Off Your Mat

Bringing yoga off your mat into your life, one pose at a time.


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The Powerful Pose: Practicing Gratitude

gratitudeThere is power in giving thanks.

The act of saying “Thank you” to someone acknowledges the effort or thought that person put into you. It makes that person feel appreciated. They understand that you understand what they did. It strengthens the relationship and paves the way for more positive interactions. ScienceOfRelationships.com does a good job of exploring that dynamic.

But, what about offering up thanks to the universe? Why is it so important to say “Thank you” to a higher power?

Expressing gratitude validates all the fate, luck, fortune, blessings that arrive at your door. When we stop to acknowledge what we have to be grateful for, we give ourselves the ability to see what is positive in our lives. Just being aware of what is good, draws more good to you. That is powerful.

Gratitude is not about the material. It is about training the mind to see what truly holds value. buddha quote

Practicing gratitude is a form of self love. It is a moment to appreciate all of the good in all of the winding ways it has come to you. Just like thanking people in your life for their help or thoughtfulness builds trust and love, practicing gratitude creates an ability to more readily recognize the positive. Like any skill, if it is not practiced it can become weak or forgotten.

If you don’t stop to consciously be grateful, you might very well overlook something worthy of your gratitude. That would be a shame.

Initially, moments to be grateful for do not always look like good fortune. They can arrive unexpectedly, sometimes in the form of a complete disaster. Often it is those disasters that shed light on tremendous strength or understanding or truth. Only when we stop to reflect and be grateful, can we decipher the value.

gratitude

Here are 6 steps to a daily practice of gratitude:

1. Pick or create a quiet moment.

2. Envision one thing for which you are grateful.

3. Let all other thoughts fall away.

4. Allow yourself to feel the joy related to that thought.

5. Say aloud (or form a complete thought), “Thank you for _____________.”

6. Repeat daily.

 


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The Opportunity Pose: A Less Stressed Holiday Season

Sometimes an opportunity is obvious, sometimes it can be cloaked by perception. Often opportunities can pass right by because they look like a problem. When fear comes into the picture it seems opportunities dry up all together.opportunity1

During my first few attempts at yoga I was afraid of looking foolish. The fear I harbored inhibited my confidence. I was thinking about all the things I hadn’t learned to do yet. I was looking at it backwards. I considered my newbie status to be a detriment, when I should have focused on the limitless opportunity of learning that stretched out before me.87577938

Luckily, I loosened up and figured it out. I relaxed into a practice were I can be realistic about my abilities, push my boundaries, try new things and understand that mistakes are not failures. As always, this lesson in my yoga practice allowed me to reflect on how I approach similar circumstances in everyday life.

I think the approaching holiday season is a great opportunity to take this yoga lesson out into the world.

keep-calm

There is a lot of anxiety that accompanies the approach of the holidays. People become stressed on so many levels. There are the logistics of gathering with family and friends, the extra expenses that come with gifts and travel, the extra responsibilities of cooking and entertaining and the less talked about family tensions that often come to a head at this time of year. It can be challenging.

But isn’t every challenge an opportunity?

Here are 6 practical tips to using yoga philosophies to create a less stressed holiday season.*

1. Acknowledge how you are feeling. The holiday season is built up to be an extra happy and festive time. For many people it is and that is terrific. However, if you find yourself feeling blue or down you should not force yourself to be happy just because it is the holidays. Do not bottle it up. Being human, it is normal to have a whole range of emotions. It is not normal to suppress emotions and pretend to be cheerful when you are not. Do not judge yourself and find a safe place to express yourself.

2. Be realistic. The holidays don’t have to be perfect or just like last year. As families change and grow, traditions and rituals often change as well. Choose a few to hold on to, and be open to creating new ones.

3. Practice acceptance. Work to accept family members and friends as they are, even if they don’t live up to all of your expectations. Set aside grievances until a more appropriate time for discussion. And be understanding if others get upset or distressed when something goes awry. Chances are they’re feeling the effects of holiday stress, too.

4. Take a breather. Find some time for yourself, even if it is just 15 minutes. A little bit of time alone can recharge you enough to take on the next “to do list.” Here are some relaxing activities you can do on your own:

Take a seated position. Ideally, your knees should be slightly lower than your hips and your eyes should be closed. Sit up straight and inhale for a count of eight. Pause when your lungs are full and then exhale for a count of eight, emptying your lungs completely. Repeat at least 3 times.

  • Take a walk
  • Listen to soothing music
  • Read
  • Nap

5. Practice gratitude. Yes, this time of year brings added stress but it is also a time to count our blessings. Often our stress is created by expectations we hold that are not necessarily based in reality. Let go of that stuff, enjoy the people you want to enjoy, take in the beauty of the season and let it all unfold.

6. Give back. This time of year is the perfect opportunity to practice altruism. That doesn’t necessarily mean writing a check. This is an opportunity to start a family tradition of donating time around the holidays.

I hope you love your holiday season. But if you don’t, I hope you take the opportunity to make changes so that you can create something that you do love.

 

*For a more in-depth list visit The Mayo Clinic.


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The Healing Pose

I have a shoulder injury. I’m not sure how I did it.  I discovered it when I went to do a Side Plank on my left side and a sharp pain shot out of my shoulder, collapsing my arm.

Side Plank

I couldn’t believe it and spent a couple of months putting my knee down in Gate Pose instead. But it didn’t get better.

Gate Pose Variation

Gate Pose Variation

I finally went to the doctor. He wanted to rule out a rotator cuff tear. After an MRI, we found it is an inflamed Acromioclavicular joint or AC joint.

Shoulder anatomy with acromioclavicular joint, eps10

Along with a possible cortisone shot, anti-inflamatory medication and physical therapy, the doctor has advised; No push ups, pull ups, raising my arm high above my head and no weight-bearing exercises.  It means no Down Dog, no Chaturanga, no Sun Salutations, no Planks…the list goes on and on.

So basically, no yoga.

I’ve been running, doing a lot of leg work outs and sit ups.  Afterwards, I spend a long time in my favorite pose, Half Pigeon.

how_to_do_pigeon_pose-LG

It’s a solitary workout. I miss my Baptiste yoga and my interval training classes.  I’m used to smiling faces and the friendly guidance of the instructor.

When I was in yoga teacher training our instructor said, “Yoga is the practice of breathing through stressful physical positions so when you get off your mat you have learned to breathe through stress.”

The purpose of yoga is to work the body so that your mind can truly relax into meditation. Buddhists use a term called Monkey Mind meaning “unsettled; restless; capricious; whimsical; fanciful; inconstant; confused; indecisive; uncontrollable” to describe an unfocused mind. My yoga practice helps me to focus my frantic my mind.  It allows me to adapt to the moment.

I have never been serene. My thoughts jump around like one of those mischievous movie monkeys. Bouncing around, creating havoc and anxiety.

I am confident that if I was currently a child in school, some well-meaning teacher or school counselor would get a hold of me and accurately diagnose me with ADHD or ADD. My mind has always hopped about in a way that didn’t match my surroundings.  I learned to make my busy brain work for me, but it can be exhausting. When I started practicing yoga it was as if that crazy monkey went to charm school. My thoughts learned to wait their turn.

I’m not able to do yoga right now and I’m a bit scattered.

It’s unfortunate.

But it is not the end of the world.

It’s time to literally take my practice off my mat, breathe deep and focus with gratitude on the healing that is happening.

 


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Advanced Yoga: The Swimsuit Pose

I was 40 minutes into my interval strength power hour at my local gym. Twelve other women and I were completing a series of walking lunges followed by weighted squats that left my legs quivering. The teacher called out, “You all know why we’re doing all these squats, right?” Right on cue, in breathless unison we answered, “Swimsuit season!” Privately, I was a little disappointed in myself.

Swimsuit season. I have mixed feelings on the subject. It is right around this time of year, the snow melts, we start walking outside without coats, the trees begin to bud and this phrase gets used over and over again. You turn on the TV or open a magazine and someone is gleefully letting you know with a heavy hint of trepidation, “Swimsuit season is coming!!!! Are you ready?”

Every time we reach for a second helping or decide to skip the gym, we hear it. “Tsk. Tsk. Maybe you ought to rethink that,” a well-intentioned friend might intimate with a knowing tilt of the head, “you know, swimsuit season.” Or maybe, like me, it is just the voice in your head.

I’m assuming that you too, have a voice similar to mine that will occasionally bark out your worst fears or weaknesses. It might murmur at you about your lack of industry during a binge watching marathon. Or it might nag at you about your terrific ability to procrastinate when it comes to cleaning the bathroom. Swimsuit season is the voice’s time to shine. The voice, unfortunately, focuses on the negative and is not much fun.

This is one of those moments that I lean heavily on my yoga practice to stop myself from giving too much power to the voice. I could spend and have spent an enormous amount of energy berating myself and my ancestors for my short-legged genetics.

Instead, this is a perfect opportunity to take our yoga practice off our mat. It is important to recognize when the negative chatter in our minds is causing unneeded anxiety. Let’s use our yoga practice to turn this negative ship around and head for kinder waters.

“Practice gratitude”

How do you become grateful while we are baring it all in a swimsuit, under the brutal glow of fluorescent lights in a department store dressing room?

You do it by practicing gratitude.

Think of all the amazing places your body has carried you. Your body has been there for you. It might have stretch marks or be thicker than you wish, but think about all it has done for you. It has fought for you through illness, tingled for you during pleasure, hustled for you to keep your schedule, wiggled for you when you wanted to dance and let your heart pound when you fell in love. Thank your body for being there. Don’t shame it for showing signs of the life you are living. So maybe your arms aren’t perfect or maybe your hips are wider than they were when you were sixteen. So what? Honor your body by throwing back your shoulders, straightening your spine and letting it enjoy the summer.

Nice, right? It feels good to feel good about you. But maybe that little voice isn’t ready to surrender to positive thoughts. Maybe it has some more ammunition.

You have been there, sitting by the pool and she walks by. It doesn’t really matter who she is. It’s the fact that she looks stunning in her bikini and to add insult to injury, she is carrying her nine month old child on her cellulite free hip.

In a flash, the little voice can gain the upper hand. It might cause you to question your choice of swimsuit. You might start to shame yourself for not covering up your belly that day or choosing a suit that showed your thighs. You might suddenly feel embarrassed on your walk from your chair to the water.

How do we tap into our inner yogi at that moment?

“This is not a competition”

Swimsuit season is not a competition. Let me repeat. Swimsuit season is not a competition. This can be a confusing statement because here in America, we have been brought up on bathing suit competitions. (Thank you Miss America, Miss Universe and countless other pageants.) Everywhere you look online or on TV people are being judged on their appearance. It is the reality of our culture.

Yes, that woman at the pool has been dealt the perfect hand in the genetics department. You might not have been. But unless you have the celebrity status of Gwyneth Paltrow or Hillary Clinton, no one will be comparing pictures of the two of you on the pages of a national magazine. You are the only true judge in your life.

When you enter the yoga studio you learn very quickly that different people have different abilities. There are some poses that will come naturally to you, there will be others that you will always be working toward. For example, arm balances are a challenge for me. I marvel at other’s ability to effortlessly tilt into crow. Their ability does not make me feel less about my practice.

Let’s take that attitude to the pool. Do you really want to follow the negative train of thought that somehow, on some level, this lovely woman is better than you because she looks better in a swimsuit? No, you don’t. You and your body are better than that.

Think about the favorite people in your life, the people you truly admire. The people who changed your life for the better or made you who you are. Picture them in your mind. Think about why you love them.

Are any of them your favorite because of how they look in a swimsuit?

I’m hoping your answer is a definitive “No.”

Let’s take this swimsuit season off your mat. Practice gratitude. Remember this is not a competition. Our bodies deserve that and so do we.

You or your little voice might be thinking, “Easier said than done.”

That’s true, but aren’t most things worth doing easier to talk about than to actually put into practice?