Moving Mindfully…Through Life!

Most of us, myself included, probably think of “moving mindfully” in relation to yoga, or working out, or heavy lifting, or anything that is a practice requiring physical focus.

Well, this piece is a gentle reminder to us all that injury can occur during even the most unexpected, of even mundane activities. I have recently heard of really terrible injuries, one of which was my Momma’s. She was taking her usual brisk walk with a friend and, at the startling noise of something, looked up and her foot landed in a dip in the pavement. The fall she took resulted in tearing ligaments and tendons from the bone and an injury that, many months later, is still on the road to recovery. I also saw a friend who tore both ACL and MCL doing laundry! The simple motion of picking up the laundry basket without turning his feet resulted in crutches and an imperative operation. It’s awful! It reminds me that we can hurt ourselves severely even when we least expect it. This is not reason to worry or be paranoid, but rather to increase our mindfulness in everything that we do.

So, how do we avoid pain, strain and injury? 

…did any of you guess my first prescription would be yoga? Ding ding ding! DO YOGA.

Yoga increases mindfulness tenfold. It brings you in touch with your inner workings, with the mind/body connection that people so often refer to, and with the unique nature of your own body.

Our bodies work very differently. We all have individual strengths and weak spots, and each must be respected and embraced equally. This is a key lesson that yoga has taught me that nothing else has. In my experience working out in gyms, playing sports, working with personal trainers, I never ever was urged to listen to my own body and not do something that hurt. I’m not chastising those venues of exercise at all, I’m simply acknowledging that yoga has placed me in the best shape of my life because it has implored me to listen to my own body and my own body alone. 

By listening to none other than my own body and feelings and muscles and mind, I have realized where I need to pull back and where I can really push myself. Naturally I am referring to the asana practice of yoga and not the spiritual and meditative aspects of my practice (although there is a gentle nudge present in that realm as well, urging one to respect one’s own boundaries and have patience). 

Yoga teaches us to leave the EGO out – something that our society, and human nature, makes out to be incredibly challenging.

My second prescription is breathing. If you apply prescription one, prescription two (pranayama) comes along with it. So basically prescription one is a package deal 🙂 

By breathing fully and deeply we are less inclined to act in jerky, rushed movements. We are more likely to pick up our feet and turn them with our bodies, we are more likely to engage the muscles we need instead of skimping and trying to move quickly. We are more likely to roll the neck and shoulders around, stretching and breathing, keeping the blood flowing and the mind alert. Breathing deeply makes for a more alert brain. It is a simple fact. We yawn not only because we are tired, but because our brian is saying, “Help me, I need some more oxygen!” So breathe. Deep belly breaths that fill the lungs and purify the body. 

Prescription three is to stay present. Okay, I give in. Yoga is the key to increasing one’s mindfulness in daily life. By focusing on what you’re doing right this instant you are putting your body in its best position to do what it’s doing right now (for you sitting and reading this, that may mean sitting up straight, applying proper posture, letting go of unnecessary tension in the neck, shoulders, jaw and face). Even if it’s standing and doing the dishes…release the unnecessary tension, relax the face, relax the mind, engage the abdominals to support the back, stand with the feet, knees and hips in line…you don’t have to be practicing yoga on a mat to practice yoga! 

Showing the body respect in the moment by filling it with breath, mindfulness and utter presence, is a wonderful gift that you can give yourself all day long, everyday.

Yes, you still have the right to zone out and relax of course! That right there a key component to wellness! Just be aware while relaxing. Let the relaxation really seep into your skin, into your being, let it fill you with the peace and restfulness that you so deserve. Don’t rush yourself through relaxation by hammering away in your mind about the dishes that need doing, the car that needs washing, the lunch that needs packing…give yourself the time you deserve to breathe into your serenity, your peace. And then, when the time comes to do those chores, you will likely be far more mindful and present for them by having bathed in your relaxation while you took it.

Being aware of our physicality whilst driving, sitting, laying, walking, standing, crouching, lifting, working, practicing, meditating, living, we are increasing our likelihood of living pain, strain and injury free lives.

So, with that, I wish you a beautiful day, and a life of abundant wellness!

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Indian Summer Salad

I’m heading to my family’s today to enjoy a preparatory “Luau” style BBQ in celebration of our trip to Maui in a week and a half! Even though my well-loved, blessed season of Autumn is upon us, we are calling today an “Indian Summer Celebration” of the summer weather we are about to soak up for eight days in Maui! 

Grilled fish and pineapple will be on the menu, and I’m bringing along a vegan, light, summery quinoa salad that I have dubbed “Indian Summer Salad” and decided to share with y’all today.

First I cooked up a big ‘ol pot ‘o quinoa (because I have about 100 recipes for this miracle grain so I need quinoa leftovers for my upcoming week!). Next I sliced sweet white corn right off the cob. Then I put fresh mint leaves and lemongrass in my food processor and minced it up. Then I chunked a juicy apple and put that in the food processor on “chop.” Mixing that all together, I juiced an entire lemon into the salad and added some dried dill. Last, but definitely not least, I added fresh zest of both orange and lemon peel into the quinoa salad. 

It. Smells. DIVINE (if I do say so myself). 

Photos will come later if I remember to snap them before the “Indian Summer Salad” is devoured 🙂

Have a blessed, harmonious day my friends!

Authentic and Awakened

This one goes out to you, Amy. Your comment meant the world to me and, in light of your words, I want to write a little something before drifting off to sleep.

I worked 15 hours today and am physically exhausted, but somehow Amy, your words stuck with me. “Authentic and Awakened.” Despite sleepy eyes, fatigued muscles and a pretty spectacular craving for the comfort of my freshly washed sheets, I felt rather awake; surprisingly alert; completely authentic.

I had an awakening thought last night in the shower. While the pesky little voice in the very back of my brain, that often likes to try and throw a monkey wrench in the calm of my thoughts, hammered on like, “Oh my gosh you have a huge day tomorrow…you’re going to be so tired…do you realize it’s almost 16 hours you’ll be working? Aren’t you freaked out? Aren’t you dreading it?? Dread it, dread it,” my rational mindset intervened with the simple retort, “At least I get to be me, all day long.” The thought brought a smile to my face. It was a thought that was completely unplanned, it popped up without any urge from the optimism that loyally battles the “monkey wrench brain.” The thought was genuine, totally authentic. And it left me awakened!

I couldn’t believe it. I felt like a child; to have such a simple answer for an otherwise monstrous day, to have such a simple fix, that doesn’t seem very adult-like! As adults we like to see the negative, cling to it, even. Children have that blissful authenticity of just enjoying life for all of the littlest things, the things that we as adults are often too busy to give much merit to anymore. 

I will admit, I was proud that my mind came up with such a charming answer. I was like, “Wow. Good point…I get to be me in all of my imperfections and flaws and wonderfully unique characteristics. I may not be doing what I’d like to be doing, but I’ll be me and that will make it fun.” 

I am in NO way trying to brag and be like, “Oh my gosh I’m soooo positive and optimistic and I loooove being me, blah blah blah.” The reason that I’m divulging this to you all is because I always wanted to think that way. I focused on trying to think that way. I directed energy into the manifestation of thinking that way. Then, without expecting it, just minding my own business shampooing my hair yesterday, I recognized the manifestation.

The best part is that it actually made today pretty freaking awesome! No I didn’t feel cute, nor did I feel my most energetic, nor did I have any control whatsoever over my physical whereabouts…but I managed to hold true to my little happy thought from last night. I felt utterly and authentically myselfall day long. The awareness of my individuality and my ability to control the weather forecast of my own mindset was a little intoxicating. It’s the reason, I believe, that I am still alert and introspective some 16 hours after waking. 

On the off chance my long day is causing me to ramble, I will cut this short. But the point is this: do not underestimate the power of your subconscious. It hears you. Your heart and mind hear your affirmations. You will, after enough repetition, begin to unconsciously repeat the positive thoughts, affirmations and beliefs that you are instilling in yourself. Be patient. Be kind. Be loving. With yourself as well as with others. Plant the seed and water it with repetition, the repetition off affirmations and faith. In doing so, you are cultivating your most authentic and awakened Self.

Goodnight, my friends, Namaste.

 

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Gently Transitioning into Autumn

If you’re like me, then you’re elated that fall has arrived and were flooded with happiness and warmth this past Saturday on the Autumnal Equinox. I recall images of myself at just 18, bicycling to the market in crocheted scarves, loading my hemp backpack with everything pumpkin, and heading home to whip up fall delights. I carry embedded in my sensual memories the perfume of my wine country hometown, the aromas of harvest, and bathe in it when I visit during autumn. There’s magic in the air. Something intangible that tugs at my heart and intoxicates my senses, something that leaves me more and more besotted with fall each year. If you’re not dancing around in your happy pants over the arrival of this special season, that’s okay. But your system is still in need of some TLC as it transitions from summer to autumn.

I personally relish in the annual Yoga Journal Ayurvedic Fall Detox program for its gentle, soothing, stabilizing effects (http://www.yogajournal.com/health/2617). I have a non-traditional work schedule for the time being, which many of us do, so as usual I advocate for tweaking any program to fit one’s own particular needs. Make it work for you. If you like some aspects of the Yoga Journal detox and some aspects of my article and some aspects that popped up in your mind while entertaining the notion of transitioning into fall, use them all! Make a hybridized, smoothie-like blend of all your favorite nourishing acts to prepare your system for the splendor of autumn, and then sit back and enjoy watching the season change.

1.)   Start the day with warm water and fresh lemon. If you don’t already practice this, begin doing so. The ingestion of warm water with lemon is tremendously detoxifying for the liver, and the body in general. There are articles on MindBodyGreen dedicated entirely to why this practice is beneficial to the system. If you are a dedicated, daily warm water and lemon drinker, also begin to make other soothing teas later in the day. I suggest:

  • Ginger root, if you buy organic then you can boil the whole root in water, or peel it first and then boil.
  • I also suggest homemade chai tea, which the incredible Tiffany Cruikshank provides a recipe for here: http://www.mindbodygreen.com/0-3462/Homemade-Chai.html
  • Red Clover is another detoxifying herb that will assist the liver cleansing that your daily warm water with lemon will stimulate.
  • Lemongrass makes for a cleansing and delicious tea.

2.)   Set some positive resolutions. Why wait for the New Year for resolutions? Bringing awareness and intention to some positive affirmations and resolutions are excellent ways to bring oneself into a sound state of balance. Don’t be hard on yourself and set rigorous, harsh resolutions. I’m talking about setting positive, gentle intentions that will help ease the system into a new season. Even the step above this one, introducing warm lemon water and fresh made teas into one’s repertoire, is a positive resolution. Such resolutions could be aiming to get more sleep at night, giving oneself an hour before bed free of technology, taking a walk around the neighborhood each evening with one’s dog/spouse/neighbor/self/children, waking each morning and calling to mind three things one’s grateful for…you get the picture. Positive, simple affirmations and resolutions will give you purpose, asserting your intention within your body as you care for it and ease it into a new cycle of weather, daylight patterns, temperature and routine.

3.)   Get crafty and make something. You have the run of the mill on this one, make anything. It could be pumpkin spice bread from scratch that you share with your family or co-workers, a corkboard made out of the corks that local wineries toss out every weekend after tastings, crocheted scarves, hats and fingerless gloves for the cooler autumn evenings, painting your bedroom, rearranging the house…the sky is the limit. By stimulating our creativity in a way that will result in something cozy to enjoy, wear, eat, or share we welcome the warm nurturing nature of autumn into our hearts. We also connect with ourselves on a deeper level. This step is in tune with the “slowing down” portion of the Yoga Journal Ayurvedic detox; by slowing down and connecting with a creative, crafty aspect of ourselves that most of us infrequently find the time to indulge; we calm our senses and also make something enjoyable for ourselves in the process.

I hope that this article stimulates your desire to connect with your senses and deepest self as we transition into a beautiful season. Observe how the equinox has affected you physically, emotionally, and mentally, and use these observations to more smoothly transition into the new season. Most of all, enjoy the transition, because, as my yogi teabag quote says:

“The purpose of life is to enjoy every moment.”

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The Body: Our Greatest Teacher

I was having a conversation with friends the other night on the topic of spirituality. I find myself moved, days later, by one friend’s thoughts and perspective in particular.
We are here on Earth to experience what is happening in THIS body, she said. We can only speculate as to what is happening in the spirit world, but THIS BODY is what we’re here to figure out. My friend went on to essentially surmise that by figuring out what feels, happens, is and can be in THIS VESSEL, that is our vehicle for understanding the spirit world, or our own spirits. 

I was moved by her words, by the clarification of something I think I must have already felt, and yet had not been brought to my awareness. Isn’t that a marvelous occurrence, when something you feel you must have already believed is brought to the surface by someone else’s words, perspective, and thoughts? Human Connections.

Mind, body and spirit are one, yes. But I feel my friend was right in saying that the spirit is something so vast we cannot fully wrap our minds around it (in reference to tuning into a more spiritual level, world and atmosphere)some can, but most of us cannot. Truth again; there are many healers, monks, self-realized, self-actualized, spiritual warriors out there who are in touch with otherworldly vibrations. …but most of us cannot, my friend continued, but this body? She gestured to her frame, her mind, her shoulders, this body is here to teach us about the spirit. We can fix the pain in this body, learn to understand it, we can know this body fully in our time here.

My friend’s idea that getting to fully know our vessel, cultivating sincere bodily awareness, and channeling the energy we spend trying to understand the vastness of existence, the spirit world, the incomprehensible unanswered questions about life into knowing our bodies is brilliant.

I am strongly drawn to Buddhism. My heart feels passionately about Karma. My soul believes it has known others in previous lives. Do I have answers written in stone for those with doubt? Absolutely not. Am I brought solace by my inherent urge to embrace these beliefs or the act of questioning them? By believing. By fearlessly embracing beliefs that bring me joy, comfort, love. By embracing beliefs that encourage human beings to be better human beings, regarding the Self and others alike, I make this vessel a happier place.

In practicing yoga, I learn the ins and outs of my vessel, my body, deeply. I learn my strengths, my delicacies, my edge, my fears, my desires, my muscles, my mind…through injury we learn, through triumph we learn, through fear and love alike we learn.

So I suppose the moral of this blog post is, if you’re striving to get to know your spiritual self, and the “bigger picture” that makes up this life we live…focus in on the Self. The body, your body, is the only thing you can really, truly, 100% know. The only thing you can wholeheartedly know that NO ONE else knows! Powerful, right? It can take a lifetime to really get to know oneself, as far as I hear. So my advice to us all is to take a deep breath and and let all of the vast, incomprehensible wonder flutter away. I promise it will come back, all the contemplations, all of the wonder…focus on the body, focus on the things that hurt, feel good, happen, within your body. Play with a diet that makes your body feel its best; find a practice that makes your body feel alive; surround yourself with people who bring joy, wellness and good vibrations to your body. It is through this that the understanding of the wonder, of the contemplations, of the vastness, will start to make more sense.

Spiritual musing is divine and beautiful, so my simple advice is to not stress about it. Let’s not stress over the unknowns of life after death, of the spirit world, of past lives, of religion vs. spirituality even;  let’s not stress over unanswered questions or trying to wrap the mind around a concept so boundless…bring the attention back here. Bring the attention back into your body. Because it is here, in these beautiful vessels of ours, that we will learn more than we ever could have learned anywhere else.

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The Power of Voice

The Yoga Goddess was at it again tonight.

Have you experienced a class where the teacher instructs you to “sound?” Audibly exhaling, letting out a deep sigh, the sound of your own voice vibrating within the throat, within the body? That is the effect of the Yoga Goddess’ voice. It vibrates within you, within the room, reverberating gently from wall to wall, saturating the floor and grazing the ceiling. While we all have the capacity to sense the vibrations of our own voice leaving our own bodies, not all have the capacity to vibrate an entire room with their one, singular voice. This is where my awe of the Yoga Goddess comes into play, yet again.

Having a strong voice is an attribute that I find highly engaging. I am personally very drawn to those who have profoundly unique and strong voices. I always have been, but have only in the past few years become completely cognizant of the magnetism I feel to strong voices. Yoga Goddess’ voice is constant, its strength exists both in the studio and out. But when stepping into the role of teacher, before a room of yogis, her voice absolutely stuns.

By “strong voice” I in no way mean brusque, loud, or overpowering. I mean strong in the way a human being is strong; it’s not brawn that makes a person strong, it’s a culmination of characteristics. It’s many small components, some intrinsic, some practiced, that create holistic strength. Yoga Goddess’ voice is very soft, and its strength is unlike any I’ve ever experienced. It’s as though there’s a fire behind the harmoniously gentle tune of her voice; passion from within propelling voice from throat, out into the room, deep into the minds and bodies of breathing yogis.

I am praising my divine friend, the Yoga Goddess’, inherent strength and brilliant spirit, yes. But I am also, simultaneously, calling us all to tune in more intently to voice. The power of voice, or even lack thereof.

I attended a yoga retreat focused around cultivating and expressing one’s best possible voice. Through asana, meditation, breath work, kirtan and philosophy, we got to know our bodies. We became familiar and very aware of the gentle hum that is our breath and, in turn, our voice. The voice begins with the breath; one cannot speak when the lungs are empty. The quality of the breath stems from one’s state of mind; breathing mindfully, cultivating awareness, fills and empties the lungs in a purging, cleansing, oxygenating fashion.

It’s fascinating how, so very often, beings have no idea how incredibly moving they are. The nature in which they touch others, affect others, inspire others, is completely foreign to them. Humble is the word I use for these beings. Modesty is a beautiful characteristic to have. Especially when these beings are doing what it is that they live and breathe, when they are fearlessly chasing their bliss; it would be such a tragic shame if the Yoga Goddess were too shy or timid to have pursued her dreams of teaching the practice of yoga, of changing lives. I would not be able to sit here and write this exact post if that were the case. There are so many incredible, humble souls out there making the world a better place, improving the lives of their fellow beings by spreading the splendor that is their voice, their passion…and I am abundantly grateful for them. I’m grateful for their compassion that allows them to genuinely pour love from their souls into the souls of others; for their intelligence and precision in the art they study; for their strong, profound voices that stimulate minds and hearts far beyond the reaches of their consciousness…

The power of voice is bountiful. The power of your voice is tremendous.

You have the power, the power to summon the courage to speak your strongest, truest voice, if you aren’t already.

The Yoga Goddess will undoubtedly blush, in reading this. Perhaps she will feel uplifted in knowing that she has helped build in her friend such a sense of peace, of certainty. Hopefully it will fuel her agni, her heart fire, in this magical practice that she is so destined to share.

Do not underestimate the power of your voice, the influence it has, the lives it can change.

When we speak with a voice that is true, through breath that is deep and smooth, from a mind that is focused and serene…we have the power to change the world.

You have the power to change the world with your one, distinct, exquisite voice.

AAVARTA DHYANA MANTRA

Stimulate the dull mind

Calm down the excited mind
Repeat stimulation and relaxation till you experience the Bliss
Keep enjoying the bliss.
OM, Peace, Peace, Peace

 

3 Ways to Bring Serenity to Your Home

We all know our bodies are our temples, but do we also treat our home environment as our sanctuary?

We are the ones responsible for cultivating a healthy physical environment by eating properly, moving our bodies, stimulating our minds, soaking in positivity, and developing our inner fire. Similarly, we are the ones responsible for creating a safe space in which to rest these lovely temples that are our bodies.

I have always seen my bedroom as my own personal sanctuary where I retreat after long days out in the world. Things are where I want them to be, decorated, placed, and colored to my very own, specific liking. I’m soothed by my bedroom, comforted, warmly welcomed from the unknowns of the outside world into the embrace of a space I’ve made all my own. I am quite drawn to Feng Shui, and follow it to an extent; by “to an extent” I mean that, at this point in my life, I’m living in a place with roommates where my bedroom sort of encapsulates my “whole space.” I practice yoga in here, I sleep in here, my bathroom is connected to my bedroom, I write in here, I watch the occasional television in here, I often eat in here…it’s sort of an all-inclusive sanctuary at this point in time because I do not have my very own home (yet) in which to do exactly what I please at any hour of the day. It’s sometimes overwhelming to include so many opposing activities in one space, and yet in a way it is liberating. It is my space. set the boundaries for this blessed room that is mine, and mine alone.

So these are a few ways I increased my serenity here at home, in my sacred personal space:

1.) Place a lamp in the bathroom, offering soft and soothing light. I did this and the increase in calm is remarkable. While I don’t spend much time in my bathroom, it happens to be connected to my bedroom. When I enter and switch on the soft glow of light, it is wonderfully peaceful. The one small bulb require far less energy than the row of bulbs above the mirror, who are harsh, bright, and blazing; instead the light shed through the lovely, champagne-colored, beaded lampshade is kind, comforting, and gentle. I still need the bright lights here and there for certain moments, but the soft glow of my pretty lamp has made my bathroom far calmer. Lighting a candle in addition to the soft lamplight also makes for an absolutely tranquil shower or bubble bath!

2.) Create a “serenity bedside.” A porcelain Buddha and a small, resin Buddha sit parallel to one another on my bedside, which is draped in a crimson Indian shawl. Between them is a framed quote by H.H. the XIVth Dalai Lama and two tea lights. A healing amethyst crystal rests on a lovely gold, beaded pouch. An elegant wood carving of the goddess of quietude hangs on the wall next my bedside. A small box with the moon and stars etched on top contains some shea butter lip balm, essential oil, and earplugs. Just last night I placed a Spiced Pumpkin candle to scent my bedside with my favorite time of year. It brings me a sense of calm. I change parts of what is placed there at times, while other components remain constant. I am brought comfort by the arrangement, even the direction each piece is facing. Since it is the last thing I see before bed, I credit my “serenity bedside” in helping me drift off to peaceful sleep.

3.) De-clutter. I know, I know…if you don’t leave that bill out, how will you remember to pay it? If you got rid of some dust-gathering knickknacks it would be a betrayal to your memories, right? If you toss out things you no longer need, you’ll inevitably feel the need for them and wish you hadn’t, correct? I know the thought pattern, I was born under the sign of Cancer the Crab, I’m nostalgic and sentimental to a fault. I collect “things” and it is only through conscious effort (including the verbalizing of it through this very article) that we are able to adjust our behaviors. My suggestion is this: find a space of some sort (whether it’s a shoe box, a lidded woven basket, a clothes hamper…) and put in any clutter that you want to either find a new home for, or get rid of entirely. At the end of the week, divide the things that you found yourself reaching in for all week long from those you didn’t. Repeat the process. After two weeks get rid of the things you have still not fished into the space for. Anything you’ve taken out and kept, find a new home for immediately. Don’t perpetuate the clutter by plopping it back on your dresser, or wherever. By not seeing the clutter, we create a more serene atmosphere for ourselves on the outside. By slowly eliminating the clutter, we cultivate a more serene state of existence on the inside.

 

Now, for those of you reading this who have a whole home to bring serenity to, just remember baby steps. Perhaps focus in on just your bedroom, as I have done. Make spaces sacred one by one. We can’t expect to wave a magic wand around and have everything be perfectly harmonious within the house. In fact, if not for the effort and energy put into bringing about said harmony, how very enjoyable would the serenity even be? It’s like in Under the Tuscan Sun when Frances decides to go slowly through the house, introducing herself to it so it could introduce itself to her. Have respect for your own home, desires, and intentions. Harmony is better enjoyed when it has been earned. Patience, peacefulness, and the dedication to cultivate serenity within your home are the only ingredients you need to make your space into your sanctuary.

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