga teacher training
  138. I feel grateful that my life is very comfortable and protected
  139. I am grateful that I had pie day at work today
  140. I am grateful that I have Wednesday off work now
  141. I am grateful that tomorrow is my last day of work this week
  142. I am grateful that my girlfriend is standing up for herself
  143. I am grateful that my aunt is buying me and excellent Christmas present (to be named)
  144. I am grateful that I can feel gratitude
  145. I am grateful that Thanksgiving is on Thursday and I will have my family all together
  146. I am grateful for the beautiful sunsets I experience at work
Wow! These lists keep getting longer and longer. There aren't more days in the week but more things I feel grateful for.
Thank you!

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Meditation and other wellness-at-work activities

Stress runs rampant in the workplace. If a company wants to realize the potential of their dedicated employees, it should incorporate wellness programs that help reduce stress.

Implement a corporate yoga initiative
Inviting a yoga teacher into your office to lead a class once or twice a week has been shown to reduce stress and improve company morale. 

Implement mediation and mindfulness workshops
If your company doesn't have a meditation group, why the hell not! It's a great way to build community and promote relaxation. Another great method is to invite experienced professionals in to give a meditation or mindfulness workshop. 

Paid Time Off
Provide paid half-days before holiday and winter/summer Fridays. These will help lower employee stress levels during the busy times of year.

Gym Membership
Reimburse employees for their gym membership so long as they use it a certain number of times each month.

Increase Salaries
Money worries rank up there with job loss for the big stressors. Increase your salaries so they are above industry standard.

Herbal Teas
Offer good tasting alternatives to coffee to reduce tension. Caffeine may promote faster work but at the cost of a tense workforce.

Monday, December 2, 2013

50 Small Daily Actions that Help Reduce Chronic Stress

When we are stressed out, we feel it in our bodies. We might feel tense, tired, irritable, stiff, have a headache or stomach pain, get a head cold or even have an ear infection. Stress is the most invasive thing that causes us dis-ease. It is also something we have a lot of control over. Whether we recognize it or not, unhealthy stress is created in our mind from a variety of different reason but which usually stem from our thinking patterns.

Regardless of what causes our stress, chronic stress is a buildup of small little things over a long time. If we have symptoms of chronic stress, we might feel stress for no good reason whatsoever but just wake up feeling anxious or angry. A great way to reduce our over all stress levels is by dismantling chronic stress the same way it was created in the first place: one small action at a time.

I've created a list of fifty small actions that can help reduce our chronic stress levels. Each one will make a small difference, and if you start incorporating several of these in your daily routine, you may notice reduced stress levels in your daily life.

50 Small Daily Actions that Help Reduce Chronic Stress
  1.  Enjoy a nice hot cup of herbal tea
  2. Write down 5 to 10 things that you're grateful for and feel gratitude
  3. Substitute one regular cup of coffee for a cup of decaf to reduce caffeine intake. Caffeine can make us tense
  4. Go for a brisk walk outside
  5. Take 10 deep breaths
  6. Write down three small tasks you want to finish and complete them
  7. Read a few inspirational sentences in the morning
  8. Wake up without an alarm
  9. When you awake, stretch your arms overhead and smile
  10. Make a relaxation appointment with yourself every week. Set time in your calendar to do something that will relax you. Meditate, get a massage, laugh at a comic's jokes, find nature on a walk, read a book near a warm fireplace, or something else that appeals to you. 
  11. Find 5 minutes of silence and inactivity
  12. Take a breath before reacting to something unpleasant
  13. Use your lunch break for relaxation, not work
  14. Exercise for at least 20 minutes
  15. Talk to a friend, family member or someone you trust about something that is bothering you
  16. Express yourself in a creative medium. Try writing poetry, sculpture, painting, music, drumming, dancing, yoga, boxing, drawing or singing. Find and do that thing where time stops and is pure fun.
  17. Be honest. Falsehood creates stress
  18. During work, take a few minutes every hour to walk or stretch. Set a timer so you'll remember.
  19. Call up a friend to catch up or to say, "thanks."
  20. When going to sleep, intentionally relax the muscles in your body one body part at a time
  21. When tense, massage the palms of your hands or your jaw muscles
  22. Eat an apple
  23. Eat two apples
  24. Might as well make it three apples
  25. Get yourself laughing
  26. Smile with your eye muscles
  27. Listen to some calming music. Try your local classical radio station.
  28. Spend a few minutes cleaning up your home or office
  29. Let someone go ahead of you
  30. Set a timer and for five minutes, tell yourself nice things about yourself
  31. Reflect on your accomplishments
  32. Meditate on a bright future
  33. Imagine yourself succeeding
  34. Identify what is causing you stress and break it down. What part of it actually bothers you? Can you do anything to change that? When does it happen?
  35. If possible, remove yourself from situations that cause you stress.
  36. Reduce your time with people who dwell on the negative and complain
  37. Recognize when you feel stress and take a deep breath
  38. Exercise vigorously and then get a full night's rest.
  39. Cut out one commitment that doesn't improve your life or make you feel more relaxed
  40. Eat very slowly. Smell your food and taste it throughout the meal. Savor the sensory experience. You can also try this with a beverage or herbal tea.
  41. Recognize stressed-induced behavior like emotional eating or biting your nails. Think of an action you could do to substitute this habit and begin doing it instead of the negative habit. In the long run, the new habit will be a healthier expression of stress
  42. Join any stress relief activity that is offered to you at your workplace
  43. Drink more water and ingest less sugar
  44. After a certain hour every night, turn off or silence your celphone.
  45. Only check your email at certain times each day.
  46. Look at cute animal photos and videos
  47. Slow down and do one task at a time until completion
  48. Do each current task with all your attention
  49. Refrain from judging others or yourself
  50. Receive compliments with grace and gratitude
Stress builds up day after day and when we make an effort to change the way we behave and think, we can make a huge impact on our well-being and reduce our overall stress levels. Every time we take an action toward a healthier, happier future, we're making a positive impact on our lives. This list only included fifty small things that help reduce stress levels. What are some things that help you? What reduces your stress?

Monday, November 25, 2013

The Eight Limbs of Yoga - Astanga Yoga

Although the practice of yoga is often assumed to include only the postures or asanas that are cycled through during a class, this is only 1/8 of the story. There are a total of 8 different limbs of yoga. Yoga, which means to unite, is a practice designed to shed light on ourselves and unite our physical body and mind with our Higher Self and the universe at large. To achieve this, yogis from many thousands of years ago identified and practiced the eight limbs of yoga known in Sanskrit as astanga yoga. The eight limbs of yoga are yama (abstinence), niyama (observances), asana (posture practice), pranayama (breath control), pratyahara (sense withdrawal), dharana (concentration), dhyana (meditation), Samadhi (blissful absorption, super-conscious state). The following article will describe the eight limbs of yoga and discuss how each is used during an astanga yoga class.

"By the practice of the limbs of Yoga, the impurities dwindle away and there dawns the light of wisdom, leading to discriminative discernment," (The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, 2.28).

Yamas

The Yamas are moral guidelines or vows on how a yogi can best interact with the outside world and other people to live an enlightened life. The Yamas consist of ahimsa (non-violence), satya (truthfulness), asteya (non-stealing), brahmacarya (continence), and aparigraha (non-greed, non-grasping). Some of the Yamas one would abstain from while others are ways to regulate behavior and thinking. For a yogi, "these great vows are universal, not limited by class, place, time or circumstance," (Patanjali, 2.31).

With the practice of ahimsa one not only refrains from aggressive and violent behavior but also stops all violent thinking towards others. If we have a judgment towards someone, in a way we are creating a violent experience toward them. In class, we can practice this yama by withholding judgment of others’ asana practice. If it seems like the person in front of you doesn’t know how to perform trikonasana, instead of thinking, “they should have their hips in line and not lean over so much,” we can bring ourselves back to our breath and relax. In this way we are practicing ahimsa while at the yoga studio.

Satya refers to the absolute and unchangeable truth. This truth lies deep within us as the unchanging nature of our spirit. Everything else in the world is destined to change. Our feelings, life circumstances, relationships, the Earth, solar system, galaxy and physical universe are always in flux and changing. The practice of satya not only asks us to identify the infinite within us but also to respect that divine nature in all and speak its truth. We refrain from lying and offering up a false image. In class we can practice satya by recognizing our body’s limits and not going any further in those poses where our body asks us to stop. If we try to go beyond where we are in the moment, we are not listening to our inner truth and are trying to portray ourselves as “flexible” or “a great yogi.” By recognizing the truth within us, we are never wrong and can live in harmony with the universe.

The next yama is quite self-explanatory. Asteya or non-stealing directs the practitioner away from actions of stealing and eventually removes the root of this assiduous desire. B.K.S. Iyengar is his book Light on Life describes the depth of this practicing and how it can move beyond the non-stealing of another’s property or ideas. He describes how a more advanced yogi may be careful of saying a bad word about another so as to not steal one’s reputation from them and thus cause them to lose future money or property. In class and in the studio, we must foster an attitude of asteya because if a studio has a reputation for people’s things being stolen, practitioners will be distracted and keep thinking about the safety of their belongings. Thus holding strong to this yama, the yoga studio can be a welcoming place to all.

Spiritual advancement by education and training, sexual restraint and continence is categorized under the yama known as brahmacarya. If one’s mind is constantly distracted by desirous thoughts, there will be a struggle to maintain inner peace. In the same way, a yoga class should cultivate a space for self-study and peace so the time on one’s mat can best be used by avoiding desirous thoughts and maintaining focus on the breath and asanas.

The final yama, aparigraha is perhaps the most important and yet remains subtle in practice. This yama pertains to ego and one’s desire for more. On the yogi path, a practitioner keeps watch and does not grasp for what one does not need. There is modesty to life. A yogi need not eat more than he or she needs to horde more than is necessary for their living. In class, as yogis we don’t strive for others’ approval, we appreciate where we are and keep practicing.

Niyamas

Whereas the yamas described how the yogi should interact with the outside world, the niyamas are personal, inner observances. The Niyamas include saucha (purity), santosha (contentment), tapas (spiritual effort, austerity, and continuous practice), svadhyaya (self-study), and ishvara pranidha (the practice of self-surrender, worship of God). The niyamas are personal practices for a yogi. How the yogi lives with his or her own self.

As a human being our bodies are constantly creating waste: exhaling carbon dioxide and releasing toxins, making new skin cells and hair follicles fall out. Cleanliness and purity of our home, body and mind are reflections of our inner peace and an important step on the path toward yogic enlightenment. It’s a process that never ends. In the yoga studio, we can teach the practice of saucha by encouraging students to come to class with maintained personal hygiene and minimized body odor. Students should respect each other’s space and not step on each other’s mats. After class, the teacher should encourage their students to place all props back where they were found and clean the sweat off their mats with a cleansing spray and towel.

The next observance is santosha which means good contentment. In no way is this to be confused with apathy or excessive passiveness. Instead santosha teaches a yogi to be grateful for their life circumstances, their body, their relationships and everything else that goes into life. There is much to be content with and as the yoga sutras explain, with good contentment comes joy and blessings. In class the practice of santosha can be taught to students who are straining to achieve more advanced postures or deeper stretches. By being appreciative with where we are in our bodies and our path, we can let our expectations go and live in the present moment. In that moment, we have infinitely more power and grace than when we live in the future or past. If students’ faces are tense and it seems they are pushing, the teacher can encourage them to appreciate where they are and relax into the asana with focus on a calm breath.

In my yoga practice especially with my experience in teacher training at Jai Yoga Arts, I have seen how not practicing santosha in one’s life can bring misery and pain. If I don’t recognize where I am in the moment and all the great steps I’ve taken to get to where I am, I fail to see how it’s possible for me to reach my next goal or achieve my next dream causing me to feel down on myself. By appreciating where we are and how we got there, we are gifted with a strength that can propel us toward any future with passion and grace.

Tapas is the practice of effort through the application of heat. This niyama helps a yogi burn through their karmas which are the buildup of their actions. When we do something it causes something else. These results can build up in our bodies, especially if our actions are causing stress and tension. Through tapas we are able to burn through these karmas and achieve a more open body and existence. Consistent practice is important for a yoga student; the dedicated student must practice every day. Tapas is also linked to austerities and inflicting pain on oneself. This could include not eating ice cream for a year and although this may be a painful experience since ice cream is so delicious, it is done to strengthen oneself and grow.

When students seem to get lazy in class or succumb to a bit of tiredness, the teacher can encourage the practice of tapas by heating up their breath with ujjai practice and with a physical assist to remind them to expand into the asana. One must learn to balance tapas with santosha (contentment). If there is too much tapas the yogi will be pushing too hard and cause harm to his or her body.

People are not just drawn to yoga class for physical activity. Those drawn to yoga enjoy the mental and spiritual practice as well as the physical asana practice. The fourth niyama is svadhyaya which is self-study, the study to know more about the Higher Self and the soul. This introspection leads to a greater awakening to the Soul within. As a yogi, there are several ways to practice svadhyaya. The first way is to read yogic texts like the Yoga Sutras or Light on Life by B.K.S. Iyengar. When studying these texts, the yogi can reflect on their contents and how the words connect to their inner life. But svadhaya is largely accomplished by careful self-awareness and observation. By looking within, we experience the universe.

In a yoga class, teachers can encourage their students to take an inward focus and feel what is going on within their bodies. The student is learning about the muscles in their body and the thoughts in their mind and thus practicing self-awareness which is the foundation of svadhaya. The teacher can also remind his or her students that the practice of yoga is for the individual alone and they are not in competition with their neighbors to get deeper into an asana.

The last niyama, ishvara pranidhana is total surrender to the higher power or the Self. With this observance comes the culmination of all the other niyamas, and life will naturally flow. If every action and moment of our life is dedicated to the Supreme, we cannot but live in peace. Everyone is part of a universal force that connects everything in the universe. We cannot control the results. We can only control our intention and effort in the moment. Once we can let go of our expectations and give them to a higher power and just do our best here in this moment, we will experience a more peaceful existence with more happiness and bliss.

In an asana class, students can be reminded of this principle with verbal cues that help them feel connected to the bigger picture. Through yoga, students will begin to see how their actions are part of a much larger universal stage and they are just playing their part in its perfection.

Asana

The third limb of yoga is by far the most recognized and widely practiced in America. The third limb pertains to our connection on earth. As a human being we bridge the gap between the earth and the heavens, and in order for us to truly reach our spiritual potential, we must be grounded firmly here on earth. This practice is known as asana, a steady, comfortable posture.

As many know, asanas are the “yoga poses” and postures we put our bodies into during class. It is a chance for us to release tension, strengthen our bodies, and connect with the earth.

A sequence of poses was designed to be practiced along with the other limbs of yoga. The ashtanga asana consists of sun salutations (Suryanamaskara), standing poses, seated poses and savasana. The sequence can be viewed as a metaphor for life and prepares the practitioner for death. With Suryanamaskara the infant awakens and begins to take form and build energy. The standing series of poses fosters the adolescent as he or she begins to find his or her balance and a sense of surefootedness. The adult finds their place in the seated postures until they finally pass on in savasana.

The practice of asana prepares our bodies for meditation and a higher state of consciousness. If our bodies are in dis-ease we will be uncomfortable and continuously distracted from our meditation. Asana practice prepares our bodies for the inward journey which begins with pranayama.

Pranayama

Pranayama is the mindful control of the breath. The inhales, exhales or retentions are to be regulated by either space, time or number and can either be long or short. During pranayama practice we bring our attention onto the breathing process. As we begin to control our breath, we start to regulate the flow of our vital life force, prana. The reason pranayama follows asana in the eight limbs is because pranayama begins to tap into universal forces outside the body and flood the body with strong energies. If there is a kink in the body’s energy lines, the prana can get stuck.  Asana works to release the blocks. Pranayama is a powerful practice that requires experience and readiness. Depending on the level of a class, the teacher must be aware of which pranayama practices they employ as uncomfortable sensations and thoughts are likely to arise during the process if the students are unready.

There are many techniques that can be used to practice the fourth limb of yoga pranayama. In class, pranayama is practiced through the consistent use of the ujjai breath. The ujjai breath builds heat in the body and creates a sound so the practitioner can more easily focus on their breath. Yoga students also practice pranayama when they link their breath with the Vinyasa flow sequence. They are using their breath in a controlled manor. In my experience, pranayama practice can deepen my relaxation into a pose. During my first year of yoga practice, after a vigorous vinyasa heat-building sequence, I settled into pigeon pose. With all my focus on breath, I used it as a tool to release the muscles in my hip. I felt the energy flowing through this previously blocked spot and I received a surge of power.

Other pranayama practices include nadi shodhan and kapalabahti. The first is a beautiful practice to promote a peaceful mind and can be used at the beginning or end of a yoga practice depending on the teacher’s style. Kapalabahti which in Sanskrit means “shining skull,” is an ancient technique used to energize and cleanse. It clears the mind, cleans the lungs, and strengthens the diaphragm and abdominal muscles.

Pratyaharah

The fifth limb of yoga is pratyaharah or sense withdrawal. "When the senses withdraw themselves from the objects (of meditation) and imitate, as it were, the nature of the mind-stuff, this is pratyaharah," (Patanjali, 2.54). As a yogi, the practitioner recognizes that their senses are always screaming out for their attention. By practicing pratyaharah, the yogi can withdraw inside and prepare for meditation.

The practice of pratyahara becomes evident in class when loud sounds arise outside of the yoga studio like when a big truck drives by and honks its horn. If the student withdraws their sense of hearing away from the horn and back to their breath, they are practicing this limb of yoga. This also happens when the sensation of discomfort arises in an asana and if the student recognizes it and then diverts their attention to their breath, they once again are withdrawing a sense and practicing detachment from it.

Dharana & Dhyana

After one has skill in withdrawing their senses from all the stimuli of the environment, pratyahara, then the sixth limb of yoga dharana can be practiced. Dharana is one-pointed concentration on an object, place or idea. Dharana inevitably leads to the seventh limb dhyana or meditation. As described in the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, dharana and dhyana are intrinsically linked. “Concentration or dharana is the beginning of meditation or dyhana; dhyana is the culmination of dharana, thus the two are two ends of the same process,” (Patanjali, pg 161). With the practice of single-pointed concentration on the object of meditation, the meditation process can evolve into the true meditation of dhyana which is an uninterrupted stream of consciousness. "Dhyana is the continuous flow of cognition toward that object," (Patanjali, 3.2). "In meditation you have three things: meditator, the meditation and the object meditated upon," (Patanjali, pg 165).

Throughout the class, there is likely too much going on to have a single-pointed direction. The yogi is focusing on moving their body, breathing and taking directions from the instructor. However, toward the end of class when they are entering the practice of seated meditation, then the practice of dharana can be begun. The practitioner focuses meditation on some object which could be their breathing, a beautiful object like a rose or vast ocean, the light within their soul or anything they find enlightening. Dharana is an effort. One must continuously bring oneself back to the object of meditation and work to maintain a constant stream of consciousness. When the effort subsides and the meditation becomes effortless, then dhyana is reached. During the process one will not recognize they have reached a state of meditation because that will have broken the meditation. Only afterwards will it become clear that the practitioner was in a state of meditation.

While studying meditation on a retreat in Los Angeles, I once had an experience of dhyana that was amazing. Throughout the course of a year, I participated in five weekend retreats that consisted of sitting meditation, walking meditation and dharma talks, and little else. I had been practicing sitting meditation all morning during the fifth and final retreat. The practice was challenging and I welcomed the lunch break with my fellow practitioners. After we returned from lunch, we again took our cushions in meditation. My dharana was on my breath. I began to meditate on the oxygenation of my blood as my heart pumps blood and the blood reaches my lungs where it meets the breath and gets oxygenate. From this moment, I reached a state of meditation and saw the insides of my body sustaining my life in a beautifully complex breathing process. Time slipped away and nothing existed except the object of meditation.

Samadhi

The last limb of yoga is samadhi which is a super-conscious state of blissful absorption. Samadhi is not a sustainable state that can be maintained in everyday living but an experience one can have as an extension of mediation. Whereas meditation consists of three objects: the mediator, mediation and the object of meditation, in samadhi there is neither the object nor the mediator but only the shining of the object alone, as if devoid of form. One has communed with the divine.

Samadhi is a state where the observer leaves their body and even this realm. They have an experience where they are one with their object and transcend this plane of existence. Since samadhi is communion with the Higher Self, it is the only state of being or experience that is unchanging. If experience in class, samadhi would likely occur during meditation practice after the body and mind are quieted and one has connected deep within with their object of meditation.

Astanga Yoga

The eight limbs of yoga guide a yogi to enlightenment. Outlined many thousands of years ago, these eight limbs yama (abstinence), niyama (observances), asana (posture practice), pranayama (breath control), pratyahara (sense withdrawal), dharana (concentration), dhyana (meditation), samadhi (blissful absorption, super-conscious state) are still applicable to daily life and every situation within it. Whether our thoughts, relationships or life circumstances, as yogis we can use astanga yoga as a tool to shed light on our ignorance and imperfections in these areas and continuously grow toward an enlightened existence.

Friday, November 22, 2013

What to do when thoughts arise during meditation

I live in New York City and from the moment I wake up on a workday, I'm thrust into a fast-paced environment that bombards my senses. From walking on the busy sidewalks, vying for a seat on the bus and subway, and then striving to do my best at the office, when am I suppose to find respite in all this chaos? I started meditating because I needed to connect to my inner peace and loosen the grip of my active mind.

Sometimes when I sit down in meditation or lie down in savasana after my yoga practice, my mind just keeps going. When I talk to people who are new to meditation, I discover that they often have never really tried meditation because they believe they're doing it wrong because they can't stop thinking. In the beginning stages, this is not wrong, this is the practice of meditation.

Keep in mind that meditation, when used as a stress-relief tool, will consist of moments of letting go after letting go after letting go with brief calm in between. You are the one letting go. A thought about dinner will arise, you'll observe it, and you let it go. A thought about an ache in your butt will arise, you'll feel it without judgement or attachment and you'll let it go. If a tornado comes, you get off your cushion and down into the cellar, then let it go.

Now what is this letting go and how does one do it? Below are a three tips on what to do if and when thoughts arise in your meditation practice. If you're new to meditation, you should read an introduction to meditation. Meditation is exercise for your mind, you're trimming the fat. Don't forget that.

1. You are not doing it wrong if thoughts arise

If you notice lots of thinking when you sit down to meditate, great! You are being aware of your mind. How often do we actually notice what we're thinking? Not often enough. Too often we think we are our thoughts and feelings. Noticing that you are having thoughts means you are practicing meditation. Congratulations!

Often people assume that meditation is being in a state of bliss devoid of thoughts. While in the highest sense of an enlightened monk or life-long yogi this may be true, for a beginner or someone using meditation as a stress-relief tool, you can expect to experience thinking most of the time. After some practice, you may experience moments of bliss and that's great! Don't try to recreate these moments just appreciate them when you get them.

2. Label your thoughts

As I mentioned earlier, meditation is a practice. In the beginning you are going to be practicing a lot of letting go. When a thought arises, notice it and label it.You don't have to label it anything complex. You can just labeling it "thinking" or "thought" or "mind." Whatever rings true to you. The point of labeling your thoughts is to strengthen the observer within you. We are not our thoughts but often we feel like we are. We get attached to our ideas and feelings.

During meditation you let go of these attachments because they are false. You are not your thoughts, your feelings or your body for that matter. You are bigger than that. By labeling your thought, you start to see, "I'm not just my thought. I have an awareness bigger than my thought that has the power to label my thought." This process of labeling thoughts prepares us for difficult situations in life that might arise like anger or sadness. With this skill of labeling, you will still see and feel the thought but are powerful enough not to become enveloped in it's grasp.

3. Bring it back to breath

So what do you do after you find yourself distracted by a thought? You bring yourself back to the present moment! What is happening in every moment of our life? We are breathing! Either we're inhaling or exhaling or somewhere in between but the breath is always present. It is essential for life, so bring your attention back to that. The mind is like a telescope and can only focus on one thing at a time. Once you bring your focus back to your breath, the thoughts will fade away.

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If you have any questions or contributions, please write them in the comment section below. I would love to have a conversation with you.